EDMONTON – On Wednesday afternoon, a senior Alberta cabinet minister reacted to controversial comments made about the province during the British Columbia throne speech a day earlier, saying he did not perceive them to be aimed at his government.
On Tuesday, Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon read out the B.C. Liberal government’s plans for the new legislative session and how to weather the dropping commodity prices on global markets. The speech cited Alberta’s policies as things to be avoided.
“Consider our neighbours in Alberta – a province of similar size, and also blessed with natural resources,” Guichon said. “Over the decades, Alberta lost its focus. They expected their resource boom never to end, failed to diversify their economy and lost control of government spending.”
“I interpret this as an attack on the previous government and their failure to diversify the economy,” Deron Bilous, Alberta’s minister of Economic Development said. “The fact of the matter is, when the times were good, the PCs squandered a lot of our resource revenue away – there wasn’t enough focus placed on diversifying the economy. When your sole focus is on one commodity, selling to one buyer, at one price; then this has exacerbated the problem we currently find ourselves in.”
The B.C. throne speech underscored the dire state of resource-based economies, citing slumping oil prices, volatility in global markets and the steady slide of the Canadian dollar. The speech also outlined Premier Christy Clark’s intention to continue to move to a green economy.
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“B.C. has the potential to be a clean energy superpower, helping others reduce emissions – whether by replacing coal-fired plants with LNG overseas, or by supplying hydroelectric power to Alberta,” Guichon read.
The speech also saw B.C.’s Liberal government make no apologies for being one of the first governments in North America to set a carbon tax, saying it is a revenue-neutral tax where income generated by the levies is being used to cut other taxes on citizens.
“This is a truly revenue-neutral tax – not an opportunistic reach into taxpayers’ wallets,” Guichon read.
When asked by reporters if the carbon tax comments were aimed directly at Rachel Notley’s NDP government and not the PC government before it, Bilous seemed to acknowledge that was the case. But, he said he still didn’t see the comments as acrimonious.
“Our carbon levy is revenue neutral, we may have a difference of opinion between my B.C. counterparts and myself,” Bilous said before going on to defend the NDP’s carbon tax.
“Our carbon levy is revenue neutral in the sense that every single dollar that is collected through the carbon levy is going to be re-invested into the economy and so none of those dollars are going toward paying the bottom line, going to a savings account etc.,” Bilous said.
The minister emphasized his government’s intention to emphasize economic diversification but said it will remain a staunch supporter of Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
Several B.C. cabinet ministers made no apologies for how Alberta was referenced in the throne speech and said the comments weren’t an insult, but rather an honest look at the state of the province.
“I don’t think it’s a shot at anybody,” B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman, who is also B.C.’s deputy premier and natural gas development minister, said Wednesday. “It’s a reality.”
Coleman also suggested growing numbers of homeless Albertans are moving to B.C. He suggested a considerable portion of his province’s homeless population is already from Alberta because former Alberta premier Ralph Klein bought one-way bus tickets for welfare recipients to move west.
When asked if the throne speech would impact Alberta’s relationship with B.C., Bilous said he was confident it wouldn’t.
“This is where tactfulness and true politics come in as far as learning to work with our neighbours from across the country.”
B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett said there was no intention to insult Alberta’s NDP government.
“There is this healthy competition and for a long, long time there was some of that (Alberta) stuff coming across the Rockies our way,” Bennett said. “And, you know, I guess there’s a little bit going back the other way, and I think it’s harmless.”
Bennett added he’s been negotiating with his counterparts about connecting B.C.’s hydro power to Alberta.
With files from The Canadian Press
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