Pre­miers unim­pressed with agenda

Ford threat­ens to walk out if On­tario’s pri­or­i­ties weren’t re­flected at first min­is­ters’ meet­ing

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada&world - ALEX BALLINGALL With files from Robert Ben­zie

OT­TAWA — Po­lit­i­cal ten­sions crack­led into pub­lic ac­ri­mony as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau con­vened with his pro­vin­cial coun­ter­parts for what may be the most di­vi­sive first min­is­ters’ sum­mit in re­cent mem­ory.

Just hours be­fore a one-on-one meet­ing with Trudeau in Mon­treal Thurs­day af­ter­noon, On­tario Premier Doug Ford’s of­fice sig­nalled he was will­ing to walk out of the con­fer­ence on Fri­day if the prime min­is­ter doesn’t change the agenda to re­flect the prov­ince’s pri­or­i­ties.

Seated next to Trudeau at the out­set of their dis­cus­sion, Ford said he wants to fo­cus on Ot­tawa’s “job-killing car­bon tax,” as well as the im­pact of the Gen­eral Mo­tors plant clo­sure in Oshawa and the cost On­tario bears for asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing into Canada from the United States. At Queen’s Park, Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Todd Smith out­lined why Ford was up­set with Trudeau’s agenda for the first min­is­ters’ con­fab.

“The agenda … is ba­si­cally 60 min­utes of the pre­miers of all the prov­inces be­ing lec­tured to by fed­eral min­is­ters, and that’s not what this should be about,” Smith said.

“What (Ford) wants is for the prime min­is­ter to change his mind.”

Speak­ing to re­porters ear­lier at a news con­fer­ence in Mon­treal, Trudeau said it is im­por­tant for Cana­dian lead­ers to come to­gether to dis­cuss pri­or­i­ties across the coun­try even when they dis­agree with each other.

“I don’t have any il­lu­sions that we’re all go­ing to agree on ev­ery­thing, but I cer­tainly know that Cana­di­ans ex­pect us to be able to roll up our sleeves and talk con­struc­tively about how we’re go­ing to solve the chal­lenges they’re fac­ing,” he said.

Ford’s walk­out threat came as pre­miers from Al­berta and Saskatchewan also de­manded the agenda for the meet­ing be changed to em­pha­size the malaise in their oil and gas in­dus­tries, where a long-stand­ing dearth of pipe­line ca­pac­ity has con­tributed to a slump­ing price for Cana­dian crude.

Be­fore board­ing a plane at the Ed­mon­ton air­port, Al­berta Premier Rachel Not­ley scoffed at the prime min­is­ter’s plan for the meet­ing, which is slated to in­clude pre­sen­ta­tions from fed­eral cab­i­net min­is­ters on eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness, in­ter­provin­cial trade, and cli­mate change and clean growth.

“We don’t need to waste time, for peo­ple to take sort of self-con­grat­u­la­tory vic­tory laps,” she said.

“That means that we cut the fluff and we change the agenda.”

Chan­tal Gagnon, se­nior press sec­re­tary in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, said the agenda will in­clude “a dis­cus­sion on the oil and gas in­dus­try” as well as the “im­pact of strug­gling oil prices on Canada’s en­ergy sec­tor and en­ergy work­ers.”

Th­ese is­sues are ex­pected to come up dur­ing an eco­nomic dis­cus­sion with Fed­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau, an of­fi­cial from the PMO said on back­ground. There will also be time dur­ing a ses­sion with In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Do­minic LeBlanc for pre­miers to bring up any other is­sue they want, the of­fi­cial said.

The lead­ers were also sched­uled to meet for a pri­vate din­ner Thurs­day night at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in Mon­treal.

Fri­day’s sum­mit is the fourth first min­is­ters’ con­fer­ence since Trudeau took power in 2015 and promised to res­ur­rect the tra­di­tion of reg­u­lar fed­eral-pro­vin­cial sum­mits that fell dor­mant when Stephen Harper was prime min­is­ter.

But Trudeau has never faced such out­right op­po­si­tion at the pre­miers’ ta­ble.

Lib­eral lead­ers in On­tario, Que­bec and

New Brunswick have been re­placed by rightlean­ing pre­miers with pol­icy pri­or­i­ties that clash with Trudeau’s aims at the fed­eral level. Blaine Higgs, the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive premier of New Brunswick, has said he wants to dis­cuss the chance of re­vi­tal­iz­ing the aban­doned En­ergy East pipe­line project, a pro­posal to carry Al­berta oil to the Mar­itimes that many po­lit­i­cal ob­servers as­sume is deadon-ar­rival for vot­ers in Que­bec. And Que­bec Premier François Le­gault wants to re­strict the num­ber of im­mi­grants al­lowed to set­tle in the prov­ince — a de­ci­sion the prime min­is­ter ques­tioned be­cause of con­cerns of a labour short­age for cer­tain busi­nesses.

Mean­while, pro­vin­cial op­po­si­tion has co­a­lesced around Ot­tawa’s car­bon price plan and the fuel levy that will be im­posed in four prov­inces next year. On­tario and Saskatchewan have launched court chal­lenges to fight the fed­eral car­bon price, de­cry­ing the levy as a job-killing tax that will hurt the econ­omy. New Brunswick and Man­i­toba are also op­posed to the fuel levy, which will be im­posed in their ju­ris­dic­tions as well in April 2019.

Ford, Higgs and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe met Thurs­day night to lay down their pri­or­i­ties for Fri­day’s six-hour sum­mit.

Speak­ing to re­porters Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Moe said the pre­miers’ con­cerns over the agenda for the sum­mit might de­ter some from at­tend­ing Fri­day’s meet­ing, but that he wants to fo­cus on his own goals for the con­fer­ence. Those in­clude con­vinc­ing Trudeau to scrap Bill C-69, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s leg­is­la­tion to over­haul the assess­ment process for ma­jor re­source projects, and drop his plans to im­pose its car­bon price.

We don’t need to waste time, for peo­ple to take sort of self-con­grat­u­la­tory vic­tory laps.

RACHEL NOT­LEY

Al­berta Premier

PAUL CHI­AS­SON THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

On­tario Premier Doug Ford meets with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau where Ford said he wants to fo­cus on Ot­tawa’s “job-killing car­bon tax,” as well as the im­pact of the Gen­eral Mo­tors plant clo­sure in Oshawa and the cost On­tario bears for asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing into Canada from the U.S.

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