Premier Jason Kenney kicked off a campaign to lure skilled workers from Toronto and Vancouver as he doubled down on his criticism of a so-called Alberta sovereignty act pitched by one of the candidates running to replace him.
Kenney held a news conference Monday to announce the United Conservative government's new program — dubbed "Alberta is Calling" — to recruit skilled workers with a marketing campaign touting the province's lower taxes, housing affordability, shorter commutes and proximity to the Rocky Mountains. The $2.6-million effort is to include ads on social media, radio and posters in high-traffic areas.
"What did the Albertan say to the Vancouverite? You're hired," reads one of the displays.
"It's mountain time somewhere," reads one geared to the Greater Toronto Area.
"Alberta is back in a big way, but one of the biggest challenges to sustaining that amazing growth is having enough people who are filling the jobs that are being created," Kenney said.
"As far as problems go, that's a pretty good one to have."
The campaign launch comes after Kenney said on his weekend radio call-in show that a key platform promise of one of the candidates to succeed him as leader and premier was "nuts."
Candidate Danielle Smith has said if she wins the leadership, she would bring a bill this fall to give Alberta the power to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not in the province's interest. Legal scholars say such a bill would be illegal, unenforceable and a dangerous dismissal of respect for the rule of law.
"A government or legislature that would pursue this de facto plan for separatism would end the huge economic momentum in this province in its tracks," Kenney said.
Kenney said he's certain that even if the legislature passed the law, the lieutenant-governor would refuse to give it royal assent and Alberta would become a "laughingstock."
Smith chastised Kenney in a statement Sunday for "interference" in the leadership contest, saying his comments were "ill-informed and disrespectful to a large and growing majority of UCP members that support this important initiative."
Kenney said Monday that he's not interfering in the leadership campaign, but simply restating his position on an important public policy issue.
"This government was elected on a commitment to create jobs, grow the economy and get pipelines built," he said. "This so-called sovereignty act would be a body blow to all three of those things.
Kenney said the proposed act runs counter to what the provincial government was elected to do by driving away investment and causing people to leave, as well as hurting the campaign to bring people in to Alberta.
"Here we are launching a campaign for Canadians to move to another part of Canada," he said. "If Alberta were to decide effectively to launch a separatist project, I think that would automatically exclude a lot of Canadians.
"To the contrary, instead of being able to attract people, we would start hemorrhaging people."
He said that's not theoretical because of what happened in Quebec in 1976 when René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois were elected on a separatist platform.
"Quebec overnight began to hemorrhage people, money and investment," Kenney said.
Kenney also had a message to Albertans concerned about a plan to bring in more workers — most Albertans have come from other parts of Canada or the world and new workers would benefit the province.
Kenney said he understands some may feel resentful.
"I think we're welcoming, but sometimes I do hear that complaint: 'I can't find a job. Why are you giving our jobs away?' I'll tell you, there are a lot of jobs available in Alberta right now."