May 5, 2019 11:43 am
Updated: May 6, 2019 12:18 am

The West Block, Season 8, Episode 35

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, May 5, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.



Episode 35, Season 8

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Premier Jason Kenney, Barry Cooper, Chief Judy Wilson, Stephen Buffalo

Location: Calgary, Alberta

Story continues below

Oil: it’s been called the backbone of this nation’s economy. And here in Turner Valley during the Second World War, this was the largest oil field in the British Empire.

Across this province, the oil industry can be seen or felt almost everywhere.

Nearly four billion barrels of oil a day are produced in Alberta, making Canada the fifth largest oil producer in the world.

Tens of thousands of jobs depend on this industry.

Michelle Narang, Rocky Mountain House Councillor: I don’t think that you can talk to a person in town that isn’t touched by the downturn and isn’t bolstered when it booms.

Mercedes Stephenson: Rocky Mountain House: a small town in central Alberta that is driven by the energy sector.

Michelle Narang, Rocky Mountain House Councillor: The degree to which the oil and gas industry supports local communities, really, it’s very difficult to articulate because it’s—the reach is so broad. So we can’t even really say how long-term or how deep the impact will be if the pipelines aren’t built. We just really—we’re kind of sick of the politics of it all.

Jackie Forrest, ARC Energy Institute: So whether we build the TMX or not, people will consume the same amount of oil. What will happen is somebody else will supply that oil. The global emissions aren’t going to be that different, so I think the decision to build this pipeline or not, doesn’t have much consequence for climate change or global emissions.

Mercedes Stephenson: The federal government has delayed a decision on the pipeline until next month. Will environmentalists force more delays costing investment in the industry?

Richard Masson, University of Calgary: How many voices does it take to stop our pipeline that’s been through every level of regulatory approval, and it’s just—it’s an amazing thing. Very few people are interested in investing in oil projects right now, and at some level that’s one of the objectives that the folks trying to stymy the industry we’re looking for.

Jackie Forrest, ARC Energy Institute: There’s been a lot of changes and I would say a lot of that pressure from society, from environmental groups has created this transformation of the oil sands to be lower carbon.

Mercedes Stephenson: But will these changes be enough to green light a pipeline expansion? For towns like Rocky Mountain House, there’s a lot on the line.

Michelle Narang, Rocky Mountain House Councillor:  I don’t know what the future holds but we’ll see. I think it almost hurts us on a personal level, to see the vilification of the industry in media and across the country.

Mercedes Stephenson: Good morning. From Calgary, it’s Sunday May 5th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Oil and pipelines: here in Alberta, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. The federal government has delayed its decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project until next month, but could that be delayed until after the election and what would that mean for Alberta?

Joining me now from Toronto, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Welcome to the show, Premier.

Premier Jason Kenney: Great to be here, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve been out there visiting with Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford but of course, the big news on Friday: the court decision from the Saskatchewan Court over the carbon tax, finding it to in fact be, constitutional. Now I know Premier Moe says he’s going to appeal that all the way to the Supreme Court. What will you do if the Supreme Court upholds that decision?

Premier Jason Kenney: Well first of all, it was a very narrow decision: three to two on narrow grounds. And secondly, the Ontario Appeal Court has not yet rendered its judgement on a similar reference. Thirdly, the facts are different in Alberta because unlike Saskatchewan, we’re bringing forward a levy on major emitters that will occupy the regulatory space on carbon pricing. And finally, I’ve always known win, lose or draw, this was going to go to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, though, Canadian voters will pass judgment on the job killing cash grab called the carbon tax, at the polls this October. And so ultimately, there will be an opportunity for Canadians to say that they don’t want busy-body politicians telling them how to live their lives and taking more money out of their pockets.

Mercedes Stephenson: But if the Supreme Court says that this is constitutional, do you have any other recourse?

Premier Jason Kenney: We are going to review the Saskatchewan decision carefully and decide whether or not we launch our own. Alberta Appeal Court reference, based on the different facts that apply in Alberta, including our major emitters levy, but the ultimate appeal is to the people of Canada in this coming federal election and every time the carbon tax has been on the ballot in a Canadian election, it has defeated. Mercedes, we’re going to listen to at least the people of Alberta, and I think the people of Canada who have had enough with higher taxes.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve also promised two other pretty significant potential court challenges, one on the tanker ban and one on the bill around building new pipelines. How long do you think those court challenges are going to take, though? It seems like you could eat up a lot of time fighting legal battles.

