As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers of the provinces and territories gather for talks in Montreal, bickering over the meeting’s agenda has escalated to the point where not all of the participants are sure they still want to be there.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is now suggesting he may walk out of the meeting early — or not turn up at all — if his concerns aren’t addressed.
« No one should assume the premier of Ontario is prepared to spend his Friday sitting through a series of lectures from federal cabinet ministers, » a senior official in Doug Ford’s office told CBC News Thursday. « We are considering our options. We hope it doesn’t come to that. »
The agenda for the meeting — originally intended to be a stock-taking on a range of economic and trade issues, including the recently signed revised North American trade agreement and stalled efforts to reduce internal trade barriers — is now the focus of a dispute that threatens to overshadow policy discussions.
On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe wrote to Trudeau asking that the « crisis facing the energy industry » be added to the agenda. The Prime Minister’s Office told CBC News on Tuesday that the energy crisis would fit in with the planned discussion.
Provincial officials told CBC News Wednesday that they want Trudeau and his ministers to listen to their priorities. The draft agenda that was circulated, said one provincial official, « had the prime minister fitting in a train of his cabinet ministers to lecture the premiers on the topics of his choosing. »
The official in Ford’s office said the premier will make his decision after he meets privately with Trudeau Thursday afternoon in Montreal, just before 4 p.m. ET.
« As it stands right now, the agenda is one we are not happy with, » the official said. « And certainly we are leaving our options open to how we respond if the prime minister digs his heels in. »
Doug Ford threatens to walk out of First Ministers meeting.<br>“No one should assume the premier of Ontario is prepared to spend his Friday sitting through a series of lectures from federal cabinet ministers,” a senior official in Ford’s office told CBC News. <br>Story soon.
In an interview Wednesday, Moe said he didn’t intend to leave the Montreal meeting early, despite his concerns over whether the agenda addresses issues that matter to his government — oil prices, the federal carbon tax, pipeline construction and controversial federal reforms to the rules for environmental assessments on energy projects.
Separately, Quebec Premier François Legault said he wants the discussion Friday to focus on American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum products and compensation for dairy farmers hurt by the revised NAFTA deal. In a statement, Legault said he’d also be raising Quebec’s demand for more compensation to cover the cost of irregular asylum seekers.
Premiers requested meeting
When the Council of the Federation met last July, the premiers as a group — including Ford — asked Trudeau for a first ministers meeting focused on the economy by the end of the year.
Trudeau obliged quickly with a statement inviting the premiers to join him for talks focused on trade and the economy this fall, although the precise date and location for the talks now set for Friday in Montreal took several months to schedule.
Yesterday, premiers sent an updated agenda of how they’d like the meeting to run and what issues they’d like to talk about. I have a copy of the premiers demands, which says:
The provincial committee tasked with working to reduce interprovincial trade barriers met last month but has yet to show significant progress.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister noted Wednesday that current interprovincial trade barriers impose great costs on Canada’s economy, equivalent to a seven per cent tariff on goods that cross provincial borders.
Friday’s agenda, as it stands, is supposed to begin with a meeting between all the premiers and Indigenous leaders, followed by talks between the premiers, Trudeau and three members of his cabinet: Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
A private working dinner has been organized for the prime minister and the premiers for Thursday evening.