Jason Kenney used his first major speech as Alberta’s Premier to try to convince Bay Street that what’s good for Alberta is good for all of Canada — a message that appeared to land on receptive ears.
The self-proclaimed federalist, who often took a combative stance while campaigning on pledges go after those who hurt Alberta’s oil and gas industry, stressed common ground at a packed luncheon in Toronto on Friday, where he said the health of the energy sector is “a Canadian issue.”
The standing ovation that greeted him surprised even Kenney, who laid out his plans to move quickly to establish Alberta’s “open for business” credentials with tax cuts and regulatory relief to speed up approvals.
“I was frankly blown away by the response,” he said in an interview following the speech, adding that he has already heard that some capital spending and real estate decisions being “unfrozen” in the wake of the election victory of his United Conservative Party last month.
But while appealing to Bay Street is key to his plan to make Alberta to “the most pro-business jurisdiction in Canada,” Kenney did not back off some targets that could chip away at that support.
Among them is HSBC Holdings PLC, a global bank that had indicated it would stop funding oilsands projects or pipelines connected to them. Kenney also targeted large institutional investors, who he criticized for taking too narrow a view when making investment decisions based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.
“We think simply scoring carbon output is far too narrow a criteria for investors or public policy,” Kenney told the Financial Post, adding that he believes not enough weight is being given to social impacts such as labour rights, human rights and indigenous rights, as well as environmental impacts beyond emissions.
“We are going to make the case to major institutional shareholders in Toronto, New York, and Europe that they need a broader matrix to make ethical investment decisions,” he said. “We believe on that broader matrix we would score ahead of the OPEC countries or Russia … in which all these companies invest.”
We think simply scoring carbon output is far too narrow a criteria for investors
As he discussed his distaste for such rankings, Kenney renewed his attack on HSBC, which he called a “high-profile hypocrite” on the issue. He pledged to try to recruit other provinces to join Alberta in retaliating against the decision not to fund oilsands projects by boycotting all government business with the global bank.
“We’ll no longer accept the application of a double standard to our energy industry,” Kenney said. “If HSBC were to decide to leave fossil fuels altogether, fair game … but we’re sure as heck not going to allow them to (go unchallenged as they) finance Putin and Saudi (Arabia) while boycotting Canada.”
HSBC, which has a Canadian unit, has pledged to continue doing business in Canada in the face of Kenney’s attacks. The Alberta Premier told the Financial Post he doesn’t think he has to worry about a similar fight with Canada’s large domestic banks.
“A third of their book (of business) is based on energy (companies). They absolutely need them, and the Canadian economy needs us,” Kenney said. “So that’s my message today. It’s about shared prosperity, and the Canadian financial services industry — the banking industry — is inextricably linked to the Alberta energy sector.”
Kenney met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford before his speech in Toronto on Friday, and he said the pair bonded on their shared “open for business” attitude.
“I’m pushing on an open door” with Ford, Kenney said after it was reported that Ford called him a “great ally.”
He acknowledged, however, that his message of unity faces real challenges on certain issues with other provinces, including British Columbia and Quebec, as well as with the federal government, which he is battling on several fronts from carbon taxes to legislation.
“The problem is that we have in Ottawa a government that is layering more and more anti-business, anti-investment policies on top of one another,” Kenney said. “And obviously we have a challenge with B.C. on TMX (Trans Mountain Expansion Project) and Quebec on a proposed energy east pipeline.”
But he pledged to sit down with his fellow premiers to try to find common ground, as long as it doesn’t interfere with Alberta getting a “fair price for our energy and a fair deal in the federation.”
Kenney said he is also hopeful he can appeal to what he views as the “pro-business orientation” of the new Quebec government of Francois Legault.
“Things have changed…. I’m hopeful we can find a win-win for them,” Kenney said.
Even in B.C., he said he sees a possible wedge to counter resistance to increased oil shipments and that he will try make inroads as the province deals with what he called “sky high” gas prices.
“So I think there are some openings for us to pursue with those provinces,” he said.