B.C. minister says in western representation talks 'everything is on the table' but changes to C-69 unlikely
Liberal MP Carla Qualtrough says her government is open to discussing changes to the equalization formula in its efforts to address western concerns, but changes to the contentious Bill C-69 are unlikely.
The federal equalization formula has become a major sticking point for some voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the Liberals failed to win a single seat in the election.
“I think the message is we’re open to discussing anything right now,” Qualtrough, who was re-elected in her B.C. riding of Delta, told CTV’s Question Period.
Under the existing equalization system, federal tax dollars are dispersed to provinces based on their ability to generate revenue. Some provinces, such as Quebec and Manitoba, receive billions, while provinces with greater revenue and wealthier taxpayers like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta receive nothing.
Qualtrough, who served as minister of public services and procurement and accessibility, did not go so far as to say the Liberals will commit to equalization talks. She said such a commitment would be “premature.”
“I think everything is on the table,” she said, pointing out that Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has been in talks with premiers.
Of the 48 seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 47 went to the Conservatives. One was captured by the NDP in Edmonton Strathcona.
“Message received,” Qualtrough said.
“We were sent a very clear message from Alberta and Saskatchewan that they don't necessarily see themselves in our vision for the country moving forward, and we need to remedy that we need to figure out what, what about our message, what about our policies and our plans make people feel excluded from the Canada of the future.”
But Qualtrough was firm when it came to Bill C-69, legislation passed by the Liberals that overhauls Canada’s assessment of major energy projects by setting up new oversight on environmental factors.
C-69 has also come up as a concern among voters upset in the West. Asked about whether the Liberals will consider changing the law, Qualtrough said, “I don’t think so.”
“I thought -- or we thought -- we sent a pretty clear message when we bought a $4.5 billion pipeline that we want to build this expansion because we think it's the national interest and the jobs that will be created and the safer way oil will continue to get to markets in the national interest,” she said.
But Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said that not reassessing C-69 would be a problem.
“That bill is going to make it even harder than it is under the previous bill in many ways because it strengthens political decision-making,” he said.
As for equalization, Pallister said Trudeau first needs to make good on his promise to get the Trans Mountain pipeline built.
“That debate will go right off the table the day the pipeline gets approved and starts working,” he said.
“The problem that we face in this country is the lack of understanding that social progress depends on economic progress… you can pay for a national dental program for every child in Canada with the tax revenues from the Trans Mountain expansion.”
Pallister met with Trudeau Friday in Ottawa, where the pair discussed how to move forward on contentious issues, particularly climate change. Manitoba has been at odds with Ottawa over the carbon tax, which sought to fight the carbon tax in court.
After meeting with Trudeau one-on-one, Pallister said he saw some openness to change.
“The sense that I get is that the prime minister wants to heal some of the rifts that have occurred. I would hope that he would take some personal responsibility for some of those rifts.”