As Alberta’s MLAs begin a fall session expected to be characterized by a tough budget and other austerity measures, we sat down with Premier Jason Kenney for an exclusive interview on what’s ahead.
This interview has been edited and condensed. For the full, unedited version, watch our video above.
Global News: Cuts are coming and municipalities are worried about downloading. Does that ultimately still hit the taxpayer?
Premier Jason Kenney: I don’t think it should.
Our budget will be a prudent effort to restore balance to our finances.
There will have to be some modest reductions in spending, but much less than we’ve seen in Alberta in, for example, 1993.
We want to be partners with municipalities. I’ve said to them that we’re going to cut the provincial red tape on them, which is a big administrative burden. Mainly the MacKinnon report says on the municipalities where we’re overspending tends to be on the capital side. So there might be sort of a spreading out of some of the capital spending over more time.
Global News: Will Albertans see user fees added to services?
Premier Kenney: I do believe that government services that people benefit from, the cost should be embedded in the fee rather than being subsidized by the taxpayer in most cases.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have people to actually pay the cost of delivering a licence for example.
Everybody’s going to have to pitch in here.
We’re going to be talking about saving basically a couple pennies on the dollar. Every family has to do that from time to time.
Global News: Will you legislate public sector wages?
Premier Kenney: We’d prefer not to. We’d prefer to go through the collective bargaining process and do so in good faith. But we do need to see continued discipline because that’s half of public spending in Alberta.
If we were spending at the same level per person as B.C. and Ontario we’d be spending $10 billion less. The challenge for our public sector and our unions is: help us operate more efficiently, at least as efficiently as B.C. and Ontario.
Global News: This session you’ll introduce your climate plan for big emitters. How do you balance the economic engine that is the energy sector – and how key that is to the Alberta identity – with the push to transition to become cleaner and greener?
Premier Kenney: It’s called the “technology innovation and emissions reduction levy” on major emitters that will basically be for the 55 per cent of the emissions produced in Alberta by big companies. That will create a fund to support research at our universities and elsewhere that reduces carbon and greenhouse gas output.
My view is the solution to the climate challenge will be found through technology, and technology we can share with places like India and China where greenhouse gas emissions are rocketing up.
I’m very optimistic. I think we’re on the cusp of some really amazing new technology that reduces emissions in our oilsands and energy sector.
Global News: Will it be enough? We saw bridges blocked by climate activists — people are invested in immediate and drastic solutions. Do we need to do more?
Premier Kenney: The real problem is global, not Canadian. We need to stop the huge increases in emissions in China and India — that means technology. And it means selling them our liquefied natural gas so that they can convert from high-emitting coal.
In terms of those so-called climate activists, they’re not climate activists. They’re just radical, illegal protesters.
What was it — six people who drove up in a huge SUV, underscoring their hypocrisy?
If these people were sincere about their obsession with reducing emissions, they would be the biggest supporters of nuclear power, which is zero emissions, and producing natural gas to displace coal-fire power.
But they’re against both of those things because you know what they’re really against? The entire modern economy.
Global News: I want to ask about the Alberta identity and where your government fits in. You had a press conference about a turkey farm that was recently taken over by protesters, you donated money to a landowner being sued by an intruder… it seems like you might be drawing some battle lines: “This is Albertan, and this is not…”
Premier Kenney: Absolutely I am. What is Albertan is respecting the law. And what is not Albertan is breaking the law. That’s the battle line I’m drawing.
Crossing past someone’s private property, invading their farm and creating a public safety danger, that is not legitimate. So I will absolutely call that out and we will bring in legislation to provide stronger penalties and disincentives for that kind of harassment of our farm families.
Global News: Thinking also about the inquiry line into groups that might be against the oil industry. Are you saying it’s not about your beliefs but the action you take?
Premier Kenney: In that case, it’s not criminality. What we’re trying to do is shed the spotlight of transparency on the largely foreign-funded campaign to shut down pipelines and landlock Alberta energy.
We’re not saying people don’t have a right to oppose our energy sector. We are saying Albertans have a right to know who’s funding it.
Global News: This session, what counts as a win? Is that only if the economy turns around?
Premier Kenney: That’s our No. 1 focus in our campaign and as a government; restarting the Alberta economy and getting people back to work, which means restoring investor confidence. That’s our obsession. That will be the theme among the 15 or 17 bills we introduce this fall.
We’re still in a period of stagnation and it’s going to take a while to get out of it, but I see some real hope on the horizon.