Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s point man on provincial-federal relations came to Queen’s Park to tell Ontario Premier Doug Ford he should focus on his own provincial affairs rather than take his anti-carbon tax crusade out west.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, visiting Queen’s Park for the first time in the role, said the federal government and the province have an opportunity to collaborate on economic issues.
Mr. LeBlanc said Mr. Ford’s recent trip to Western Canada, which included a visit with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and an appearance at a rally with Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, might not sit well with voters.
“I was surprised that Mr. Ford was campaigning for [federal leader] Andrew Scheer with the United Conservative Leader in Alberta. If I was worried about a problem with my children’s education in a public school in Ontario or I was on a waiting list at a hospital, I might find it more useful to see the Premier here worrying about those issues,” he said.
“[Mr. Ford] decides to go campaign against serious climate action in Alberta, and I think that there are real problems that Ontarians expect their provincial government to focus on.”
Mr. Ford’s spokesman, Simon Jefferies, said in an e-mail that the Premier received a strong mandate to scrap the Wynne government’s carbon tax and to challenge the federal government on the issue.
“Premier Ford will do everything in his capacity to stop this tax from being rammed down the throats of Ontario families and job-creators – this includes meeting with and working with like-minded politicians across the country, including Jason Kenney and Scott Moe,” Mr. Jefferies said.
Still, Mr. LeBlanc said it is “entirely normal” for a Liberal federal government to disagree with a Progressive Conservative government on different issues – from carbon pricing to trade to marijuana, and Mr. Ford’s decision to say he would invoke the notwithstanding clause to slash the size of Toronto city council, although he did not do so.
Mr. LeBlanc met with Ontario Trade Minister Jim Wilson, and later with Mr. Ford’s parliamentary assistant for intergovernmental affairs, Norm Miller. The Premier was not available due to “scheduling constraints,” his office said.
“It doesn’t mean that I can’t have a positive and productive meeting with Mr. Wilson on the common objective of making the Canadian economy more competitive,” Mr. LeBlanc said.
The Ford administration has repeatedly criticized the new proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), although the Premier had previously pledged to support the federal government in the talks to renegotiate its predecessor, the North American free-trade agreement.
Mr. Wilson told reporters he did not bring up the tentative trade deal with Mr. LeBlanc, instead focusing on issues of common ground.
“We got along very, very well and we understand that there’s politics from time to time, but our job is to break down intergovernmental and interprovincial trade barriers, so we stuck to that and didn’t talk about politics at all,” Mr. Wilson said.
He also addressed Mr. Ford’s recent comments to the Ontario Provincial Police association annual meeting, in which the Premier said Mr. Trudeau might as well be in “the witness protection program” when it comes to defending his government’s decision to legalize marijuana.
“I don’t think there’s been a more accessible prime minister, certainly in the last 13 years,” Mr. LeBlanc said.
“If our Prime Minister is in the witness protection program, Mr. Ford has I think dramatically misunderstood what that program was designed to achieve.”