Pre­miers, PM head to tough first min­is­ters meet­ing

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Joan BRYDEN, Giuseppe VALIANTE

MON­TREAL — Pre­miers ar­rived Thurs­day for a first min­is­ters’ meet­ing still grum­bling about the agenda set by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, with one – On­tario’s Doug Ford – threat­en­ing to walk out if the pro­gram isn’t ex­panded to re­flect a host of pro­vin­cial pri­or­i­ties.

The tone as they pre­pared to dine pri­vately with Trudeau on Thurs­day evening un­der­scored the ten­sions that seem likely to turn Fri­day’s meet­ing into the most ac­ri­mo­nious first min­is­ters’ gath­er­ing in years.

Sources close to Ford said he’s pre­pared to walk away from the meet­ing if it does not in­clude dis­cus­sion of the fed­eral car­bon tax, which On­tario is chal­leng­ing in court. And when he met Trudeau in per­son at a down­town ho­tel for a pre­lim­i­nary meet­ing Thurs­day, Ford went right at him.

“I’m glad to sit down with you, Justin, and talk about things that mat­ter to the peo­ple of On­tario,” he said, as the two sat stiffly in arm chairs sev­eral feet apart.

“I’ll tell you what mat­ters to the peo­ple of On­tario is the jobkilling car­bon tax.”

On­tario also wants to talk about find­ing new jobs for work­ers af­fected by Gen­eral Mo­tors’ plans to close a plant in Oshawa next year and “the il­le­gal bor­der-crossers that are cost­ing our prov­ince over $200 mil­lion,” Ford said.

Trudeau was gen­er­ous with Ford, at least overtly, even though fed­eral of­fi­cials pri­vately ex­pect the premier to do his level best to de­rail the meet­ing.

“It’s a plea­sure to wel­come Doug here to Que­bec, to Mon­treal, my home­town,” he said.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity for us to talk about the is­sues that mat­ter to On­tar­i­ans, to Cana­di­ans – eco­nomic growth, con­tin­u­ing to work hard to cre­ate good jobs for the mid­dle class, cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one.”

Trudeau has said he’ll dis­cuss any­thing the pre­miers want to talk about. But that has not quelled the crit­i­cism that the writ­ten agenda is too nar­rowly fo­cused on re­duc­tion of in­ter­provin­cial trade bar­ri­ers and gives too much time to pre­sen­ta­tions from sev­eral fed­eral min­is­ters.

Ford said he was look­ing for­ward to Fri­day’s meet­ing but, af­ter his tete-a-tete with Trudeau, he re­fused to an­swer re­porters’ ques­tions about whether walk­ing away from the ta­ble is still an op­tion. A spokes­woman for the premier, Ivana Yelich, said,

“We re­main hope­ful the prime min­is­ter will see fit to re­flect the con­cerns of his pro­vin­cial part­ners.”

Ford later sat down with two of his con­ser­va­tive, anti-car­bon tax al­lies – Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs. All three con­tin­ued to crit­i­cize Trudeau’s agenda.

“We don’t need to be lec­tured by his min­is­ters, we need to talk about things that mat­ter for peo­ple in each of our provinces,” said Ford.

Moe and Al­berta Premier Rachel Not­ley are push­ing hard for the oil price cri­sis to be given prime time dur­ing the meet­ing. On that score, Not­ley pre­dicted she’ll have plenty of al­lies in the room.

“There is re­ally no prov­ince in the coun­try that doesn’t owe Al­berta to some de­gree for their schools, their hos­pi­tals, their roads. The fact of the mat­ter is Al­berta has to do well for Canada to do well,” Not­ley said be­fore leav­ing Ed­mon­ton.

She noted that fore­casts for Canada’s eco­nomic growth are al­ready more muted be­cause of the low price Al­berta is get­ting for its oil in the United States and its in­abil­ity to move its prod­uct to ports for ship­ment over­seas.

Not­ley also said she doesn’t want to spend time lis­ten­ing to what the fed­eral gov­ern­ment says it is al­ready do­ing to try to ad­dress Al­berta’s con­cerns.

“It just doesn’t make sense... talk­ing about things that have al­ready hap­pened,” she said.

“We don’t need fed­eral min­is­ters to ex­plain to us what they’ve al­ready done. We’re all ca­pa­ble of read­ing their press re­leases.”

Moe said he also wants to talk about his de­mand that the feds re­peal Bill C-69, leg­is­la­tion to re­write the rules for en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments of en­ergy projects, which is cur­rently stalled in the Se­nate. Crit­ics, in­clud­ing Moe, main­tain the bill would cre­ate reg­u­la­tory hur­dles that will scare off in­vest­ment in en­ergy projects, par­tic­u­larly pipe­lines.

“To­mor­row will be a test to see if our prime min­is­ter is lis­ten­ing to work­ing peo­ple across the na­tion,” he said.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials have pri­vately con­ceded that lit­tle head­way is likely to be made on the of­fi­cial ob­jec­tive of the meet­ing: knock­ing down bar­ri­ers to trade be­tween provinces.

CI­TI­ZEN PHOTO BY BRENT BRAATEN

Bill and Jon Rus­sell mount a pro­jec­tor on a light­ing bar in prepa­ra­tion for a hol­i­day fam­ily tra­di­tion of Judy Rus­sell Presents: Charles Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Carol, adapted by Anna Rus­sell. The pro­duc­tion at the Prince Ge­orge Play­house from Dec. 13 through Dec. 22.

FORD

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