Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is preparing to take his demands for a “fair deal” for his province on the road — first to a gathering of his fellow premiers and then to his first meeting with the Prime Minister since the federal election.
Mr. Kenney, who addressed his United Conservative Party’s annual meeting in Calgary on Saturday, has been expanding a list of demands for the federal government since the UCP formed government this past spring.
He escalated that campaign in the wake of the federal election, which re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals with a minority government. Mr. Kenney has since struck a panel to examine ideas that could rewrite Alberta’s relationship with the rest of the country, including proposals to create a provincial pension plan, an Alberta tax agency, and a provincial police force.
In his speech, he acknowledged that party members had resoundly endorsed those ideas earlier in the day.
“I will be bringing your message directly to the Council of the Federation with all of Canada’s premiers in Toronto and to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when I meet him in Ottawa,” he said in an hour-long speech.
Mr. Kenney will be in Toronto this coming week for a meeting of Canada’s premiers, where he will also be looking for allies on issues such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the repeal of recently passed environmental laws, and changes to the equalization program. He’ll meet with Mr. Trudeau the following week.
The Premier brought up those issues when he met with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in Edmonton last week, and he said he would repeat that message to Mr. Trudeau.
“Come hell or high water, Alberta will get a fair deal,” he said to loud applause.
The UCP annual meeting is the first since the party won the spring provincial election, unseating the one-term NDP government of former premier Rachel Notley. The government has spent the subsequent months undoing many policies of the previous NDP government and recently tabling a budget that introduced significant cuts that have sparked protests, including outside the weekend conference.
During a panel on Mr. Kenney’s “fair deal” panel, party members gave near-unanimous endorsements to all of the major ideas up for consideration.
Those include leaving the Canadian Pension Plan in favour of creating a provincial plan; setting up a provincial revenue agency; establishing a provincial police force; taking a more active role in provincial affairs; and creating a provincial firearms officer.
Despite antipathy in the province towards Quebec, which many conservative voters here see as taking advantage of the equalization program, that province was repeatedly held up as a model for how Alberta could exercise more control over its destiny.
Quebec already has its own pension plan and tax collection agency, and the province has asserted its interests in international affairs in a way that is unusual among Canadian provinces.
For example, Finance Minister Travis Toews told party members that Quebec provides a clear model for creating its own pension plan, which he said would allow the province to “repatriate” money Albertans have already contributed to the CPP and take control over its investments.
“There is template within the Quebec pension plan right now,” Mr. Toews said. ”From what I can understand, it looks like a defensible formula that is working well.”
Any idea coming out of the panel would be put to a provincial referendum, he said.
Outside the event, hundreds of protesters marched around the venue to object to recent announcements that potentially thousands of public-sector jobs could be eliminated, including through layoffs. A small crowd entered the hotel as delegates were having dinner and chanted anti-UCP slogans before leaving peacefully.
Mr. Kenney defended his government’s budget during his speech, arguing his government is doing what’s needed to bring the province’s finances under control.
“The government does not want to lay off good people in our schools hospitals or public services,” he said
“We will work hard to minimize the impact of this 2.8 per cent, modest reduction in spending.”
Alberta's nurses union said on Friday that the province plans to eliminate 500 positions over the next three years, while Alberta Union of Provincial Employees warned that as many as 5,900 positions could be cut.
With files from The Canadian Press