Ontario tax dollars supporting energy in the West, McGuinty says

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, concerned about Ottawa shifting “Ontario tax dollars” to support the energy sector in the West, is tweaking the script for this week’s premiers meeting that is being hosted by Christy Clark.

While the B.C. Premier Tuesday outlined a focus on Asian trade, health and first nations needs as priorities for her first Council of the Federation meeting as leader of the province, Mr. McGuinty added another pointed concern – energy.

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Ontario’s Liberal Premier, who is facing a fall election during which his Tory rivals are promising to scrap his Green Energy Act that pays premium prices to renewable energy producers, told reporters that he will be looking to fellow provincial leaders for a consensus on energy.

“For years, if not decades, governments in Ottawa of all political stripes have sought to find ways to transfer Ontario tax dollars into Western Canada to support the oil and gas industry,” said Mr. McGuinty, when asked in Oakville, Ont., about his views on the meeting.

“Well, how about using Canadian tax dollars to support clean energy industry that is taking place, that is developing – we’re at the forefront in North America, we’re creating thousands of jobs, we’re reducing our contribution to climate change. We’re shutting down coal-fired plants.”

Mr. McGuinty said these are “difficult things” to do. “What we’re saying to the feds is, ‘Hey, you want to help support energy superpowers, you’ve got to take a look at the entire country. Take a look at the contribution that each province is making, and I think we’re making a powerful contribution.’ ”

Mr. McGuinty’s comments come as Ontario and B.C. are locked in a concerted race for leadership in the market for green-energy investments, which began with former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell. While Ontario has its Green Energy Act to lure investors with long-term contracts, British Columbia introduced its Clean Energy Act to boost investment in green energy. The law aims to promote renewable energy investment by streamlining regulations around independent power projects.

Mr. McGuinty said he is worried about Ontario’s place in Canada with a federal Conservative government “based in western Canada,” and an opposition party based in Quebec. At least two thirds of elected Tories, however, are from Ontario.

“It is important and necessary that we, as Ontarians, emphasize what our needs are as well as opportunities,” he said.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he was taken aback by Mr. McGuinty’s remarks, and looked forward to some clarification from him at the three-day meeting, which begins Wednesday.

“I just frankly don’t understand the comment that any other part of the country has subsidized the energy sector,” Mr. Wall said. “I don’t think it has ever really needed it.”

Mr. Wall said he would like to see talks about a national energy policy, combining the efforts of the provinces, Ottawa and industry into deliberations about transportation, regulation, environmental issues, as well as marketing and branding.

Premiers will continue to arrive in Vancouver on Wednesday. Talks on Thursday include a focus on jobs and the economy. On Friday, the agenda focuses on sustainability in health care. Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, has been invited by Ms. Clark on the concluding day to talk about relations with the U.S.

Asked about the meetings, Ms. Clark underlined Asia as her key priority. “We need to raise national literacy about Asia Pacific,” she told reporters during an unrelated news conference in North Vancouver.

“We need to start that discussion nationally about how we can expand and improve our trade relationships across the Pacific with China and India and other Asian countries because that’s the future.”

Mr. Wall said the topic, a consistent theme in gatherings of premiers, requires ongoing work. “These kinds of relationships are akin to gardening. You’ve got to be constantly tending it,” he said. “It’s a matter of stewardship.”

Ms. Clark, who has been under fire in B.C. for shifting positions on Senate reform, said the issue is not on the agenda for this meeting.