Calgary

Jim Carr pledges federal government will listen, seek 'common ground' with Prairie provinces

Jim Carr told a Calgary business audience on Tuesday that he recognizes the disdain many people on the Prairies have toward his Liberal government and pledged it would do a "much better job" at listening to and working with western Canadians.

Prime minister's special representative for the Prairies visits Alberta, where federal Liberals have no seats

Jim Carr, the Liberal MP for Winnipeg South Centre and federal government's special representative for the Prairies, speaks during a Calgary Chamber event on Tuesday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Jim Carr told a Calgary business audience on Tuesday that he recognizes the disdain many people on the Prairies have toward his Liberal government and pledged it would do a "much better job" at listening to and working with western Canadians.

"I know that my party and my government is not popular here," he said, drawing chuckles from a lunchtime gathering of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

"I mean, you don't have to be a genius to figure that out."

The visit to Calgary marked Carr's first trip as the federal government's special representative for the Prairies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Carr, who was re-elected as the Liberal MP for Winnipeg South Centre in October's federal election, to the new role after the Liberals failed to win any seats in Alberta or Saskatchewan.

On Tuesday, Carr acknowledged the regional rift that has grown between many western Canadians and the Government in Ottawa, but said bridging the divide will be a top task for him, personally, and his government, more broadly. 

"The reason that we have this disconnect is we're not listening to each other," he said. "And we, in the government of Canada, have to do a much better job."

'Anger, nervousness, fear'

Carr said he understands the frustrations that Albertans, in particular, have felt over the past several years, particularly those who have lost their jobs or had family members deal with extended periods of unemployment.

"That produces anger, nervousness, fear. I understand that. We understand that," he said.

In his role, specifically, Carr said the prime minister's expectation of him is to ensure that "the fear and anxiety of this moment is well understood by the Government of Canada, not only on human terms but in public policy terms, as well."

"We also understand that this is a federation, and federations do not grow equally, from one province to the next," Carr added.

"There is an ebb and flow to it and it's based on, very often, events over which we have no control. But that doesn't mean there is any less powerful reason for all partners of the federation to step forward."

He told the crowd the federal government sees itself as "a partner with you in developing the next chapter of building this great country."

Conversations with Kenney

Carr said he has already had encouraging discussions with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

"I was very happy to be a part of an hour-long conversation between the prime minister and Premier Kenney … where intelligent people were looking for common ground," he said.

He later told reporters there has been a new "spirit of goodwill" between Kenney and his government, who in the past have been bitter political foes.

"When Premier Kenney called me to congratulate me on my [appointment], the first sentence that he said was, 'I am a federalist.' Well that's a good place to start," Carr said.

"He wants a strong Canada, and he knows and I know that a strong Canada needs a strong Alberta."

Asked when will the federal government take some concrete policy steps toward bridging regional divides, he said he couldn't offer a precise answer, yet.

"Soon," he said.

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