Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he will be bringing a collaborative message to a meeting Friday with Justin Trudeau, despite the frequent attacks the prime minister launched against him during the federal election campaign.
The meeting in Ottawa will be the latest in a series of in-person talks Trudeau is having with provincial leaders after receiving a minority mandate last month.
“Prime minister, we look forward to working with you,” Ford said at the legislature Thursday. “My ministers and I are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with your team to deliver results for the people of Ontario and the people of Canada.”
Trudeau frequently warned voters against Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer by trying to tie him to Ford, whose popularity has been sinking since he was elected with a majority last year.
Conservatives such as Ford make cuts – putting fewer teachers in classrooms to fund promises of buck-a-beer, Trudeau suggested during the campaign.
No harm, no foul, Ford said Thursday.
“Politics is politics and I have a pretty thick skin,” he said. “I understand what he was doing. When I had a (phone) conversation with him I told him politics are done and let’s roll up our sleeves and start working together and he agreed.”
Ford listed his priorities for the meeting as health spending, infrastructure and job creation – noticeably absent was the carbon tax. Ford has been a vocal opponent of the tax and is pushing ahead with a court challenge of it, despite saying before the election that “the people” would decide the fate of the carbon tax, not the courts.
Trudeau has been looking to smooth regional divisions, and Ford has simultaneously been trying to position himself as a unifying force. He offered to have the next premiers’ meeting in Toronto – which will take place Dec. 2 – and has said he understands the concerns of people in Alberta and Saskatchewan, who feel like they’re being ignored.
Ontario also announced Thursday that it is creating a council on provincial-federal relations, headed up by Ford.
The team, including several senior cabinet ministers, will work with federal counterparts on priorities such as infrastructure projects, pushing for increased funding through Canada Health Transfers, removing red tape, and economic growth, including attracting international investment to all areas of Ontario.
RETAIL CANNABIS SALES
Ford says his government is still working toward its commitment to an open cannabis retail system, and more stores will be opening in the new year.
The Tories had initially said there could be up to 1,000 cannabis stores in the province, but a supply shortage prompted the Tories to move to a lottery system, capping the initial number of pot retail licences to just 25, and later holding a second lottery for 42 more.
“Yeah, I think that’s eventually what the goal is, right, to open it up to the market and let the market dictate,” Ford said. “It’s like any business. Some people will be successful and some won’t.”
Ford said more pot stores will be opened in the new year but did not say how many. He acknowledged that Ontario, like other jurisdictions, has had to learn and adapt the system since cannabis was legalized in October 2018.
“It’s been an interesting time because everyone is kind of blazing a new trail and we’re going to get it down pat,” he said.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said that while the current cannabis retail system isn’t working, the government should guard against over-correcting the situation.
“They have to be prudent and cautious. … It sounds like we’re just going to blow it wide open.”
END OF GREEN ENERGY DEALS
Ford said he is “proud” of his decision to tear up hundreds of renewable energy deals, a move that his government acknowledges could cost taxpayers more than $230 million.
Ford dismissed criticism that his Progressive Conservatives are wasting public money, telling a news conference that the cancellation of 750 contracts signed by the previous Liberal government will save cash.
“I’m so proud of that,” Ford said of his decision. “I’m proud that we actually saved the taxpayers $790 million when we cancelled those terrible, terrible, terrible wind turbines that really for the last 15 years have destroyed our energy file.”
Later Thursday, Ford went further in defending the cancelled contracts, saying “if we had the chance to get rid of all the wind mills we would.”
The Ford government said last year the province’s electricity ratepayers would not be on the hook for any costs because of the cancelled deals. The government said the final cost of the cancellations, which include the decommissioning of a wind farm already under construction in Prince Edward County, has yet to be established.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has asked Ontario’s auditor general to investigate the contracts and their termination fees. She called Ford’s remarks on Thursday “ridiculous.”
“Every jurisdiction around the world is trying to figure out how to bring more renewables onto their electricity grids,” she said. “This government is taking us backwards and costing us at the very least $231 million in tearing these energy contracts.”
Ford says he is working on learning French and thinks it will be “pretty easy” to pick up.
He told Radio-Canada during the Progressive Conservative leadership race last year that he would be willing to learn it.
Ford said at the time that he wanted to be able to communicate with people in Quebec.
There are more than 600,000 francophones in Ontario.
When asked today if he was still committed to learning French, Ford said, “Bonjour. Comment ca va?”
Ford says he believes every elected official should learn French, and thinks it will be pretty easy to learn, since he studied it from Grade 3 to Grade 9 in school.