Kenney fires back at Bloc leader's remarks on western priorities

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called out Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet on his recent comments disparaging the oil and gas industry and western autonomy initiatives.

Yves-François Blanchet said Alberta and Saskatchewan shouldn't look to him for help

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, left, at an oil industry luncheon on Wednesday. Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, right, making his statements on Western interests in Ottawa. (CBC)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has blasted Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet on Wednesday for his comments on the oil and gas industry and western interests.

During a "state of the industry" luncheon  hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors in Calgary on Wednesday, Kenney had choice words for the Bloc leader after Blanchet said not to count on his party to support more autonomy for an "oil state." 

"Quebec tabled a budget with a $4 billion surplus — thanks to a $13 billion equalization payment from Ottawa," Kenney, the keynote speaker, told a sold-out crowd at the Westin Calgary. 

"If you are so opposed to the energy that we produce in Alberta, then why are you so keen on taking the money generated by the oilfield workers in this province and across Western Canada? You can not have your cake and eat it too," Kenney said in a charged speech that received a standing ovation.

Kenney was directly responding to comments made by Blanchet after the Bloc leader met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa earlier Wednesday. 

Don't count on me to support western demands: Bloc leader

The Liberal federal government, which was shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the Oct. 21 election, is faced with greater demands for power and autonomy from both some western premiers and Quebec, where voters elected 32 Bloc MPs.

Quebec has long fought for more autonomy from the federal government — and the Bloc Québécois is explicitly separatist — but Kenney borrowed a page from the eastern province's handbook last Saturday. He announced the appointment of a "fair deal" panel to look at ways to give Alberta more autonomy from the federal government

Kenney said Alberta's "fair deal" panel would look at ideas like pulling out of the Federal-Provincial Tax Collection Agreement, establishing a provincial police force to replace the RCMP, withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan to create a provincial plan and opting out of federal cost-sharing programs.

But when Blanchet was asked what advice he had for provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan that seek more independence from the federal government, he didn't offer his support.

If they are trying to create an oil state in Western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us.- Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet

"If they were attempting to create a green state in Western Canada, I might be tempted to help them. If they are trying to create an oil state in Western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us," Blanchet said at a press conference.

"We will keep fighting this idea to obsessively want to extract oil from the ground and make the planet warmer."

'Pick a lane,' Kenney fires back

That raised hackles for Kenney, who has repeatedly taken issue with Quebecers who criticize Alberta's oil and gas industry. He argues that Albertans contribute "disproportionately" to the federal government's coffers to the tune of about $20 billion net a year — even though Alberta's economy has struggled since the 2014 oil downturn — while Quebecers repeatedly receive the largest equalization payments from Ottawa.

"Pick a lane," Kenney told Blanchet in his speech on Wednesday.

"Either you can say as Quebec that you're no longer going to take the energy and equalization resources that come from Western Canada's oil and gas industry … or you can do what we do as Canadians, coming together to support each other, especially in times of adversity."

How equalization actually works

When politicians often talk about their respective provinces and taxpayers paying for equalization, technically, the money comes from federal general revenue, like income and corporate taxes, the GST, and tariffs on imports that all Canadians pay into. 

The federal program that provides transfer payments to lower income provinces to help address fiscal disparity across the country and allow for comparable public services from coast to coast. 

But because a lot of high-income individuals live in Alberta, they do contribute a larger share per capita to federal coffers— and an equal amount of federal spending does not end up back in Alberta.

"All we ask is a little bit of fairness," Kenney said in his speech. "We're not asking for a special deal."

44% of oil to Quebec comes from Alberta

Later Wednesday, Blanchet doubled down when asked Quebec's reliance on Alberta oil and resistance to more pipelines on the CBC TV program Power & Politics. 

"About 44 per cent of the oil that Quebec receives right now comes from Alberta, comes from Western Canada," Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos pointed out to Blanchet.

"It's a big switch [from] prior to 2015 when Line 9 was reversed and most of that … comes from a pipeline. How can you so firmly reject the idea that that is something that Alberta wants to encourage, its own livelihood, when your province is actually the recipient and bases much of its energy on receiving that oil?" Kapelos asked Blanchet.

Line 9 is an Enbridge pipeline is a 639-kilometre section of pipeline that runs from Sarnia in southern Ontario to Montreal. It used to carry Alberta oil to Quebec refineries then Enbridge reversed the line in 1998 to carry cheaper, foreign crude oil to the west. The flow was reversed again in 2015 because Canadian crude oil was once again priced significantly lower than foreign sources, although a number of communities along the route, especially in Quebec, opposed the move.

"The first is that our responsibility is to consume less and less oil, not more and more," Blanchet told Kapelos, although he said he was Quebec's environment minister when the Line 9 reversal was approved.

"So we are fully supplied by western Canada and the United States — nothing from Saudi Arabia… — and our needs are fulfilled. Therefore there is no reason for Quebec to support being simply a territory that you cross in order to increase the exportations of Canadian oil to wherever they want because it's against Quebec's interest and it's against the world's interest."

As recently as 2012, 92 per cent of oil supplied to Quebec's refineries was imported, mostly from Algeria, Kazakhstan and Angola, and less than one per cent was from Western Canada, according to a 2018 report from the National Bank of Canada.

The same report said that by 2017, 44 per cent of Quebec's crude oil supply came from Western Canada and 37 per cent came from the United States, thanks to a surge in U.S. shale oil production, while Algeria supplied another 11 per cent and eight per cent came from other sources.

"Why is OK for Quebec to use that energy and not OK for Alberta to want to sell that energy elsewhere?" Kapelos asked Blanchet.

"Because the logic that we, that everybody should adopt is doing a forced reduce of our consumption, not increase extraction, exportation and consumption of oil," Blanchet replied.

Meanwhile, at the Calgary luncheon, Sandip Lalli, CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, took a softer tone than Kenney.

"I think there's more likeness between Quebec and Alberta with respect to natural-resource development and solving climate change," she said.

"We just need to be able to get to talking and listening to each other."

With files from Mark Gollom and The Canadian Press


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