Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Premiers head to Montreal for tough meeting with Trudeau

Doug Ford First ministers' meeting likely to be most fractious, least productive for PM
Sandy Nunez | 09 December, 2018, 04:13

In Ontario, Doug Ford's office says the Ontario premier is prepared to walk away from the meeting Friday if it does not include specific discussions on the carbon tax.

It appears Trudeau had managed to smooth things over somewhat with a pleasant dinner with the premiers at a Montreal restaurant Thursday night.

Although Ford had been at the centre of demands to expand the agenda for the meeting, sources said neither he nor any member of his team was in the room when one of the issues he'd insisted upon - the influx of irregular border crossers - was discussed.

But the fight dwindled to nothing nearly as soon as it had started, with other premiers saying Trudeau hadn't changed anything.

In the days leading up to the meeting, reports circulated that the premiers were unhappy with the prime minister's agenda, which focused on trade and didn't explicitly mention issues of concern to them, including Alberta's struggling energy sector, federal environmental assessment legislation or the federal carbon tax.

Federal officials have privately conceded that little headway is likely to be made on the official objective of the meeting: reducing interprovincial trade barriers.

"Premier Ford put forward a plan that is a step backwards", Trudeau said.

Trudeau had promised during the 2015 election to hold annual first ministers' meetings, a change from the former Harper government.

But Canada's premiers had other ideas. "If anyone is moving the goal posts, it's Premier Ford".

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Particularly unhelpful were the comments of Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who suggested prior to the meeting that Alberta's oil crisis wasn't Quebec's problem. Trudeau should have been making the case for his tax, though from our perspective it's hard to defend a tax that raises the cost of living for average people, exempts major polluters and does little to nothing to help the environment. Quebec is seeking $300 million to cover costs incurred.

"Today the premiers and I will talk about how we can best support Canadians working in sectors that are now facing significant challenges", Trudeau said, "whether they're oil and gas workers in Alberta hit hard by the price differential or GM workers in Oshawa". After the meeting, Legault said Trudeau was willing to discuss Quebec's request.

For instance, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs wants to revive a proposal for an Energy East pipeline. The pipeline would have carried oil from Alberta to refineries in New Brunswick, passing through Quebec, but was scrapped previous year.

"I'm optimistic that we'll all see it through", said Higgs. "But I told him there's no social acceptability (in Quebec)".

No other premier seems inclined to join Ford in threatening to walk out of the meeting.

Manitoba's Brian Pallister came out saying most of the premiers and Trudeau had agreed that there should be lower trade barriers between provinces, which was the official point of the meeting.

But if the meeting was thin on results, it was equally light on theatrics. Earlier in the day, P.E.I.

"We are not in an existential crisis in this country today", he said.

"What is clear is we are going to move forward, as we always have, in a very consistent way".