Panel will give Albertans chance to share views about Confederation, Kenney says

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney plans to hold public hearings so Albertans angered by the province’s place in Confederation can share their views. 

'People have a bloody right to be frustrated in this province'

Premier Jason Kenney speaks to reporters Tuesday at the Alberta legislature. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wants to hold public hearings so Albertans angered by the province's place in Confederation can share their views. 

The hearings, conducted by an expert panel, would be aimed at suggesting ways to improve Alberta's role within Confederation. They would offer a way for people to be heard, not to fan the flames of separation, Kenney said Tuesday.

"People have a bloody right to be frustrated in this province," the premier said at a news conference. "(The economic downturn) has had very real, real-life consequences on people. And we must give those frustrated Albertans an opportunity to speak their minds." 

Kenney's remarks came after he announced several measures in the legislature to address what he characterized as the alienation Albertans feel within the Canadian federation.

Though a Liberal minority government was elected on Monday, Conservatives won 33 of Alberta's 34 seats. That result reveals the frustrations Albertans have with the province's unequal relationship with the federal government, Kenney wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday. 

"Albertans cannot understand why they have been called on to contribute $20 billion more annually to the Government of Canada than they receive back in benefits, and yet our ability to develop that wealth is increasingly blocked through cancelled and killed pipelines and policies like Bill C-69," Kenney wrote. 

Equalization referendum

At the news conference, Kenney said he has already heard political moderates muse openly about Alberta separation.

People might be adopting the inflammatory language to blow off steam, Kenney suggested, but he said his government must get to the root of the frustration and suggest constructive ideas for reform. 

"We should not let Justin Trudeau and his policies make us feel unwelcome in our own country," he said. "Landlocking ourselves through separation is not a solution to the problem of a campaign to landlock Alberta."

The premier said he will announce the panel members next week. They will look at ideas for reforming Alberta's role within federation. 

Kenney said he will give the federal government two years to make progress on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and to redraft bills like Bill C-69, which he said will be detrimental to Alberta's interests. 

If Ottawa hasn't moved on those issues within that time period, Kenney said, Alberta will hold a referendum on the province's participation in the equalization program. 

He demanded Ottawa remove a $60 per person cap within the Fiscal Stabilization Program, which provides a financial boost to provinces that sustain a significant reduction in revenue. 

Ottawa should exclude non-renewable resource revenue from the equalization formula, he said.

The Trudeau government should acknowledge the province's upcoming plan to tax large industrial carbon emitters by exempting Alberta from the federal carbon tax paid by consumers, Kenney said. 

In a bid to support his minority government, Trudeau should not make deals with the other political parties that would impede construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the premier said.