​Premiers head to Montreal for tough meeting with Trudeau

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Image: Government of Alberta

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says she'll have allies in the room to help push talks on the oil-price crisis at the upcoming first ministers meeting.

“There is really no province in the country that doesn't owe Alberta to some degree for their schools, their hospitals, their roads. The fact of the matter is Alberta has to do well for Canada to do well,” Notley said in Edmonton Thursday before leaving for the meeting in Montreal.

She noted that forecasts for Canada's economic growth are already more muted because of the low price Alberta is getting for its oil in the United States and its inability to move its product to ports for shipment overseas.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to face criticism from premiers about the federal approach to pipelines, carbon taxes, oil prices, environmental assessments and a planned General Motors plant closure in Ontario — none of which is specifically on the agenda.

Notley also said she doesn't want to spend time listening to what the federal government says it is already doing to try to address Alberta's concerns.

“It just doesn't make sense…talking about things that have already happened,” she said. “We don't need federal ministers to explain to us what they've already done. We're all capable of reading their press releases.”

In Ontario, Doug Ford's office said the Ontario premier is prepared to walk away from the meeting Friday if it does not include specific discussions on the federal carbon tax. Ford was set to meet with Trudeau in Montreal on Thursday afternoon.

Sources familiar with the dispute said Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe have not been satisfied by the federal response that the first ministers meeting agenda already includes a discussion on economic competitiveness — a broad topic that Ottawa says will allow premiers to raise all the issues they please.

Ontario government house leader Todd Smith said the agenda doesn't deal with the concerns of the provinces, which include the carbon tax, the GM plant and the oil-price crisis.

Federal officials have privately conceded that little headway is likely to be made on the official objective of the meeting: reducing interprovincial trade barriers.

Asked by reporters in Montreal about the premiers' dissatisfaction with the agenda, Trudeau refused to engage with the question directly.

“I’m looking forward to a productive discussion. I have no illusions that we're going to agree on everything,” he said.

He was to have a private meeting with Ford later Thursday. The formal meeting among all the first ministers is Friday.

© 2018 The Canadian Press