A premiers' meeting without fed-bashing? Don't bet on it

In this week’s Canada Votes newsletter: Chris Hall looks ahead to the last gathering of premiers before the federal election. Also: Polls show no party would win a majority if an election were held today - and how the parties’ climate plans compare (so far).

The Canada Votes newsletter is your weekly tip-sheet as we count down to Oct. 21

British Columbia Premier John Horgan, left, and Alberta's Jason Kenney discuss issues as Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, centre, looks on during the Western Premiers' conference, in Edmonton on June 27. (Canadian Press)

Premiers meet ahead of fall election

Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio's The House

The country's premiers get a chance to set aside their differences this week when they gather in Saskatoon for the annual meeting of the Council of the Federation.

It's a fancy title befitting a premier event. But this year's two-day get-together comes with the added attraction (distraction?) of being the last time the premiers meet before the federal election that's now mere months away.

And that suggests fed-bashing might well be more attractive to the premiers than fighting each other — more appealing than B.C. and Alberta hashing out their Trans-Mountain arguments in public again, or Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister voicing his concerns about Quebec's decision to ban public officials from wearing symbols of their religious faith while on the job.

"My hope is that we will focus not on the parties but the need for the federal government — whoever is controlling that, whether it's the Liberals, Conservatives or New Democrats — to look at how the different orders of government can act together," British Columbia Premier John Horgan said Friday in an interview airing on this weekend's edition of The House.

"Those discussions are going to be critically important and I'm hopeful that we don't get into a lot of partisan hectoring. We will get into, 'The feds should do this and the feds should do that.' But I don't think we should put a partisan label on the feds at this point."

Horgan is the lone New Democrat in a group of premiers that includes a whole lot of newcomers this year — all of them 'conservatives.'

From left, Saskatchewan's Scott Moe, British Columbia's John Horgan, Manitoba's Brian Pallister, Alberta's Jason Kenney, Northwest Territories' Robert McLeod, Yukon's Sandy Silver and Nunavut's Joe Savikataaq take part in the Western premiers' conference in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Most of those premiers, if not all of them, oppose the federal price on carbon and have gone to court (so far unsuccessfully) to block it. And most, if not all, support the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which puts them directly at odds with Horgan.

Still, those same political divisions were evident when the western premiers met in Edmonton two weeks ago, and the communiqué that came out of that gathering included a commitment to tackle climate change — even if the people around the table had very different views on how to do it.

Horgan said he's not bothered by all the new faces. "I believe that we'll be focusing on looking at new ideas with a new perspective, rather than continuing to beat the same old drum."

The formal agenda for Saskatoon isn't out yet, but it's expected to include the usual topics. More money for health care. Fewer barriers to trade among provinces. More economic growth. More co-operation in recognizing the training and certification of skilled workers interprovincially.

When it comes to health care, Horgan said premiers of all political stripes want the next federal government to halt the steady decline in the federal share of spending.

"And so, although we come from different teams and different perspectives in terms of blue and orange teams, we come with the same unified position when it comes to appropriate level of funding from the federal government to meet the services that people are demanding in our communities."

A unified position. Common ground. Demands for action. All things you can typically expect of any gathering of premiers.

But can the premiers resist the usual round of fed-bashing this time around, when the political stripe of the next government might just be different than the one today? Don't count on it — no matter what they say heading in.

Chris Hall is CBC's National Affairs editor and host of The House, airing every Saturday right after the 9 o'clock news on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM. Subscribe to the podcast to get it delivered each week.

Power Lines

The Power & Politics Power Panellists on where the big parties will be focused this week

Amanda Alvaro, president and co-founder of Pomp & Circumstance
Liberals across the country are knocking on doors, attending community BBQs and talking to their neighbours about Justin Trudeau's plan to build a stronger middle class. This week, the Liberals' Canada Child Benefit (CCB) will once again increase, providing more money to nine out of 10 Canadian families. They'll likely take this opportunity to remind Canadians that the Conservatives voted against the CCB.

Rachel Curran, senior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will be focused on meeting as many Canadians as possible before the start of the election campaign, while continuing to outline substantive differences between his approach and Justin Trudeau's on major files like the Canada-China dispute.

Kathleen Monk, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group
New Democrats will be sweating through the dog days of summer, holding events this week in battleground Ontario, hitting Liberal-held ridings in Toronto and Ottawa. With news that millennials will need 29 years to afford a house, Jagmeet Singh is arguing that if we want better results, we must make different choices than Liberal and Conservative governments, starting by building 500,000 new affordable homes.

