Alberta Premier Jason Kenney came to Quebec with a message of economic partnership between East and West, announcing on Tuesday he will open an office in Montreal to promote Alberta’s energy sector and improve political and economic relations between the provinces.
The news was tempered, however, by the suggestion that pipeline-wary Quebecers should be more appreciative of the resource-rich hand that has long fed them.
“Quebecers and Albertans can and should be partners in prosperity,” Kenney said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette’s editorial board.
The premier is on a one-week trip to Quebec and Washington, D.C., to promote investments and pipelines, meeting with media, business leaders and U.S. governors. The new office will be run by a former Quebecer who has spent several years in Alberta. It is slated to open this spring.
Quebec and Alberta share a historical alliance as defenders of the Canadian Constitution, Kenney said. He has developed a positive working relationship with Quebec Premier François Legault, sharing a similar vision on the need to protect provincial jurisdictions, he added.
“But more importantly, Quebecers have benefited, directly and indirectly, enormously from Alberta’s economic development, especially its natural resources,” Kenney said, referring to the $13 billion in equalization payments Quebec will receive under the federal program that ensures all provinces receive a uniform level of public services.
As residents of a “have” province, Alberta taxpayers have long been the largest contributors to the fund, Kenney said. Albertans will still pay out this year even though the province ran a deficit and Quebec is running a surplus.
Reeling from reduced revenues caused by a drop in oil prices, Alberta has been calling for a reform of the program and threatening to hold a largely symbolic referendum on the issue of equalization payments in 2021 if Ottawa does not support pipeline projects to help it export its resources.
Since the transfer of wealth helps Quebec support schools, hospitals, roads and social programs, Kenney said, Alberta is demanding a “fair deal.”
“Effectively, for us that means that if the rest of Canada wants to benefit from the resources that are responsibly developed in Alberta, then the rest of Canada should help us get those resources to international markets, whether it’s our energy resources or other resources.”
Although plans for the Energy East pipeline have died, Kenney said Alberta does not expect Ottawa to buy it as it did the western Trans Mountain pipeline, which passed another legislative hurdle Tuesday. He would like to see Quebec support the exports of liquefied natural gas as well as its petroleum. Exporting liquid natural gas would help developing and European markets shift from coal to a cleaner form of energy while boosting the national economy.
Although some people think “we can flick a switch and turn off the entire modern industrial economy that is largely dependent on hydrocarbon energy,” in reality, the International Energy Agency has predicted there will be a doubling of the global demand for gas between now and 2040, and a 10-per-cent increase in oil demand, Kenney said. The agency predicts the world will be consuming 70 million barrels of oil a day in 2040, down from the current 100 million.
“To people who think that Canadian energy is dirty (as Legault described it in 2018) and socially unacceptable, they are welcome to stop taking the transfer payments and equalization that are generated from that energy,” Kenney said. “If they’re really that serious about it, put your money where your mouth is.”
Alberta is at the forefront of green extraction technology, including in its proposed $20-billion Frontier oilsands mine that would produce half the carbon emissions of the average North American petroleum project and far below emissions produced in the extraction of California crude oil, Kenney said.
“Our view is that as long as there continues to be a demand for hydrocarbon-based energy, Canada’s role can be as a world leader in technology that shrinks the environmental impact of its development,” he said.
Kenney’s equalization payments agenda has been criticized as Quebec-bashing that threatens to inflame separatist sentiment at both ends of the country for the sake of scoring political points in Alberta. He responds his goal is to create a partnership to better counter the “Ottawa knows best” attitude of the current federal government.
“That is what historically has inflamed alienation in both Quebec and the West. I want to prevent that.”