The man appointed by the prime minister to be his special representative for the Prairie provinces took a conciliatory tone at a Calgary business luncheon on Tuesday.
Winnipeg Member of Parliament Jim Carr told the Chamber of Commerce that he understands he has his work cut out for him, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“I know that my party and my government is not popular here. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out,” he said to laughter from the audience.
“The reason we have this disconnect is that we’re not listening to each other and we in the government of Canada have to do a much better job,” he added.
“I think I have a reasonably good understanding of the anxiety, anxiety that’s produced by hardship — and it’s real.”
Carr was appointed in November after the Liberals were shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, losing two cabinet ministers, in the federal election. They also lost three seats in Manitoba.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been demanding reforms to a federal fiscal stabilization program that tops up provincial revenues and has expressed concerns about new federal laws on environmental protection.
Carr previously served as natural resources minister and minister for international trade diversification — two portfolios especially top of mind on the Prairies, given struggles in the energy sector and ongoing trade disputes.
His new role is different.
“I want to make you happy,” Carr said when asked about his position.
“I am not a minister with departmental responsibilities … I have access to the prime minister. I will share what I’m hearing with him.”
Carr spent 45 minutes fielding audience questions that focused on major energy projects, including the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
He warned that future energy projects will always include consultations with Indigenous groups.
“If we don’t properly and meaningfully consult Indigenous peoples, there will be no major projects built,” he said.
“It’s a reality and that reality is being defined by courts, by politics, and it’s being defined by international thinking.”
Carr promised more respectful discussions between Ottawa and the provinces, but said not everyone is going to get all that they want.
“No premier is going to get every single item on an agenda. Neither is any single mayor. The government of Canada has to factor in competing demands and make decisions that are in the national interest.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press