The Alberta government says it will be doing “damage control”‘ after Opposition leader Jason Kenney’s visit to India.
Trade Minister Deron Bilous said there appears to be confusion in India over who Kenney is speaking for and questions over what he is saying as he meets this week with business and political leaders.
“There’s already been confusion,” Bilous said Tuesday, citing a social media post from an Indian government cabinet minister who referred to Kenney as a minister of the Crown. “We don’t know exactly what he is saying, how he is portraying himself.”
Bilous said Kenney doesn’t speak on behalf of the government of Alberta or the government of Canada.
“What we don’t know is if he is clarifying where there are misunderstandings … but we’re not about to let this visit of Mr. Kenney’s potentially damage the government of Alberta’s relationship with India.”
Bilous said they will do follow-up work to deal with any confusion.
“We’ve directed our Alberta trade office to do damage control, correcting the record wherever we can,” he said. “They’ll be doing follow-up conversations with all of the Indian officials that Mr. Kenney meets with.”
Kenney and two caucus members are using their own money and United Conservative Party (UCP) funds for the trip to promote Alberta’s oil industry and express concerns about Indian tariffs on peas and lentils.
Nitin Gadkari, the minister responsible for roads and other resources, tweeted out this week, “Met Mr. Jason Kenney, Hon’ble Minister, Alberta, Canada. We discussed about exploring areas of mutual co-operation in infrastructure sector.”
Kenney has also given multiple interviews with media in that country making statements that appear to conflict with ones made earlier in Alberta.
Speaking to CNN-News18, he urged Indians to invest, saying, “Canada, amongst the developed countries – Alberta in particular – have low taxes. We have one of the best educated workforces, efficient power prices. We have a lot of strategic advantages for that kind of investment.”
Kenney’s UCP has, in fact, been sharply critical of Premier Rachel Notley’s power pricing system and its tax regime.
Two months ago, Kenney said the current Alberta tax program was not luring investment but in fact undermining it, and that if his party forms government, he will axe the existing carbon tax and then look at further tax reductions.
Bilous said he hopes Albertans are scratching their heads.
“Mr. Kenney is saying one thing to Albertans and another to an international audience,” he said.
“This is where it is critical that our Alberta office in India will be following up with all the officials that Mr. Kenney meets with.”
In an emailed statement to Global News, a UCP Caucus spokesperson said:
“It is disappointing to hear the minister suggest that Mr. Kenney’s visit to India has or will in any way hurt Alberta.
“Prior to his departure, Mr. Kenney spoke to Minister Bilous and indicated that he is taking a Team Alberta approach on this trip, and that all partisanship ends at the border,” Christine Myatt explained.
“Mr. Kenney is more than happy to forward Alberta and Canada’s interests while in India, utilizing his high-level international connections. In fact, the government would be wise to solicit his advice to build connections to the world’s largest democracy of 1.3 billion people. He would be happy to do so, should Minister Bilous ever opt to travel to India in the future.
“It’s quite clear that this latest NDP smear job is a desperate attempt to distract from its disastrous record.”
On Monday, Sept. 24, Myatt added:
“The UCP delegation’s time in India was incredibly successful and we achieved our goal of maintaining existing relationships and forging new ones while promoting Alberta’s trade interests.
“Highlights from the delegation’s itinerary include meetings with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Minister of Roads & Highways Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. The delegation also met with a number of Indian oil and gas executives and toured the world’s largest petrochemical facility, operated by Reliance.”
Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier has led two trade missions to India over the last two years on behalf of the province.
READ MORE: Alberta axes 3 foreign trade offices
— With files from Global’s Emily Mertz