EDMONTON – Canada’s western premiers threw their support Tuesday behind Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s vision of a national strategy to jointly develop, lobby, sell and sustain the country’s energy resources.
Redford told reporters after the wrap-up meeting of the Western Premiers’ Conference that the leaders are setting up a working group of officials to further discuss the strategy in the run-up to the Council of the Federation meeting this summer in Halifax.
“We had an opportunity to discuss a number of areas that are very important to all of us as we move forward in developing our own provincial and territorial economies but also understanding that we truly are an economic powerhouse for Canada,” said Redford.
She has been pitching a national energy strategy since taking over as Alberta premier last fall.
The plan would see the provinces and the federal government work closer together to reduce regulatory red tape and expand markets for Canada’s energy. They would also develop joint initiatives on research and development and on ways to protect the environment.
Last week, Redford met with federal National Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who said Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government supports in principle “a collaborative approach to energy development.”
Critics, including Alberta’s opposition Wildrose party, say it’s time for Redford to get down to specifics so that other regions know what it is they’re being asked to join.
Redford said that will come, but for now getting down to brass tacks would limit the flow of ideas and sidetrack the debate.
“What I hope this becomes is part of a living process in Canada,” said Redford.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate today for me to be able to stand here and say we have a definitive strategy or plan that we expect everyone to be buying into.”
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said regardless of what it achieves, the national strategy would be a success.
“If all that is achieved is a better understanding by all Canadians of the huge energy potential of this country, the fact we are a global energy power and that it’s something we ought to be proud of while recognizing we need to do more in terms of sustainability … it would be worthwhile in its pursuit,” said Wall.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said his province supports a national strategy as something that will develop other joint efforts.
“Manitoba looks at itself as a microcosm of the Canadian economy,” said Selinger.
“We have small amounts of oil, we have hydro-electricity. We have a very significant manufacturing sector.
“We want all sectors to do well.”
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski said his territory will benefit from a united stand with the western provinces.
“There’s so much we have in common,” said Pasloski.
“(To) be able to lean on our big brothers and sisters, with the capacity they have, (will) help us move forward and become a bigger player in Confederation.”
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, busy with other duties, did not attend the meeting but was represented by Jobs Minister Patrick Bell.
Bell said along with the energy strategy, the premiers urged Ottawa to continue efforts to reduce duplication and delays in federal-provincial environmental assessments.
“I thought we had some very good discussion on that, and we look forward to working across provinces and across territories to accomplish that,” said Bell.
The premiers also urged the federal government to fulfil its commitment on devolution of control over land, water and resources to the territories.
“We are very close to having a devolution final agreement,” said Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod. “With the tremendous potential we have for resources in the Northwest Territories, we can all work together to maximize the benefits.”
“Devolvement of decision-making powers is so very important to Nunavut,” added Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak.
The residents, she said, “have the right to make their own decisions in their own homeland.”
One topic that was expected to be discussed but wasn’t revolved around the recent comments made by federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
Mulcair ruffled feathers out west in recent weeks by saying the robust growth in the resource sectors, particularly Alberta’s oilsands, was artificially driving up the Canadian dollar.
That, said Mulcair, is boosting the price of manufacturing exports from central Canada, making them less attractive to foreign buyers and driving down business.
Mulcair further angered the western premiers by dismissing them as “messengers” of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Redford, Wall and Clark have attacked Mulcair’s comments as ill-informed and divisive. Mulcair is coming to Alberta on Wednesday and Thursday to tour the oilsands and meet with Alberta’s deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk. Redford will be away at a conference.
Redford said Canadians expecting a further round of fireworks from them on Mulcair should not be “holding their breath.”
“Most of us have already commented on the perspective that Mr. Mulcair has,” said Redford.
“Not only was it not part of the formal agenda (of the meeting) it did not take up a lot of time anyway.”
Reporters pushed Selinger for his views of Mulcair, given that Selinger is a provincial NDP premier, but he declined to wade in.
“I’m in the business of solutions and finding positive ways to move forward,” said Selinger.
“You guys (reporters) are in the business of headlines and controversy.”