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Politics Scheer promises internal free-trade deal while accusing Trudeau of ‘picking fights’ with provinces

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is promising to hold a first ministers meeting to tear down interprovincial trade barriers and to give the provinces and municipalities more of a say in federal program spending.

Mr. Scheer delivered the fourth of five planned policy speeches Tuesday afternoon, outlining what actions he would undertake if the Conservatives form the next government after the October general election. He has already outlined his foreign, economic and immigration policies, and plans to unveil an environmental agenda later this month.

In a speech on federalism in Edmonton, Mr. Scheer accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of stoking regional alienation and interfering in provincial jurisdiction – pointing to the federal carbon tax and controversial legislation for tougher environmental approval processes for oil and gas projects.

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“Now he is picking fights with the provinces because he thinks he can score a few points,” Mr. Scheer said. “Dividing province against province and region against region.”

Instead of fighting with the provinces, Mr. Scheer said a Conservative government would work with them to create more jobs by removing trade barriers, and to decentralize federal spending.

“In the first 100 days of a Conservative government, I will convene a first ministers meeting with internal trade at the very top of the agenda,” he said. “I will appoint a Minister of Interprovincial trade, whose sole responsibility will be to lead negotiations and implementations.”

He said a new interprovincial free-trade agreement would be “comprehensive” and similar in approach to international trade deals, with professional commissioners and negotiators.

Mr. Scheer, catering to the crowd, vowed that Alberta “will have an ally in Ottawa” after the next federal election, adding that under Mr. Trudeau’s leadership, the relationships between provinces and governments “are at their coldest in generations.”

Mr. Scheer also talked about establishing a national energy corridor as a way to get natural resources moving, an idea he proposed last month.

“I will push ahead with a transformative corridor project that will both unite our people and liberate our resources,” he said, describing it as a coast-to-coast route dedicated to infrastructure that will move “Quebec electricity west as much as it will move Alberta oil and gas east and west.”

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Mr. Scheer said in French, “I also hope that Quebeckers understand and respect that Canadians in other provinces hope that Canada will be able to profit from the exports of our oil and gas wealth.”

When it comes to the environment, though, Mr. Scheer said a Conservative government would not take an “adversarial, top-down approach,” vowing to work with provinces, cities and partners.

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