I see the premiers are upset that Prime Minister Harper not only didn't attend their latest Council of the Federation meeting, but his spokesperson has stated that he will not be attending their next session on the economy which will be in Halifax next November.
Why are people surprised by his decision? After the way the premiers ambushed then Prime Minister Paul Martin back in September 2004, is it any wonder that Harper is leery about exposing himself and the country to that type of gang up? While the premiers were able to hold Martin for ransom and force him to cough up some $41 billion dollars for health care, they left a sour impression with anyone who was following that meeting's progress.
While the Liberals would try to turn this capitulation to their advantage over the years, it was just that a capitulation by a Prime Minister to the provinces who had seized control of the agenda at that meeting. Why should Harper risk a similar fate?
We can almost certainly guarantee that if the Prime Minister went to the November meeting each and every premier would find plenty of opportunities to go in front of the media to castigate the Prime Minister on a long list of issues, each demanding their moment in the media spotlight. In turn the Prime Minister would then be forced to respond to their attacks during his media availability. Certainly that is not the best way to have reasonable well-thought out discussions on the economy or on any other issue for that matter.
Harper has met 74 times since 2010 with individual premiers. For those individuals who have been fortunate to attend both these large scale sessions and individual ones with premiers, you always accomplish a lot more when it is one-on-one. Your discussions tend to be much more frank, more open and more detailed than is possible in front of a wall of cameras.
Harper has made the correct decision on this one. But now in order to stifle the inevitable criticism that will arise around his refusal to attend next November, he needs to get out there and between now and next November make sure that he meets each and every premier to discuss the economy and other issues that concern them.