HALIFAX - A spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday that Stephen Harper wouldn't attend a first ministers meeting on the economy, derailing plans by the premiers to bring him back to the table.
The provincial leaders joined together last week in calling on Harper to meet with them in Halifax in November to talk about the state of the world economy and its effects on Canadians.
But Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall said in an email today that the prime minister wouldn't attend such a gathering.
When asked if there would be a first ministers meeting in the fall, he said simply, "No."
MacDougall added that the prime minister meets regularly with the premiers on an individual basis, citing 74 such meetings since 2010. But Harper has not met with them as a group since 2009 when they gathered to discuss the economy following the global financial crisis.
"The federal and provincial governments worked well together to deliver the stimulus programs to help secure our recovery," MacDougall said in an email. "The prime minister always discusses the economy with each of the premiers (when) he meets with them."
The appeal for a first ministers meeting came amid steady grumblings that Harper has shut the door to talks on many issues and adopted a unilateral approach to governing.
Premiers at the Council of the Federation meetings in Halifax said they need to sit down with Harper to get a better sense of Canada's position in turbulent economic times.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter issued the call along with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Premier Alison Redford of Alberta.
"We are talking about something that is fundamental to the best interests of the Canadian public — a strong economy, " Dexter said at the time.
"Why would a prime minister not want to meet with us on this issue?"
McGuinty said in an email on Wednesday that he was "disappointed" the prime minister decided against attending the meeting.
"All Canadians are being confronted by the same global economic uncertainty," McGuinty said in an email. "At times like these, the best way forward – the only way forward – is to work together.
"I believe a collaborative approach is in keeping with what Canadians and their families expect of their governments."
Dexter had said he expected any such gathering would be more than one day and include expert input and presentations on forecasts on domestic and international economies.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest backed the idea, saying the uncertainty in Europe and the growth of economies in India, Brazil and China require that the two levels of government work together.
"We need to sit down rapidly and take stock of what's happening around the world," he said last week.
Dexter is on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Catherine Blewett, Nova Scotia's deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs, said Wednesday that officials are just starting to craft an agenda for the meeting and that it may still go ahead without the prime minister.
She said they had not yet received an official response from the Prime Minister's Office on whether he would attend.
"We don't expect that we would hear from the prime minister until we've had time to work on the agenda," she said.
Top 5 Provincial Resource Spats
Before the $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline contract is even inked, not to mention approved by a federal panel, a heated quarrel has erupted between Alberta and British Columbia about divvying up the revenues.<br><br>It's not the first time in Canada that resources have spurred disputes between neighbouring provinces. And it likely won't be the last.<br><br>Here's a look at just a few examples of provincial spats, including the Alberta-B.C. one, over issues ranging from human to energy resources.<br><br> <em>With files from CBC</em>
Northern Gateway Pipeline
Alberta vs. British Columbia<br><br>In the dispute over the proposed Enbridge pipeline, B.C. is calling for a share in the project's revenue to compensate it for the potential environmental risks inherent in running a crude oil pipeline across its land. Alberta has refused to share royalties, citing a province's right to income from natural resources within its own borders.<br><br>The proposal involves two pipelines, stretching a combined 1,177-kilometres, that would carry 525,000 barrels of oil per day from the Alberta oilsands to the ports on the West Coast. Enbridge has estimated that public benefits would amount to $2.6 billion in local, provincial and federal tax revenues over 30 years of operation. Environmental groups and aboriginal communities have opposed the proposed pipeline, particularly over worries of an oil spill.
Upper Churchill Falls Hydro Project
Newfoundland vs. Quebec<br><br>Perhaps the most famous inter-provincial skirmish is the Upper Churchill Falls hydroelectric project. It's a battle that has raged between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador for more than half a century.<br><br>In 1969, Churchill Falls Labrador Corp. signed a deal with Hydro-Quebec that secured the creation of a power corridor through Quebec, enabling access to outside markets. In return, Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to sell a large portion of the electricity at a fixed rate until 2041 to Hydro-Quebec, the provincially owned utility.<br><br>The 65-year agreement did not account for inflation, nor the drastic rise in energy prices that was to come. Hydro-Quebec benefitted from the cheap price, profiting as it sold on the electricity to the U.S. and refused repeatedly to renegotiate the contract.<br><br>A 1996 report by Maclean's magazine found Newfoundland received $20 million a year by selling power to Hydro-Quebec, but the utility earned $800 million annually by selling that same power to hungry U.S. markets along the eastern seabord.<br><br>Since the 1970s, Newfoundland and Labrador has repeatedly tried to challenge the contract, seeking help from the federal government to the Supreme Court.
Ontario vs. Quebec<br><br>In the late 1970s, Ontario and Quebec began a tit-for-tat dispute over construction workers crossing the border to work in each other's province.<br><br>Dubbed the Ontario-Quebec Construction War in some newspaper accounts, the tiff appears to have started when Quebec enacted restrictions in 1978 effectively barring Ontario construction workers from certain projects there. Ontario sought to retaliate with similar rules. Thus began a political dispute that lasted decades, flare-ups often fuelled by economic downturns.<br><br>Quebec's highly-regulated construction industry has historically deterred Ontario workers wanting to work in Quebec -- while also driving Quebec workers into the more open Ontario.<br><br>Frustrated by the flow of workers into Ontario, Ontario enacted a Fairness is a Two-Way Street Act in 1999, barring Quebec construction workers from Ontario government projects. The two provinces eventually settled their differences in 2006 with a construction mobility agreement.
Ontario vs. Manitoba<br><br>In Canada's early days, as boundaries were still being carved out, Ontario and Manitoba clashed for years over a tract of land on the western and northern boundaries of Ontario that each claimed as its own. An 1883 New York Times article described "frequent disgraceful conflicts" that "stopped short of bloodshed."<br><br>The tract was rich in timber and minerals, and also contained a port on Lake Superior.<br><br>In 1880, Manitoba extended its boundaries, with the federal government confirming them the next year.<br><br>But Ontario did not agree, saying the extension gave the disputed area to Manitoba. Confusion reigned in the disputed area as it lacked not only civil courts and a registry office to record deeds, but a timber agent to protect the forest. The U.K. judicial committee of the Privy Council finally weighed in. In 1889, the boundary of Ontario was extended west of Lake of the Woods and north to Albany River.
National Energy Program
Alberta vs. Ottawa (and Ontario and Quebec)<br><br>In the wake of the energy crisis in the late-1970s, when the OPEC nations raised the price of oil, the Trudeau government introduced the National Energy Program, basically to equalize the price of oil in Canada and offset higher prices being paid the central and Atlantic provinces.<br><br>Highly unpopular in Western Canada, particularly in Alberta where most of Canada's oil is produced, the NEP sought to increase the federal share of energy revenues and make Canada a self-sufficient oil producer. Alberta viewed the program as an intrusion into provincial control over natural resources, as set out in the British North America Act, then the country's constitution.<br><br>Peter Lougheed, the Alberta premier at the time, retaliated against Ottawa by cutting provincial oil production. The fight caused huge uncertainty in the oil patch and essentially pitted the Western province against Eastern Canada. Lougheed said the federal government effectively "weighed Alberta's needs for markets against the economic advantages to Eastern Canada, and decided against us."<br><br>Eventually Lougheed and Trudeau signed a revised energy agreement in 1981, whch rejigged the revenue-sharing arrangement and reduced the NEP export tax on Alberta.<br><br>In 1982, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Ottawa couldn't legally tax provincially owned oil and gas wells and the last vestiges of the controversial program were scrapped after Conservative Brian Mulroney was elected in 1984.