QP Briefing. COF 2019: Premiers gather in Toronto to present united front to Ottawa

By Jack Hauen

Premier Doug Ford played host to the rest of Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders on Monday morning in Mississauga to form a united front in asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for more money.

Over the weekend, Ford, Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe and New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs committed to collaborate on nuclear reactor technology.

Just before the meeting, Ford handed out personalized Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys to the visiting premiers, some of whom looked slightly nauseated as they received the gift.

And a few of the premiers took in the Leafs game together on Saturday, Ford’s office said. The Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres in overtime.

Ford’s office told QP Briefing last week that the premier will push on Monday to focus on issues agreeable to everyone, like health care, infrastructure and job creation.

Increasing the federal health-care spend by 5.2 per cent is important to the provinces, which are all struggling with aging populations of Baby Boomers. A signature promise of the Ford government is to end hallway health-care, which the Financial Accountability Office has warned will not change meaninfully under the current plan.

The federal increase will be a tough sell — it was first proposed in 2016 by Kathleen Wynne, and hasn’t moved forward much since then.

Quebec Premier François Legault told the Montreal Gazette he’ll push Trudeau to dole out health-care money to provinces with no strings attached instead of working directly with municipalities.

Another priority will be securing federal funding for the Ford government’s ambitious Greater Toronto transit expansion plan. The federal Liberals have said they will fund part of the centrepiece Ontario Line, but haven’t committed to the province’s ask for $11.4 billion of the expansion’s total $28.5 billion cost. Ford has said the province will make up whatever the feds don’t contribute, but will likely push hard for the full amount.

Keeping everyone united means avoiding the issue of Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans civil servants in the province from wearing religious symbols at work. The Ontario legislature unanimously condemned the bill, which Ford said would have “no place” in his province. But he said he won’t bring it up face-to-face with Legault.

The move is part of the premier’s adopted new role of national unifier. As alienation grows in the West after a bruising federal election campaign, Ford has said he’ll work to keep the country together, pivoting from his usual combative style into a softer, smilier version of himself.

“We have to listen to the people out West and listen to their concerns. A lot of people are struggling out West,” Ford told reporters on Thursday. “I mentioned that to the prime minister as well and he agrees. He wants to support everyone right across this country and I’m going to support the prime minister by making sure we get as much support as possible.”

He added: “We want to send the message around the world that we’re a united Canada. We’re stronger together and we’ll get over these bumps.”

In light of his new style and calls for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer‘s ouster — including from Ford’s former campaign manager — the Ontario premier has been asked whether he has any interest in Scheer’s job. He has maintained that he’s staying out of federal politics and focusing on running the province.

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