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Alberta separation an empty threat that will hurt economy, premier says

Premier Jason Kenney on Friday warned proponents of Alberta separation that they could make the province’s situation much worse by creating investor uncertainty similar to the exodus of head offices and jobs from Quebec after the Parti Quebecois won power in 1976. 

'I don't think this is a clever tactic,' Jason Kenney says

Premier Jason Kenney gestures while responding to criticism from UCP MLA Drew Barnes that the Fair Deal panel report doesn't go far enough to force Ottawa's hand on giving Alberta a better deal in Confederation. (CBC)

Premier Jason Kenney on Friday warned proponents of Alberta separation that they could make the province's situation much worse by creating investor uncertainty similar to the exodus of head offices and jobs from Quebec after the Parti Quebecois won power in 1976. 

Kenney was asked about comments, made by UCP MLA Drew Barnes who sat on the Fair Deal panel, that the report doesn't go far enough in pushing Ottawa to change Alberta's status within Confederation. 

But Kenney reminded people who want to use the threat of separation as leverage that major companies pulled out of Quebec in the late 1970s in the face of the PQ's threat to hold a referendum on sovereignty. 

"They went from Montreal mainly to Toronto. Real estate prices collapsed overnight and hundreds of thousands of Quebecers left the province," Kenney said in response to a reporter's question. 

"So no, I don't think this is a clever tactic. At a time when we've got to focus on economic growth, restoring investor confidence and creating jobs, making that kind of threat that would destabilize investor confidence would be hugely counter-productive."

Kenney's comments follow the release of the Fair Deal panel's report on Wednesday.

Shortly after the report was released to the public, Barnes, who is the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, broke away from the consensus expressed by his fellow Fair Deal panellists and wrote his own minority opinion.

"We should be clear with Ottawa and the other provinces, that if the people of Alberta vote for a fair deal of constitutional equality within confederation, but these proposals are rejected, that Albertans will be given the opportunity to vote on their independence," Barnes wrote. 

"A free people must be willing to at some point of injustice without rectification...draw a line and make a stand." 

Kenney said he understands why some Albertans are frustrated, but that talk of separation will not help. 

"Look, you don't make a threat that you're not prepared to keep," Kenney said. 

"And I have not seen a single public opinion poll which indicates we're anywhere close to a majority of Albertans voting to leave Canada. And so I regard it as an empty threat.

"The answer to a campaign to landlock Alberta energy is not for us voluntarily to landlock Alberta energy by separating from this federation."

Barnes's comments provoked a rebuke from his fellow panellist, former PC MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, who called into CBC call-in show Alberta at Noon on Thursday to put a question to the UCP MLA. 

Kennedy-Glans reminded him the report represented a consensus by the entire panel. The fact Barnes wrote a separate opinion after the fact raised concerns for her "about what that means for the ability of MLAs in the future to contribute to panels like this."

Joe Ceci, the NDP MLA for Calgary-Buffalo, called musings about Alberta independence "disturbing" and "absurd." He said Kenney needed to squash the separation talk within the UCP caucus and focus on more important issues. 

"We've got a job to do in this province and it's not talking about separation," Ceci said. "It's talking about getting people back to work, getting our economy firing again."

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