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

British Columbia Premier John Horgan says the provincial and territorial leaders need to show unity and not get swept up in pre-election drama as they meet for their annual gathering. 

Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatchewan next week will be the last one before fall vote

Premier John Horgan will be attending the annual Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatoon next week. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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.

The nation's premiers will gather in Saskatoon next week. The prime minister doesn't attend the Council of the Federation — but the fall federal election and Justin Trudeau are certain to be topics of conversation.

Speaking to CBC News' The House on Friday, Horgan wouldn't single out any premiers but said some of them want to use the meeting to face off publicly with the Trudeau government.

"There are going to be those that are going to want to draw lines in the sand," he told The House.

Court challenges launched by Saskatchewan and Ontario against the federal Liberals' climate plan were shot down recently in their respective courts; both provincial governments say they will appeal the rulings. Meanwhile, Horgan's government has signalled it intends to appeal the B.C. Court of Appeal decision shooting down its attempt to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project with legislation.

Horgan acknowledged getting premiers to look beyond those conflicts could be a challenge at the meeting. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney campaigned on an anti-Trudeau message and Ontario Premier Doug Ford has made no secret of his disdain for the federal government. (The prime minister also has fired back at Ford a number of times.)

"We have a range of perspectives at the table," Horgan said.

"It's critical to our federation that the federal government recognizes responsibilities and roles for the provinces, and also that the provinces recognize the role and function of the federal government."

Trade and talent

Despite controversy over pipelines and the carbon tax, Horgan said there are other big provincial issues at stake. 

The interprovincial trade file — the push to liberate trade in goods and services across Canada's internal borders — has been spinning its wheels.

It was only two years ago that the Canadian Free Trade Agreement modernized 20-year-old rules on trade between the provinces and territories, but tangible progress has been scarce since.

At their last meeting in the summer 2018, the premiers moved to increase the amount of alcohol that could be transported between provinces. This spring, Ottawa introduced legislation that it said will remove a final federal barrier to the easier flow of beer, wine and spirits. The final step would be for the provinces to implement rules of their own.

Despite those looming trade matters, the federal-provincial issues on the premiers' minds — like the carbon tax and Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — likely will take up space on the unofficial agenda.

And while there are bound to be disagreements at the table, Horgan said anyone expecting a dogfight likely will be disappointed.

He cited his meeting with Premier Kenney at the Western Premiers' Conference last week as an example. 

The governments of B.C. and Alberta have been at odds for years over Trans Mountain, with Horgan and Alberta's then-premier Rachel Notley trading threats to curtail oil and gas shipments and cut off wine exports. Relations between the two provinces have been tense, but Horgan said it's time for more unity.

"Premier Kenney and I both recognize that there's more value in trying to find the things that bring us together than to focus on those that are obviously taking us apart."

Even though they shook hands and shared a joke or two, both leaders said their positions on the pipeline remained unchanged after the talks.

Kenney reaffirmed Alberta is ready to limit oil and gas exports to any province who stands in the way of pipelines, and Horgan restated he's ready to challenge that turn-off-the-taps law and take his pipeline opposition to the Supreme Court.

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