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

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

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for parts of Vancouver Island for Thursday and Friday.(File photo)
Snowfall expected in parts of Vancouver Island

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for north, east and inland Vancouver Island this week

A Pictograph panel found near Tlowitsis traditional territory near Kalogwis is attached in the archaeological report produced by the First Nation’s guardian watchmen.
Tlowitsis First Nation records 370 archaeological sites on traditional territories across B.C.

The Nation’s guardian watchmen mapped sites for research and to protect them from human disturbances

RCMP are looking for information on the identity of these two individuals, pictured at the Fisherman’s Wharf Dock on Oct. 16, 2020 at approximately 1:30 a.m. Photos supplied by Campbell River RCMP.
RCMP looking for alleged ‘dock pirates’

Thefts, lines cut from Fisherman’s Wharf on Oct. 6.

The Strathcona Regional District has applied again for funding for RE-CREATE project. File photo
Second round of grant funding ‘last chance hotel’ for Strathcona Gardens reno — Commissioner

Commission thinks streamlined application, lower funding ask gives better shot at success

Brighter Day, a youth-led initiative based out of Volunteer Campbell River, is looking to connect seniors and youth with a new pen pal program to help make everyone more connected during this socially-distanced time. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
New pen-pal program looks to connect seniors and youth in Campbell River

Hope is to ‘make both parties feel less isolated through these challenging times’

Our Home on 8th, the Port Alberni Shelter that opened in March 2019, has 27 extra ‘extreme weather’ spaces for people who need a place to get out of the cold. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BC VOTES 2020: Mid-Island candidate plans occupation of shelter to protest homelessness

Graham Hughes says homeless situation a ‘crisis’ in Port Alberni

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Parksville’s Jared Huggan won $75,000 playing BC/49. (BCLC/Photo submitted)
Vancouver Island man $75K richer after purchasing winning lottery ticket at Nanaimo Walmart

Parksville’s Huggan plans to purchase electric bike for partner

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

The Cowichan Steelheads’ Jesus Martinez (left) and the Cowichan 49ers’ Daryl Rodgers chase down the ball during Saturday night’s all-Cowichan clash at the Sherman Road turf. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan masters derby takes unexpected turn with broken leg

Soccer community comes together in midst of battle

Larry Whetstone is concerned about the condition of Jeffries Road, where he has lived for 30 years. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Poor condition of rural road in Cowichan has resident fed up

Transportation Ministry says repair plan under development

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Most Read