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Environment

First ministers meeting shaping up to be most acrimonious in years

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  • OTTAWA — Wrangling over the agenda doesn’t bode well for Friday’s first ministers’ meeting, which is shaping up as one of the most fractious gatherings of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial leaders in decades.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is bracing for a barrage of criticism from premiers upset about the federal approach to pipelines, carbon taxation, environmental assessments, GM’s Oshawa plant closure in Ontario and the oil price crisis. 

    Meanwhile, federal officials privately concede little headway is likely to be made on the official objective of the Montreal meeting: reducing interprovincial trade barriers.

    Indeed, the feds are fully expecting the most openly hostile premier — Ontario’s Doug Ford — will do his best to derail the meeting altogether, including potentially storming out of the gathering or possibly even boycotting it outright.

    Their suspicions have been stoked by what federal insiders say are the hardball games Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe are playing on the agenda, demanding that it be expanded in writing to include the oil price crisis and the planned federal tax on carbon pollution.

    According to sources familiar with the dispute, who were not authorized to speak publicly, the pair have not been satisfied by the federal response that the agenda already includes a discussion on economic competitiveness — a broad topic that Ottawa says will allow premiers to raise all the issues they please.

    Moe confirmed in an interview Wednesday that there is “some frustration, myself included, with the agenda provided by the prime minister,” which includes having some federal ministers address the premiers on their initiatives.

    He said he intends to raise the oil price crisis, the carbon tax, pipelines and repeal of Bill C-69, which re-writes the rules for environmental assessments of energy projects.

    “We’d like it in writing, confirm that we’re going to discuss those items. But rest assured that the premier of the province of Saskatchewan will bring those items to the floor (regardless),” Moe said, adding that he doesn’t intend to leave the meeting early.

    Even the guest list for a pre-meeting dinner hosted by Trudeau on Thursday evening has become a matter of dispute. The feds proposed that it be a private affair for first ministers only, with a single notetaker present. The premiers demanded that each be allowed to bring one official.

    This will be the fourth first ministers’ meeting Trudeau has hosted since becoming prime minister in 2015. And it’s certain to be the most acrimonious.

    Since first ministers’ last met, the prime minister has lost several of his most reliable provincial Liberal allies — Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant.

    He now faces a phalanx of conservative premiers, four of whom — Ford, Moe, Manitoba’s Brian Pallister and New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs — have joined in court challenges to the federal carbon pricing plan and one of whom — Ford — has engaged in conflicts with the federal Liberals in general.

    Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley was initially an ally for Trudeau, supporting him on carbon pricing. But she parted company last summer over the failure to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project off the ground and is now crusading for federal help to ease the discount price Alberta is obliged to accept for its oil because it can’t get it to tidewater for shipment overseas.

    She and Moe sent Trudeau a letter this week, asking that the agenda for the first ministers’ meeting be revised to include the oil price crisis, which they argued is costing the country $80 million per day.

    And Notley disparaged the federal government’s preferred focus on interprovincial trade barriers.

    “We tend to have conversations about minor internal trade issues and then when it’s my opportunity to talk, I say, ‘Well, there’s one big internal trade issue that we have about getting our product from one province to another and to other markets and it’s actually worth 100 times the value of these other issues,” she said Tuesday.

    Quebec Premier Francois Legault issued a statement late Wednesday outlining several demands he plans to make of Ottawa.

    “During this meeting, I will have the opportunity to set out my vision and to defend Quebec’s interests on several issues, including the tariffs on aluminum and steel as well as the amount owed by the federal government in the asylum-seekers file,” Legault is quoted as saying.

    According to the statement, he’ll also press Ottawa on the “excessive and ever longer” period taken to process Quebec’s files, and will insist that the federal government grant full compensation to Quebec dairy producers affected by the signature of the USMCA.

    Trudeau said Wednesday that he looks forward to “talking about anything the premiers want to talk about.”

    “I’m looking forward to a broad range of discussions on whatever it is they have as priorities,” he said on his way into the House of Commons. “Including oil, of course. Natural resources are an essential part of our economy. We’re going to be talking about that as well.”

    Notley, Moe and a number of other premiers, including Newfoundland and Labrador’s Dwight Ball and Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil, also want to talk about Bill C-69, federal legislation that is currently stalled in the Senate and which would re-write the rules for environmental assessments of energy projects. Critics maintain it will create more red tape and delays in project approvals that will scare off potential investors.

    “We are looking for clarity around Bill C-69,” Ball said in an interview, adding that it’s creating uncertainty in his province’s offshore oil and mining industries.

    “We know that the regulatory regime can be an impediment in attracting investment.”

