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Doug Ford government pledges to be on better behaviour

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Paul Calandra, the Government House Leader, says the PCs will abide by the ‘spirit’ of an eight-page memo on civility the Speaker sent out in the summer that singled out the government’s insistence on frequent standing ovations. (File Photo).

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government have pledged to be on better behaviour when the legislature reopens on Monday as part of a strategy to strike a new, more conciliatory tone.

MPPs are returning to Queen’s Park amid tense labour talks with the province’s teacher unions – whom the Premier has previously called “thugs” – and which are due to hold strike votes within days. But the PC government, from Mr. Ford on down, promises to make an effort to keep the thermostat low.

However, one of the key bills on the agenda is a contentious plan to legislate wage caps of 1 per cent on public sector workers – and a union-sponsored protest is scheduled for the front lawn of Queen’s Park on Monday.

Paul Calandra, the former federal MP who is Mr. Ford’s House Leader, said last week the government will act a little differently in the legislature. He said the PCs will abide by the “spirit” of an eight-page memo on civility the Speaker sent out in the summer that singled out the government’s insistence on frequent standing ovations. But he cautions that Question Period will not turn into a tea party.

“I don’t want to leave any illusions. When members are passionate in debate, I think that’s good for the legislature. It’s good,” Mr. Calandra said. “They don’t pay us to sit here and be bumps on a log.”

The legislature has been on a break for five months, and Mr. Ford kept a low profile during the federal election campaign, after a rocky first year in which the Premier lost his chief of staff and retreated on several issues.

A senior PC source, to whom The Globe and Mail has granted confidentiality because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the government’s strategy is to emphasize governing, rather than a campaign-like approach.

NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters last week she’s not sure what tone to expect when the legislature returns, no matter what some on the government side have promised.

“The biggest change that’s happened in terms of how the tenor of the Question Period process unfolds has come as a result of the current government,” Ms. Horwath said. “So I think Mr. Ford and his team need to do some thinking.”

The Ford government shut down the legislature in June, launching a 144-day break that ends only a week after the Oct. 21 federal election. For months, Mr. Ford’s cabinet, which was shuffled in June after a year in office, has been backtracking on spending cuts and other controversies that had moved the government’s poll numbers downward. As the fall federal election campaign got under way, Mr. Ford stayed well out of the spotlight, even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to link the Premier’s spending cuts to federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

One senior Progressive Conservative source said the long hiatus was as much about resetting the government’s image in Ontario as it was about trying to avoid having Mr. Ford damage Mr. Scheer’s chances. The Globe granted confidentiality to the source to speak about internal matters.

The government has also ratcheted back the rhetoric on one of its central campaign planks: Allowing the sale of beer in corner stores. Talks had been held with the big brewers that own the near-monopoly Beer Store retail outlet on its 10-year contract with the government, which limits expanding beer sales outside its doors. But Mr. Calandra told reporters this week a bill that would tear up Ontario’s deal with the Beer Store and insulate the government from any resulting lawsuit was not on the legislature’s immediate priority list.

In addition to toning down arguments in the House, Mr. Ford has repeatedly said in his public comments since the re-election of the federal Liberals that he also wants to work collaboratively with other governments – although he says his legal challenge of Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax will proceed.

Mr. Ford’s Transportation Minister, Caroline Mulroney, recently struck a deal with Toronto Mayor John Tory to pull back on Ontario’s plan to take over the city’s existing subway system in exchange for Mr. Tory’s blessing for the province’s proposed Ontario Line subway.

Ms. Mulroney told reporters last week it was important to set a “collaborative tone,” and that she would work with other levels of government to get transit built.

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Western alienation goes to Ottawa as Andrew Scheer and Scott Moe meet with Trudeau

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got a firsthand blast of Western angst on Tuesday as he heard the complaints of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe in separate private meetings.

With the Liberals planning to unveil a Throne Speech on Dec. 5, Trudeau will be meeting with opposition parties this week to look for common ground that will help keep his minority government propped up. The House is expected to sit for about seven days to take care of some routine business and introduce a middle-class tax cut, before breaking for the holidays.

For his meeting, Moe said he arrived in Ottawa in good faith to hear how Trudeau planned to make good on a promise he made on election night: that he understood and would address the frustrations of voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan who elected not a single Liberal MP between them on Oct. 21.

“I can tell you this, I did not hear that there was going to be anything different. I heard more of the same,” a disgruntled Moe told reporters after the meeting.

Moe brought the carbon tax to the top of the agenda as he met with Trudeau. Saskatchewan has been pursuing a legal case against the federal policy, arguing that it infringes on provincial jurisdiction.

