PM keeps peace, but lit­tle to show for it

Ford lashes out Trudeau on cli­mate change at first min­is­ters meet­ing

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - JOAN BRY­DEN

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 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 PC premier and the chair of the meet­ing from the pre­miers’ side. “I was en­cour­aged by the kind of no-holds-barred dis­cus­sion. That’s what we wanted and that’s what we got.”

Trudeau and all the pre­miers signed on to 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 in­vest­ments in short-, medium- and long-term 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.

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. Four con­ser­va­tive pre­miers — Ford, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, Higgs and Pallister — are go­ing to court to chal­lenge the fed­eral plan to im­pose a price on car­bon in their prov­inces start­ing in the new year.

On in­ter­provin­cial trade bar­ri­ers, the first min­is­ters agreed to what the com­mu­nique called “bold steps” — har­mo­niz­ing stan­dards in the truck­ing sec­tor, in­clud­ing tire size and size and weight re­stric­tions, and elim­i­nat­ing du­pli­ca­tion in fed­eral and pro­vin­cial food safety regimes.

Pallister, who has worked to re­duce in­ter­nal trade bar­ri­ers for years, was thrilled to see mod­est progress.

“Each of these things on their own doesn’t sound like a big deal but they add up and there are lit­er­ally hun­dreds and hun­dreds of these types of im­ped­i­ments to our abil­ity to do busi­ness with each other and shouldn’t be there,” he said.

RYAN REMIORZ / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs (from left), Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, Que­bec Premier François Le­gault and B.C. Premier John Hor­gan speak to re­porters at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day.

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