Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he and the Prime Minister are moving past their confrontational relationship, and plan to work together on areas where they can find common ground.
The two leaders met in Ottawa on Friday for just their second one-on-one meeting since Mr. Ford’s election in June, 2018. In the intervening year and a half since their first one, Justin Trudeau and the Premier have each taken aim at the other as they tried to further their own political aims and bolster their base.
After his meeting with Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Ford said the two are putting the previous combativeness behind them.
“The Prime Minister’s family’s been in politics for years, our family’s been in politics for years, it’s politics," Mr. Ford told reporters.
"Now we have to do things that people want. People expect us to work together, we’re the largest province, this is the federal government and there’s areas that we’re going to work together.”
It’s a marked change in tone from Mr. Ford, who last year said he was putting Mr. Trudeau “on notice” that he would try and ensure his defeat. During the election campaign, Mr. Trudeau ratcheted up the counter attacks, at one time mentioning Mr. Ford close to a dozen times in a single press conference and repeatedly warning against his "cuts and austerity.”
The Premier noted that he and the Prime Minister share voters, and that the provincial Progressive Conservatives and federal Liberals won many of the same ridings in Ontario. “I find it ironic at times that neither the Prime Minister or myself would even be elected if it wasn’t for that cross voting," Mr. Ford said.
The Premier said the carbon tax, which Ontario has spent millions campaigning against in public and in court, didn’t come up in his 50-minute meeting with Mr. Trudeau and instead the two focused on areas of common concern: infrastructure, health care and trade with the United States.
“I thought it was a phenomenal meeting," Mr. Ford said. “It was a very productive meeting, and we agreed that we’re going to be collaborative and work together on shared priorities.”
A senior federal government source, granted confidentiality to speak about the private meeting, described it as constructive, businesslike and said at times the leaders even cracked a few jokes.
Regional tensions have been inflamed since the Oct. 21 election, where the Liberals were shut out of both Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the face of some calls from people in Alberta to separate from Canada, Mr. Ford presented a message of unity, saying it was crucial both for Canada and also for business confidence.
“We’re a big family and we may have a few bumps in the road, we may disagree, but we have to [give] businesses out there certainty,” Mr. Ford said.
The Quebec government is also looking for a constructive approach to federal-provincial relations, while continuing to defend the province’s autonomy in its areas of jurisdiction.
“We are not looking for conflict just for the fun of it. I think we can come to common agreements that are in our mutual interest,” Sonia LeBel, who is Quebec’s Minister Responsible for Canadian Relations, said in an interview.
Ms. LeBel said her government is willing to work with Alberta and Saskatchewan on issues of common interest, including modernizing Ottawa’s fiscal stabilization program that is designed to help provinces facing economic challenges.
“We will unite our voice to theirs on issues that affect all provinces in relation with the federal government. But on our side, we are not motivated by anger,” she said.
Ms. LeBel made it clear the Bloc Québécois, which won 32 seats in the general election, does not speak for the centre-right, Coalition Avenir Québec government of François Legault in Quebec City. Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet has been engaged in a war of words with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, but the Quebec government is not looking to create a national unity crisis, she said.
“The CAQ’s definition of nationalism does not include sovereignty or secession,” Ms. LeBel said. “We want to negotiate within Canada.”