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.

Just Posted

Grim situation in coming year for northwest, B.C. fisheries

Annual post-season review in Prince Rupert informs DFO on how to manage 2019 fishing season

Another windstorm expected Monday, causing ferry delay

With another windstorm expected to hit Haida Gwaii on Monday afternoon, BC… Continue reading

Jason Alsop, Gaagwiis, elected Haida Nation president

Jason Alsop, Gaagwiis, is the newly elected president of the Council of… Continue reading

On the Wing: Small birds and berries

By Margo Hearne Into the chill. The Christmas Bird Counts will be… Continue reading

Saturday storm to hit Haida Gwaii with 80 to 100 km/h winds

A strong southeast storm is expected to hit coastal areas of Haida… Continue reading

VIDEO: Close encounter with a whale near Canada-U.S border

Ron Gillies had his camera ready when a whale appeared Dec. 7

1 arrested after bizarre incident at U.S.-B.C. border involving bags of meth, car crash

Man arrested after ruckus in Sumas and Abbotsford on Thursday night

More B.C. Indigenous students graduating high school: report

70% of Indigenous students graduated, compared to 86% across all B.C. students

2 facing animal cruelty charges after emaciated dog found in B.C.

Amy Hui-Yu Lin and Glenn Mislang have been charged with causing an animal to continue to be in distress

Out of the doghouse: B.C. city lifts ban on pup who barked too much at dog park

Cameron the Shetland sheepdog is allowed back into Uplands off-leash dog park under some conditions.

No flood of extremist returnees to Canada expected, federal report says

The report says some 190 people with connections to Canada are suspected of terrorist activity abroad

Canada-China relations turn icy over arrest of Chinese exec

The Huawei case has threatened to complicate U.S.-China efforts to resolve a bitter trade dispute.

Prosecutor signs off on former B.C. Liberal government’s quick-wins probe

David Butcher said in a statement released Monday that the RCMP recommended charges under the Elections Act

Canadian physicist who won Nobel Prize touts science for the sake of science

Donna Strickland, 59, said securing the field’s highest honour has given her a significant new platform

Most Read