Flaherty heaps praise on Alberta, calls it vital to Canada's growth

EDMONTON — The Globe and Mail

In a speech pinned to last month's budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty highlighted initiatives he believes will support Alberta’s boom, including speedier environmental assessments for major energy projects.

Alberta will continue to drive Canada’s economy as the federal government fast-tracks major energy projects and immigration reform, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says.

In a speech to Edmonton’s Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Mr. Flaherty praised the Alberta economy as a sign of the shifting balance of power in Canada.

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The comments come two weeks after he slammed the government of his home province, saying: “Ontario’s spending mismanagement is a problem for the entire country.” In the case of free-spending, rich, debt-free Alberta, however, he strikes a different tune.

“Canada has a brilliant future. Alberta is vital, and growth in Alberta is vital, for Canada’s jobs growth and prosperity in the future,” the minister said, later adding: “In many ways, Alberta is the centre of the Canadian economy today.”

In listing government transfer programs, he singled out equalization payments, again firing a shot across Ontario’s bow. “Of course, Alberta doesn’t get to participate in [equalization] We have Ontario and Quebec now receiving equalization, which was never the intention of the creators of equalization, but there it is,” Mr. Flaherty said.

Mr. Flaherty’s speech was pinned to last month’s federal budget, highlighting initiatives he believes will support Alberta’s boom. In particular, he cited a decision to speed up environmental assessments for major energy projects – but avoided naming any. (Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to the B.C. coast from Alberta is currently the subject of controversy over its impact.)

“This is very important for resource development in Canada,” he said, adding that he expects opposition from environmental groups who say comprehensive reviews are required.

“But we have to be realistic. If we’re going to have jobs growth and prosperity in Canada, then on major economic projects we need to make sure we can move them forward – not by disrespecting environmental protection process, not at all, but making sure there are some rational time limits to the processes,” he said.

Mr. Flaherty also emphasized his government’s support of “targeted immigration” meant to ease labour crunches in booming provinces.

Afterwards, he was asked how the 12,000 job cuts that he has said will be the net result of the federal budget will affect front-line services, such as border security and food inspection. He had no details, but said he’s confident “all the necessary functions will continue and we’ll be adequately staffed.”

He appeared with fellow MPs Laurie Hawn and James Rajotte. Asked about Alberta’s provincial election campaign, Mr. Flaherty laughed. “No, I have no comment on that at all.”