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.
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.”
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.