During a speech to the Alberta legislature Tuesday, Kenney announced that his government will establish a panel of “eminent Albertans” to travel the province and consult with frustrated people who believe Alberta isn’t being treated fairly by the rest of the country .
The panel will survey Albertans to explore “all options” for Alberta to get what Kenney calls a “fair deal.” This will include interviewing Albertans, and holding town halls and public hearings.
“These will be wide-open public town halls,” Kenney told reporters Tuesday. “The hearings that we will hold will be an opportunity for people to speak out. And I do expect to hear a lot of frustration, and people have a bloody right to be frustrated in this province.”
Many of those frustrations are separtist in nature, with people taking to social media to claim that Alberta is not treated “fairly” by the federal government. But according to two different polls in the past few months, less than a quarter of Albertans actually support separatism.
Kenney said the panel will include famous Albertans, to be announced next week.
A sea of blue
The moves come in response to the 2019 federal election, which saw Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal party win enough seats to form a minority government, but get completely shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Both provinces were a sea of blue, save for one NDP seat in Edmonton Strathcona.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged his party’s poor results in the provinces during his victory speech in Montreal Monday night,
“To Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan, know that you are an essential part of our great country. I’ve heard your frustration and I want to be there to support you. Let us all work hard to bring our country together,” Trudeau said.
WATCH: Trudeau addresses supporters following minority win. Story continues below.
On Tuesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer blamed Trudeau for a “more divided” Canada.
“The fact that our country is more divided than ever is directly a result of Justin Trudeau’s approach over the last four years,” Scheer said.
Kenney says he called Trudeau to congratulate him earlier Tuesday, but criticized the prime minister’s shout-out to the Prairies.
“Well those are fine words, but if we are to avoid real, lasting damage to the unity and prosperity of this federation, they must be more than words. They must followed by real action.”
What’s the problem?
Kenney stoked fear that a minority government propped up by the NDP, Bloc Québécois or Greens would cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. All three smaller parties campaigned against the project, and Trudeau faced criticism for purchasing the pipeline while holding himself out as a climate leader.
Kenney said he told Trudeau there was a simple way to satisfy angry Albertans.
“The clearest way [Trudeau] could do so would be to unequivocally commit this new government to the completion of the pipeline,” he said.
WATCH: Premier Scott Moe calls for a ‘new deal’ with the West. Story continues below.
He also brought up the federal government’s equalization program and the spectre of holding a referendum in Alberta to change the constitutional rules around it — though it can’t force the feds’ hand. Kenney also touched on the carbon tax and similar opposition to it from Conservative premiers in Manitoba and Ontario.
Yet Kenney says it ultimately comes back to the pipeline.
“With a lot of issues on the plate here, and a lot of anger and frustration and Alberta, I want people to keep their eye on the prize, focused on our most important economic imperative, which is the completion of that pipeline,” he said.
Kenney not personally in favour of separatism
The Alberta premier said that while he believes separatists should get a platform to express their anger, he personally views it as his responsibility as premier to offer “constructive alternatives.”
“I really believe most Albertans are patriots,” Kenney said.
Kenney said that land-locking the province through separation would not be a solution to what he calls “a campaign to land-lock Alberta” from anti-pipeline advocates.
And while Kenney repeatedly stressed that he valued Alberta’s role in the greater Canadian federation, he warned separatist sentiment will become “problematic” if the province doesn’t get its way.
“This needs some tending, this relationship needs some good faith from Ottawa,” he said. “And if it doesn’t get that, I fear the alienation is going to go in a very problematic direction.”
Kenney says his government’s platform has some “serious leverage points,” including forcing a national referendum on equalization and ensuring the Trans Mountain pipeline is built.
“We are going to force our fight for a fair deal onto the national agenda, come hell or high water,” Kenney said.