Poll Tracker Takeaway 

Éric Grenier's weekly look at key numbers in the political public opinion polls. 

Let's do something reckless. Let's assume that where the Poll Tracker stands today is what the results of the election will be on Oct. 21.

If that happens, what takes place after the vote could be more interesting than the vote itself.

The Poll Tracker estimates that with current support levels, the Conservatives would win 157 seats and the Liberals would win 142 seats.

That's a small gap between the two parties — a gap that has gotten smaller recently as the Liberals appear to be bouncing back in Ontario.

But it means both parties would be below the 170-seat threshold needed for a majority government.

It's hard to see a dancing partner for the Conservatives at this stage, but the Liberals also would have a tough time finding enough allies in the House of Commons to continue governing.

The New Democrats would be too weak; they stand at just 19 seats in the Poll Tracker, not enough to get the Liberals to 170. Even the four Green MPs projected still would put a possible red-orange-green rainbow coalition five seats short.

The Bloc Québécois has no more support than it had in 2015 — but it could win more seats this time, thanks to how the vote could split in Quebec. That would leave it holding the balance of power.

That didn't work out so well for the Liberals the last time the minority math required the support of the Bloc back in 2008.

Of course, the Oct. 21 results are unlikely to mirror where the Poll Tracker stands today. It wouldn't take much to shift the dynamic in the House significantly. Five seats are easy to find.

And a shift of a few points here or there could mean the Liberals or Conservatives wouldn't need any dancing partners in the first place.

Still, it's something that politicians — and voters — might be thinking about come October.

Tap here to go to the full poll tracker 

Federal Polling Averages as of July 3, 2019

Ask us

We want to know what YOU want to know

Marcia Almey asks: I am very concerned about climate change and I want to know more about how each party would address this ...

The report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last fall was clear about the consequences of failing to limit future global warming.

At the moment, it's still difficult to do a thorough comparison of how the federal parties would approach climate policy, but there are some broad differences.

Under the Paris accord, the Canadian government has committed to reducing Canada's emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Over the last four years, the Liberals have implemented or proposed a number of policies to achieve those reductions, including regulations, carbon pricing, subsidies for zero-emission vehicles, and funding for clean technology and public transit. The most recent federal analysis showed that federal and provincial actions since 2015 had reduced Canada's projected emissions by 200 megatonnes, but another 79 megatonnes needed to be accounted for. 

The  Conservatives say they would repeal the fuel charge element of the Liberal carbon-pricing plan and replace the Liberal system for reducing emissions from heavy emitters with a system that forces facilities to invest in clean technology or research. The Conservatives also say that their plan represents Canada's "best" chance to meet the current 2030 target, but their plan does not include any projections for further emissions reductions.

The New Democrats and Greens both say they would commit to steeper emissions reductions for 2030: the NDP would aim for a cut of 40 to 50 per cent, the Greens say they would reduce emissions by 60 per cent. Both parties have mentioned a number of options they would pursue to reach those targets — including carbon-pricing — but neither has so far provided a detailed account of how those policies would result in the promised reductions.

With two months remaining before the campaign officially begins, there's still time for the parties to explain their policies more fully. With any luck, complete details and projections will be forthcoming.

– Aaron Wherry, senior writer  

Have a question about the October election? About where the federal parties stand on a particular issue? Or about the facts of a key controversy on the federal scene? Email us your questions and we'll answer one in the next Canada Votes newsletter.

More from CBC Politics 

The Pollcast: Wide open races on the Prairies

There aren't a lot of swing seats on the Prairies, but if October's federal election ends up being close, those few hotly-contested ridings in Saskatchewan and Manitoba could play an outsized role. Click here to read more

Look past the pre-election drama, Premier Horgan urges provincial colleagues ahead of meeting

British Columbia Premier John Horgan says provincial and territorial leaders need to show unity and avoid getting swept up in pre-election drama as they assemble for their annual meeting. Click here to read more

Filings show Conservatives ended 2018 with big financial edge over Liberals

The Liberals had a better fundraising year than they did in 2017, but the Conservatives still have a wide financial edge over Justin Trudeau's party. Click here to read more

Thanks for reading. If you've got questions, criticisms or story tips, please email us politics@cbc.ca. 

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