National Energy Strategy: Quebec And Alberta Discuss Partnership

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QUEBEC - Premier Jean Charest says Canada doesn't need the federal government to make a national energy strategy happen.

And he said dissatisfaction with Ottawa's recent handling of health-care transfer payments will be on the agenda at the Council of the Federation meeting in Victoria on Jan. 16-17.

The one-two punch at the federal government was delivered at a news conference following a meeting with Alberta Premier Alison Redford at the provincial legislature on Wednesday.

Both Charest and Redford said they don't agree with the way the federal government has handled the health-care transfers and both insisted they must be equitable for all provinces.

Charest said after the meeting that provinces are already co-operating with each other on energy.

"We don't need the federal government to make that happen," Charest said.

"We have demonstrated in our acts, not just our words. We have demonstrated that we are well able to do that.

"The basic condition for that to happen and to be successful is that the provinces be able to decide in their areas of jurisdiction and that's where the starting point is. If there's going to be a federal role it should be on our invitation, not them intervening."

Redford has actively promoted an energy strategy with provinces working together to develop resources and bring them to new markets.

Redford's plan, which she refers to as a Canadian energy strategy, would include collaboration on environmental standards and new infrastructure.

"I think we're at a point where . . . what I'm asking provinces to do is to decide if we would like to take this further and if so what that looks like," she said.

Charest pointed out that when Quebec brought in its new energy strategy in 2006, two main priorities were developing capacity and tapping new markets.

Those markets included the rest of Canada and the United States. Since then, he said, Quebec has concluded an agreement with Ontario and built a 1,200-megawatt interconnection line into that province.

Redford explained her energy plan, speaking mainly in French during a question-and-answer session with Quebec City parliamentary reporters.

On health care, the Alberta premier said her province had been quite vocal on the issue in the past few years. The province has argued it has been short-changed and wants a better deal with the federal government.

"We believe it is important for all Canadians to be treated equally per capita," she said. "We don't believe that, in order to achieve that, any particular province needs to lose out."

She said that she was also pleased the federal government had agreed to that principle.

Charest said all transfers should be reviewed and be equitable across Canada.

He also took issue with the process for awarding the payments brought in by the federal government.

"We don't agree with the process the federal government has followed recently with the tabling of decisions without an effort to share data, dialogue, discussion on how the transfers should operate," he said.

"That has never been done before in that way. It's the first time it's ever been done and we can't agree with that."

Redford also said she is anxious to build "cultural partnerships" inside and outside Canada to support Alberta's vibrant francophone community and the French language in that province.

She noted that she and Charest were "old" friends, given their work together in the Mulroney government in which she was a staffer and he was a federal cabinet minister.

Charest interjected, joking they were "longtime" friends — not "old" ones.

(By Nelson Wyatt in Montreal)

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