Politics

Premiers set for fall meeting with Trudeau to discuss trade

Premiers end their first day at the Council of the Federation after talks focused on economic issues, and with a call for more talks — this time, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Economic issues, the border dominate opening day of Council of the Federation

B.C. Premier John Horgan works the room at a strawberry social during the Council of Federation in St. Andrews, N.B., on Thursday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Premiers ended their first day at the Council of the Federation after talks focused on economic issues, and with a call for more talks — this time, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in on the discussion.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, the chair and host of this year's meeting in Saint Andrews, N.B., said Thursday morning that he would propose to his fellow premiers a First Ministers meeting focused on international and interprovincial trade issues.

By the time he met reporters again that afternoon, he said the premiers would ask for a First Ministers meeting on the economy by the end of this calendar year.

They didn't have to wait very long for the response, with Trudeau's office emailing reporters a news release almost immediately, inviting premiers to "discuss ways to build on Canada's economic growth through diversifying international trade and improving trade within our borders."

But apart from that, Gallant failed to offer any specific examples of tangible progress from the premiers' day-long conversation.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, left, walks with David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the United States, after MacNaughton briefed premiers on U.S. trade issues. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

'Fox News' approach

David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to Washington, updated premiers Thursday morning on their joint work lobbying for Canadian trade interests south of the border.

Gallant said premiers weighed in on Canada's communications strategy vis-a-vis the United States.

Some felt they spend too much time talking to Americans who agree with them about the merits of free trade, he said, when they need to focus more time and energy on people who have ill feelings toward Canadian products and services.

Gallant dubbed this a "Fox News" approach — for the cable news network associated with amplifying the Trump administration's views. When asked, he said that B.C. Premier John Horgan may have been the one to coin the phrase around the table.

"I'd prefer to say we're going to talk directly to people," Horgan said later.

NB Premier Brian Gallant says the Premiers will broaden the way they are selling free trade in the USA 1:20

"More of the same has not led to a positive result," he said, noting all the Canadian jobs at risk from the Trump administration's recent tariffs.

The premiers will continue their outreach in Washington and other state capitals, something MacNaughton's embassy has co-ordinated ever since Donald Trump was elected president amid threats to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

They released a joint letter to the chair of the National Governors Association asking for "continued support and partnership of all governors to maintain and strengthen the prosperity and competitiveness of the North American economic space."

Focus on 'market access'

Gallant explained that the premiers weren't ready yet to make an announcement on liberalizing trade in alcoholic beverages, something that required more discussion Thursday evening and Friday morning, he said.

The Council of the Federation did release a three-page communiqué late Thursday, however, that was notable for its focus on "market access" and the diversification of Canada's export markets beyond the U.S., such as shipping more natural resources to Asia.

Language on market access was a priority for Premier Rachel Notley's office, but Alberta expected some resistance from B.C., where Horgan is going to court to try to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion across his province.

NB Premier Brian Gallant is the chair of the Premiers meeting Thursday in St Andrews by-the-Sea 0:21

"I don't doubt the need and imperative of all jurisdictions to get whatever their particular commodity is to market," he said.

"I don't want to stand in the way of co-operation here at [the Council of the Federation]. I will continue to exercise my responsibility to defend the interests of British Columbia regardless of what the communiqué says."

Like-minded on border crossers

Late Thursday afternoon, reporters were invited to photograph, from a distance, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister as they strolled across the front lawn of the Algonquin Resort, wearing suit jackets despite the hot July sun.

After they went back inside, aides scurried about handing out two news releases.

The first, from Ontario and Quebec jointly, talked about how the provinces are each other's largest trading partner and would continue to find ways to "improve trade, reduce regulatory burdens and cut red tape."

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, left to right, chat following a first day of meetings. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

It wasn't clear exactly what prompted this statement. Couillard pointed out to reporters how the release said both premiers believed in the importance of the supply-managed agriculture sector to the Canadian economy — a rebuke to those who wish politicians would disrupt Canada's dairy, egg and poultry industries with more liberalized trade.

The second release was from all three premiers jointly, about individuals who cross the border outside of regular points of entry.

The trio called on the federal government and its agencies to review current policies and allocate resources to ensure border security. They also called on Ottawa to full compensate each province for impacts to services resulting from the increased crossings in recent months, and ensure the timely adjudication of refugee claimant hearings.

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