Premiers have Harper in their sights as they...
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Jul 13, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Premiers have Harper in their sights as they gather for annual conference

A politically vulnerable Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in the crosshairs of Canada’s premiers as they gather for their annual conference in Newfoundland

OurWindsor.Ca

A politically vulnerable Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in the crosshairs of Canada’s premiers as they gather for their annual conference in Newfoundland.

With polls suggesting the Oct. 19 federal election is too close to call, the 13 provincial and territorial leaders plan to keep the heat on Harper, whose nine-year tenure has been marked by indifference to the premiers’ concerns.

“We need a federal partner and — apart from the partisan involvement — this country needs a federal government that understands that working with the provincial leadership and the provincial government is important,” Premier Kathleen Wynne told the Star on Friday.

“That’s the bottom line,” Wynne said before the premiers meet First Nations leaders Tuesday in Labrador against the backdrop of a campaign that could see Harper toppled by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair or Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

“It will be about the state of the country and how are we going to interact with the federal election and then the parties,” she said of the Council of the Federation conference that formally begins Wednesday in St. John’s.

“I think that is very important. Now, even that shines a light on how much better it would be if we were having a conversation with the prime minister all along. If the prime minister were there, had always been there, I think it would be a much better launching point for this discussion, but you know.”

That was a reference to Harper’s unwillingness to convene first ministers meetings, his penchant for acting unilaterally with individual premiers, and his apparent disinterest in issues like tackling climate change.

Indeed, the stage was set on that front at the Climate Summit of the Americas last week in Toronto, where Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard noted that the onus has fallen on sub-national leaders to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“We at the provincial level, territorial level, all are basically filling the void if I can say,” said Couillard, adding that in Ottawa’s absence, the provinces and territories are “showing to the rest of the world that we are acting.”

“In fact, if you add B.C. with the carbon tax, Quebec and soon Ontario will be cap-and-trade, in fact, more than 70 per cent of Canada’s population will be living in a jurisdiction where there’s significant carbon (reduction measures). That’s reality,” he said.

Both Couillard and Wynne are among the premiers expected to be at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that begins Nov. 30 in Paris.

The Ontario premier said Ottawa’s stance on the key subject is “embarrassing, quite frankly.”

“People ask me, ‘What’s Canada doing?’ And . . . I hope we’re not going to go to Paris as provincial governments having to excuse or explain what the federal government is doing,” said Wynne.

“I want to go to Paris with a strong position that is strong because it’s what the provinces and territories are doing and strong because of what the federal government’s doing.

“The other thing that’s important is that where we don’t have federal leadership — so on climate change and green initiatives the people of this country need to see that provinces are stepping up.”

Even on matters like aboriginal affairs, which the premiers will discuss Tuesday in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, consensus with the federal government is difficult.

“There’s been a call for a national inquiry for missing and murdered aboriginal women. The federal government agreed to a roundtable, so the roundtable has been formed and there needs to be a secretariat in order to move forward. Well, they’re refusing to fund the secretariat,” said Wynne.

“So again the provinces are going to have to step in, I’m not going to step back and say, ‘Well, then we’re not going to do this work . . . we’re not going to deal with these social issues.’ I’m not going to do that,” she said.

“For me, it becomes about how do we get the work done, not how do I score points against the federal government. But I’m not going to pretend I’m not frustrated . . . because I am.”

While Wynne said she will campaign for Trudeau this fall — as he did for her in the 2014 Ontario election — she indicated she could work with Mulcair.

“I need a partner. I need a federal partner,” she said, insisting Ontario’s priorities trump partisan Liberal interests, so “those things have to be separated.”

Asked if it’s possible Harper will have a road-to-Damascus conversion between now and Oct. 19, Wynne smiled wryly: “Well, and you know if there is, then good on it. But it’s pretty late.”

Here are four key issues the premiers will be discussing in Newfoundland:

PENSIONS — Ontario is pushing forward with its own retirement benefits scheme — similar to that in Quebec — after Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to enrich the Canada Pension Plan. Premier Kathleen Wynne will broach the issue again, but not all her provincial and territorial counterparts are on the same page.

ENVIRONMENT — Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Manitoba are among the provinces most aggressively pushing for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But resource-dependent provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland-Labrador are concerned about the economic impact of some measures that are being taken and are exploring their own solutions, such as carbon sequestration.

ENERGY —The premiers hope to finally complete their long-awaited “Canadian Energy Strategy” to somehow promote green energy innovations while also building controversial new pipelines to transport oil and gas to market. A wildcard is Alberta’s new NDP Premier Rachel Notley, who may be more amenable and eco-conscious than her predecessors.

INFRASTRUCTURE — Ontario wants to see a stable, predictable national infrastructure strategy. There has been frustration at Harper’s unilateral approach to funding projects based more on electoral politics than need. Ontario wants 5 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product invested in infrastructure – up from 3 per cent.

Toronto Star

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