Well, at least no­body stormed out

Lit­tle ac­com­plished at Fri­day meet­ing of first min­is­ters

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - JOAN BRYDEN AND GIUSEPPE VALIANTE

MON­TREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau man­aged to keep the peace at what be­gan as a ten­sion-filled first min­is­ters’ meet­ing Fri­day but had few con­crete achieve­ments to show for the day­long gath­er­ing.

The one sour note was sounded by On­tario’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive premier, Doug Ford, who ac­cused Trudeau of mov­ing the goal­posts on Canada’s cli­mate change plans, re­quir­ing On­tario to cut its green­house-gas emis­sions more than Ford had ex­pected.

But other premiers, in­clud­ing fel­low Con­ser­va­tive Brian Pal­lis­ter from Man­i­toba, dis­puted Ford’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what the prime minister said be­hind closed doors in Mon­treal and Trudeau him­self dis­missed the charge.

Ford at least did not fol­low through on a threat to walk out of the meet­ing, which he had crit­i­cized for be­ing too nar­rowly fo­cused on Trudeau’s pri­or­ity — re­duc­ing in­ter­provin­cial trade bar­ri­ers — and not enough on the pri­or­i­ties of prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries. Trudeau man­aged to mol­lify the premiers by let­ting them talk about what­ever they wanted.

“Ev­ery­thing was dis­cussed,” said Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick’s Con­ser­va­tive premier and the chair of the meet­ing from the premiers’ side. “I was en­cour­aged by the kind of no-holds­barred dis­cus­sion. That’s what we wanted and that’s what we got.”

Higgs, who had never at­tended a first min­is­ters’ meet­ing be­fore, said many of the oth­ers “said this was one of the most pro­duc­tive meet­ings they’ve been in for a long time.”

Trudeau and all the premiers, in­clud­ing Ford, signed onto a fi­nal com­mu­nique that was long on gen­eral state­ments about work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively to cre­ate jobs, grow the econ­omy, pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, re­duce red tape and knock down bar­ri­ers to trade be­tween prov­inces.

Af­ter spend­ing the big­gest chunk of time dis­cussing the oil-price cri­sis that is dev­as­tat­ing Al­berta’s en­ergy in­dus­try, ev­ery­one agreed in the com­mu­nique with Al­berta Premier Rachel Notley’s call for fed­eral sup­port for short-, medium- and longterm help to get her prov­ince’s oil and gas to ports for ship­ment over­seas.

Al­berta has been suf­fer­ing from a glut of oil that has been trapped in­land, away from buy­ers, be­cause there hasn’t been enough trans­porta­tion ca­pac­ity to get it out. Cus­tomers have only been will­ing to take it at a steep dis­count to world prices.

The com­mu­nique says all agreed the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should in­vest in short-term sup­port for en­ergy busi­nesses ham­mered by the price dif­fer­en­tial for Al­berta’s oil. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment should also in­vest in medium-term ef­forts to get en­ergy prod­ucts to mar­ket — which Notley took as sup­port­ing her plan to buy tanker cars to move oil by rail — as well as long-term ef­forts to build the in­fra­struc­ture, pre­sum­ably pipe­lines, needed to get oil and gas to tide­wa­ter.

The com­mu­nique ac­knowl­edged that while all first min­is­ters agree on re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions, they dis­agree on how to go about it.

“On cli­mate change, I think it’s clear that Premier Ford and I dif­fer on the mat­ter,” Trudeau said. “I be­lieve that we need to put a price on pol­lu­tion ... He be­lieves we should make pol­lu­tion free again.”

Ford’s re­cently un­veiled cli­mate-change plan is a “step back­wards,” Trudeau said, not­ing that the On­tario premier has scrapped his prov­ince’s in­volve­ment in a cap-and-trade regime with Que­bec and Cal­i­for­nia. “Even though the premier may want to play games with num­bers, what is clear is we are go­ing to move for­ward, as we al­ways have, in a very consistent way and if any­one is mov­ing the goal­posts, it’s Premier Ford.”

RYAN REMIORZ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

On­tario Premier Doug Ford at the first min­is­ters’ meet­ing in Mon­treal on Fri­day. Ford ac­cused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of re­quir­ing On­tario to cut its green­house-gas emis­sions more than ex­pected.

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