Braid: Federal Conservative candidate Charest promises Alberta a new deal in Canada

Charest is the first federal Conservative leadership candidate to make Alberta-specific promises that may shake up other Canadians.

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Conservative leadership candidate Jean Charest promises to end Alberta’s bronco anger with a special deal unique to the province.

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If he becomes Conservative leader and then prime minister, Charest said Thursday, he would immediately develop an “Alberta Accord, a specific agreement with Alberta on the issues that Alberta cares about.”

“I want this Alberta deal to tell the rest of the country that we’re responding to Alberta’s problems,” Charest said in an interview before the Stampede appearances began.

“We are going to respond. We are not going to pretend that the problems do not exist.”

Charest says he would ask to meet with Alberta’s premier within 30 days of his inauguration. Shortly after, he would co-chair a meeting with all the prime ministers.

“The idea is to have a fresh start with the provinces on how we shape the country’s agenda. And at the core of this is bringing Alberta back to the table to shape that agenda.

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“With this Alberta Agreement, the goal is to change the relationship. Albertans need to know that we get it, we get it, that’s the first order of business, and that we’re ready to make things happen to respond to Alberta.”

Charest has been Premier of Quebec, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, at one point leader of the Federal Progressive Conservatives.

Obviously, he is behind the local leadership votes in the federal Conservative race that will be resolved on September 10. The same goes for every other candidate in town.

But he is the first to make Alberta-specific promises that may shake other Canadians. In effect, he offers a token special status measure with a deal that would be written into federal law.

The Alberta Agreement would bring changes to equalization, he adds.

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“Albertans deal with great frustration with creating wealth and then seeing their projects and pipelines frustrated by those who profit from them.

“What I’m proposing to do is review the match to make sure it’s fair to Alberta.

“Prime Minister (Francois) Legault has been saying that he wants to take Quebec out of equality. Well, you know what? We will be helping.

He likes many ideas from the UCP government’s Fair Deal panel, including the suggestion that Alberta manage the portion of Canada’s pension plan assets that Alberta funds.

Quebec already does this through Caisse de Depot, he says, “and look how Quebec has used this economic tool. Alberta would also have this very powerful tool to help develop its economy.”

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He also argues that Quebec and Alberta share important interests, despite the conflict over pipelines, and should “connect” Ontario.

“If Alberta and Quebec sit at the same table and decide which direction to take, we will shape the future of the country,” he says. “Even Ontario can’t stop that.”

He points to the 1988 free trade agreement, in which Quebec and Alberta backed the initiative of the government of Brian Mulroney against bitter opposition from Ontario.

“We should bring Ontario back together and we (Federal Conservatives) should be the party to do it.”

He feels he can win support in Quebec despite his own stance as “very pro-oil and gas.”

“In the end, Quebecers are like many other Canadians. You just never hear anybody get up and say (a pipe) is a good idea.”

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The Energy East pipeline failed because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to utter a word of support, he says. “The pipelines will not be built unless the political leader says so.”

“I’m going to get a lot of support from Quebec. It’s a mistake to think that because you’re taking a position that may not be mainstream, you can’t get elected.”

If Charest’s ideas ever came to fruition, separatist sentiment would fade. The same would happen with the fruitless and infuriating disputes with Ottawa. We can dream.

Charest appeared at a Petroleum Club event to launch a book called The Right Path by lawyer and media commentator Tasha Kheiriddin, who co-chairs her campaign.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid

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