It looked for a while like a lot of premiers were going to band together to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But it was no united front. They disagreed among themselves more than with the feds.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe came roaring into the First Ministers' meeting in Montreal insisting an oil crisis might be the country’s top priority, and three provinces came insisting they’d put a stop to federal carbon taxes.
But for every priority put forward by any two or three provinces, from oil-sector help to promoting pipelines to compensation for asylum seekers, there were other provinces who didn’t agree, or didn’t care.
And there was a divide between premiers of those oil-producing provinces and some of the others – notably Quebec’s François Legault.
Ms. Notley’s big mission here was to get all of Confederation to agree that the top economic threat to the country is discounted Alberta oil prices exacerbated by a lack of sufficient pipelines and transportation – and to be seen demanding that Ottawa help.
Mr. Trudeau agreed it’s a crisis, and said Ottawa is looking at options – but Mr. Legault wasn’t sympathetic. He argued he’s got the same problem with undeveloped hydro-electricity that Quebec would like to sell.
Those oil provinces want more pipelines, and New Brunswick’s new Progressive Conservative premier Blaine Higgs has been calling for the revival of the now-cancelled Energy East pipeline project from Alberta to Saint John – but Mr. Legault said no way.
There’s no “social acceptance” for a new oil pipeline across Quebec, he said – adding that he’s “not shy about refusing dirty energy.”
Ouch. That’s not going to create interprovincial unity. In truth, there wasn’t that much from the start.
Mr. Legault’s priority was asking for compensation for providing services for asylum seekers; Ontario Premier Doug Ford took a similar view, though he missed the part of the talks that dealt with the issue, but the other premiers didn’t really care. Manitoba’s Brian Pallister wanted to talk about interprovincial trade barriers but most of the others seemed to have other things on their minds.
The premiers never joined together for a full-court press on Mr. Trudeau. The provinces that came in asking for money from Ottawa mostly left saying the PM was seriously considering their request. Everyone wanted something, but not the same things. Everyone wanted to talk about the economy, but their economy.
Mr. Ford came out blasting at Mr. Trudeau’s carbon taxes – but the gist of his complaint was that Ontario is being asked to reduce emissions by a greater percentage than other provinces. In other words, he doesn’t want to pick up the slack for Alberta.
Mr. Ford insisted that “the goalposts got changed” on climate targets – accusing Mr. Trudeau of suddenly telling his province it had to cut emissions by more than what was previously set.
It was an aggressive attempt to cast Mr. Trudeau as picking on Ontario – but it sowed confusion with his chief ally in the fight against carbon taxes, Mr. Moe.
Canada has a national target to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. But at past meetings, premiers had accepted the notion that some provinces will cut more than others – Alberta, for example, was never going to meet the 30-per-cent mark. But Ontario, under the previous Liberal government, had pledged to make deeper 37-per-cent cuts until Mr. Ford’s government lowered the targets.
Suddenly, it was Mr. Ford complaining that Ontario had to pick up slack for provinces that haven’t cut their emissions – and Mr. Trudeau, behind close doors, retorted that if some provinces didn’t do more, it would mean shutting down the oil sands.
And comically, as Mr. Moe joined him in accusing Mr. Trudeau of “moving the goalposts” on emissions targets, he provided precisely the opposite argument: While Mr. Ford complained it is unfair to ask one province to cut more than another, Mr. Moe insisted it is unfair to ask a resource province like his to cut as much as others.
In the end, Mr. Trudeau wasn’t engulfed by a confrontation with the premiers. Their goals were so divided they never made him their common target.