What’s Your Take on the New Relationship Between the Federal Government and the Provinces?

VIEWS FROM OUR POLITICAL COMMENTATORS: NDP, CONSERVATIVE AND LIBERAL

BY KATHLEEN MONK

BY KATHLEEN MONK

What a difference a year makes.

The early days of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government saw a renewal of federal – provincial relations. With the Conservatives booted from Langevin Block, meetings between the premiers and the Prime Minister were harmonious.

Sadly, a year later, the relationship can be better described as off-key.

No longer can Canadians expect to hear the camp song favourite Kumbaya emanating from the meeting rooms of the Council of the Federation. In fact, I’d wager you’re more likely to hear Twisted Sister’s We’re not gonna take it.

The new relationship started off on the right foot, but Trudeau’s fall 2016 carbon pricing announcement, where the federal government issued an ultimatum to the provinces: adopt a carbon tax or cap-and-trade plan or Ottawa will impose its own levy, resulted in Ministers stomping out of meetings and calls of betrayal.

The ‘my way or the highway’ approach Trudeau has taken with the provinces flies in the face of what he promised would be a more collaborative approach.

Despite all the slammed doors and twitter storms – particularly by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall – Trudeau still has set the carbon price too low to meet international climate goals. Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia has written that a $200 per tonne carbon price would be necessary to make an impact and reduce climate change. Trudeau set the target at a minimum of $50 a tonne by 2022.

The early days of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government saw a renewal of federal – provincial relations.

The early days of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government saw a renewal of federal – provincial relations.

The Liberal government is still spinning its wheels, trying to sell its climate change policies as courageous action; when arguably the greenest part of their policies is that they are using recycled climate targets from the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper – the same Conservative government that won multiple “fossil awards”.

While climate and carbon pricing policies have created a lot of hot air, it is Trudeau’s healthcare budget which will likely cause the biggest challenge for the relationship between the provinces, territories and the federal government going forward.

With Trudeau arriving at the Council of the Federation meetings with Stephen Harper’s healthcare budget even provincial premiers ideologically aligned with the federal Liberals, like Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, are crying foul.

That said, provinces, especially Liberal ones, have mostly kept quiet because Prime Minister Trudeau’s immense popularity with the Canadian public is far greater than any of their own approval ratings.

The question remains, when will the honeymoon for the Trudeau Liberals come to an end?  With Premiers divided over building new pipelines and decisions on approvals or rejections due soon – it could be sooner than later.

Kathleen Monk is a public affairs and communications strategist with over 15 years of experience in media, government and the non-profit sector. She appears regularly on CBC The National’s preeminent political panel, The Insiders, and provides analysis for CBC News Network’s Power and Politics.


BY TIM POWERS

BY TIM POWERS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been in office for just over one-year and on the surface of things federal-provincial relations remain positive. The Prime Minister continues to talk the talk about cooperative and collaborative federalism but he hasn’t entirely walked the walk.

On two major federal-provincial policy fronts the Prime Minister has not been afraid to either act or signal he will act unilaterally. In October, for example, while federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers were meeting to discuss climate change the Prime Minister, that very day as the meeting was happening, dropped his carbon pricing plan. Three provinces walked out of the gathering because they were angered by the federal approach. Nothing says cooperative federalism like a punch in the face.

Similarly prior to the federal-provincial meeting of health ministers the Trudeau government signaled it was, for now, sticking with the previous Harper government’s health care investment plan. They did go a little farther opining that more strings may come attached to federal dollars to drive outcomes in certain areas. That is like inviting someone to dinner at your house and they tell you what to cook for them. The meal may not be as appetizing afterwards.

The overriding lesson so far in this arena is the Prime Minister is willing to use the ample political capital he possesses to act if he feels the provinces aren’t playing ball on key files.

The overriding lesson so far in this arena is the Prime Minister is willing to use the ample political capital he possesses to act if he feels the provinces aren’t playing ball on key files.

