Scheer seeks common ground, Moe leaves disappointed after meetings with Trudeau

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s back-to-back meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday yielded few results in the search for national unity after a divisive federal election.

With the House of Commons now scheduled to return on Dec. 5, Scheer said it’s up to Trudeau to ensure the throne speech attracts enough support to keep the government standing, while Moe suggested it’s time for his province to find a way to act more on its own.

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

“I came today to hear about what he was going to do differently to support the industries and the people in our province and I can tell you this — I did not hear that there is going to be anything different, there is going to be more of the same,” a visibly upset Moe told reporters after the meeting.

Before it began, Trudeau had suggested it was going to be a tough discussion, noting there are many areas in which the two do not agree but finding common ground is a must.

“We both understand our shared responsibility to do things that strengthen the country every step of the way,” he said.

Trudeau’s meeting with Moe was the latest in a series of get-togethers with premiers as the prime minister seeks input and ideas on how his legislative agenda must adapt to face not just the reality of a minority government, but one divided very sharply on regional lines.

Moe showed up Tuesday armed with demands: a one-year pause on the federal carbon tax in Saskatchewan, a reworked equalization formula and more overseas oil markets opened by completing pipelines beyond the Trans Mountain project.

But he received commitments on none of them, Moe said, and it’s time for his province to find another path forward.

Saskatchewan will continue its court challenge to the federal carbon tax and increase outreach to global trading partners, Moe said.

“We are also going to look at opportunities to expand our provincial autonomy,” he said, promising to expand on that in the coming days.

A spokesperson for Trudeau characterized the meeting with Moe as a first step.

“We are committed to making Parliament work for all Canadians, and will continue having constructive discussions with premiers, mayors, and other parties to address issues right across the country,” Eleanore Catenaro said in an email.

Scheer, who also represents a Saskatchewan riding, left his own meeting with Trudeau with a slightly more optimistic tone.

After their conversation, which lasted less than 30 minutes, he said common ground exists between him and Trudeau on items both promised during the election including making maternal and parental benefits tax-free and funding public transit in Toronto. The introduction of a tax cut will be the Liberals’ first order of business.

Scheer said he’ll wait to see whether that agreement is reflected in the throne speech. A Commons vote to approve the speech as a general plan for governing is considered a measure of confidence. With a minority government, the opposition parties could easily trigger an election by voting to reject it.

“It’s up to Mr. Trudeau to find common ground to get his throne speech passed,” Scheer told reporters.

“I highlighted the areas we would be focusing on, the parts of our platform that we believe should be implemented, and it’s up to him to decide what to do with that.”

Scheer and Trudeau also discussed the new North American free-trade agreement, whose ratification could be an early priority. The Liberals introduced a bill to formalize the deal before the election but it has to be reintroduced in the new session.

It’s with that session in mind that Trudeau has set up meetings with each of the opposition leaders this week. The Liberals won 157 seats in the October vote, 13 shy of a majority, so to pass any legislation in the coming weeks Trudeau will need the express support of his rivals.

On Wednesday, Trudeau is to meet Yves-Francois Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, whose party holds 32 seats. Blanchet has made it clear that he’ll be voting in favour of Liberal legislation only if it is to the express benefit of Quebecers.

Later this week, Trudeau meets NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party holds 24 seats. Singh has already laid out his key demands: a national pharmacare program and for the government to drop its appeal of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision ordering the government to compensate First Nations children discriminated against by the child-welfare system.

Scheer, whose Conservatives hold 121 seats, could also band together with the other parties to defeat Trudeau and force a vote. Scheer said he’s not scheduled any meetings of his own with the other leaders so far.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2019.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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