Alberta Premier Jason Kenney fires back at federal leaders opposed to oil bailout
Premier also defends health minister in government tussle with doctors
Alberta's premier pushed back Thursday against federal party leaders who said the oil industry is dying and unworthy of a federal government bailout.
Premier Jason Kenney said Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is "obsessed" with attacking Albertans, who have paid billions of dollars in federal taxes that helped fund Quebec social programs and services.
"Please stop kicking us while we're down," Kenney said Thursday during an Edmonton news conference.
"We Albertans have been generous, and we will continue to be generous, but this, these attacks on our natural resource industries are unwarranted, they are divisive, they're — I believe, in a way — unCanadian at a time like this."
Both Blanchet and Green Party parliamentary Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday the federal government should abandon any plan to offer financial aid to the languishing oil and gas industry.
"My heart bleeds for people who believe the sector is going to come back. It's not," May told reporters in Ottawa. "Oil is dead and for people in the sector, it's very important there be just transition funds."
Blanchet said the oil industry is "condemned," and the federal government should avoid propping it up.
"It is clear that there is no long-term future for that kind of industry, so let's help them go somewhere else, something which is more green," he said.
Blanchet should be more appreciative, Kenney says
Kenney said Blanchet should show gratitude for the billions of dollars the oil industry has generated and shared with Quebec in recent decades.
Quebec received $13 billion through equalization this year, some of which came from federal taxes paid by oil and gas workers, he said.
Oil companies are now bleeding money as coronavirus lockdowns drastically reduce demand, a global price war sends prices plunging and firms struggle to borrow.
These have prompted companies to scale down spending and production, which could, in turn, decrease employment in the sector.
Alberta expected almost a tenth of its provincial budget this year to come from non-renewable resource revenues, based on an oil price of $58 US a barrel.
On Thursday, a barrel of benchmark West Texas Intermediate was worth about $24 US.
For more than a month, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has promised help for the oil patch was imminent.
The federal government has already committed to spending $2.5 billion cleaning up orphaned wells and reducing methane emissions.
But the industry wants broader measures, including cash, relaxed borrowing conditions and policies such as lower resource royalties.
Premier backs beleaguered health minister
Kenney also dispelled talk of a provincial cabinet shuffle on Thursday as critics call for the resignation or demotion of Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Shandro is at odds with Alberta doctors after imposing a new agreement this spring that changed how physicians are paid.
Kenney said Shandro has the confidence of government and has been doing "an extraordinary job" in the portfolio under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doctors' pay must stop rising at its current rates, Kenney said.
"Particularly with the great fiscal reckoning that Alberta will face following the pandemic, we cannot continue to see annual increases in physician compensation that are typically three-to-four times higher than inflation," he said.
Since the pay changes took effect March 31, several groups of rural doctors have said they will stop working in hospital emergency wards and delivering babies because they can no longer afford to do both hospital and clinic work.
On April 24, Shandro reversed some of the pay changes for rural physicians, adding $81 million to the Rural Remote Northern Program.
Kenney said Thursday that amounts to about $100,000 more annually for each rural doctor.
However, some rural doctors say the distribution of money is changing, and they still stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Doctor pay makes up about a tenth of the province's spending, Kenney said.