Moe was also vocal about the carbon tax in his media availability after the meeting with Trudeau, saying he had asked Trudeau to “pause” the tax, which the prime minister rebuffed.

“We don’t see a commitment with respect to moving forward and putting a pause on the federally imposed carbon tax on industries in the provinces,” said Moe. “We have had a very trying harvest in Saskatchewan… there are some farmers that will have some very large carbon tax bills that are coming on the grain-drying costs.”

Moe also complained about the equalization program, saying it was unfair to provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. His neighbour to the west, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, has threatened to hold a provincial referendum that would force a negotiation on the federal equalization program if the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion isn’t built.

Moe said the issue of “getting our goods to market,” was the third item he raised with Trudeau.


Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 12, 2019.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The meeting with Scheer began with an awkward handshake and photo opportunity as the two men transition from a fractious election campaign last month to the forced collegiality of a minority Parliament. As the cameras rolled, the two men stood about two feet apart with tight smiles, before shooing the media out of the meeting room.

Scheer and Trudeau spoke about their mutual desire for a middle-class tax cut, the ratification of the USMCA trade deal with the United States and the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, a senior Liberal adviser said. Scheer told Trudeau that Canadians don’t trust that he’ll build the pipeline, with Trudeau responding that the sole reason the government bought the pipeline was to get it built.

“You could help us,” Trudeau told Scheer.

Trudeau and Scheer also found common ground on a home renovation tax credit.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Scheer said he was happy to lay out his priorities but emphasized that it was the prime minister’s job to get his Throne Speech passed in the House.

“It’s not up to us to support this government,” said Scheer, in French. “The responsibility lies with Mr. Trudeau when it comes to finding common ground.”

Andrew Scheer with Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 12, 2019.

Patrick Doyle/Reuters

The Conservative leader did lay out some more areas where he thinks the Liberal priorities overlap with his own. Both parties promised hefty middle-class tax cuts during the campaign, which cost roughly the same amount, although they would be implemented in different ways and have slightly different outcomes. The Liberal tax plan was slightly more generous to taxpayers at the lower end of the income scale and would take about 700,000 people off the federal income tax rolls completely.

Scheer also mentioned plans for subway line expansions in Toronto and tax-free benefits for parental leave as areas where the Liberal policy could be appealing to the Conservative Party.

One area where the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition are sure to disagree is over previously-passed legislation that affects the energy sector. Scheer said he wants Trudeau to repeal Bill C-69, the legislation that overhauls the review process for major energy projects, and Bill C-48, which imposes an oil tanker moratorium off the north of B.C.’s coast. Both bills have attracted widespread opposition in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“I specifically mentioned that those two pieces of legislation were aimed, if you take him at his word, at instilling confidence in the energy sector,” said Scheer. “We can see with the billions of dollars leaving Canada to build energy projects in other countries that those two pieces of legislation have not had the desired impact. They are certainly leading to the uncertainty and the lack of confidence in the energy sector.”

Scheer’s other demands included a task force on a proposed cross-Canada energy corridor, stronger penalties for ethics violations and a single tax return for Quebecers, which were all highly-publicized Conservative campaign promises. Notably, the Conservative demands did not include any mention of the carbon tax, which Scheer had said during the campaign he would repeal if his party formed government.

• Email: sxthomson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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Premier Scott Moe says he is ‘disappointed’ after meeting with Trudeau

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OTTAWA—Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe left Ottawa empty-handed Tuesday after his first meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the October federal election.

Moe, one of the loudest voices of Western provinces’ frustration with Trudeau’s Liberals, wanted changes to the federal equalization system, a one-year reprieve for his province from the federal carbon tax, and a commitment from the prime minister to help boost Saskatchewan’s exports.

The Saskatchewan premier told reporters outside the Prime Minister’s Office he was “disappointed” with the meeting.

“After this meeting here today, what I do see is that we’re going to see more of the same from this prime minister,” Moe said after the meeting with Trudeau.

“We had provided some options for him to support the people of the province and today I did not hear a commitment to moving forward on those items.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Trudeau said the prime minister will continue to have “constructive discussions” with premiers and mayors.

“In addition to ensuring this Parliament works, Canadians expect our government to make life more affordable for them and fight climate change,” Cameron Ahmad said in a statement.

“The prime minister is eager to work together to keep making progress and grow the middle class, and looks forward to meeting with all premiers one-on-one in the near future.”

Moe called for a “new deal with Canada” for his province after the Oct. 21 federal election, which saw Conservative MPs win all 14 of Saskatchewan’s federal ridings.

