First ministers meeting shaping up to be most acrimonious in years

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is bracing for a barrage of criticism from premiers upset about the federal approach to pipelines, carbon taxation, environmental assessments, and more

First ministers meeting shaping up to be most acrimonious in years

Wrangling over the agenda doesn’t bode well for Friday’s first ministers’ meeting, which is shaping up as one of the most fractious gatherings of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial leaders in decades.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is bracing for a barrage of criticism from premiers upset about the federal approach to pipelines, carbon taxation, environmental assessments, GM’s Oshawa plant closure in Ontario and the oil price crisis.

Meanwhile, federal officials privately concede little headway is likely to be made on the official objective of the Montreal meeting: reducing interprovincial trade barriers.

Indeed, the feds are fully expecting the most openly hostile premier — Ontario’s Doug Ford — will do his best to derail the meeting altogether, including potentially storming out of the gathering or possibly even boycotting it outright.

Their suspicions have been stoked by what federal insiders say are the hardball games Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe are playing on the agenda, demanding that it be expanded in writing to include the oil price crisis and the planned federal tax on carbon pollution.

According to sources familiar with the dispute, who were not authorized to speak publicly, the pair have not been satisfied by the federal response that the agenda already includes a discussion on economic competitiveness — a broad topic that Ottawa says will allow premiers to raise all the issues they please.

Moe confirmed in an interview Wednesday that there is “some frustration, myself included, with the agenda provided by the prime minister,” which includes having some federal ministers address the premiers on their initiatives.

He said he intends to raise the oil price crisis, the carbon tax, pipelines and repeal of Bill C-69, which re-writes the rules for environmental assessments of energy projects.

“We’d like it in writing, confirm that we’re going to discuss those items. But rest assured that the premier of the province of Saskatchewan will bring those items to the floor (regardless),” Moe said, adding that he doesn’t intend to leave the meeting early.

Even the guest list for a pre-meeting dinner hosted by Trudeau on Thursday evening has become a matter of dispute. The feds proposed that it be a private affair for first ministers only, with a single notetaker present. The premiers demanded that each be allowed to bring one official.

This will be the fourth first ministers’ meeting Trudeau has hosted since becoming prime minister in 2015. And it’s certain to be the most acrimonious.

Since first ministers’ last met, the prime minister has lost several of his most reliable provincial Liberal allies — Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant.

He now faces a phalanx of conservative premiers, four of whom — Ford, Moe, Manitoba’s Brian Pallister and New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs — have joined in court challenges to the federal carbon pricing plan and one of whom — Ford — has engaged in conflicts with the federal Liberals in general.

Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley was initially an ally for Trudeau, supporting him on carbon pricing. But she parted company last summer over the failure to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project off the ground and is now crusading for federal help to ease the discount price Alberta is obliged to accept for its oil because it can’t get it to tidewater for shipment overseas.

She and Moe sent Trudeau a letter this week, asking that the agenda for the first ministers’ meeting be revised to include the oil price crisis, which they argued is costing the country $80 million per day.

And Notley disparaged the federal government’s preferred focus on interprovincial trade barriers.

“We tend to have conversations about minor internal trade issues and then when it’s my opportunity to talk, I say, ‘Well, there’s one big internal trade issue that we have about getting our product from one province to another and to other markets and it’s actually worth 100 times the value of these other issues,” she said Tuesday.

Trudeau said Wednesday that he looks forward to “talking about anything the premiers want to talk about.”

“I’m looking forward to a broad range of discussions on whatever it is they have as priorities,” he said on his way into the House of Commons. “Including oil, of course. Natural resources are an essential part of our economy. We’re going to be talking about that as well.”

Notley, Moe and a number of other premiers, including Newfoundland and Labrador’s Dwight Ball and Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil, also want to talk about Bill C-69, federal legislation that is currently stalled in the Senate and which would re-write the rules for environmental assessments of energy projects. Critics maintain it will create more red tape and delays in project approvals that will scare off potential investors.

“We are looking for clarity around Bill C-69,” Ball said in an interview, adding that it’s creating uncertainty in his province’s offshore oil and mining industries.

“We know that the regulatory regime can be an impediment in attracting investment.”

In a similar vein, Biggs said he wants to talk about reviving the defunct Energy East pipeline proposal, which TransCanada abandoned last year, citing regulatory hurdles and changed circumstances.

First ministers are to meet for two hours with Indigenous leaders Friday morning before holing up behind closed doors for some six hours with Trudeau.

— With files from Ryan McKenna in Regina and Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s

Joan Bryden, 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

Surrey Council Chambers. (File photo)
Surrey city councillors complain not enough public input in committees

City has gone ‘exactly the opposite direction,’ Councillor Brenda Locke charges

Tsawwassen resident Angeline Splockton won $100,000 from a Luxury Crossword Scratch & Win ticket. (BCLC photo)
Nightly ritual turns into $100K win for Tsawwassen woman

Angeline Splockton uncovered 11 words on her Luxury Crossword Scratch & Win ticket

A Transit Police officer and another driver were injured on Nov. 4 in a traffic crash while the officer was responding to another officers call for help catching a man who escaped custody. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Police watchdog investigating Surrey crash that injured transit cop, another driver

Crash happened 11 p.m. Nov. 4, at 128th Street and 93rd Avenue in Cedar Hills

The Delta Hospice Society operates the Harold & Veronica Savage Centre for Supportive Care (pictured) and the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner. (The Canadian Press photo)
Fraser Health to evict Delta Hospice Society, open new hospice beds next door

Health authority will serve DHS 30 days’ notice when service agreement expires Feb. 25

An Amica White Rock resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine during a Jan. 15, 2021 clinic. (Tracy Holmes photo)
PHOTOS: South Surrey seniors grateful for ‘freedom’ of COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccination clinics at Fraser Health long-term and assisted-living sites were to wrap up Jan. 15

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Most Read