The Federation Council meetings this week featured more process than progress.
No one is suggesting that good process is not essential to good policy. Premiers and their officials in Winnipeg spoke and listened, connecting with and taking briefings from stakeholders who came to the city to lobby on healthcare, court reforms, business infrastructure and more.
But reporters scanning prime ministers’ kitchen announcements looking for tangible actions, decisions and fixes were hard-pressed to find a headline. And the meeting’s host, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, showed little ambition to use her time as president to build a profile on the national stage for her leadership, or advance a specific priority.
On the tough issues, prime ministers kicked the can down the road and decided the best thing to announce and demand was (wait for it)… more meetings.
On health care, they announced plans to meet again for a summit “aimed at promoting innovative work.”
In infrastructure, they demanded that the prime minister join them at a meeting of Prime Ministers to discuss how the next round of federal funding should be implemented. Justin Trudeau’s office sent this call to the office of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who issued a statement reminding everyone that he does, of course, meet regularly to discuss this issue with provinces and territories.
(That was not exactly a resounding no to a meeting of Prime Ministers with Trudeau. He didn’t seem enthusiastic either. Separately, the Prime Minister’s Office also pushed back on calls for a healthcare summit with prime ministers until last February, when the winds turned and Trudeau hosted them in Ottawa, on his terms.)
Finally, on the cost of implementing federal clean fuel regulations, the Atlantic premiers demanded their own meeting with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to discuss some form of compensation or compensation. Prime ministers point to the disproportionate burden borne by Atlantic consumers as clean, affordable energy is in short supply in their jurisdictions, at least in the short term.
Freeland’s office told Breaking: that logistics are still being explored, but talks are underway for perhaps half a dozen Trudeau ministers from the Atlantic provinces to sit down with the region’s prime ministers next week to hear them, a sign, perhaps, of how politically unpopular pump hops can be.
These latest complaints about climate measures unfairly taxing certain regions are part of a narrative that has permeated federal-provincial relations since Trudeau’s first cabinet took office.
They also gave Alberta Premier Danielle Smith a chance to speak for more than herself when she accused the federal government of regulating what she doesn’t understand: Canada’s diverse range of energy production and consumption.
At the closing Federation Council press conference, a single question from Breaking: about whether the prime ministers unanimously endorsed the Atlantic prime ministers’ call for federal fuel compensation prompted explanations, justifications and interventions from more than the half of the group.
Federal policy, Smith said, has been all stick and no carrot.
While some free-market advocates support carbon pricing on paper, it has run into record inflation over the past year. Canadians are really feeling the cost of the carbon price, superimposed on elevated fuel prices to meet near-term emissions targets, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has said.
The carbon price now resembles a punishment for remote regions, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane said. She reminded anyone inclined to take access to low-emissions electricity for granted that those living in the North have limited energy alternatives.
Prime ministers fail to come to a united front
If you want to keep people living in the north to support Canada’s arctic sovereignty, he warned, you shouldn’t make it more expensive than it already is.
Although Ontario Premier Doug Ford enjoys a relatively clean power grid in his jurisdiction, he remains sympathetic to opponents of fuel taxes. Quebec Premier François Legault, on the other hand, sat relatively silent as his colleagues ranted. El province is poised to benefit from its abundant low-emission hydroelectricity for the foreseeable future.
And when asked Tuesday, BC Premier David Eby also made it clear that there is no clear consensus among provinces in favor of reining in emissions regulations. He reminded reporters that his province was an early adopter of carbon pricing and said pollution should not be free.
Some of the prime ministers who often scold the federal government for intervening in the provincial energy jurisdiction issued a statement this week strongly criticizing federal justice policies.
The prime ministers met with police chiefs and expressed their “deep disappointment” that federal legislation to restrict the bail eligibility of those accused of violent crimes was not passed before the summer recess. They asked for more funds to improve their provincial bail programs. But they did not stop there.
The prime ministers demanded federal changes to the Penal Code to end suspended sentences for people convicted of sexual assault. They wanted more action at border crossings and ports to prevent gun and gang violence. They called for a crackdown on privately manufactured firearms.
They also want to be consulted on the future of the RCMP, which provides policing in provincial jurisdictions.
Amid all these demands for federal government action on public safety issues, little was said publicly in response to recent criticism from the Chief Justice, who warned of the consequences of provinces failing to fund provincial justice systems and territorial.
Provinces tell Ottawa to stay off its patch
Looking ahead, it appears that an emerging debate on infrastructure financing will repeat an argument from previous negotiations on child care and health care, about the type of conditions that could be attached to new federal funds.
The prime ministers used their statement to call for “block transfers,” a phrase that presumably does not mean transfers contingent on meeting certain federal criteria. Prime ministers complained about reports and red tape in the permanent community building fund that already subsidizes municipal priorities.
“I want the federal government to stop trying to use federal purchasing power to manipulate the provinces to get federal aspirations met,” Smith said. power and politics On Wednesday.
They also repeated their June call for federal infrastructure investments to flow through them, not around them and directly to municipalities.
“The federal government needs to be more flexible, respect our jurisdiction, stop doing business directly with the municipalities [and] make things easier, not harder,” Legault said.
LOOK: Prime Ministers ask to sit down with Trudeau on infrastructure
Trudeau has already signaled that a new infrastructure program coming this fall will focus on building more homes.
But as they emerged from their final discussions on Wednesday, the prime ministers endorsed a recent call by a coalition of Canada’s major business stakeholders for a national business infrastructure plan. They argued that underinvestment in supply chain facilities and transportation networks is hurting Canada’s international competitiveness and hampering the economic growth that governments depend on for revenue.
“The feds said the right things, but they turned around and didn’t put the money in the right places,” said Carlo Dade, director of the Canada West Foundation’s trade and investment center, which documented the severity of this problem in a report. recent. .
“We don’t need any more bad news. We don’t need any more reports from the World Bank and others telling us how much trouble we have. We don’t need any more customer complaints,” he said. “We need the feds to join the provinces in moving this forward to 2024.”
So will they? Fixing supply chain problems may seem less politically appealing than building more housing, but when essential goods fall behind or jobs start to be lost, things turn ugly for the economy.
“It shouldn’t be one at the expense of the other,” Stefanson told reporters.
Maybe yes, but to govern is to choose. Prime ministers are familiar with not getting everything they ask for.