Premier Jason Kenney: Well, that’s why our first effort is to make the point politically. That’s why in my second full day as premier, I went to Ottawa to carry the message about how devastating the No More Pipelines law will be if it’s passed into law. It’s why my first day as premier, I went to a Senate panel to say please don’t impose a discriminatory ban on the export of Alberta oil off our northwest coast. And I hope that the Senate listens to us.

I made this point as well on Wednesday—sorry, Thursday in my meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau. You know, Mercedes, there is a crisis of investor confidence in Canada. The Bank of Canada says our economy is barely growing, may only grow my 1 per cent next year. A lot of this is because of the huge damage done to our job creating energy industry. These Trudeau policies are going to do even more damage kill, even more jobs should they proceed. That’s why we’re starting with the political effort. Again, these will also be on the ballot this October in the federal election and I think Canadians are hopefully going to vote for jobs and growth, rather than policies that kill jobs.

Mercedes Stephenson: One of the things that you raised when you were in Ottawa was national unity, saying that this could potentially pose a threat to it. Albertans are so frustrated and so angry. What was the Prime Minister’s response to that?

Premier Jason Kenney: Well, I’m—he said he understands that there is real anxiety in Alberta and he takes it seriously. I’m glad to hear that from him because there was a recent Angus Reid poll, which indicated as up to 50 per cent of Albertans expressed support for succession. We’ve never seen it that high, but we certainly do—and some of that might just be people blowing off steam, Mercedes. And let me be clear, I’m a federalist. But I was elected by Albertans as a federalist with a plan to fight for a fair deal for Alberta in the federation. All Albertans are asking for is this: if the rest of Canada wants to benefit from the wealth generated from Alberta resources, then all we ask is the ability to get those resources to global markets, to get a fair price for them so we can actually generate the wealth that is transferred across the country, that pays for health care, schools and hospitals. And that’s the message I sent to the Prime Minister. I certainly hope that he listens.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you worry, though, that being the leader whose bringing up national unity and putting that back on the agenda, it could trigger a wider crisis?

Premier Jason Kenney: Mercedes, I didn’t put—I didn’t create this challenge to national unity, the federal government did. Mr. Trudeau’s government did. When it came to office, killed the Northern Gateway pipeline, imposed a tanker ban only on Alberta product, Alberta bitumen, killed the Energy East pipeline and the dream of energy independence in Canada, surrendered to Obama’s veto on Keystone XL that cost us years, surrendered to the obstructionism from the B.C. New Democrats on Trans Mountain and is now bringing in laws: C-48, C-69 that kick us while we’re down in Alberta. So all we’re asking for—we’re not asking for special treatment, just fair treatment so we can get a fair price for the resources that pay a lot of the bills in the Canadian federation. My point to the Prime Minister is his number one responsibility, is national unity. The number two responsibility is prosperity, but his policies are damaging both right now.

Mercedes Stephenson: There’s been so much struggle in Alberta and we’ve been out here talking to people all week about it and there’s concern from many who work in the oil industry that even if they get this pipeline, if they get Trans Mountain, even if you manage to overturn or stop the tanker ban from happening and change the bill on building pipelines, that the capital has already fled, it’s gone to the United States. The oil business is booming there and that it’s simply not going to come back here. Is there a possibility that it’s simply too late for the oil industry in Alberta?

Premier Jason Kenney: Well, I don’t want to entertain that possibility. I’m an optimist. I believe in the promise of Alberta and of Canada and that’s why we are going to do every—I was elected on a mandate to be obsessed about job creation. That’s why we ran on a platform to restore investor confidence. That’s why I’m here on Bay Street to send a message that Alberta’s open for business again. We will have the lowest business taxes in Canada, almost the very lowest in North America. We’re going to cut taxes on employers by one third. I was on Bay Street on my fourth day as premier saying think about moving your operations to Alberta to benefit from those low taxes, from the Alberta advantage. We’re going to cut red tape by one third. We’re going to regulate time limits on regulatory approval. We’re going to move from being one of the most over-regulated and slowest moving to one of the freest and fastest moving economies in Canada, and then I’m going to go around the world and spread that message of investor confidence. And so if we do those things and get a pipeline built, I really do believe that much of that investment will come back to Alberta, partly because we produce energy at the highest human rights, labour and environmental standards on earth.

Mercedes Stephenson: One last question: yes or no, do you believe the Trans Mountain pipeline will be built?

Premier Jason Kenney: Yes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you very much, Premier Kenney.

Premier Jason Kenney: Thank you, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Premier Kenney is threatening to turn off the oil taps to B.C. and pull out of federal equalization payments of the Trudeau government can’t get the pipeline built. We’ll break down the politics from the West.


