The House

Last minute deal: Premiers reach Canadian free-trade agreement

This week, The House is in Whitehorse to cover the annual gathering of Canada's 13 provincial and territorial leaders. Our guests: Yukon's Darrell Pasloski, Ontario's Kathleen Wynne, Manitoba's Brian Pallister, New Brunswick's Brian Gallant, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall and British Columbia's Christy Clark.
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, right chairs a meeting of provincial premiers as Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, looks on in Whitehorse, Yukon, Thursday, July, 21, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward (Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode48:30

It didn't look like it was going to happen.

With the clock ticking, the deal to improve inter-provincial trade that some thought was close just weeks ago now appeared to be out of reach.

Ultimately the country's Premiers pushed back the closing press conference of their annual meeting in Whitehorse and emerged with a deal.

"It is an historic day," said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski. 

"Virtually all of the Canadian economy is now part of this trade agreement," he told The House.

There are however some exceptions that will be outlined once officials turned this agreement in principle into something the provinces can ratify.

The host of this week's meeting, the first to be held in one of the territories, also managed to get his wish with the Premiers agreeing to go on a trade mission to Europe and the U.K. in the new year.

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski explains what the new inter-provincial trade agreement means for Canadians and when the exceptions will be made public. 12:03

What's next for the Council of the Federation?

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne shakes hands with Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski following a meeting of Premiers in Whitehorse, Yukon, July, 22, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

One of the biggest differences about this year's meeting wasn't even in Whitehorse.

The provinces have a new Prime Minister to deal with. One who's willing to meet with them as a group,  something Stephen Harper was never keen on.

Does that make an annual summer gathering redundant or unnecessary?

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told The House that Premiers need a forum to figure out their priorities. But it's helpful to know there's someone in Ottawa willing to engage with them.

"In the past, we've sent letters and asked for meetings and known full well we weren't going to get meetings," she said, arguing that things are different now.

On Friday, the Premiers announced that they were requesting a meeting with Justin Trudeau this fall to negotiate a new health accord.

"We're pretty sure we're going to get a meeting. That's a huge difference," Wynne said.

With the Prime Minister willing to meet with the Premiers as a group, is there still a need for Premiers to meet just among themselves. Ontario's Kathleen Wynne argues they should. 4:37

How do Premiers bridge their differences?

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark might not agree on everything, but they find a way to work together.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall never shies away from making his positions known. This year, Justin Trudeau's comments about wanting to "make sure there is a strong price on carbon right across the country" were in his sights.

In the past, British Columbia's Christy Clark has also used the summer meeting of the Council of the Federation to take a stand. In her case it was her famous 5 conditions that dominated discussion in Halifax back in 2012.

So how do Premiers go about attempting to get past their differences on complicated issues such as health care funding, putting a price on carbon or improving inter-provincial trade?

Clark told The House that it's all knowing when to compromise.

"Everybody around the table was 100 per cent right," she said, but they managed to compromise on a new inter-provincial trade agreement. "It really was an example of why Canada works. Because agreements are never all perfect, but they're better than not having agreements."

"It was a historic meeting to be at, I was grateful to be here," said Wall.

The two Premiers also teased each other about their political futures... with one offering to become the other's campaign manager.

B.C.'s Christy Clark and Saskatchewan's Brad Wall talk about how Premiers manage to bridge their differences. 10:36

We also talked to New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant about something that's generated plenty of controversy in the past, but not so much this time: the Canadian Energy Strategy.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant talks about the ongoing discussions around the Canadian Energy Strategy. 8:29

The new guy at the table

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was attending his first meeting of the Council of the Federation. (Nick Gamache/CBC)

One of the new faces at the premiers' table this year also happens to be the only who knows first-hand what it's like to be part of the federal government.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was a Member of Parliament for eight years, including some time as a Conservative MP in the early years of Stephen Harper's time as Prime Minister.

"I probably have more elected experience than virtually any Premier," Pallister told The House.

"I've really been impressed with the way that all of the Premiers are setting aside, somewhat at least, their own sort of parochial interests and looking at the national interest," he said.

One of the key topics of discussion for Pallister, was the upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Documents obtained by CBC News this week showed that the inquiry will focus on violence prevention.

A draft of the terms of reference says commissioners will be given the broad mandate to identify systemic causes of violence and recommend "concrete action" to help end violence against Indigenous women and girls.

"It's really critical that we remember that, because this process of an inquiry may take years, that this should never be an excuse for not taking action now," Pallister said, but wouldn't say whether he thinks past police actions should be put under the microscope.

"The terms of reference are there to be discussed," he said. "The fundamental concern we have is that we don't just simply recreate the pain situation that's been there for so many people in our country."

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister talks about what he learned from his first Council of the Federation meeting. 11:14