OTTAWA—From political arch-enemy to new best friend.
Foes mere weeks ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are now talking like political allies, seemingly keen to work together on infrastructure projects, national projects like pharmacare and even the country’s unity.
Ford met with Trudeau for almost an hour on Parliament Hill Friday morning and emerged using words like “phenomenal” and “great” to describe their meeting.
“It went very well. We agreed that we are going to be collaborative and work together on shared priorities,” the Ontario premier said, citing transit, infrastructure, health care and economic development as areas of common ground.
“There’s always going to be things we don’t agree on but let’s work together on the things we do agree on,” Ford said.
For those who paid attention to Trudeau’s daily condemnations of Ford earlier this fall, it’s a head-snapping turn of events.
For the 41 days of the federal campaign and the months leading up to it, Trudeau served up Ford as a political punching bag, claiming that a Liberal government was needed in Ottawa to protect against Conservative cuts of the kind the premier had inflicted on Ontario. When Trudeau rallied his campaign team in July, he framed the coming election as a choice between “cuts and austerity or investing in Canadians” and claimed that the middle class “cannot afford another Doug Ford.”
Ford brushed aside Trudeau’s stump speech insults, claiming he took no offence.
“The prime minister’s family has been in politics for years. Our family has been in politics for years. It’s politics. Now we have to do things that people want,” he said after Friday’s meeting.
In his own comments ahead of their discussion, Trudeau said it was a “pleasure” to welcome Ford to his office to “talk about a lot of shared priorities.”
“We’re obviously not going to agree on everything but the things we do agree on I look forward to working respectfully, collaboratively, co-operatively in ways that benefit the people of Ontario and indeed, people right across the country,” Trudeau said.
A senior federal official summed up the day later, saying “peace in our time.”
The discussion pointedly steered clear of any substantive discussion on climate change, an issue that has been at the heart of the acrimony between Trudeau and a host of right-leaning premiers that includes Ford and his counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“We know that’s an area of disagreement. Today we were talking about many areas of agreement where we can work together,” the official said.
Just one year ago, when first ministers gathered for a summit in Montreal, Ford threatened to stage a walkout and accused Trudeau of saddling Ontario with an unexpectedly large burden in the country’s effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
A very different Ford emerged from his tête-à-tête with the prime minister Friday, though, as he avoided issuing his familiar attack on Trudeau’s “job-killing carbon tax” and even went so far as to call for cooler heads as the prime minister addresses agitation over his climate policies from Western premiers in the wake of the October election.
“We’re a big family. We may have a few bumps in the road, we may disagree,” Ford said.
The two leaders also discussed transit — the Liberals have already signalled their intent to share in the cost of new transit lines in Toronto — infrastructure, a new French-language university in Ontario, ratification of the newly negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement and the need to liberalize interprovincial trade.
On the Liberal intent to bring in pharmacare, Ford seemed less enthusiastic, saying there is already “robust” public and private drug coverage for Ontario residents.
“We’ll sit down and talk to the rest of the premiers about that,” Ford said. “I know he’s open-minded about working with all the premiers. He wants to work with all the premiers. He wants a united country, and I look forward to helping along.”
In his comments after the meeting, Ford framed himself as a useful ally for Trudeau in addressing increased regional tensions in Western Canada and the resurgence of the Bloc Québécois.
He said residents of Alberta “are hurting. … we have to find common ground and support our friends out west.”
With premiers and territorial leaders scheduled to meet in Toronto on Dec. 2, Ford also tried to damp down rhetoric, stating “it’s absolutely critical we unite the country and stick together. I can’t emphasize it enough.”
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“We just have to calm the temperature, lower the temperature, and again, stick together as a country,” he said.
Ford sidestepped questions whether Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, whose leadership is in question because of the party’s election performance, should stay on. Only when pressed did the Ontario premier offer up praise for Scheer, who notably steered clear of Ford during the election.
“Running in a federal election, going across the country is absolutely exhausting. I think he did an incredible job. Andrew Scheer is a good man,” he said.