Ford stresses national unity, calls for calm after meeting Trudeau

OTTAWA — Ontario Premier Doug Ford is trying to play the part of Canada’s peacemaker, asking his counterparts in Ottawa and in other provinces to turn down the heated rhetoric and find a way to get along.

“We just have to calm the temperature,” he said.

“I can’t emphasize it enough. We have to stick together as a country and send the message to the rest of the world that we’re Canada and we’re ready to move forward.”

Ford himself was trying to dial back the tension in his relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom he met in Ottawa Friday morning for the first time since Trudeau made attacking Ford a key part of his re-election bid last month.

“It’s politics,” Ford shrugged when asked whether he carried any grudges or wanted an apology from Trudeau.

The two leaders were calm and cordial as they shook hands before their official discussion, and were even cracking jokes about Ford’s recent revelation that he is trying to learn French.

Does Trudeau know any teachers? Ford asked. Yes, and I even used to be one, Trudeau told Ford. But I’m a bit busy these days.

“We’re obviously not going to agree on everything but the things that we do agree on, I look forward to working (on) respectfully, collaboratively, and co-operatively, in ways that are going to benefit the people of Ontario and indeed right across the country,” Trudeau said.

When Ford came out of the meeting almost an hour later, he was all smiles.

“I thought it was a phenomenal meeting, I really did,” Ford said.

That was a far cry from the sentiment last week after Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe walked out of the same office scowling. Moe called his meeting with Trudeau “disappointing,” with no signs the two could find anything to agree on.

But where Moe went into the meeting with demands for Trudeau to pause the federal carbon tax in Saskatchewan and change the equalization formula for transfers to provincial governments, Ford went in promising to discuss only issues where he and the prime minister had common ground.

“There’s a lot of areas that we can agree on,” he said.

Like Moe, Ford is challenging Ottawa in court over the federal government’s decision to impose a carbon tax on any province without an equivalent system, but the carbon tax didn’t come up in his conversation with Trudeau. Neither did Trudeau’s decision to allow municipal governments the authority to ban handguns.

Instead Ford and Trudeau talked about helping Toronto expand its subway system, as well as investments in health care and building Ontario’s first French-language university. That latter discussion alone is a sign the two governments are moving beyond past insults, as the federal Liberals stoked anger against the Ford government when it initially scrapped plans for the university.

They also discussed the idea of a national pharmacare program to help pay for prescription medications as part of Canada’s universal health care system. Trudeau promised in the election campaign to take the next steps toward a national universal pharmacare program but needs to negotiate with each province because health care is a provincial jurisdiction.

Ford has invited all the premiers to Toronto Dec. 2 for a meeting to discuss federal-provincial co-operation while Trudeau leads a minority government. He suggested Friday he will push all the premiers to be more co-operative at that meeting.

Ford said Friday he has a great relationship with most other premiers, and is also pushing Trudeau to find compromises with Alberta and Saskatchewan, where economic anxieties are high as the international fight against climate change threatens their fossil-fuel industries.

“I did mention to the PM that we do have to listen to the concerns of the people out west,” he said. ”They’re hurting out there.”

A year ago Ford was included with most of the other provincial conservative premiers and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on the cover of a Maclean’s magazine where the group was dubbed “The Resistance.” That opposition was largely about Trudeau’s climate and energy policies, including the carbon tax.

In June Ford was among six conservative premiers who wrote to Trudeau to demand he fix or scrap bills C-48, and C-69, banning oil tankers from northern B.C. ports and overhauling environmental reviews for major projects like mines and pipelines.

But Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney represent provinces where Trudeau is immensely unpopular — Alberta and Saskatchewan didn’t elect a single Liberal MP between them. Ontario, in contrast, helped keep Trudeau in office, and Ford is very aware of that.

“A lot of the people that voted for the prime minister, not all but a lot of them, voted for me,” Ford said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2019.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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