Following the Liberals being shutout of Monday’s federal election in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s heard the message of frustration from the Prairie provinces.
In response, Trudeau promised to include some kind of Saskatchewan and Alberta presence in cabinet despite having no caucus members from these areas. He added that he will be reaching out to the mayors of Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton.
Fougere is scheduled to speak with Trudeau in the next couple of days. The Regina mayor said he wants to talk to the prime minister about the “profound disappointment people feel with how things are going in our economy.”
“Our oil and gas industry is critical lifeblood to not just western Canada, but for the rest of Canada. Transfer payments are based on, in many ways, from the prosperity of Alberta and Saskatchewan,” Fougere said.
Frustration peaking in oil country
Weyburn is in the heart of Saskatchewan’s main oil region – the Bakken Play in the southeastern corner of the province.
Here, Mayor Marcel Roy said he sees many people in the oil industry “being shut down.” Roy is getting fed up with the direction of the federal government.
“I believe we have to take action just like Quebec. Quebec stands up and screams that they’re going to leave confederation if they don’t get this and Ottawa bows to them,” Roy said.
“Scream and do whatever it takes. We have got to get the same thing. They don’t listen, but that’s the way Quebec talks. They rant like a spoiled child to get their way. We have to do the same thing.”
Roy also raised the looming spectre of the shutdown of conventional coal power stations over the next decade.
Estevan is set to see upwards of three coal-fired power plants close in the next decade.
“In our sister city Estevan, you have 350 losing their jobs over the shutdown of coal, and our province bowing to Ottawa saying yes we’re going to shut down our use of coal for electricity,” he said.
Saskatchewan signed an agreement with Ottawa that will see Boundary Dams Units 4 and 5 run until 2021 and 2024 respectively. The Shand Power Station will close in 2030, unless it is retrofitted with carbon capture technology.
A decision on that is still years away according to SaskPower.
The Saskatchewan government announced in the 2019 Throne Speech that there will be an up to $10 million fund to help communities like Estevan transition away from coal. The details of that plan have not yet been released.
Roy said he’s heard more support for the idea of western separation as people see no satisfactory answers from the federal government.
A handful of online petitions calling for referendums on western separatism have gathered thousands of signatures. Facebook groups supporting the idea of separatism have also reported spikes in activity since the election.
Saskatoon’s Mayor Charlie Clark sees the idea of separation as a “dead end road.”
“I mean how do we think we’re going to solve any of this by creating some sort of a state within the middle of a country that’s landlocked, that has no access to resources?” he asked.
Like Fougere, Clark will also be speaking with Trudeau in the coming days.
“We have to sit down and figure out within our regions – just like as I say as a mayor within our city – the way we do it is we sit down and figure out where the challenges are and we find the common ground and we build on that,” Clark said.
He added that it’s important Trudeau understand what Saskatchewan issues are and why the Liberals were voted out of the province.
Clark also plans to talk with other Prairie mayors, First Nations and the provincial government about what issues need to be brought to Ottawa.
“If we talk about alienation and a feeling of being left out, this is what we’re also hearing with Indigenous communities as well. We have to find where that common ground is for all of our communities,” Clark said.
The day after the federal election, Premier Scott Moe issued a list of demands for Trudeau he called a “New Deal with Canada.” It calls for cancelling the carbon tax, renegotiating equalization and building pipelines.
Moe was unavailable for comment Thursday, but Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison said he’s concerned with Trudeau’s focus on mayors.
“I’m not opposed to the Prime Minister having discussions with municipal leaders; that’s appropriate. I would be highly opposed though to a formalized arrangement that would bypass the duly elected premiers of Saskatchewan and Alberta in favour of talking to municipal leaders,” Harrison said.
Moe said Wednesday that he had a preliminary discussion with Trudeau following his statements on Tuesday. The two will speak again in the near future.
Meanwhile, Harrison said it would be a “grave mistake” for Trudeau to underestimate feelings of western alienation and calls for separation.
“I don’t think people want to separate from Canada, I think they want to separate from the Liberal government. They want to separate from the national government, and have a government that will be respectful of our province, be respectful of our energy sector, respectful of our resource sector, and we don’t have that right now,” he said.
As anger and frustration directed at the now minority Liberal government continues to boil in Saskatchewan, Roy doesn’t want smaller cities left out of the conversation with Ottawa.
“I know they’re talking to Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon, but there are more cities in western Canada than just the four major cities,” Roy said.
“If that’s where all the money is going to go to, just the four major cities, then the Liberal government has failed.”