    In a similar vein, Biggs said he wants to talk about reviving the defunct Energy East pipeline proposal, which TransCanada abandoned last year, citing regulatory hurdles and changed circumstances.

    First ministers are to meet for two hours with Indigenous leaders Friday morning before holing up behind closed doors for some six hours with Trudeau.

    — With files from Ryan McKenna in Regina and Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s

    Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


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    Agriculture

    Saying sorry: CN apologizes to Manitoba rancher for oil spill after derailment

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  • ST-LAZARE, Man. — CN has apologized to a Manitoba rancher after one of its trains derailed and spilled oil on his land.

    A company spokesman says CN vice-president Sean Finn has spoken directly with Jayme Corr about how to fix any damage resulting from Saturday’s spill.

    Corr says Finn apologized for taking so long to reach out to him.

    He says the railway initially gave him little information, despite the spill being on a frozen river oxbow that Corr uses to water his cattle in the summer.  

    CN still can’t say how many cars were leaking or how much oil was spilled.

    Trains resumed running at noon on Sunday.

    Cleanup crews from CN and investigators from the Transportation Safety Board are at the spill site.

    The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Pro-pipeline protest convoy approaches Ottawa after rolling across country

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  • OTTAWA — A convoy of angry Albertans and other westerners rolls into Ottawa Tuesday for a mass protest against federal energy and environmental policies that has also become a magnet for extremist, anti-immigrant elements.

    A couple of hundred vehicles are expected on Parliament Hill as part of the United We Roll convoy, which began in Red Deer, Alta., on Valentine’s Day and made its way east over four days with stops for rallies along the way.

    “The core message is we need immediate action for our pipelines to get in the ground, to get to tidewater and to the rest of Canada,” said lead organizer Glen Carritt, the owner of an oilfield fire and safety company in Innisfail, Alta.

    The protesters want the Liberal government to scrap the carbon tax and two bills that overhaul environmental assessments of energy projects and ban oil tankers from the northern coast of British Columbia. Carritt said participants also are unhappy about the government’s recently signing a non-binding United Nations compact on global migration.

    Carritt said Canada’s borders “need to be controlled” by Canada and its citizens, not the United Nations.

    Another convoy was originally created by a group that called itself Canada Action, which cancelled the plan and refunded thousands of dollars in donations after that effort became associated with extremist elements in the Yellow Vests Canada movement.

    Carritt originally referred to his convoy as a “yellow vest convoy” but renamed it United We Roll after it too was linked to people spewing hateful rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants.

    “After much consideration we have decided to make this convoy about being inclusive and supporting Canadians first and foremost,” Carritt wrote on the protest’s GoFundMe page in late January. “Our new name is United We Roll! Convoy For Canada!”

    Some trucks in the convoy display the signature yellow vest garment on their front grilles but Carritt stresses the rally is open to anyone fed up with the federal government as long as they aren’t violent.

    “Everybody’s involved,” said Carritt. “It doesn’t matter — you can wear a yellow vest, or blue coveralls or black hardhat or suit and tie. Everybody that’s peaceful is welcome.”

    Jason Corbeil, another organizer, renounced any association with a Sault. Ste. Marie, Ont., yellow vest group that had claimed online to be part of the convoy. The blog of one of those organizers includes calls for specific politicians to be executed, refers to immigrants as “sub-human” and argues women don’t belong in politics.

    Corbeil said the convoy does not condone hate and is about uniting people.

    Evan Balgord, the executive director the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, however, is warning that the convoy is giving a platform for hate.

    “This convoy is a Yellow Vests Canada convoy and any well-meaning pro-pipeline individuals involved are in fact legitimizing and breathing oxygen into the broader Yellow Vests Canada movement, which spreads hate, conspiracy theories, and death threats targeting Muslims, politicians, and other Canadians,” he said.

    Indigenous Solidarity Ottawa is planning a demonstration near Parliament Hill Tuesday to counter the convoy’s protest, condemning what it calls “pro-pipeline, far right, and outright racist” rhetoric.

    Saskatchewan Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall is planning to speak at the convoy’s Parliament Hill event Tuesday. She said she is pleased to participate and that the organizers have made clear the protest is about pipelines and energy policy, not hate.

    “I see everyday Canadians who are out speaking out strongly in support of Canadian pipelines and their jobs and I want to be there to say I appreciate what they’re doing,” she said.

    The rally could bring much of downtown Ottawa to a standstill over the next two days, with street closures planned around Parliament Hill to make room for the 200 or more semi-trailers, pickup trucks, cars and buses expected. While the United We Roll group is largely made up of people from Western Canada, a group of like-minded protesters from Eastern Canada is to join up with them in Ottawa.

    Stephen Cook and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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