Ford threatens walkout as provincial officials criticize agenda for first ministers conference

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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. »

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.

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.

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Teacher Strike Eats: ‘Strike Tacos,’ Delivery Pizza, and Bagged Lunches Fuel a West Virginia Walkout | Healthyish

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Earlier this year, teachers across the state of West Virginia left their classrooms and went to the State Capitol Building to demand better wages and healthcare for all public employees. After nine days standing and holding signs on highways in bitter February weather, the teachers won a five-percent pay increase from the state legislators. Jessica Salfia, a public school teacher at Spring Mills High School in Berkley County, West Virginia, says that she and the teachers couldn’t have kept going without the steady arrival of gift packages, pizzas, and what became known lovingly as “strike tacos” from supporters locally and across the country.

Since the West Virginia teachers returned to their classrooms, similar statewide strikes have happened in Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Salfia has been a public educator for 15 years and is one of the editors of 55 Strong: Inside the West Virginia Teachers Strike, an oral history of the strike published by Belt Publishing. Here Salfia talks about how the West Virginia teachers’ strike was fed. – Brooke Shuman

That first night of the strike, my friend and I drove to Charleston, West Virginia and spent the first two days at the Capitol, lobbying. That was exciting. I learned a lot about what legislators know and don’t know about the struggle of the public educator. I learned a lot about how legislation works, which the whole public needs to take a course in because I think we’d get a lot more done if we all were as engaged as the West Virginia Public Employees were then. I’ve never been more inspired by my fellow West Virginians, by my fellow teachers. I don’t know if I’ll ever see anything like it again.

strikephoto

Photo courtesy of Jessica Salfia

A sign at the West Virginia teachers’ strike.

A lot of legislators, when it looked like we were for-sure going to be walking out, began using lunch and food as a weapon to vilify educators. They said, ”If teachers leave their classrooms, kids aren’t going to eat.” Our local delegate published an op-ed in the Berkeley County paper leading up to the strike that said, « Teachers are threatening to strike against our students, » which was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. ​People don’t realize that, in schools every day, teachers are feeding kids that need fed. They’re putting clothes on the backs of kids who need clothes. They’re going on home visits. They’re buying school supplies for kids who don’t have it. So if we’re not gonna take care of our teachers, then those kids are not gonna get taken care of.

Local school boards issued ads in the paper and sent out emails saying they would accept food donations. Then teachers converged on those locations to pack a grab-and-go-style lunch. They had such an overwhelming response to the first couple calls for donated food. It was all day on the picket line and then an evening of lunch packing somewhere. The packing of the lunches was first an act of love but also an act of strategy because it sent a clear message to both the public and the legislators that this was not about leaving our students behind.

Those first days, there was a line that wrapped out across the Capitol grounds and you had security walking down the line saying, « You’re at two hours. You’re at three hours, » to get in. So once you got in you didn’t want to get back out. You didn’t want to leave because maintaining presence in the Capitol was so important to keeping pressure on legislators, and so those pizzas, that food that got delivered to the Capitol, was critical to keeping teachers present and keeping pressure on the legislation. I would say there were hundreds of pizzas delivered from all over the country to the picket line. I know pizzas got delivered from California, from Wisconsin, from neighboring states. I think I cried every day over food. I have never seen support in the form of food in such a way.

We were right outside this little Mexican restaurant called Cinco de Mayo; it’s in the strip mall, and someone stopped by, a parent, and went in and purchased like $200 worth of tacos. They’re so good. And so here comes the guy who owns Cinco de Mayo out with these giant pans and you could just hear this hush come over the crowd, like, « Are those strike tacos? » Another day these two teachers from Michigan took the time to ship a six-pack of beer with a sweet little note inside of it that just said, « Hey, you guys are crushing it. Stay strong, keep going.”

And just the knowledge that so many teachers, not just in West Virginia but all over the country, were watching our fight for respect and for healthcare—it was just so important to see that recognition come in the form of food. And I mean, it was cold. It rained really hard. It spit snow. The weather was not good. And that’s something that made that food that people brought over so special, because when you’re cold and tired and someone shows up with hot coffee and hot soup … that is love in its most pure form, in my opinion.

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