The premier suggested Tuesday that the Liberals failure to secure a single seat in the province — including losing longtime MP and cabinet minister Ralph Goodale’s Regina riding — was an expression of the anger growing in Saskatchewan and Alberta towards Trudeau and central Canada.

Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney have been at the forefront of that anger, with Kenney also demanding equalization reform and the repeal of recent Liberal environmental legislation.

Like Kenney, Moe suggested Wednesday that he will turn his efforts to finding ways to make Saskatchewan more independent from the federal government — although he stopped short of endorsing Western separation rhetoric.

“We are going to start to broaden our ambitions, if you will, with respect to Saskatchewan’s outreach to our trading partners around the world,” Moe said.

“We are also going to look at options that we have to expand our provincial autonomy in the province.”

But a Liberal source with direct knowledge of the meeting between Trudeau and Moe said the prime minister was willing to listen to specific proposals on equalization — provided Moe can receive buy-in from his 12 fellow premiers.

“The prime minister said ‘look, if you have a specific proposal as chair of the Council of the Federation, and you have buy-in from all the provinces on changing the formula that (former prime minister Stephen) Harper and Kenney set … I’m open to hearing proposals and ideas,’” the source, who was granted anonymity to discuss a private meeting, said.

“So he didn’t say that he would refuse to hear ideas, but he made it clear that this is what we’re talking about and we have to stick to the facts and it can’t just be all about rhetoric.”

It’s Moe’s year to chair the Council of the Federation, the annual meeting of provincial and territorial leaders. While the Saskatchewan premier has allies opposing the federal carbon price, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, he may find his proposals on equalization a tougher sell around that table.

In Quebec’s National Assembly Tuesday, Parti Québécois interim leader Pascal Bérubé suggested he would put forward a motion calling on the federal government not to make any changes to the equalization formula without the express approval of the Quebec government.

It’s those kinds of regional tensions that create a political hurdle to tweaking equalization, the federal transfer program aimed at ensuring Canadians have comparable public services whatever province they live in.

“The federal government can change the formula however and whenever they see fit. They’re really just political considerations here,” said University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe in an interview Tuesday.

“Equalization is always an issue that’s raised in different provinces at different points in time. There’s nothing new here … It continues a long-standing tradition in Canada.”

Moe was the third conservative premier to meet with Trudeau after the Liberals were returned to Ottawa with a minority mandate. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King both met with the prime minister last week.

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MacKay will vote for Scheer to stay on as Conservative Leader

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Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay says that when the time comes to vote on Andrew Scheer’s continued leadership of the party, he’s going to back the Conservative Leader.

The comment comes less than two weeks after MacKay told a Wilson Centre think tank panel in Washington that Scheer’s 2019 election loss “was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.”

Now, MacKay – whose name has been floated as a potential challenger to Scheer for the top spot in the party – told CTV Power Play host Don Martin that he supports the current leader and will continue to do so.

“Well Andrew Scheer is going to face a mandatory review, Don, that’s part of the Conservative constitution, so that will be for he and the membership. I’ll be there, and I’ll be voting no,” MacKay told Martin in a pre-taped interview, airing Monday.

MacKay also walked back other comments made during the same panel on Oct. 30. At the time, MacKay said the chatter about issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage “hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like stinking albatross, quite frankly.”

Speaking to Martin on Monday, MacKay said those comments weren’t directed at Scheer’s position on those issues.

“Those comments, of course, were torqued. It was about the election performance generally, writ large, myself included. It wasn’t aimed directly at Andrew Scheer – and when I said there was an albatross around his neck, he didn’t put it there. It was put there by the media, it was put there by the opposition quite deliberately to hamstring his performance,” said MacKay.

Asked about the lack of clarity surrounding Scheer’s personal beliefs on same-sex marriage, MacKay couldn’t explain why Scheer hasn’t been more clear.

“I think Andrew Scheer, who has very strong beliefs, doesn’t think it’s a sin and I can’t answer why it is he hasn’t been more direct in his answer,” MacKay said.

MacKay went on to defend both Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party’s record when it comes to protecting human rights.

“Andrew Scheer was part of the Conservative government for ten years that not only didn’t remove rights, it enhanced rights. It spoke up for people’s rights on the international stage…there’s a proud legacy that Andrew Scheer is a part of, can take ownership of, and can proudly stand behind and I believe he is doing that. He’s trying to make that case.”

Scheer was criticized during the election campaign for failing to clarify his personal beliefs on issues including same-sex marriage and abortion. Scheer, a social Conservative who has publicly opposed both issues in the past, says he would uphold the law on abortion.

He also said in a pre-campaign speech that if he formed government, he would “support and introduce” legislation that protects LGBTQ Canadians.

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