Rivers: Premiers write Prime Minister 'impertinent' letters.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

July 14th, 2019


Canada is a federation of provinces but the provincial premiers do not elect the federal government – the people of Canada do. So it was, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, an outrage that Canada’s sub-national leaders concluded their most recent Council of the Federation (COF) meeting in school-child fashion, by writing letters to the country’s federal political leaders.

Provincial flagsThese impertinent letters each contain eight questions covering: economic competitiveness; skills training; immigration; healthcare; climate change; the Arctic; indigenous reconciliation; and federalism. Interestingly Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party didn’t get a letter. Was that an oversight or because a vote for Bernier would end up as a vote for the centre-left parties?

When Mr. Trudeau came into office the majority of the provincial/territorial leaders were progressives and all but one supported carbon pricing. Only four years later B.C., Quebec and a couple east coast provinces are all that are left in that category. And so this COF had the distinct aura of a conspiracy by the right-of-centre provincial leaders to get rid of Trudeau, the interventionist PM.

Moe Sask

Premier Moe of Saskatchewan.

There was the eternal musing about reducing restrictions on interprovincial trade. Then, as expected, COF host, Premier Moe of Saskatchewan, found his nerve and addressed the elephant in the room. He wanted Quebec to sign onto Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenny’s dream of a transnational oil highway. But Quebec’s François Legault wasn’t going to be goaded into allowing an oil pipeline through his province.

And even Kenny’s argument that Quebec’s equalization payments come from Alberta’s oil revenues, failed to move him. Unlike Kenny and Moe, Legault understands that there is no long term future for oil, and consequently no social acceptability, as he put it, for an environmentally risky pipeline. After all Quebec is currently Canada’s leading jurisdiction when it comes to the environment.

Legault PQ

Quebec Premier François Legault

Manitoba’s Brian Pallister challenged Quebec on its cultural symbols legislation. But again it was a waste of time. Quebecers are committed to a culturally neutral public service – so leave your religion at the door if you want to work for the people in that province. Given earlier discussions of the constitutional division of powers and provincial rights, this was, at best, an inappropriate intrusion into another province’s social policy.

There were reports that the premiers ended on a note of unity. But that was hardly the tone Jason Kenny echoed as he went on at length to, once again, threaten secession. “The level of frustration and alienation that exists in Alberta right now towards Ottawa and the federation is, I believe, at its highest level, certainly in our country’s modern history.”

Seriously? Where does he think landlocked Alberta would go? Does Kenny really believe that Alberta would be able to move its bitumen any easier through B.C. if it were a separate country? He really doesn’t get it. In any case Trans Mountain is almost certainly the last interprovincial oil pipeline to be built in Canada regardless which political party holds power after October. He should be thankful.

The western premiers had already pretty much exhausted their discussion on the evils of the federally imposed carbon tax. But with two courts deciding in favour of the federal government, and the Supreme Court likely to go the same way, it will take an election of Mr. Scheer or Mr. Bernier to get rid of this regulatory instrument. Besides not all provinces disagree with carbon pricing so the issue didn’t get the profile some premiers would have liked.

But Quebec is on-side with the Tory ideological struggle against the federal carbon tax. Quebec is exempted from the federal carbon tax, given its California-linked cap-and-trade program, exactly as Ontario had been before the Ford government killed it. So Legault’s position is parochial – solely about minimizing the potential role of the federal government and its policies in Quebec. And in that Quebec has become an odd bedfellow to its Tory-led provincial counterparts.

Quebec based Bombardier’s impending layoff of over 500 workers in Thunder Bay provoked calls for the federal government to get the US government to drop its Buy American policy on federal contracts and grant funding. Seriously? Good luck with that in Trump’s America. And it’s not like Canada doesn’t have its own domestic content rules in areas like media broadcasting (Can Com).

The Ford government is on the defensive over Bombardier. There might have been additional orders for rail cars if only the province had got its act together and got its paperwork for federal co-funding together. Of course Bombardier has developed an unfortunate reputation when it comes to management and government handouts. So who knows? Perhaps the company is just playing politics…or even economic blackmail.

Nen in white hats

Jeans, white Stetsons and cowboy boots were the rig of the day for some of the Premiers.

Climate change is one of the questions the premiers asked in their letters to the federal party leaders. And this one was a trick question because the answer is found in the preamble. “Provinces and territories are implementing climate action policies that make sense in regard to their distinct needs and priorities.” In other words don’t impose anything like a carbon tax on Canadians in our province or territory.

But mind-your-own-business is not going to cut it. Canada is on the hook to meet its Paris global commitment and, if Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta are examples, leaving it to the provinces will only result in failure. Pretty much the way this latest Council of the Federation ended.


Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Politics, premiers, pipelines and religious symbols

Kenney tells premiers’ meeting national unity still threatened


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1 comment to Rivers: Premiers write Prime Minister ‘impertinent’ letters.

  • Jim Thomson

    Sorry, Bombardiers’ reputation is not unfortunate, it is well earned. They don’t get contracts because they over promise and can’t deliver on time. They are the poster child for corporate welfare bum.