Alberta Premier Jason Kenney set out a dire picture of the economic and social impact of federal policy on Alberta Monday as he embarked on a two-day political trade mission in the capital.
The trip is intended to rope the federal government into making immediate changes to improve the province’s fortunes.
A full-page newspaper ad setting out five key demands he’ll take into his meeting Tuesday with the prime minister was followed by a 30-minute speech to a packed Ottawa ballroom that saw Kenney argue that if change does not come, one of the key engines of the Canadian economy will stall out for good, and the entire country will suffer.
Support for western separation is running at 30 per cent, Kenney noted, but what’s more troublesome is that upwards of 80 per cent of people polled on the issue say they understand and sympathize with that sentiment.
“They have not given up on Canada but more and more they believe that Canada has given up on them,” he said.
The polling numbers were one of dozens of statistics Kenney used to illustrate his speech to the Canadian Club of Ottawa, numbers that charted everything from Alberta’s economic contributions to Canada to rises in addiction, suicide and bankruptcies and the billions lost by the oil sector in the province since 2014.
Too many Canadians believe the issues facing the province are about a downturn in oil prices that year, he said. But the reality is, oil prices have stabilized and while in the U.S. the energy sector is in the midst of a job boom, Alberta remains in crisis, he said.
“The difference is not (oil) prices,” he said. “It is policy.”
Among the casualties of federal government uncertainty and reversal of regulations, Kenney said, have been the Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines as well as a liquefied-natural-gas project in B.C., all of which hit the Canadian energy industry hard.
There are also the issues created by two new pieces of federal legislation, known as bills C-69 and C-48.
The former governs the environmental assessment process for energy products, and is derided by Albertans and others as the “no more pipelines” act in the belief it will further bog down new projects. The latter is a ban on massive oil tankers being allowed to make port in northern B.C., a ban that Kenney and others argue is a direct slap to Alberta, whose products would be taken to market on those ships.
Many — including Kenney — want both laws repealed, but Kenney acknowledged Monday that might not be possible. Instead, the relevant regulations needed to apply them, especially the environmental-assessment law, must be made with direct provincial input, he said.
The fiscal-stabilization program is another irritant. It’s a mechanism that allows the federal government to top up provincial coffers by a maximum per-capita amount in the event of an economic downturn, but the funds available barely scratch the surface of how much Alberta has lost, Kenney claims. He wants Alberta to receive about $2.4 billion going back to 2014.
Action on the fiscal-stabilization program and the two new laws are among the five demands Kenney will make of the prime minister on Tuesday. Both were issues supported by all premiers at a meeting last week, Kenney pointed out Monday after his speech.
“If I was the federal government, I would take that as a pretty strong prompt, a nudge, to deliver,” he said.
“I don’t expect to be walking out of the prime minister’s office with written agreements on these things tomorrow but I sure hope we get an indication they are prepared to move.”
During Monday’s lunch, Kenney was seated at the same table as Trudeau’s deputy prime minister, Alberta-born Toronto MP Chrystia Freeland, who has been tasked by Trudeau with repairing the strained relationship between the federal and provincial governments. The two met in Alberta last month.
Kenney is in Ottawa with eight cabinet ministers and a posse of officials who will make the rounds with their federal counterparts, industry leaders and Opposition politicians.
Later Monday, he was meeting with the leader of the NDP, and hosting political and industry insiders at Ottawa’s private Rideau Club Monday night.
On Tuesday, he’ll sit down with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer prior to his afternoon meeting with Trudeau.
In addition to seeking action on legislation and the fiscal-stabilization program, Kenney will press the prime minister to place a hard deadline on the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, with Indigenous groups quickly made partners; an expansion of tax instruments to help increase investment; and federal recognition for Alberta’s methane regulations as being equivalent to a federal program.
What Albertans want isn’t unreasonable, nor does it hurt any other province, Kenney said.
“We are simply asking for a fair deal now,” he said.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press