Don't count on me to support western demands: Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received support in his quest for national unity from an unlikely ally Wednesday when Yves-Francois Blanchet, the leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, said anyone seeking more independence for the West should not come to him for advice.

"If they were attempting to create a green state in Western Canada, I might be tempted to help them," Blanchet said Wednesday.

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"If they are trying to create an oil state in Western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us."

Blanchet spoke after emerging from a meeting with Trudeau on Parliament Hill, where both leaders focused on areas where they could see themselves getting along, including in combating climate change.

His were fighting words to some in Alberta, however.

"To Mr. Blanchet, to the (Bloc) Quebecois, if you are so opposed to the energy that we produce in Alberta, then why are you so keen on taking the money generated by the oilfield workers in this province and across Western Canada?" said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, referring to equalization.

"You cannot have your cake and eat it too," Kenney said Wednesday in a speech in Calgary.

Sandip Lalli, CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, took a softer tone.

"I think there's more likeness between Quebec and Alberta with respect to natural-resource development and solving climate change," she said.

"We just need to be able to get to talking and listening to each other."

The Liberals, who were shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the Oct. 21 election, are faced with greater demands for power and autonomy from some western premiers and nationalists in Quebec, where voters elected 32 Bloc MPs.

The Trudeau government, with enough seats to form only a minority government, will need the support of some opposition MPs to advance its legislative agenda. That will begin with the speech from the throne, which opens the next Parliament.

The speech will lay out the broad plans of the government, and a subsequent vote on whether to approve it will test whether Trudeau has the confidence of the House of Commons.

Blanchet, who said his party will do what it can to make Parliament work, said his meeting with Trudeau suggested there will not be anything in the speech from the throne — such as plans to interfere with the Quebec secularism law — to cause his Bloc MPs to vote against it.

"It's out of the question for me to play the game of politics, to try and find problems where there aren't any," he said in French. "If it's OK, it's OK."

As the meeting was about to begin, Blanchet said he was ready to collaborate on common issues raised during the campaign, such as climate change, supply management in the dairy sector and the cost of living for seniors.

Trudeau said he looked forward to a good meeting, describing his and Blanchet's "shared priorities" as including climate change, affordability, gun control and the protection of supply management.

"We will also have conversations in which we disagree, but it will be done in respect because I think Canadians expect different parties in Parliament to work together constructively and that's exactly what I intend to do," said Trudeau.

Blanchet made it clear to reporters that no one should expect the leader of a sovereigntist party to suddenly take on the role of Captain Canada.

"I still believe that Quebec will do better when it is a country, so I am not the one who will fight to have a nice, beautiful and united Canada," he said.

When it comes to Western Canada trying to make a stronger position for itself, he plans to resist expanding the use of fossil fuels as he calls for stronger action on climate change.

"We will keep fighting this idea to obsessively want to extract oil from the ground and make the planet warmer," he said.

Jean Charest, a former premier of Quebec who was in Ottawa on Wednesday to promote the aerospace industry, said he does not think Canada is experiencing a crisis of national unity.

"The country has had several episodes and moments where there's been regional tensions," said Charest, who played an important role in the "No" campaign before the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, when he was leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party.

"We are one of the most decentralized federations in the world," said Charest. "The level of intensity in regional differences varies from time to time and that is part of life in Canada."

Trudeau is sitting down with opposition leaders one by one this week, trying to identify areas of common ground where he can get their support for legislation once the House of Commons sits again in December.

Trudeau met Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer Tuesday and is meeting NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2019.

—With files from Dan Healing and Lauren Krugel in Calgary

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