Council of the Federation shapes provincial politics for 2013
By Bruce A Stewart
When the Canadian premiers gather for their periodic Council of the Federation meetings, you normally don’t expect much. Pious words, a little Ottawa bashing, pronouncements that go nowhere is the norm.
Oh, and photo-ops. Lots and lots of photo-ops.
Last week’s gathering in Halifax, however, started to show us the shape of provincial politics in 2013 — and with it, some eye to who’s likely to gain and who’s likely to lose out going forward.
Alberta’s Alison Redford came out a big winner this week. More of the other premiers are signing up to her notion of a national energy strategy. Objections she was facing a few months ago are fading, replaced by negotiation over terms. Gone is the language of “Alberta’s petro-dollar hurting our industries” — and “Alberta’s hurting the environment.” A clear win.
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The great chameleon of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, managed to figure out how to share this bit of limelight. There’s a lot of resentment in his province about the costs he’s imposed with his force-fed green energy strategies, but by working with Redford (rather than against her, as he was doing earlier this year) he gets them included in the national energy thinking for electricity. Smart.
Compare that to British Columbia’s Christy Clark, who arrived in Halifax with the “pay us or else” approach to the Northern Gateway. Sure, amongst the other premiers there there were a few who wouldn’t turn down money, either, but she basically stood alone. Every one of them — even those with huge grudges against their neighbours — know that when they have something to export they’re going to need those same neighbouring provinces to let their products pass.
If Clark had come in saying “Canadian resources should be processed in Canada, not exported raw” she might have found the table going her way. But she didn’t: she went looking for welfare and found herself isolated.
Clark had better hope her shipboard photo-op with Shawn Atleo, the recently re-elected Grand Chief of the First Nations, works for her, because that’s all she’s come back to BC with.
The meeting chair, Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia, also came off looking pretty solid. He’s been the force behind the scenes keeping agenda items moving since the last session, and it showed: the meeting had less waffle and more substantial, fact-filled discussion than usual.
PEI’s Robert Ghiz and Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, who’d been tasked with the health care issue, brought the ideas to the table for national drug and equipment buying and cross-border sharing. Between the meetings, they’d travelled to each province gathering data, so what was presented wasn’t just pious platitudes but grounded in real practice province by province and numbers could be applied to the ideas.
The premiers have kept them on the job — a smart move.
The other loser this week was Québec’s Jean Charest. Expected to be facing re-election within a few days, he had the opportunity to put a firm impression in the minds of Quebeckers. Instead he waffled, temporized, and was the only premier not to say “make it so” for Ghiz and Wall’s proposals.
In a province where outright fear for the future (given Québec’s finances) is mounting, he chose to stand back from a clear financial win. Bad move.
Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador were “just there,” with no strong contributions from their premiers this time around.
If the next Council of the Federation actually holds the premiers to account for whether or not their acceptance of national buying has been implemented, we’ll know for certain that things have changed for the better.