EDMONTON — Alberta's Opposition leader says it's a good idea for Premier Jason Kenney to delay releasing a report from his "fair deal" panel, given the federal government has outshone his efforts to help Albertans through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our premier's primary strategy and tool for supporting Alberta through the pandemic is to stand back and wait for the federal government to step in and do the heavy lifting," the NDP's Rachel Notley said Thursday.
"So if that's your strategy, I would not be throwing political darts at them by releasing a stale-dated political toy."
The report, said to reflect the input of thousands of Albertans on how the province can attain more leverage and political and financial independence within Canada, was sent to Kenney's cabinet last week.
On Saturday, the premier announced that the report, along with the United Conservative government's response to its findings, would be delayed until his government can turn its full attention to it.
"I'll admit I haven't yet had a chance to read it myself, because we're all, around this table, preoccupied with dealing with the pandemic and the economic crisis," Kenney told a Facebook town-hall audience Wednesday night.
"Which is why we have decided to delay the public release a little bit until we get past the worst of the pandemic."
The panel was announced by Kenney in a speech last November shortly after the federal election.
Kenney said Alberta had been there for Canada through billions of dollars in transfer payments over the years, and Ottawa was hindering development of the province's wellspring oil and gas industry. Alberta had to do what it could to ensure its own economic viability.
The panel polled Albertans on a range of issues, including a provincial pension plan and establishing a provincial police force.
Kenney stressed the solution is not separation from Canada, but working to attain a better relationship within it. Some criticized him for creating a panel that gave legitimacy to separation sentiments, while others said the panel was a handy release valve for those wanting to leave Confederation.
The panel, which included UCP legislature members and former Reform party leader Preston Manning, did online surveys, met with interest groups and held townhalls that wrapped up just before the pandemic led to restrictions and shutdowns.
Notley said the panel was never on an earnest fact-finding mission, but rather served as a shiny bauble for Kenney to deflect attention.
"The panel and the report is mostly a political tool that Jason Kenney put into play ... to try to distract people's frustration and anger from the fact that he was not actually creating jobs," she said.
"He was losing jobs well before the pandemic."
The federal government and the province have delivered financial aid programs and tax deferrals to businesses and workers in the face of COVID-19, including a federally backed 75 per cent wage subsidy for employers seeing steep drops in revenue.
Kenney has been urging the federal government to do more to support oil and gas, aviation and tourism industries.
Kenney's office, in a statement, responded to Notley's remarks.
“Unlike the former premier who has ample time to throw petty barbs, the premier of Alberta is preoccupied dealing with the pandemic and related economic fallout which is so adversely affecting Albertans," said spokesman Harrison Fleming.
"And of course Albertans' government will continue standing up for our province, both now and in the future.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press