ITQ is heading for the pre-meeting meeting of the Council of the Federation, so check back for a pre-pre-meeting update at 10:30ish.
Well, after a slightly frenzied scamper through the Market – really, what are the odds that *both* the corner stores that sell oversized cans of Red Bull would be closed – I’ve made it to the Chateau just in time for the first first ministerial arrival, and it’s – Brad Wall, who is likely to be one of the PM’s allies at the table. He’s being asked about the crisis in the auto sector, and keeps referring to himself and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach’s hankering to pull down interprovincial trade barriers, but the scrum is getting boisterous, suddenly – I blame David Akin, who manages to make even federal-provincial relations seem fraught with intense political drama. This is a somewhat awkward location for a scrum – just past the revolving doors, with the sound of idling taxis drowning out the softspoken Wall, especially when easily bored reporters are now quizzing aides from other premiers’ entourages about when their leaders will deign to enter the lobby.
Okay, Wall just made his escape. Not too much in the way of specifics – not that we expected it, really – and now there’s a general move by the media to the unimic, which has been waiting patiently, unused, in a side antechamber.
Who will be next? We don’t know! Maybe Gordon Campbell! Maybe Ed Stelmach! Maybe Barack Obama!
Okay, probably not Barack Obama, but a scrum can dream.
Gordon Campbell, everyone – who looks shockingly chipper, even moreso than Brad Wall — isn’t he jetlagged? I guess not, because he is waxing enthusiastic, if vague, about the importance of the auto sector, and stressing the need to reassure “older people” that they won’t have to cash out their RRSPs, or sell their stocks. “If we don’t take care of Canadians today, it falls to governments to care for them later,” he notes. He also wants to remove trade abd labour mobility barriers, duplication, all the usual stuff. “Time is something we can use quickly,” he insists — he doesn’t want to meet again in a year, he wants action now.
Okay, RRSPs and RRIFs are his priorities, as well as accelerating the capital — I think that means infrastructure spending.
Is he worried about the 2010 Olympics? We’ll never know, because he didn’t seem to hear that question; he’s very, very, very focused on seniors.
Another attempt to get an answer on the Olympics – and according to the premier, all the building is “basically done” – the venues – ticket sales are going well, and so are sponsorships. It may affect the number of people who will attend the games, he admits, but they’ll still have the highest viewership ever.
Is he unsettled by the PM “downplaying” the importance of this meeting? Not really, no – he thinks Harper has done a bangup job of showing leadership, and has high hopes for this meeting.
Oh, and he’s not worried that the federal government will “follow the path of the 90s” – eliminating the deficit by cutting transfer payments? Not sure what he means by that. He wants to move the economy forward, get people back to work, etc. etc.
Okay, this is new – Ed Stelmach’s emissary has taken the mic, and is recognized by probably even fewer Hill reporters than could put pick Brad Wall out of a lineup, but he’s taking questions like a champ – questions about — you guessed it; the auto sector. This must be really irritating for premiers/premiers’ representatives from provinces that aren’t Ontario and Quebec.
More about trade and labour barriers – exactly the same things we’ve heard at every First Ministers Meeting since the dawn of time. (Did Sir John A. have any ideas on how to eliminate them, or is this the zen koan of federal-provincial relations?)
Gary Doer, everyone! Who is far more comfortable at the mic than Wall, Campbell or Stelmach, probably because he is – I think – the premier with the most previous FMM experience. Blah blah, internal trade – sorry, sorry, I know it’s important but it’s the equivalent of beauty queen wanna-bes calling for world peace – another pitch for infrastrcture spending, and a “coordinated approach” on environmental approvals.
Is he worried about RRSPs and RRIFs? Well, yes, it takes money out of the hands of government – or tax revenue, that is – but people are more important. Has our banking sector gone down because of the “massive subsidies” in the US? He doesn’t know, but Canada “has to compete with other subsidies offered by other countries.” Like, for instance, the aid package offered to the auto sector on Friday by “president-elect Obama.” (Can he do that even though he’s not officially president yet? I’ve never quite understood how that works.)
A stronger Ontario is a stronger everybody, he says – at least, that’s the position of Manitoba.
Hey, is Danny Williams here? Is he going to bring a care package for Ontario?
Gary Doer pleads off from further questions in the interest of sharing the stage with the premiers of ‘bigger provinces” – like Ontario, whose premier is waiting patiently to his left. After a folksy intro – “good work in China” from Doer, McGuinty takes the mic, and talks about – surprise, surprise – the auto sector. Interestingly, he characterizes the package announced by the US on Friday as an offering by “the Bush administration” but later quotes Obama’s description of the auto industry as the “backbone” of the manufacturing sector.
He doesn’t want to give a specific dollar figure, but points to the $24 billion that the Americans are discussing,
“Is there something worth fighting for here?” McGuinty asks – rhetorically, natch – about the auto sector? Ontario is one of the largest auto producers in North America; we can’t allow it to “languish” just because this government is the only one that isn’t willing to provide assistance to strengthen the industry.
“Let’s get serious,” he says – twice – about the $330 million that Ontario will get in equalization payments. The formula is clearly broken, but that’s not why he’s here today.
Incidentally, he “loves the idea” of investing in a Windsor rail corridor- really, really loves it – as it would create thousands of jobs *and* be good for the environment.
And now it’s the man who has gathered us here today – Jean Charest, taking a break away from the hustings to lead the first ministers into battle with Ottawa — oh wait, that’s not right. *Collaboration* with Ottawa. Cooperative, respectful cooperation
He’s speaking French, unsurprisingly, which does put a bit of a cramp in the liveblogging, but I can report that he’s wearing probably the best tie I’ve seen so far today — silver, white and dark blue diagonal stripes; beat that, Dimitri – which sets off his poppy particularly well.
He just switched to English, and explains that the premiers are very pleased to be here to discuss the upcoming G20 conference, the ongoing financial crisis, something I didn’t quite catch – probably aid for the manufacturing sector – credit security, new trade avenues – especially with the European Union – RRSPs and — he does realize this meeting is only scheduled for like, two hours, right? This is an awfully ambitious schedule.
One more question – and it’s on the Quebec election; some sort of controversy over changing the format for the debate which I’ve not been following. Apparently Quebeckers didn’t like the talkshow-style debate during the last federal election — they want to see the leaders have direct exchanges of views.
He ends with a pitch for the Windsor highspeed train corridor, and I think that’s it. Yes, that’s it. Now, to join the bottleneck of reporters teeming towards the line of taxis outside the hotel and head off to Old City Hall for the big show, where, if there is a god of hungry journalists, there will at least be stale muffins, since some of us are operating on nothing but a fun-sized Coffee Crisp.
I’ll report back from there.