“I’m bringing a clear message to our partners — Ontario is open for business and open for jobs. We want to work with every province to grow internal trade and support a thriving economy,” the premier said in a written statement, adding he is keen to work with every province and territory.
“I’m looking forward to exploring the potential for greater economic partnerships outside our provincial borders and making it easier for businesses to do the same.”
This is Ford’s second year at the Council of the Federation summer gathering.
This year, Ford arrives after a difficult year in office that has seen his support drop drastically in public opinion polls— and following a difficult few weeks due to a patronage scandal that saw his chief of staff resign over the hiring of family and friends into high-paying positions.
In Saskatoon, Ford joins a growing number of what he describes as “like-minded” premiers and territorial leaders, including Alberta’s Jason Kenney.
The conference comes with the federal election just months away. And for the first time in years, it included no female provincial or territorial leaders. Kenney recently defeated Rachel Notley, who was the only female leader at last year’s event.
Ford did not attend a Tuesday meeting with Indigenous leaders at Big River First Nation, sending Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford instead.
Spokesperson Ivana Yelich said Ford was to meet with Indigenous leaders at a reception Tuesday night, and that the premier “recently sat down with National Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde to discuss their shared priorities, including reconciliation and economic development.”
But New Democrat Taras Natyshak said Ford should “show up for work, especially when he’s travelling across the country on the public dime.”
“Instead of joining his fellow premiers for a historic meeting with Indigenous leaders, Doug Ford is nowhere to be found. He’s failing in his basic duties as premier of Ontario to move reconciliation forward, and he’s treating the Council of the Federation like an all-expenses-paid vacation. How is this respect for the taxpayer?”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who is hosting the meeting, said other topics to be covered by the 13 provincial and territorial leaders are the economy, job growth, health care and mental health and addictions, though trade will be top of mind.
Although in the past, the federation meeting has not produced much concrete action on the trade issue, late last year Ontario and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum to promote free trade between the provinces in an effort to boost the current $11 billion in goods and services they exchange, and have since created a red-tape reduction working group.
A recent study said that breaking down provincial trade barriers would mean a $50-billion boost — some $20 million of that for Ontario alone.
Kenney said Monday that “we hope for very strong language” coming out of this week’s meeting “underscoring our support for economic corridors not just for oil and gas” but also for things such as hydroelectricity.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy