Ontario Premier Doug Ford has offered to play host to a meeting of premiers in Toronto, saying he “fully understands” the concerns of Western Canadians following a divisive federal election.
Mr. Ford has positioned himself as a unifying force among Canadian premiers in the wake of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-election to a minority government on Oct. 21, with the federal Liberals shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Ontario Premier said he made the offer during a phone call with premiers last week, but it will be up to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who chairs the Council of the Federation made up of 13 provincial and territorial premiers, to decide. The meeting would likely happen after Mr. Trudeau names his cabinet on Nov. 20, but before the end of the year.
Mr. Ford said he came up with the idea at a recent meeting with New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, with Mr. Moe participating by phone.
“I’ve never seen this country so divided. But we have to stay united," Mr. Ford told reporters at an unrelated transit announcement on Monday. He said he “fully understands” the frustration of Western Canadians.
“When I was out there, I heard it on the streets,” he said.
Mr. Ford appeared to back the demands of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has criticized the equalization formula as unfair for his province. The Ontario Premier also included the pitch in a fundraising e-mail to Progressive Conservative supporters on Monday.
“Keep in mind, the people of Alberta are transferring $20-billion to the federal government, and they just feel like they’re being ignored. And we have to work together," Mr. Ford said at the news conference.
“I think all the premiers we spoke to thought it’d be a good idea to get together and send that message. But also, let’s listen to the concerns of the people out West.”
Mr. Moe’s office said the date and location of the meeting are still being confirmed. “Premier Ford has offered to host the meeting in Ontario, which is under consideration due to the accessibility of flights,” spokesman Jim Billington said.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Kenney said he supports a meeting anywhere.
“Premier Kenney would support a meeting of the Council of the Federation in Toronto, or anywhere else for that matter,” spokeswoman Christine Myatt said.
Mr. Trudeau’s office said the Prime Minister will continue to hold regular meetings with the premiers, as well as speak to them individually.
“Canadians expect their elected officials from all orders of government to work collaboratively and for the common good of the country,” spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon said.
Some Albertans have also argued that Quebec should drop its opposition to new pipelines in exchange for equalization funds that the province receives under the federal program. Equalization is funded from federal income taxes and is designed to ensure that all provinces can offer their citizens comparable levels of public services. Ontario received billions in equalization payments over the past decade, but does not qualify this year.
Mr. Ford’s government is also asking key ministries to draw up a list of demands for Ottawa.
Mr. Ford added it is important to listen to Quebec, given that the Bloc Québécois won 32 seats of the province’s 78 seats in the federal election, just three shy of the governing Liberals.
Mr. Ford’s invitation was supported by Toronto Mayor John Tory, who praised the Premier for offering to hold the gathering.
“I commend the Premier for the fact that he is taking the initiative to get people together to talk about this. That’s what Ontario historically has done and that is what we should continue to do as a province," Mr. Tory said.
“When we were struggling not too long ago, Alberta was helping us. And they’re struggling right now.”
Opposition leaders at Queen’s Park, however, were skeptical that Mr. Ford could be a force for national unity, noting his government’s continuing legal challenge of the federal carbon tax and recent battles over funding cuts to municipalities.
“Mr. Ford has shown that he’s not really somebody that brings parties together – quite the opposite,” Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters.
Interim provincial Liberal Leader John Fraser said it was good to call premiers together to meet, but he said Mr. Ford should also drop his court fight and other attacks on Ottawa.
“I don’t think it’s helpful for national unity,” Mr. Fraser said of the carbon tax challenge. "... We should be working with them, and not against them, on something as important as climate change.”
With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto and James Keller in Calgary.
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