Kenney to seek 'common ground' as poll finds Quebecers most OK with Alberta separation

After a poll that found Quebecers would feel the most pleased to see Alberta separate from Canada, Premier Jason Kenney said Friday the two provinces have more in common than some may think.

Outside of Quebec, Canadians say they'd be unhappy if Alberta were to separate

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to reporters in Calgary on Friday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

After a poll that found Quebecers would feel the most pleased to see Alberta separate from Canada, Premier Jason Kenney said Friday the two provinces have more in common than some may think.

"We are friends of Quebec," Kenney told reporters. "We are traditional allies of Quebec. We are allies in defending provincial jurisdiction."

His comments Friday came in response to a question about an Abacus Data poll released earlier in the week that found "substantial majorities" of Canadians in every province — except Quebec — would be "unhappy" or "very unhappy" to see Alberta separate from Canada.

In Quebec, 55 per cent of survey respondents said they would be "happy" or "OK" to see Alberta leave the country.

How survey respondents said they would feel about a hypothetical separation of Alberta from the rest of Canada. (Abacus Data)

Kenney, who has been in Texas for most of the week, said he hadn't seen the poll but he hoped to quell regional tensions when he speaks with Quebec Premier François Legault later in the day. The two premiers had a phone call scheduled for Friday afternoon.

The Alberta premier blamed federal Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet for escalating regional tensions and said he hoped to smooth things over in his conversation with Legault.

"I don't want to feed into the kind of division being seeded by the leader of the Bloc Québécois," Kenney said. "I want to find common ground in the federation that gets us a fair deal and I think we can do that."

Kenney also said he was pleased by Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard's recent support for reforming Canada's fiscal stabilization program.

"Quebec supports Alberta's proposal that the federal government make the necessary improvements to this program," Girard wrote in the Financial Post. "Indeed, Quebec wants Alberta, Saskatchewan and all Canadian provinces to prosper."

Alberta received about $250 million from the fiscal stabilization program in 2016, but the federal formula for calculating payouts has been criticized in the province as being outdated and poorly suited to addressing recessions related to downturns in oil and gas.

Under the current rules, a province can apply for financial assistance if its non-resource revenues decline by more than five per cent from one year to the next.

Payments are also capped based on a province's population, with a maximum of $60 per person, and assistance is not automatic; it must be approved on a case-by-case basis by the federal government.

Survey finds most Albertans oppose separation

As an upstart western separatist party organizes candidates to run in the next federal election, the Abacus survey found three-quarters of Albertans feel their province is treated "unfairly" in its relationship with the rest of the country.

At the same time, however, three-quarters said they would vote to remain a part of Canada in a hypothetical referendum on separation.

Kenney said Albertans continue to be frustrated with numerous federal polices but he's also been encouraged by recent conversations with members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's newly appointed cabinet.

He said he spoke Thursday with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Jim Carr, the Winnipeg South Centre MP who has been designated as the federal government's special representative to the Prairies.

"And I hope to be meeting with the prime minister in early December," Kenney said, "to convey to him personally what I've said in writing to him, which is that if he's really committed to healing the wounds and addressing the divisions, we need more than words. We need actions."

Abacus says the survey was conducted online with 3,000 adults from Nov. 12 to 17 and results were weighted according to census data "to ensure that the sample matched Canada's population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region."

For comparison purposes, a probability-based sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margins of error would be higher on provincial results or other subsets of the main sample.

With files from Jennifer Lee


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