Kenney and Moe say federal-provincial relations on the mend - but warn Ottawa against rejecting Teck mine
Trudeau's fiercest provincial critics suggest relations are now the strongest in 4 years
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe — two of Justin Trudeau's fiercest critics at the provincial level — say hostile relations with the federal Liberal government appear to be on the mend.
Speaking at an event at the Wilson Center in Washington Friday, Kenney said the Oct. 21 federal election that shut the Liberals out in both provinces served as a wake-up call for the prime minister regarding the "serious challenge" his party faces in the region. Since then, Trudeau has taken steps to restore national unity, he said.
Kenney said Trudeau's appointment of Chrystia Freeland as deputy prime minister and intergovernmental affairs minister was a "very positive step forward."
"Chrystia grew up in Alberta. She understands that real frustration and anger that exists about federal policies," he said. "We've entered into, I think, a respectful dialogue. We seen some progress on some issues."
Not a single Liberal candidate was elected in the fall election in the two Prairie provinces; even high-profile cabinet ministers Ralph Goodale and Amarjeet Sohi lost their seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The results were widely seen as Prairie voters' rendering a verdict on the federal carbon tax and its lack of progress on building a new pipeline.
Kenney has been a vocal critic of Trudeau in past. He's called the prime minister an "empty trust fund millionaire" with "the political depth of a finger bowl" who "can't read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin." He later apologized for those remarks.
The Alberta premier also railed against Trudeau during the election campaign, insisting his province was getting a "raw deal" under the Liberals.
Kenney said the provincial and federal governments are now finding more and more areas of common ground.
"I'm hopeful that we'll continue to make progress and we have a much more constructive relationship now than we did before the election," he said.
Moe also commended Trudeau for appointing Freeland and tasking her with listening to the region's concerns and repairing relations.
"We've had the opportunity to open up a strong dialogue, I would say probably the strongest dialogue that we have had since the Liberal government came to power just over four years ago, and that's appreciated," he said.
Rejecting Teck would be 'devastating' - Kenney
Trudeau and Freeland began earnest outreach efforts immediately after the election, holding meetings with the premiers in Ottawa. Freeland also has made several trips west since the election.
But as the Prairie premiers spoke Friday of improved federal-provincial relations, they also warned of a "devastating" impact if the federal government rejects a proposed oilsands mine project in northeastern Alberta.
Vancouver-based mining company Teck Resources Ltd. wants to build the massive Frontier oilsands mine and has set a target of carbon-neutrality by 2050.
"It's hard to overstate the response of Albertans ... if this project were to be rejected after nearly a decade of a rigorous environmental process, after this company Teck, which has a global reputation as one of the most progressive mining companies on earth, spent a billion dollars clearing every hurdle in one of the most vigorous environmental assessments on earth," he said.
Kenney said an "arbitrary political decision" to reject the project also would send the wrong signal to investors.
"That would be a devastating message to send in terms of investor confidence at a time when we are struggling to attract foreign direct investment to the Canadian economy," he said.
Teck has said it will look at various ways of moving materials at its mines, using cleaner power sources and implementing efficiency measures.
The company also is promising to produce more metals needed for the transition to a low-carbon economy, including copper for electric vehicles and renewable power generation.
Moe said turning the project down would be unthinkable.
"It would really perplex many, including myself, and the reactions would be swift and direct if the application for what would be one of the most sustainable oilsands projects, one of the most sustainable energy projects in the world, would not be approved in a nation like Canada," he said.
Watch: Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs warns that 'Albertans will perceive (a rejection of the Teck Frontier mine) as a rejection of Alberta from Canada'