Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has recruited some of Canada’s most prominent conservative premiers to join his cause to push for energy projects and resource development at a first ministers’ meeting in Saskatchewan later this week.
Mr. Kenney invited most of Canada’s conservative premiers to meet in Calgary on Monday ahead of the Council of the Federation, an assembly of the 13 provincial and territorial leaders that starts meeting in Saskatoon on Tuesday. The Alberta Premier insisted the gathering won’t drive a partisan wedge into the national gathering.
Along with reducing trade barriers between Canada’s provinces, Mr. Kenney said the conservative premiers will advocate for the establishment of cross-country energy corridors that could speed the construction of new pipelines, rail and power lines.
“I think we’ve got the overwhelming majority of provinces in favour of the idea of energy and economic corridors across the country,” Mr. Kenney told reporters. “This is not about parties, this is about prosperity. These are some of the premiers, the vast majority of whom have common concerns and interests about economic growth, job creation and responsible resource development.”
Mr. Kenney was joined by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, recently elected New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and Bob McLeod of the Northwest Territories. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was invited to the meeting, but couldn’t attend.
The visiting premiers started the morning at a Stampede breakfast hosted by Mr. Kenney, where they took turns flipping pancakes before they were presented with white cowboy hats – a traditional Calgary welcome for dignitaries. They later met in private before addressing reporters at a news conference.
While Mr. Kenney played down possible partisanship at the three-day first ministers’ meeting, Mr. Ford noted that a sharp turn to the right across Canada with the election of four conservative premiers over the past year will shift the dialogue at the negotiating table.
This is the first time in recent memory that “like-minded premiers” have been elected across Canada, Mr. Ford said. “We have the opportunity, as you’ve seen, a clean sweep almost right across this country: blue, blue, blue, blue, every single election. This is a great opportunity for the nation,” Mr. Ford said, referencing the blue colour typically associated with conservative parties.
Along with Mr. Kenney and Mr. Higgs, new premiers elected in Prince Edward Island and Quebec over the past year are more conservative than their predecessors. Mr. McLeod, who attended the Calgary meeting, is at the head of a consensus-based government without political affiliation.
Mr. Kenney, who sat at the middle of a table Monday flanked by other premiers, has become the de facto leader of Canada’s conservative coalition, according to Lori Williams, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
“The conservative coalition, which includes the federal Conservative Party, is being led by a provincial leader. Jason Kenney is essentially the leader of the conservative coalition within Canada,” Ms. Williams said.
She said progress at the Saskatchewan summit on a truly national energy corridor is unlikely because Quebec Premier François Legault has ruled one out in his province, saying there is no social acceptance for a pipeline carrying Alberta’s oil.
The gathered premiers could agree to remove some barriers to internal trade and allow for easier credential recognition, she said. Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who has struggled to establish a visible public profile, will also be watching the summit and Mr. Kenney.
“If you can reduce trade barriers, that’s great news, especially for Jason Kenney. It might be bad news for Andrew Scheer, because it doesn’t help to show him as an effective federal politician. Mr. Scheer doesn’t inspire the same level of confidence in his abilities as Jason Kenney does,” she said.