Premiers unimpressed with agenda
Ford threatens to walk out if Ontario’s priorities weren’t reflected at first ministers’ meeting
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.
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.