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Threats to turn off the oil taps and withhold funds for the rest of the country, plus a pushback from B.C., many here in Alberta are feeling disconnected from the rest of the country.

I sat down with political analyst Barry Cooper, who is a professor at the University of Calgary, to talk about those issues. Here’s that conversation.

Welcome to the show, Barry.

Professor Barry Cooper: Good to be here.

Mercedes Stephenson: We worked closely together. You were my thesis advisor. Full disclosure, you had to suffer through that pain. But your area of expertise as well is provincial politics, western alienation, federal-provincial relations: all these things that we’re talking about when it comes to what’s happening in Alberta right now. As someone who’s watched the issue of western alienation for decades, how would you describe the current mood in the province?

Professor Barry Cooper: I’d start with Environics poll in March that said 57 per cent of Albertans and Saskatchewanians agreed with the proposition that we get so little from being part of Canada that we may as well go on our own. And, I don’t think it’s been that high, even during the glory days of the National Energy program and there’s been a long train of abuses on western Canada. And it’s not alienation. That’s what Laurentian Canadians project as a kind of psychological problem that westerners have. They understand perfectly well that their interests are not being looked after by the Government of Canada. It’s as simple as that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think then, the discussions around separation are a serious threat?

Professor Barry Cooper: They’re absolutely a serious threat, or a glorious opportunity, depending on how you want to look at it. I don’t think that the Government of Canada is going to do anything that is in the interest of western Canada, certainly not the resource producing parts, which is going to make things worse. There are a lot of separatists in Alberta, but I think that most of the government people are not—or they’re not there yet, but another five years of having your interests ignored and having the Government of Canada work against your interests, we’ll probably get somebody, a premier here or next door, who will be very explicit on getting out of this country.

Mercedes Stephenson: The Liberals, federally, say look, we spent 4 billion on a pipeline. Why does anyone in Alberta believe we’re not protecting their interests? What’s the Alberta response to that?

Professor Barry Cooper: The Alberta response is they bought the pipeline in order to be able to say who gets to use it, which is to say they own it, not us, not Albertans. If they wanted to sell it to us, that would be great and as long as we also had extra territorial jurisdiction over the pipeline corridor, but we don’t. That is another problem for a lot of the guys in the oil patch. They probably won’t admit it, but, you know, they’ll admit it to me, they may not admit it to you. They thought that when the Government of Canada bought Kinder Morgan or Trans Mountain, that was another way of blocking, just like the tanker ban, a blocking export of petroleum from this province.

Mercedes Stephenson: So they think they’re just not going to build it.

Professor Barry Cooper: I—I would bet you, you know, whatever you wanted, they’re not going to build it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Not so long ago, there was a Conservative government: Stephen Harper at the helm, one of the authors of the Firewall. Alberta seemed more content then. Do you think it’s just who’s in Ottawa right now? Or is it really coming from the struggle that oil and gas are facing?

Professor Barry Cooper: I think it’s both. People here were happier with Stephen than they are with Justin, that’s for sure. And the reason is that Harper had a vision of federalism, where you pretty much left the provinces alone. That included Quebec. This government, it does not have a vision of leaving Alberta alone. The carbon tax is an attack on Alberta. The tanker ban is an attack on Alberta and Albertans understand that. They’re not our friends. At least with—you can be disappointed with a Conservative government, and a lot of people were, but they didn’t see them as the enemy.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jason Kenney has made a lot of big promises. He was elected with a clear majority. Do you think he can deliver what Albertans want or is beyond a premier’s grasp?

Professor Barry Cooper: If he doesn’t deliver, then we will have a real constitutional crisis, but because he’s going to try and deliver. And if he’s unable to do it, it will be because he is thwarted by the rest of the country or by Laurentian Canada and these people in British Columbia.

Mercedes Stephenson: With this bubbling anger in Alberta and the frustration that you’re describing building, are you worried about other elements that can exploit that when we start to hear about concerns about rising white nationalism or white supremacists: people who are trying to get in and really use that anger. How do you deal with that?

Professor Barry Cooper: I don’t think it’s anger. It’s an acknowledgement and therefore, I don’t think that the white nationalists and all these other, you know, whackos are going to have any significance. I think it’s an acknowledgement that we have interests that are separate from the rest of the country that particularly Saskatchewan and Alberta have interests that are much different, certainly much different than Quebec, much different than Ontario and a lot different than British Columbia.

Mercedes Stephenson: Barry, thank you very much for joining us.

Professor Barry Cooper: You’re welcome.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, the Indigenous community in Canada is divided over pipelines. We’ll hear from both sides of the debate in their own words.


