Premiers talk strategy for dealing with Liberal minority in a divided country

Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders spoke on the phone Friday for the first time since the federal election to discuss how they would approach relations with the new Liberal minority government.

Leaders to gather face-to-face by end of year before seeking to meet with PM

Canada's Premiers, left to right, Sandy Silver, Yukon, Dwight Ball, Newfoundland and Labrador, Brian Pallister, Manitoba, Stephen McNeil, Nova Scotia, Doug Ford, Ontario, Scott Moe, Saskatchewan, Francois Legault, Quebec, Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick, John Horgan, British Columbia, Jason Kenney, Alberta and Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut are seen during a closing news conference following a meeting of Canada's premiers in Saskatoon, Sask. on Thursday, July 11, 2019. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Canada's provincial and territorial leaders spoke on the phone Friday for the first time since the federal election to discuss how they would approach relations with the new Liberal minority government.

Premiers discussed a range of policy issues, including mental health and addictions, trade, equalization and environmental assessments for major resource projects.

The call was convened by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who is currently the chair of the Council of the Federation.

"Today, I was pleased to chair a conference call with fellow premiers," said Moe. "As premiers, we recognize the importance of continued engagement at the COF table."

The narrow election result has been driving talk of regional fractures within Canada, stoked by the return of the separatist Bloc Québécois and growing signs of western alienation.

Working with provinces presents challenge for Trudeau

Relations with the provinces may prove to be one of the most challenging issues for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government, given that the Liberals were elected without winning a single seat in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Both provinces have criticized Ottawa for failing to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built. Trudeau also is being pressed by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Premier Moe to scrap the carbon tax and revamp the equalization system as first steps toward improving relations with Western Canada.

Speaking on the CBC's Power and Politics, Premier Kenney said he's trying to build a consensus among provinces to stand up to the federal government.

"I've placed a great emphasis on trying to ... find allies amongst other provincial governments whose interests are aligned with ours here in the West," he said.

Kenney said opposing Bill C-69, legislation passed by the Trudeau government earlier this year that created a new environmental assessment regime, is one of those interests.

He said nine out of 10 provinces, and two out of the three territories, are opposed to Bill C-69.

Provincial and territorial divisions

But there are plenty of divisions among the premiers themselves.

B.C. Premier John Horgan told CBC News he agreed with Ontario Premier Doug Ford when he expressed his support during the call for increasing immigration to their provinces — an issue on which Quebec Premier François Legault is moving in the opposite direction.

And the issue of pipelines pits Quebec and B.C. against Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Horgan said the Trans Mountain pipeline project — a major point of contention between Alberta and B.C. — did not come up during the call.

The premiers did agree to organize a face-to-face meeting with each other by the end of the year before seeking a First Ministers' meeting with the prime minister.

"The consensus around the table was we needed to meet together ourselves first to talk about those areas of common interest and those areas where we might have divides," Horgan said.

Kenney said they're looking at a date "later this month."

With files from CBC's Tanya Fletcher and The Canadian Press