First ministers’ meeting likely to be most fractious, least productive for PM

Christopher Davidson
December 9, 2018

The world had a distinctly progressive feel to it.

After days of speculation and predictions of the most acrimonious meeting in years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's fourth annual gathering with all provincial and territorial premiers came off without any major hitches - or major results.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are planning to gather outside the hotel where the first ministers are meeting to urge the leaders to do more to combat climate change.

Ontario government house leader Todd Smith said the agenda doesn't deal with the concerns of the provinces, which include the carbon tax, the GM plant closure and the oil-price crisis.

But Canada's premiers had other ideas.

What a difference three years makes.

Still she acknowledged that "as of yet" she isn't bringing anything concrete back home with her. Notley said her next step is to "keep pushing".

Notably, Alberta is now the only province with a woman serving as premier.

But then there's British Columbia's NDP Premier, John Horgan, who has gone to court to stop the one pipeline project Trudeau's government has approved - the Trans Mountain expansion.

"Today the premiers and I will talk about how we can best support Canadians working in sectors that are now facing significant challenges", Trudeau said, "whether they're oil and gas workers in Alberta hit hard by the price differential or GM workers in Oshawa".

Largely because of that price collapse, Notley is now the loudest voice in the conference room leading the defence of oil.

Bank of Canada holds interest rate: Read the official statement
These include the effect of higher interest rates on consumption and housing, and global trade policy developments. The bank raised its key interest rate target at its October meeting - its fifth increase since the summer of 2017.

Change was in the air at the Alberta legislature this week and that's the theme of this week's The Ledge podcast. They all signed a joint communiqué that said they had "discussed ways to collaborate to help grow the economy".

The official communiqué from the meeting said the first ministers agreed Ottawa should invest in short-, medium- and long-term efforts to help the energy industry, but no specifics were identified. "But we don't have the answer yet. I've got to be frank about that", she said.

But in the ad, Alberta said the pipeline issue is everyone's problem.

The central message to her counterparts was to illuminate the economic damage wrought by low oil prices as a "slow-moving vehicle crash" neglected by political leaders for almost a decade, Notley said. "We don't need federal ministers to explain to us what they've already done".

But it was also clear not everyone in the room was receptive to the message.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault demanded Ottawa pay $300 million in compensation to cover the cost of refugees arriving in his province. "There is no social licence in Quebec for a pipeline passing through Quebec".

"The fact of the matter is, is that Alberta has to do well for Canada to do well".

You'd also think a province that lived through the 2013 Lac-Megantic train disaster would see the value of transporting oil by pipeline rather than by rail.

"It's a pleasure to welcome Doug here to Quebec, to Montreal, my hometown", he said.

Which means some politics haven't changed.

Noting Trudeau called the oil price differential a "crisis" on his recent trip to Calgary, Notley and Moe said it should be a key item for discussion at the meeting in Montreal.

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