O'Reilly attacks premier over 'partisan, threatening' letter

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The Premier of the Northwest Territories should not have openly allied himself with southern, conservative leaders in a June letter criticizing planned federal legislation, a Yellowknife MLA said on Tuesday.

Premier Bob McLeod joined the leaders of Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick – all governed by conservatives opposed to Justin Trudeau – in signing the letter.

The document suggested bills C-69 and C-48, both of which subsequently passed, would do "damage ... to the economy, jobs, and investment [that] will echo from one coast to the other."

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The letter stated the five provinces and territory "stand united" and criticized the federal government's perceived "disregard" for their concerns.

There was no breach involved whatsoever.

PREMIER BOB MCLEOD

This month's sitting in the legislature is the first time territorial politicians have come together since that letter was published.

Kevin O'Reilly, the MLA for Yellowknife's Frame Lake, told McLeod in the legislature: "This action came as a total surprise to this MLA and many residents of the NWT."

O'Reilly argues the premier was not entitled to sign what he called a "partisan and threatening letter," as the elected head of the NWT's government, without first consulting other MLAs.

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"He was once again significantly breaching the guiding principles of consensus government … which state, 'Except under extraordinary circumstances, MLAs should be made aware of and have the opportunity to discuss significant announcements,'" O'Reilly quoted.

McLeod, responding, denied any such breach and said he was acting upon five (unspecified) items from the NWT government's mandate, agreed by all MLAs upon commencement of the government after 2015's election.

"There was no breach involved whatsoever," McLeod replied.

"I thought it was important to make sure our concerns were addressed. I have made it a practice to work with all three of the leading parties in Canada to make sure that our interests are represented, and also ... working very closely with my premier colleagues in Canada."

"I'm glad the premier is in such a collaborative mood, today," O'Reilly shot back. "I hope he can actually start to work with members on this side of the House."

'Playing games'

The federal bills in question dealt with changes to the regulatory process for major projects, in the case of C-69, while C-48 banned oil tankers from the waters off BC's northern coast in a stated effort to protect the region's environment.

The six premiers, in their letter, said C-69 would "make it virtually impossible to develop critical infrastructure, depriving Canada of much-needed investment," while C-48 "discriminates against western Canadian crude products."

Both bills passed later in June. O'Reilly disputes McLeod's suggestion that they were of such relevance to the NWT that his intervention on a national stage was required.

NWT Premier Bob McLeod, left, appears alongside federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in a photo posted online by Scheer in July 2019

McLeod appears alongside federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in a photo posted online by Scheer in July 2019.

Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau talks with NWT Premier Bob McLeod in 2016

Justin Trudeau met with McLeod in early 2016 and tweeted the above image of the two.

To O'Reilly, Bill C-69 "restored a modicum of public confidence" in federal regulation of major projects and had "very limited application in the NWT ... only when there is a transboundary project or development of national interest." Bill C-48, said O'Reilly, had nothing to do with the NWT.

"In our view," McLeod countered, "if the energy sector in southern Canada disappears, there is very little hope for further investment in oil and gas in the NWT."

A month after the letter was published, McLeod and federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer met in Calgary. "People across Canada, and especially in the North, are grappling with the rising cost of living. They need a government in Ottawa that will help make life more affordable,” Scheer tweeted alongside a photo of the two together.

In response to the June letter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the six premiers were "playing games" with Canadian unity.

"I think it’s absolutely irresponsible for conservative premiers to be threatening our national unity if they don’t get their way," Trudeau said.

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