LILLEY: Premiers unite on most things but not pipelines

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The premiers wanted to show unity, they wanted to show that they were all on the same page as they wrapped up their mini-meeting in Toronto, but despite their best efforts, cracks remained.

Pipelines and Quebec’s bigotted Bill 21 being two examples.

They also couldn’t fully agree on whether a national pharmacare program would be a good idea, though most said they don’t want any part of it.

Canada’s premiers attended the Council of the Federation meetings held in Toronto on Dec. 2, 2019. (Jack Boland, Toronto Sun)

“We’re here to talk about common ground,” Ford said when a reporter asked each premier to state whether they support or oppose Quebec’s Bill 21.

Ford was the only one to answer so in that sense they showed a united front. Most, if not all, the other premiers — with the exception of Quebec’s Francois Legault — oppose the law that bans the wearing of religious garb while working in the public sector and have said so, why repeat that exercise now.

Yet on the issue of pipelines, there was disagreement despite a final communique that seemed to show support for getting oil to coastal ports.

“Continuing to develop resources in a responsible manner and ensure access to markets for Canada’s products,” the statement states when talking about the priorities of the premiers.

That would seem to indicate the premiers all support pipeline projects but not so. I asked Legault and B.C.’s John Horgan if this meant they were on-board with oil pipelines now.

“British Columbia stands resolute in our defence of the issues that matter to British Columbians,” Horgan said.

“You know our position on pipelines,” Legault responded.

That’s right, I do: Quebec, like BC, is opposed to oil pipelines but both support natural gas pipelines in their provinces. It’s a hypocritical stance to say the least and dangerous to national unity.

Both premiers are under intense pressure to say no to oil pipelines from environmental activists in their provinces, but Alberta’s Jason Kenney said that if people are concerned about the environment, they should want the oil the world uses to come from Canada rather than Saudi Arabia, the “OPEC dictators” or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“As long as the world needs that kind of energy, we have a responsibility to shrink the environmental impact of its development, to market safely so that we can complete with and displace OPEC dictator oil that fuels conflict violence and the suppression of human rights around the world,” Kenney said.

So despite a claim that the premiers were united in getting Canadian natural resources to market, they couldn’t agree on pipelines. What did they actually agree on?

They agreed to call on the federal government to change the Fiscal Stabilization Program, a federal program that is supposed to help provinces and territories experiencing a sudden downturn in revenues. It is similar to equalization but is supposed to be a more nimble program that can react quickly.

It hasn’t really helped Saskatchewan and Alberta in their most recent troubles and thus the call for changes.

“I would say today that they had our backs and I will commit to them that we will have theirs when needed,” Moe said of the willingness of the other premiers to back his call to reform the program.

“I just want to say thank you,” Kenney said while adding that the movement shows Alberta is not alone in the federation.

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The premiers also were united in saying that they need the federal government to increase health-care funding and most premiers aren’t interested in starting a new national pharmacare program with the federal government while they feel the feds still aren’t properly funding existing programs.

“Listen,” Ford said when asked what message the premiers were sending to the prime minister, “Just listen.”

We’ll see if Justin Trudeau is listening when he meets with the premiers in January.

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