This week, the prime minister and the premiers reached an agreement to put a price on carbon. It's been so long since the Prime Minister of Canada met with the country's other first ministers that Canadians may have forgotten how it's done -- and how difficult it is to get something done. That's because, Tim Harper writes, the participants each come to the meeting with at least one elephant:
There was the Quebec decision to use a court injunction to force TransCanada to submit to provincial hearings to show its Energy East pipeline meets the province’s environmental standards.
Another elephant — the expected federal bailout or investment, depending on your point of view, of Bombardier, and the Quebec argument that what was good for the auto industry in Ontario must be good for the aerospace industry in Quebec.
Never mind there are a host of good reasons for Ottawa to invest in that industry. This is again timing and misplaced anger from Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Throw in the eternal election elephant. Votes loom in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and Brad Wall’s opposition to a carbon tax, while consistent, is certainly exacerbated by his need to get re-elected.
He has inferred that his opposition is based more on timing than bedrock ideology, but it’s unclear when that assertion could be tested. There is no time on the horizon where the price of oil and the resource-based rebound would end Wall’s opposition.
Then there’s the slumping economy, an elephant most difficult to wrestle down. If you consider carbon pricing a tax and if you are hurting economically in 2016, it takes a special, highly elusive type of altruism to agree to take on a larger burden for the greater good years down the road.
Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador flatly claim to have no fiscal room to slap a new tax on residents.
Finally, there is the other eternal provincial elephant — the resistance to top-down demands from Ottawa and, if Trudeau has to ultimately impose a carbon pricing floor on the provinces, premiers were not about to roll over for a consensus-minded prime minister who, at least publicly, does not believe the environment is a partisan issue.
We -- and that includes our former prime minister -- have forgotten that being a first minister in this confederation requires an extraordinary skill set -- something which Christopher Moore examined in his excellent book, 1867: How The Fathers Made A Deal.
It wasn't easy then. And it isn't easy now.