PM's 'grand bargain' on energy died on Alberta election day: Kenney

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Published April 18, 2019 7:02 p.m. ET
Updated April 21, 2019 7:00 a.m. ET
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OTTAWA -- Premier-designate Jason Kenney says that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s so-called “grand bargain” of seeking to advance resource development by gaining the approval of those with environmental concerns died on Alberta’s election day.

“Yeah, that bargain with the Notley government ended on election day. And it was from our perspective, and I think the vast majority of Alberta voters, a complete failure,” said the United Conservative leader in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.

Kenney said that the federal Liberals’ idea of “social licence” is a “sham.”

Trudeau came to power pledging to both bring more Canadian oil and gas resources to market, while implementing a national climate change plan meant to make meaningful emissions reductions. Seemingly at odds, the Liberals believed that doing the latter would create more support for big energy projects.

In Alberta the clearest example of this was seen by some as the introduction of a carbon tax in exchange for approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline, but Kenney says that plan has failed.

“We didn't see one single environmental group, provincial, municipal, government, First Nation, anybody move from ‘no’ to ’yes’ on pipelines as a result… all we got was stronger opposition to resource development and pipelines,” he said.

In his first appearance on the show since winning a decisive majority government in Tuesday’s provincial election, Kenney spoke about his plans to make it known that Alberta is “open for business,” and his intention to fight for “a fair deal” for Albertans.

Much of his campaign was spent attacking Trudeau and vowing to fight the federal government on a bouquet of matters. Kenney said that while he is open to finding common ground, if that doesn’t materialize, he’s prepared to use every tool to push the issues that matter to the people of his province to the fore.

In a separate interview on CTV’s Question Period, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that regardless of the incoming UCP government the Liberals plan to stay their course when it comes to tackling climate change, and that there is already common ground in wanting to see Alberta’s oil and gas get to world markets.

“We really do want to work with Alberta,” Garneau said.

Carbon tax fight headed to ballot box

While both sides have shared messages of hope when it comes to working collaboratively, Kenney is already making it clear that he will “do what I can to elect a federal Conservative government” in the upcoming fall federal election campaign. “I make no apologies for that,” Kenney said.

He said that ultimately, the polls will be where Trudeau will be most strongly challenged on his carbon tax.

“If there’s a change of government there will be no federal carbon tax,” he said. In the meantime he is working to form an “interprovincial coalition that is pro-energy, pro-pipeline.”

Kenney is entering the federation of provinces and territories at a time when he’s got likeminded allies in four other provinces: Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs. This is the alliance of conservative leaders who are pushing back against the carbon tax.

Kenney plans on joining the Saskatchewan and Ontario legal challenges of the carbon tax, and will be launching their own fight. He said he knows that his planned pullout of the NDP carbon tax in his province will prompt the imposition of the federal version, but that for the time being for consumers in Alberta, it’s a better plan.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period, Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform Party said that this kind of provincial coalition could wield serious power and influence in the carbon tax and pipeline battles.

“There’s five allies now… Five of the 10 provinces, with 60 per cent of the population in the country,” Manning said.

In a separate panel on CTV’s Question Period, former Ontario Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne said that the growing opposition from provincial governments to the carbon tax is “ridiculous,” and that what should be happening at the table with the premiers and the prime minister now is a conversation about what will these anti-carbon tax provinces do if they aren’t going to put a price on emissions.

“We are talking about this as a political issue, and I absolutely understand that it is, but it is an existential issue,” she said.

In contrast, former federal Conservative cabinet minister James Moore said that the onus is on Trudeau to go back to the drawing board and come up with a way to fight climate change that isn’t a tax, or risk prompting a national unity crisis over the carbon tax fight.

“Please tell me that the plan that Justin Trudeau has been failing at for three-and-a-half years isn’t all they’ve got. They need to retool … and come forward with something reasonable that reflects the democratic reality of what we saw in Alberta on election night,” Moore said.

Despite the call-outs from Conservative opponents to scrap the tax, federal Liberals have been defending their approach all week. Garneau said that the Liberals have tried to work with the provinces to get them all on side, and two years ago nearly all were, but that’s changed over the course of several provincial elections.

“As a federal government our job is to try to work with the provinces and on certain issues where we do have jurisdiction, we must display our strong feelings and leadership, and the environment is one of them,” said Garneau. “We believe that the majority of Canadians believe that we must take action on the environment and that there is a price to pay. There has to be a price on pollution.”

Quebec opposition to pipeline ‘just not fair’

One premier who has yet to link arms with the other conservative-minded leaders is Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who Kenney tried to extend an olive branch to on his election night.

Kenney called on Quebec to be more open to natural resource development in its province, where the failed Energy East pipeline had been proposed, but Legault is not buying it. Legault has said that there is no support for a pipeline in his province.

This has not deterred Kenney, who said that Quebec wanting to continue to benefit from the wealth generated in Alberta -- thanks to the federal equalization transfer program -- while blocking any development is “just not fair.”

“We’ve played by the rules, paid big taxes… and everywhere we turn we feel like we're being blocked in and pinned down,” Kenney said, adding that he hopes to soon sit down with Legault to have a longer conversation about the issue.

If an agreement can’t be made, Kenney says he’s prepared to force constitutional negotiations on the equalization program through a referendum in his province.

“What we've learned from Quebec, is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease in the Canadian Federation, if we can't get a fair price for energy, we are going to assert our fight for fairness,” Kenney said.

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