PM keeps peace, but little to show for it
Ford lashes out Trudeau on climate change at first ministers meeting
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.
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.