Chrystia Freeland, Jason Kenney meet in Alberta ‘to look for common ground’

Chrystia Freeland, Jason Kenney meet in Alberta ‘to look for common ground’

EDMONTON — The Alberta government received its second overture in as many weeks from the federal Liberals as Chrystia Freeland visited Edmonton on Monday and spoke with Premier Jason Kenney, seeking, they both said, “common ground” on issues facing the Alberta-Ottawa relationship.

The two played nice in a quick statement and photo op, with Kenney warmly welcoming Freeland to Alberta and congratulating her on her appointment as intergovernmental affairs minister and deputy prime minister. Neither took media questions before heading behind closed doors.

“Chrystia’s originally an Alberta girl, and while she represents Toronto now, she understands the whole country,” Kenney said. “We’re looking forward to having a productive conversation today about how we can find common ground.”

The meeting came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to recall Parliament in nine days to govern with a minority parliament, and after months upon months of Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe making whipping boys of the federal government.

The polite warmth between Freeland and Kenney stood in stark contrast to the passionate bombast that has marked many of Kenney’s attacks over the past several months. In recent days, Kenney has criticized the federal government for not legislating striking CN Rail workers back to work, saying it’s harming the energy and agriculture sectors. And that comes on the heels of months and months of provincial-federal browbeating over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the carbon tax and, more generally, the relationship Ottawa has with Edmonton and Regina.

“I am here to look for common ground,” said Freeland. “The premier’s right that there are challenges in the relationship.”

In a statement sent out after the meeting, Kenney’s office said he reiterated to Freeland some of the desires the province had laid out to Trudeau weeks before, including an equalization rebate and the repeal of bills C-69 and C-48.

“I appreciate Minister Freeland’s willingness to listen and work with us, but the measure of the Prime Minister’s sincerity will be swift action on these urgent issues,” said Kenney in the statement.

It’s the second overture made to Kenney’s United Conservative government in the past week or so. Last week, Seamus O’Regan, the new minister of natural resources, had a meeting with Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, in Calgary. While O’Regan, like Freeland, didn’t speak to reporters, he said in a Friday statement that he hopes Canada’s natural resources will be “sustainably developed and continue to be a source of good, well-paying jobs.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, the new minister of intergovernmental affairs, meets with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Nov. 25, 2019.

Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press

Savage, for her part, said “(O’Regan) listened, he heard, he understood. I was very encouraged with the tone and the direction.”

Much of the discussion in the past week has been about bills C-69 and C-48, two contentious pieces of legislation that, respectively, affect energy project approval and energy exports via ocean-going tanker ship from northwest British Columbia. Freeland said the federal government needs to listen hard to what Albertans have to say.

And while the federal government has insisted, repeatedly, it has no intention of actually changing the law, they may consider changes to implementation (although what that might mean has yet to be revealed publicly.) That was hinted by both O’Regan and by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who met with Trudeau in Ottawa last Thursday.

More generally, this is a moment of heightened tension: Kenney recently announced a panel that’s studying a “fair deal” for Alberta, which is considering a variety of modifications to its relationship with the rest of the country. It could, for example, lead to the province pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan or ending its contract with the RCMP for policing services, two such proposals that conservatives have long argued would increase Alberta’s independence from Ottawa and bargaining power with Ottawa.

And, following her meeting with Kenney, Freeland was set to have an evening meeting with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and deliver a speech in Edmonton at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Then she was to head to Saskatchewan to meet with Moe.

• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: tylerrdawson

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