[HALIFAX, NS] — 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.