Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the goal of Monday’s meeting between Canada’s premiers will be to show unity and economic certainty, although he acknowledged there will inevitably be disagreements at the table.
Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial leaders will gather in Toronto next week after a divisive federal election campaign in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected to a minority government.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr. Ford said the premiers will focus their efforts on areas of agreement, such as demands for Ottawa to boost health-care transfers, economic development and internal trade.
“We want to send a message to the entire world, and give them certainty that you can invest in Canada, we have a united country," Mr. Ford said.
“But let’s make no mistake about it: When a group of premiers, all 13, are showing up, we’re going to have disagreements. But I think that’s healthy.”
Mr. Ford has positioned himself as a unifying force in the wake of the election campaign, in which the Liberals were shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the Bloc Québécois rose in Quebec. The Western premiers have been highly critical of Mr. Trudeau, whom they accuse of not doing enough to support the oil and gas industry, while Quebec is staunchly opposed to additional oil pipelines.
“We have to listen to people out West and listen to their concerns. A lot of people are struggling out West," said Mr. Ford, who met with Mr. Trudeau last week in Ottawa. “I mentioned that to the Prime Minister as well, and he agrees, he wants to support everyone right across this country. And I’m going to support the Prime Minister.”
The meeting on Monday will be chaired by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who heads the Council of the Federation, the official name for the group.
Mr. Moe told reporters in Regina on Thursday that premiers hope to come to a consensus on two or three items. He said he is looking to raise amendments to the fiscal stabilization fund, which provides financial assistance to provinces, and the need for provincial autonomy when it comes to environmental policy.
He also wants them to address concerns about federal legislation that overhauled environmental assessments for major projects including pipelines.
“This particular meeting, I would say, is an important meeting,” Mr. Moe said. “The direction that comes out of that meeting, I think, it’s very indicative of the direction that the federal government … should be paying attention to.”
Mr. Ford also met on Thursday with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball at Queen’s Park. Mr. Ford is travelling to Quebec on Friday to meet with Premier François Legault, part of the Ontario Premier’s strategy to align himself with Mr. Legault before Monday’s meeting.
He won’t, however, bring up a recent Ontario NDP motion passed in the legislature to condemn Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans many public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols or clothing. “We’re going to talk about things we agree on. I totally disagree with [Bill 21]. He knows it," Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Legault said the premiers share common ground on many economic and finance issues. “We need to convince Mr. Trudeau to make sure Canada is included in the Buy America Act. We insist that the money sent to provinces, whether it be for health or infrastructure, should have no conditions attached to it so provinces can set their priorities,” Mr. Legault said at the National Assembly on Thursday.
Mr. Legault also wants Ottawa to increase the percentage of immigrants who are economic immigrants.
Mr. Ford is also travelling to Washington next week to meet with U.S. business leaders and politicians as Canada looks to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“We need to get this deal done ... and I’m going to be working hand in hand with the Prime Minister," Mr. Ford said.
With reports from Les Perreaux in Quebec and The Canadian Press.
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