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. There is division in the Indigenous community over whether the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project should go ahead. So we sat down with both sides of that debate, to hear from them in their own words.

Chief Judy Wilson, Union of B.C. Chiefs: [00:16:31] Jody Wilson, [00:16:32], chief from Neskonlith Indian Band, from the Shuswap Nation in the interior of British Columbia.

The Secwepemc Nation is a diverse and geographic area. It’s one of the largest nations in the interior of British Columbia. We have 180—100,000 square kilometres that are unceded, unsurrendered, unsold, unrelinquished in every shape and way. We’ve not given out the proper title holders. The people of our nation have not given up the title to the government or the province or any band or any tribal council or any organization, so the land is still held under collective title of our Secwepemc people.

And in, I think, I believe it was 1951 or ’53, around that stretch, they put in the pipeline that crosses our territory, about 513 kilometres of our territory, without the people’s consent and there’s still issues with that pipeline today, because as you know, we have the United Nations declaration on Indigenous rights of Indigenous people and they have not given their informed consent to the existing pipeline, nor the one that Kinder Morgan was trying to put through, nor the one Trudeau, who owns the Trans Mountain pipeline. So our people have not given consent, and there’s many nations, most of B.C., the province itself, the entire lower mainland right from Victoria, to Vancouver, to Burnaby and the lower areas with the municipalities are all opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline, and that’s about three, four, five million people. So as long as there’s one nation saying no to the pipeline, it cannot be built.

And there’s been no proper consultation. And what I mean by that is it’s bypassed our people, our Indigenous people who hold that collective title. It’s not the bands that hold the title, and it’s not the chief and councils that hold the title, it’s our collective titles held by our people and our people still have not been properly consulted.

And we just released an open letter a couple of weeks ago in regard to information for any potential investors into the pipeline, outlining the many concerns in regard to this proposed twinning and there’s some really serious issues in the financial risks. There are no sustainable long-term returns and there’s high risk and uncertainty with that project. And the environment speaks for itself, you know, on the many issues outlined in regard to the Trans Mountain pipeline. But most importantly, our people do not want to be displaced off our land. We do have constitutional rights, and we also have our inherent rights and we also have the U.N. declaration on the rights of Indigenous people.

Stephen Buffalo, Indian Resource Council: My name is Stephen Buffalo. I’m the President and CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada.

The Indian Resource Council is an advocacy organization which started back in the early ‘80s and it represented the First Nation oil and gas producers. It works closely with the federal government, the Indian Oil and Gas Canada. And our people, our members, which is approximately about 134 members, have been active in the oil and gas industry since that—for many, many years.

Our interest has been definitely looking at equity ownership of the Trans Mountain, for the reason that our oil and gas producing nations definitely need access with better price points. The price differential with limited market access is definitely starting to hurt our communities. You know, our communities utilize resources of oil and gas to help subsidize the lack of federal funding that we receive under the Indian Act. How we get out of poverty, how we address those social issues in our communities is looking at investments such as this and this infrastructure. So when the federal government purchased the TMX, it presented an opportunity [00:21:08] for our First Nations to look at possibly owning the pipeline.

Our communities are growing, our populations are growing and we’re seeing more and more of our people coming to the major centres. It’s because there’s nothing back home. And with this oil and gas industry, it really subsidizes where things fall short and it’s not without saying that, you know, we aren’t doing our proper due diligence with money. It’s the fact that we require this stuff. We require social programming. We require further education. We require adequate housing and cleaner water.

And I’m very confident that, you know, with the Prime Minister saying no relationship greater, means more to him than anything else, you know, I’m very confident he won’t renege on that statement and this is an opportunity for First Nations to really take this opportunity to be part of this. It’s the fact that we need to find balance. We need to find balance between economic development and environmental conservation. You look around this area, you look at the water, you know, that’s paramount for First Nations and that’s for everyone. But in the same sense, we can’t continue to live in the conditions that our communities are in. You know, sometimes it’s unfair we have the haves and the have not’s. We have casino development, we have tobacco development and, you know, it’s—and then there’s a ton of communities that don’t have that type of economic opportunity or economic development, so having this type of infrastructure and this opportunity and finding that balance between economic development and protecting the environment is paramount, but the only way we can do that is if First Nations and our people are allowed at these tables when they create regulation, when they create policy, when they create legislation so that, you know, we have input and develop a new trend that First Nations have consultation and are at the table when they make these decisions. I think things will move jointly together in a positive way. But until then, yeah, we have issues and then we’ll continue to work with whoever wants to work that we can find a solution for this pipeline.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, from Calgary for The West Block.

The West Block – Episode 35, Season 8 — Sunday, May 5, 2019

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