Premiers conference could see clash over pipelines and emissions
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall signals growing frustration with Ontario, Quebec
Canada's longest serving premier isn't happy. Not one bit. And Brad Wall is letting some of his colleagues know it before he arrives in St. John's for the annual meeting of the country's provincial and territorial leaders.
Wall told reporters in his home province of Saskatchewan that Ontario and Quebec should get out of the way of proposals to build or convert pipelines to carry oil from west to east.
And he said it's high time Central Canada stops treating this country's oil industry as some kind of environmental liability, rather than as an economic benefit that's being shared, via transfer payments, with the entire country.
"We've been contributing mightily to equalization, and I just don't think this kind of talk is welcome, frankly," Wall said Wednesday.
But Wall wasn't done. Far from it. On he went about the billions of dollars shared by wealthy, oil-producing provinces such as Saskatchewan, with the so-called have-not provinces such as, ahem, the aforementioned Ontario and Quebec.
"Maybe we should send equalization payments through a pipeline to get one approved in Central Canada.''
It's the kind of internal conflict that rarely disrupts the carefully crafted united front premiers try to present at their annual meetings. Premiers normally prefer to cast the federal government as the villain.
Premier Wall, meet Premier Wynne
But this isn't some, forgive the pun, off-the-wall broadside.
Saskatchewan is an oil-producing province, already struggling with the effects of sustained low prices. It's also struggling with few options to move that oil.
Ontario's Kathleen Wynne wasn't responding to questions Wednesday at a reception welcoming premiers to St. John's. But she indicated she'll have plenty to say today when premiers hold their first session in the Hotel Newfoundland, overlooking St. John's historic harbour.
Ontario and Quebec recently announced an agreement to implement a cap and trade system to reduce emissions. Wynne is aiming to reduce her province's emissions by a whopping 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Today's meeting will include a discussion of the proposed Canadian Energy Strategy, a document originally intended to discuss how provinces can work together to exploit oil, natural gas and hydro to meet not only the needs of Canadians, but to feed the appetite of lucrative markets abroad.
But a draft copy obtained by CBC News earlier this week suggests some premiers want the strategy to place more emphasis on green technologies, solar and other renewable energy sources, and on reducing greenhouse gases.
Wynne has been pushing the green agenda hard.
"Ontario and Quebec have agreed on joint principles to help us define a common front to ensure that the project offers safety and protection for the environment, promotes social acceptability and optimizes the economic impacts," she said before heading to the premiers meeting.
Linking pipelines and emissions
To Saskatchewan, that sounds suspiciously like the two provinces won't approve any pipeline projects unless Wall brings in climate change policies they like.
It promises to be good fodder today, a discussion that has much broader implications in the lead-up to a federal campaign in which the economy, energy security and competing regional demands could spell the difference between victory and defeat.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spent years trying to unlock negotiations over pipelines to the west, pipelines to the south and now pipelines to the east. Environmental reviews have been streamlined inside Canada. He's lectured the Americans on the need to approve Keystone XL.
For all his efforts, nothing has been built. No pipeline has been approved, not even the proposed reversal or conversion of existing pipelines to carry oil from west to east.
Room for agreement
The premiers will also discuss other priorities ahead of the federal campaign, and on these other issues there's relative unanimity.
The provinces believe Ottawa should help them in investing more in infrastructure to stimulate a flagging economy, something both the opposition New Democrats and Liberals pledge to do.
They also want more money to deal with aging populations. British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, in particular, says Ottawa's decision to unilaterally cap transfers for health care is penalizing a province where many retirees are choosing to settle.
The Harper government has shown no willingness to budge on these issues.
But there's one area in which Ottawa and the provinces just might agree.
Ottawa is demanding to be included in the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, implemented in 2010 by the provinces to use their bulk purchasing power to reduce the costs of prescription drugs.
Fourteen drugs are now covered, and provincial sources say the savings on their drug plans have been in the range of 20 per cent. Adding the federal government, and its purchasing power, could drive even more savings.
On that one topic, at least, everyone can agree.