Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez is rejecting criticisms that last week’s throne speech ignored the problems facing Alberta and Saskatchewan because it included no reference to their names.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Rodriguez said suggestions that the Liberals weren’t paying attention to the western provinces in the speech last week, which outlined their legislative priorities, isn’t accurate.
The point of keeping it general, Rodriquez said, was to try to convey an openness to working with the other parties.
“The throne speech didn’t mention any province specifically,” said Rodriguez.
“But it did mention the importance of regions, and I think the most important thing you have to look at is the first thing that Minister Freeland did was go to Alberta because of the importance of Alberta, the importance of the West, because we understand the difficult situation lived there.”
While Alberta has faced economic difficulties since the price of oil collapsed in 2014, those challenges have been compounded by limitations on getting their resources to market through existing pipeline capacities.
Unemployment in the province sits at 7.2 per cent as of data published last month by the Alberta government.
That’s compared to a 5.9 per cent national average.
Tensions were exacerbated by the most recent federal election, however, and the frustration felt by many in the province is contributing to talks of separatism.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the throne speech “an insult” to the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan for not more clearly identifying them as struggling and for not specifically noting the challenges facing the oil sector.
Instead, the throne speech highlighted regional divisions and the attendant economic concerns.
“The Government will work with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous groups, stakeholders, industry, and Canadians to find solutions,” the speech read.
“With dialogue and cooperation, all regions of this country can overcome the challenges of today, and realize their full potential in the modern economy.”
It specifically mentioned the natural resources sector and the need to get those resources to markets.
“And while the Government takes strong action to fight climate change, it will also work just as hard to get Canadian resources to new markets, and offer unwavering support to the hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resources sectors, many of whom have faced tough times recently.”
Rodriguez, who will be tasked with working with the opposition parties to get legislation passed in the minority government, added that more details about other policies the government plans to propose — such as pharmacare — will come later.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized the Liberals last week for not committing to universal, single-payer pharmacare in the speech.
Rodriguez said that was on purpose given the decision does not lie with the federal government.
“The reason why it’s lacking some details is because we’re going to be doing this with the provinces,” he said. “We think as a government it’s the right thing to do, but it’s impossible to do without the provinces. So once we sit down with them, we’ll be able to have more details.”
Ultimately, though, he said he is optimistic about working with the opposition parties.
“At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we’re all elected for the same reason — to try to improve the lives of Canadians, of our children and grandchildren — and sometimes we don’t see things the same way, sometimes we do,” he said.
“So our job is not to agree on everything, and it’s not going to happen, but I’m quite confident that when you come here in good faith and you want to improve the world and make a difference, we can agree on a lot of things.”