Angry Albertans hoping Premier Jason Kenney will jump on the separation bandwagon will be disappointed. He’s an avowed federalist, but …he’s also willing to channel the province’s bubbling anger to achieve his ends.
“Let me be clear, not only am I patriotic Canadian, sort of in my heart, but I also think the whole notion of separation is irrational,” he said Thursday morning on The Current.
“Making Alberta a landlocked place within this continent, leaving the Canadian federation, leaving any argument for market access for coastal pipelines, leaving NAFTA as the broader market in North America, none of that makes sense to me.”
It’s perhaps the strongest language he’s used to denounce the notion of Alberta separatism, a cautionary tale he likes to sprinkle on his speeches from time to time.
Still, Kenney says he’s never seen the kind of frustration he’s seeing in Alberta, where the oil and gas sector has taken a beating from international markets and a price differential on heavy oil that many blame on constrained market access.
He denies he’s stoking some of the separatist sentiment by raising it.
On equalization and referendum
Kenney also rails against Bill C-69, the federal government’s overhaul of Canada’s environmental assessment and approval process for large projects like pipelines — which he calls the “no more pipelines” bill — and says he’ll barrel ahead with a referendum on equalization if the bill isn’t killed.
Kenney was a cabinet minister for the Harper government when the current equalization formula was established.
“I lead a federalist government but we’re trying to frankly maximize our leverage within the federation in a request for fairness,” he said on the referendum, which would place no legal obligation on the federal government or other provinces.
In the background looms the old spectres of Quebec separatism and the care with which the federal government treated the province in an attempt to woo it back from the edge.
Kenney says sensitivities around Quebec were always a consideration around the federal cabinet table and says he doesn’t think the same consideration is being paid to Alberta and its bloodied energy sector.
Working with Trudeau
It’s part of the reason Kenney says he’s pushing hard for a Conservative government in Ottawa, which he think will take a more pro-energy stance.
He admits it will be a challenge to work with the Trudeau Liberals, particularly if the party leads a coalition backstopped by the NDP.
“We certainly hope it doesn’t come to that, we think that will create enormous tension in the federation,” said Kenney, adding he hopes to find common ground with whoever wins power on Oct. 21.
Despite Kenney’s support of the federal Conservatives, leader Andrew Scheer hasn’t been all that interested in talking about equalization on the campaign trail, but Kenney doesn’t think he’ll need a referendum should Scheer become prime minister.
That’s based on the assumption the Conservatives would kill Bill C-69 and move forward on other energy-friendly policy fronts.
When asked at the end of September whether he had raised the issue of equalization with any federal leader, Kenney was curt.
“No and no,” he said, before moving on to the next question.
West of Centre is an election-focused pop-up bureau based out of CBC Calgary that features election news and analysis with a western voice and perspective.
This content was originally published here.