During last February’s occupation in the nation’s capital, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of “hiding from his responsibility” for political reasons.
While speaking to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson on Feb. 8, Trudeau shared his frustration over the provincial government’s response to the “Freedom Convoy” that had arrived in Ottawa in late January.
On Tuesday, the Public Order Emergency Commission provided a readout of the call between Trudeau and Watson as part of its review of the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14.
According to the readout, Watson was trying to firm up a deal with Trudeau to get more RCMP officers to help with the protest, which lasted for three weeks. The mayor was trying to get 1,800 officers across the three jurisdictions but was struggling to accomplish that goal.
Watson said Sylvia Jones, Ontario's solicitor general at the time, was being “disingenuous” that there were 1,400 OPP officers in Ottawa already.
“That’s not true,” he told Trudeau. “I spoke with Ford yesterday, and he said, ‘Anything you want,’ so I’m going to hold (him to) his words.”
At one point, Trudeau said the federal government would do its part in providing resources to Ottawa but felt the province needed to step up as well.
“Doug Ford has been hiding from his responsibility on it for political reasons,” Trudeau said in the call.
“(It’s) important that we don’t let them get away from that, and we intend to support you on that.”
Watson then said if the province kept “dragging their feet,” he’d be happy to call them out on it.
“It’d be nice if we have something firmed up with the federal government to shame them,” he said. “Ford didn’t even make an effort to come and see what’s going on.”
The Ontario government has come under harsh criticism for not attending tri-government meetings that took place on Feb. 7, 8 and 10.
Watson, who is currently testifying before the commission, said he was disappointed the province did not attend those meetings but made it clear he did have a line to the premier. He said if the province had attended those meetings, he believed the city would have received the resources it needed sooner.
"I can't speculate on what the prime minister said, but I think I shared his frustration that (the province) wouldn't participate in the tripartite," he told the commission.
“The premier did not come to Ottawa during the occupation. There was a sense (from) some in the community (of), why is the premier not here?"
Watson acknowledged that had Ford come to Ottawa, it could have caused a greater disturbance as it would have required extra police and resources.
When asked about his comments about the province “dragging (its) feet,” Watson said he was voicing his frustration over the province’s response to the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. He said the situation in Windsor and at the border crossing in Alberta were dealt with quickly, while the occupation in Ottawa lingered on.
"We can't force (the province) to do what they don't want to do," he said. "The end result, albeit a week or two late, (was that) we did see unity on the front lines with OPP, (other) municipal police services, Ottawa police and RCMP."
Watson reiterated that the Emergencies Act was needed to end the convoy. For instance, tow trucks were compelled to remove vehicles, whereas before the government invoked the act, they had refused, he said.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the occupation was “an unprecedented public order emergency.”
“There’s a very transparent record of consultation and communication that was going back and forth between various levels of government, including federally and provincially,” he said.
“I was in touch with the Ontario solicitor general, as well as other counterparts. At the end of the day, this was a decision that was necessary. As you were hearing from people who represent this community and others that work within it, (the situation) was virtually ungovernable, and that’s why we invoked the Emergencies Act.”