Conservative MP Blaine Calkins discussed a number of hot topics during the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce’s monthly lunch meeting on Nov. 19.
Calkins spoke on the federal government’s current state of affairs, the economy, the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), western separatist sentiment, pipelines and more.
Calkins says Canadians may see the Conservatives siding with the Liberals on issues, as they will have to be “very creative” to get issues moving forward, but they shouldn’t take this as the Conservatives betraying their values or principles.
With the “fairly precarious” situation the Liberals now find themselves in, Calkins predicts Trudeau will only be able to hold the government for two or three years.
“I’m not confident he will actually be able to maintain the confidence of the house for very long,” he said, adding an early election is inevitable and what the Conservatives will be preparing for.
Alberta is being hit hard in a number of ways and it’s showing, with up to one third of households going into debt on an annual basis, says Calkins.
“This is not good when people can’t pay their current bills.”
Although Calkins says a majority Conservative government was needed to truly move Alberta forward, the second-best option would have been if the Liberals had won a majority as that would have at least ensured that a pipeline would have been built.
The Liberals are now forced to cooperate with the NDP and Green Party, who have “no love for Alberta energy.”
Canada had a “reluctant Prime Minister” to support the Alberta energy sector to begin with but now the Liberals don’t have enough seats to make arbitrary decisions.
The country’s dislike of Alberta oil is “very toxic rhetoric” for investors, and immediately after the federal election, Alberta saw companies pull out of the province, Calkins says, calling it “another round of exoduses” and a “capital flight” from Alberta.
The global market for oil and gas is strong and the only thing stopping the industry from thriving here is government policy, says Calkins.
“These are the things we’re up against.”
Calkins says the Liberal’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline is just a token of support and Albertans shouldn’t be satisfied with it.
The key to getting fair market price for Alberta oil is market diversification and getting oil to tide water, says Calkins.
Although the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would provide more capacity, it does not represent growth or expansion in Alberta because the revenue from the pipeline is already fully allocated and would not provide access to overseas markets because Vancouver is a shallow port.
That means that only small carriers come into that port, which will not be able to transport Alberta oil to Asian markets and 90 per cent of the oil will stay in North America.
The federal government’s Bill C-69 is a “regulatory quagmire” and the Bill C-40 tanker ban along with the looming federal carbon tax are serious problems, says Calkins.
The Alberta Premier is “ambitious” and has an ally in the premiers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, says Calkins.
“We don’t need to wait for Justin Trudeau to create an east-west energy corridor.”
Ont., Man., Sask., and Alberta could create an agreement and create its own energy corridor through those four provinces and use the tide waters in Hudson Bay, he says.
“We’ve got to start thinking a little smarter and taking matters into our own hands.”
The agricultural industry is also facing a potential crisis.
After a fall of difficult weather, some farmers still haven’t gotten their crops off the ground and Alberta still doesn’t have access to Asian markets that it needs.
The real estate market has also taken a hit and changes to mortgage stress tests haven’t helped.
The Conservatives will be pressuring the government to make changes to the stress test, as how it stands now, it’s virtually impossible for people to either qualify for a mortgage, or to sell their home if they want to upgrade.
Calkins wants penalties for ethics violations strengthened. Trudeau has been found guilty on four counts and was fined a total of $300 or $4oo according to Calkins.
When parliament resumes, Calkins hopes to be able to put forward a private member’s bill on rural crime.
Calkins says criminals take advantage of lower police presence in rural areas and rural people are being “terrorized.”
Western separatist sentiment has been gaining ground since the election, and Calkins says it’s “dangerous stuff.”
Calkins says Albertan’s shouldn’t have to threaten to leave federation in order to get a fair deal and there are other ways Alberta can gain greater autonomy from Ottawa, such as forming its own police force, revenue agency, and pension plan.
“I like the notion of de-centralizing government a little bit but that’s the way I’m wired.”
Ontario, Quebec, NFL and Labrador already have their own provincial police forces.
“Not every province in this country has a contract with the RCMP.”
With provincial forces, RCMP detachment locations wouldn’t be restricted to communities that have agreements with the province.
Under the current tax system, the federal government collects taxes and then remits funds to the provinces.
“It could just as easily work that we could collect the taxes in Alberta and then remit that portion to Ottawa. There’s lots of reasons why we might want to do that and I’ll leave that up to your imagination.”
According to Calkins, since 1980, Alberta has contributed over $600 billion net into confederation that has gone to other provinces. Currently, there is a cap on the equalization formula and Alberta doesn’t qualify and there is no exemption for going through tough times.
In 2014 Alberta’s net contributions peaked at $24.6 billion in just taxes. In 2017, in a low year, Alberta still made a net contribution of $20.5 million.
If Alberta withdrew from the CPP, it could actually pay comparable benefits and with a lower contribution rate, he says.
Calkins quoted a recent study from the Fraser Institute, that stated Alberta workers represent 16.5 per cent of the total contributions to CPP while being 10 per cent of the population (and providing 60 per cent of the GDP).
“It’s just one more way money is sent out of Alberta … that we contribute and don’t get back.”
Premier Jason Kenney has formed a panel to explore some of these ideas, and Calkins encourages Albertans to engage the panel however they can.
“We’re at some pretty significant crossroads right now … we can write our own future, we just have to decide what we want that to look like.”