Varcoe: Kenney Says Sovereignty Act Would Deliver ‘Blow to the Body’ and Drive Investment, Workers Away from Alberta

‘It would greatly discourage investment. It would drive people out of the province and keep businesses from coming here,’ Kenney said.


The Alberta government is going to spend $2.6 million trying to attract talented workers in the lower BC mainland and Toronto to pick them up and move to this province.

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But as his days in office wind down, Prime Minister Jason Kenney also devotes some of his attention to discussing another topic: the economic ramifications of the Alberta Sovereignty Act introduced by Danielle Smith, a front-runner in the race. to replace it as CPU. Leader.

On Saturday, he derided the concept of not enforcing federal law as “crazy” while speaking on his weekly CHQR radio show.

On Monday, Kenney told reporters the idea would deal a “heavy blow” to the government’s efforts to create jobs, build pipelines and expand the economy.

“It would greatly discourage investment. It would drive people out of the province and keep businesses from coming here,” Kenney said.

“Here we are launching a campaign for Canadians to move to another part of Canada. And if Alberta did decide to launch a separatist project, I think it would automatically exclude a lot of Canadians.

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“On the contrary, instead of being able to attract people, we would start to bleed to death.”

Smith was not available for an interview Monday, but said in a Twitter post that he will trust the judgment of party members and Albertans who “will have the final say on this matter.”

On Monday, the UCP government released details of its new “Alberta is calling” advertising campaign, designed to entice workers from Vancouver and Toronto to consider moving to the province.

It promotes cheaper home prices, shorter commute times and the ability of workers to find work in Alberta. More than 100,000 stalls are now open across the province.

For the business community, the twin issues of talent attraction and investment certainty are critical for the future.

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A new survey of businesses by the Alberta Chambers of Commerce found that labor shortages remain a key concern for many businesses.

Completed last month, the survey indicates that 62 percent of business operators say they have experienced moderate or significant staffing shortages.

“Those are some pretty big numbers and almost half of those companies are also looking at hiring outside the province to increase their workforce,” said Shauna Feth, chief executive of Alberta Chambers.

While companies will welcome a drive to attract new employees, it is the investment discussion around Smith’s sovereignty law that is grabbing headlines as the competition for UCP leadership moves into the stages. endings. A new leader will be announced on October 6.

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The province has a number of major private sector projects worth billions of dollars in works, in areas such as petrochemicals, carbon capture and storage, renewable energy, agri-food and technology.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Yedlin criticized the Alberta Sovereignty Act, saying it could lead to the transfer of capital elsewhere.

“Just from a purely capital market, investment certainty and economics perspective, this doesn’t make any sense,” Yedlin said in an interview.

A statement released by Smith’s campaign over the weekend called the prime minister’s initial comments “premature, ill-informed and disrespectful” to a growing majority of UCP members who it said support the initiative.

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“Perhaps the prime minister and other ‘experts’ should reserve judgment on this legislation until they can read it first,” Smith said.

Of course, there is no such legislation to review at this time.

UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith speaks at a campaign rally in Chestermere on Tuesday, August 9, 2022.
UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith speaks at a campaign rally in Chestermere on Tuesday, August 9, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Post Media

According to Smith’s campaign video on the law, an idea put forward as part of the Free Alberta Strategy last year, she would introduce legislation on her first day as prime minister. It would authorize the province “to refuse to enforce any federal law or policy that attacks Alberta’s interests or our provincial rights.”

Some legal experts have dismissed the idea as unconstitutional, while business experts say the policy would create uncertainty for companies looking to make long-term investment decisions.

Paul Varella, professor of business strategy at Mount Royal University, noted that in the 1970s and 1980s, political instability created by the Quebec referendum and debate over sovereignty led companies to flee the province, a point which Kenney also mentioned.

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“We are a landlocked province of 4.5 million people. So by nature we depend on Canada, the continent and the world to be a global player,” Varella said.

“Money is agnostic. Companies invest based on their return on investment and every time the risk increases, it defies the opportunity to return the invested capital.”

During his press conference, Kenney was blunt and critical of the idea. The outgoing UCP leader insisted that he was not jumping into the leadership race to influence her, although it appears that his comments, made twice in three days, could do just that.

Mac Van Wielingen, founder and partner of ARC Financial Corp., said the broader context of the discussion is important, as the country has already lost some foreign investment in the energy sector in recent years.

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In part, it is due to federal policies and regulations, such as Bills C-69 and C-48, and regulatory delays. He has also heard from foreign investors discouraged by other policy moves, such as Ottawa imposing a windfall profits tax on the Canadian banking industry.

As for the sovereignty law, he said that much of its impact would depend on the approach of the provincial government, if it passed such a bill.

Companies contemplating large capital investments would want to speak directly with the prime minister and obtain assurances before proceeding, said Van Wielingen, who is also president of the Alberta Business Council.

“There is risk. It’s something that needs to be taken very seriously and would really depend on how we handle ourselves and how it’s explained to the rest of Canada and how it’s explained internationally to investors,” she added.

“That risk could be managed. But I think it’s valid to worry about that.”

Chris Varcoe is a columnist for the Calgary Herald.

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