Next few weeks a test for Alberta-Ottawa relations, Jason Kenney says
OTTAWA — Both Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the federal Liberal government are describing a meeting Tuesday between Kenney and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a frank and realistic discussion.
But after the meeting, Kenney said the next few weeks will be a critical time for Trudeau to prove it’s not just talk, and the Liberals are serious about addressing critical issues in his province.
Next week, federal and provincial finance ministers will meet. On the table are reforms to a federal “fiscal stabilization” program that tops up provincial revenues in the face of sudden shocks, a program all the premiers say needs to be amended.
Kenney said he is looking for action on that, but also to a decision from the federal cabinet on the development of a proposed oilsands mine in northern Alberta known as the Frontier project.
Trudeau’s special representative for the Prairies, Winnipeg Liberal MP Jim Carr, also sat in on the meeting, which he described as warm.
Carr said the government is open to addressing a range of Alberta’s concerns, including how new environmental laws will be implemented.
Kenney, who was a Conservative cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s governments, was in Ottawa for two days with eight of his cabinet ministers and several senior Alberta civil servants. He met Alberta MPs and party leaders while his cabinet ministers sat down with their federal counterparts and industry officials in a bid to convince the capital’s power brokers to act on key issues affecting the Alberta economy.
At the federal level, few of those power brokers are from Alberta. In the October election, voters threw out all Alberta Liberal MPs, leaving the only voices in the House of Commons for that province on the Opposition benches.
Kenney met Tuesday morning with the 33 Conservative MPs from Alberta, who he said will advance the cause, even from the other side of the aisle.
“Any government in a minority has to listen to all the opposition parties because you never know when you are going to need the support of one on a particular issue,” he said as he walked down an Ottawa street with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at his side.
“That’s the lesson of Stephen Harper’s successful two-term minority so hopefully they will have an influence on some of these issues.”
Kenney had made the case for months leading up to the October election that the Liberals were — at their peril — ignoring the concerns of the West. The election result brought the reality of that anger to the fore.
Now Kenney is seeking to channel that anger for good, bringing Trudeau a list of demands he said must be met to get the Alberta and Canadian economies back up to speed.
Besides making the fiscal-stabilization program more generous and addressing Alberta’s concerns about new laws on environmental protection, he sought a firm deadline to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion functioning.
Kenney said Monday that while federal-provincial relations have been tense, he wants to be able to find common ground with the Trudeau government.
He pointed to last week’s meeting of provincial and territorial premiers, and the consensus they arrived at on issues including pipelines and federal funding, as proof there is room for Trudeau to harness existing goodwill.
“Peace in the land is breaking out on some of these issues, and if I was the federal government I would take that as a pretty strong prompt, a nudge, to deliver,” he said.
Kenney is nearly the last of the premiers to meet with Trudeau since the federal election. Trudeau also met Premier Stephen McNeil of Nova Scotia on Tuesday and is expected to sit down with the premier of Quebec soon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2019.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press