Jason Kenney has never been shy to use a bit of vinegar to make a point. But next week, the Alberta Premier will see if a bit of honey will work too, as he and a large contingent of provincial cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and other provincial staff descend on Ottawa for a “fair deal” mission to the capital.
One-third of Alberta’s cabinet and a third of the province’s deputy ministers will be travelling with the Premier for what he calls a full-court press on Alberta issues. The Sunday-to-Tuesday trip will see Mr. Kenney and his 18-member delegation (plus staff) in a whirlwind of meetings and events.
As always, the emphasis will be on the urgency of completing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, on what the Alberta government sees as fatal flaws in recent overhauls of environmental assessment law and on Ottawa’s ban of oil tanker exports off the northern coast of British Columbia.
The mission will feature the usual single-mindedness of a Jason Kenney endeavour. But this time, there will be room for pleasantries. Alberta will hold a Rideau Club reception for MPs and other key opinion leaders on Monday, and Mr. Kenney will also meet with federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh – no ally of pipeline-building or the energy industry. There will also be another gathering, with federal Conservative MPs including Leader Andrew Scheer. The trip will culminate with the Premier’s tête-à-tête with the Prime Minister on Tuesday afternoon.
When it comes to federal-provincial relations, the weeks after October’s federal election have been relatively peaceful. There is an uneasy break in the fighting words between Mr. Kenney and Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals as the minority government gets up and running. Mr. Kenney is now using this period to try to show a more congenial side than the one many in Ottawa associate with his government.
After the election results that saw the Liberals shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Mr. Trudeau expressed a measure of contrition that he hadn’t done a good job in reaching out to all of Canada. He appointed star cabinet minister Chrystia Freeland to the interprovincial file, instantly giving it a greater measure of importance.
And on Friday, the federal Liberals also gave the green light to Alberta’s industrial carbon tax, and said they won’t, yet, impose their own version on the province. That doesn’t mean Mr. Kenney and cabinet ministers are dropping their fight against a consumer carbon tax in the province. And in Ottawa, Alberta will still be asked to contribute more to the national push on climate change.
But the Alberta Premier likely won’t be picking unnecessary battles, at least this week. Mr. Scheer said Thursday’s Throne Speech, light on any mention of the oil sector or economic unease in the Prairies, was an “insult” to the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In contrast, Mr. Kenney told reporters that the Throne Speech was “somewhat disappointing,” but it’s not useful to parse each word.
The province’s dire lack of economic optimism is the clear driver for his government. Statistics Canada reported that November was the worst month nationally for job losses in more than a decade. The one-month data might be a surprise to the rest of the country, but to Alberta, it’s simply a continuation of the grim economic picture. The oil-focused province’s November unemployment rate sits at 7.2 per cent compared with a national average of 5.9 per cent.
In northern Alberta, outside of Edmonton – which includes the oil sands and other heavy oil-producing regions of the province – the unemployment rate is 10.7 per cent.
And even if Mr. Kenney’s trip appears to be slightly more conciliatory in its delivery, the message is largely the same. He’s still asking Mr. Trudeau to provide a fixed date for the completion of the Trans Mountain expansion – a request Alberta insists is possible if Ottawa uses the full weight of its federal powers. Others, however, say a guaranteed timeline isn’t realistic in the face of legal challenges, and as local and Indigenous communities weigh in.
The Alberta Premier will still make the request because the completion of the project would be the single-biggest signal to investors that Canada’s struggling oil and gas industry has some life left in it yet.
“I appreciate the Prime Minister’s sentiment, saying that he will be there to support you, Saskatchewan and Alberta. I appreciate the appointment of Minister Freeland,” he said Friday.
“But the message I will be carrying on behalf of Albertans to Ottawa next week is that we need to see action.”