Despite these things, right now, publicly it appears as if the Prime Minister and the premiers have healthy positive relationships. The premiers all likely realize that Justin Trudeau is by far still the most popular politician in all of Canada, with perhaps the exception of Premier Wall in Saskatchewan who has been unafraid to call out the Prime Minister, and in limited economic circumstances his government has money they need. So expect more of the kissy kissy huggy huggy disposition for the time being.

The overriding lesson so far in this arena is the Prime Minister is willing to use the ample political capital he possesses to act if he feels the provinces aren’t playing ball on key files. On carbon pricing he has had strong general public support and key stakeholder buy in to advance that agenda regardless of some provincial or federal opposition reticence.

He is a wise politician and knows he must act to make major change while he has the political gas to do so. Provinces won’t play ball forever and a new American President with a very different set of priorities on energy policy could soon change the trajectory of that file. In a year or two federal-provincial relations may look very different than they do now.

Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing partner of Abacus Data, both headquarters are in Ottawa. Mr. Powers appears regularly on CBC’s Power and Politics program as well as on VOCM in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


BY MICHAEL SUNG

BY MICHAEL SUNG

Recently the Government of Canada introduced the idea of the Pan-Canadian Approach to Pricing Carbon Pollution.  The framework touts carbon pricing as a central component applied to a broad set of emission sources across the economy.  Importantly, all jurisdictions should have carbon pricing by 2018.  Provinces and territories will have the flexibility to choose how they implement carbon pricing by (i) an explicit price-based system, or (ii) a cap-and-trade system.

In a historic move premiers and the Prime Minister will sit down together to negotiate the details of this Pan-Canadian climate plan. This approach—having federal and provincial governments craft a national plan together at the same table in the interests of environmental protection—is an experiment this country has never really tried before. The Prime Minister obviously appears very committed to reach a consensus with the provinces, not only on climate change but on a wider assortment of files such as pension plans.

When over 80 per cent of the country’s population is under some form of carbon pricing—British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec—it comes as no surprise that the federal government felt comfortable to implement carbon pricing principles to the remaining 20 per cent of the country.  Indeed, it’s the mandate upon which they were elected: a renewed national environmental framework focused on a clean economy.  In fact, based on a recent MainStreet poll the majority of Canadians back the federal government’s plan to introduce a pan-Canadian price on carbon – with or without the participation of the provinces.

In a historic move premiers and the Prime Minister will sit down together to negotiate the details of this Pan-Canadian climate plan.

In a historic move premiers and the Prime Minister will sit down together to negotiate the details of this Pan-Canadian climate plan.

The question then is whether provinces are willing to engage.  Anticipating federal leadership coupled with provincial cooperation, some organizations clearly felt that provincial collaboration took a back seat to a velvet glove.  Meanwhile, the Government of Alberta stated they will not be supporting the federal government’s proposal absent concurrent progress on pipeline approval to ensure that Alberta has the economic means to fund these policies. Saskatchewan, which, like other provinces, has constitutional jurisdiction over its natural resources, is investigating all options to mitigate the impact of what Premier Wall refers to as “one of the largest national tax increases in Canadian history.”

Reaching a consensus on a national climate change policy will certainly be a tightrope balance when provinces are the vehicles largely controlling these new revenue streams and leading the way with innovative policy solutions.

As the country prepares to transition into a de-carbonized future, the green-tech space will be presented with opportunities for innovation and traditional GHG emitters will be confronted with serious challenges.  If there is a lesson to be learned in the pace of this roll-out, popularity one year ago is certainly no guarantee of continual support.  If the roll-out of this plan, on which so many provinces’ prosperity is dependent, becomes compromised, no amount of past popularity will prevent provinces from fighting for their own self-interest.

Michael Sung is a Consultant at Crestview Strategy, a public affairs agency with offices in Toronto and Ottawa. Michael has worked on political campaigns at all levels of government and continues to be an active volunteer in his community.