First ministers’ meeting likely to be most fractious, least productive for PM

For Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley, the most important issue is the crisis in the oil and gas industry

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is warning that nothing will be accomplished at today’s first ministers’ meeting if premiers insist on expanding the agenda to discuss a laundry list of issues.

“That’s the trick, isn’t it? When you’ve got a few hours to discuss things and there are many things,” Pallister said on his way into a meeting of first ministers with Indigenous leaders preceding the main event. “But if we have too many priorities, we won’t get anything done.”

Pallister’s warning may well turn out to be a prediction. Premiers arrived for the meeting with a host of conflicting issues they want addressed and no clear agreement among themselves on which are the most pressing or what should be done about them.

New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs, chair of the premiers and like Pallister a Progressive Conservative, said he’s got a list of up to eight items that his fellow provincial and territorial leaders consider priorities that must be discussed.

“It could be a neverending list, I guess, but there’s probably six or eight issues that we want to be sure to have discussion (on),” he said.

In brief remarks opening the main session with premiers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged: ”We have a lot of subjects to discuss and I want to give as much time as possible for discussions.”

Trudeau had intended to make lowering interprovincial trade barriers the focus of the meeting. But amid grumbling from premiers pushing their own priorities, he’s said he’s willing to talk about whatever they want.

In addition to trade and the economy, Trudeau said: “Of course, today the premiers and I will talk about how we can best support Canadians working in sectors that are currently facing significant challenges, whether they’re oil and gas workers in Alberta hit hard by the price differential or GM workers in Oshawa.”

READ MORE: First ministers meeting shaping up to be most acrimonious in years

But grumbling about the agenda continued even after the first ministers went behind closed doors. One provincial source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Finance Minister Bill Morneau spent more than 10 minutes boasting about federal economic management, until Higgs finally intervened, “in a spirit of this being a dialogue, not a lecture,” to call for questions.

Emerging from the meeting later, Morneau described the proceedings as a constructive, positive and robust discussion of the state of the economy, including the challenges it faces.

For Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley, ”the single most important economic issue facing the country” is the crisis in the oil and gas industry, caused by slumping prices linked to her province’s inability to get its resources to ports for shipment overseas.

“It is a huge contributor to our GDP, hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country,” she said.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, whose Coalition Avenir Quebec party is on the centre-right, sees the meeting as an opportunity to push his demand for federal compensation for the costs of dealing with the influx of asylum seekers who have used unofficial border crossings to enter the country from the U.S. He is asking for $300 million from the feds and said he raised the issue during a pre-meeting dinner with Trudeau on Thursday evening.

“There is an opening,” Legault said. “Yesterday, I had the opportunity to discuss it with Mr. Trudeau. As of now, they are offering about half of the total.”

But Pallister is one of the few premiers who wants to keep the focus on Trudeau’s preferred priority.

“We need a unified commitment to eliminate trade barriers that are of our own creation,” Pallister said, calling it a “100-year area of neglect.”

“A fifth of our GDP depends upon internal trade and we’re charging each other about a seven-per-cent tariff on everything we ship to each other. So that’s ridiculous; it needs to be addressed.”

The meeting promises to be the most acrimonious — and likely the least productive — first ministers’ gathering Trudeau has hosted.

Gone are the days when he was surrounded by friendly provincial Liberal allies. Now, he’s facing a phalanx of conservative premiers who are putting up determined opposition to some of his signature policies, in particular his plan to impose a federal carbon tax next year.

And one of them — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford — has vowed to ensure Trudeau’s Liberals are defeated in next fall’s federal election. Federal officials privately believe that will include efforts to derail today’s meeting, potentially even staging a dramatic walkout — a scenario Ford and his aides have not ruled out.

Ford’s team has been a major source of the complaints about Trudeau’s agenda and demands that it be expanded to include a host of provincial concerns.

In a preliminary meeting with Trudeau on Thursday, Ford listed the carbon tax as his top priority but said he also wants to talk about aluminum and steel tariffs, the oil-price crisis, illegal border-crossers, the impending closure of GM’s plant in Oshawa and internal trade barriers.

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

“I’m optimistic that we’ll all see it through,” said Higgs. “Now, if that changes, I guess it would be maybe a sad day for Canada, but I’m hopeful we won’t get there.”

Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan, a Liberal, put the chances of a walkout by any premier at “very close to zero.”

He acknowledged that “everybody’s coming at things from different perspectives or different interests” and likely won’t be ”100-per-cent on the same page” at the end of the day. But he played down the seriousness of the current tensions compared to some of the “existential” disputes of the past when the unity of the country hung in the balance.

Joan Bryden and Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Volunteers needed for 2020 Sam Steele Days

Co-chairs will be mentored to fill roles of those stepping down in 2021

Cranbrook named one of the most secret municipal governments in Canada

City of Cranbrook gets “Honorable Mention” in the annual Code of Silence Awards

Otters relocated after devastating fish populations at Kootenay hatchery

The otters were relocated out of the Kootenay watershed last year in an effort to save the fish.

Avalanche season comes to an end at PACWEST Provincials

With Files from Mo Hussain The College of the Rockies Avalanche season… Continue reading

Kootenay-Columbia MP urges end to ‘illegal roadblocks’ in solidarity with pipeline dispute

Rob Morrison says protestors across Canada need to remove roadblocks on roads, rail lines

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Police ID man found dead in west Kootenays after probe leads to no arrests

Forty-seven-year-old Aaron Graham, of Vallican, has been identified as the man killed

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

Most Read