By COLLIN GALLANT on July 3, 2020.
A stance that separation needs to be an option as Alberta hammers out better standing in Confederation had nothing to do with a local MLA’s low profile during the premier’s Canada Day visit to the Hat, Drew Barnes told the Medicine Hat News on Thursday.
Jason Kenney spent July 1 in the region, bookending the trip with funding announcements in Lethbridge and Taber for agri-food development and twinning a portion of Highway 3.
He visited several local and area businesses Wednesday, and wound down the holiday at the Elkwater Lake Lodge, according to his social media accounts from the day.
All the apparent locations from the unannounced visit however, are located in the riding of Cypress-Medicine Hat, yet escorting Kenney through the region was Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo.
“I was out of town … I’m glad government officials came down to see what we offer in southeastern Alberta,” said Barnes of his July 1 schedule.
Barnes raised some controversy in June with a public letter stating that his colleagues on the government’s “Fair Deal” panel did not go far enough, and a real threat of potential separation should be considered as a leverage point in discussions with Ottawa.
That led the opposition NDP to criticize Kenney for keeping a potential separatist in the Untied Conservative caucus.
“I consider myself a strong member of the UCP caucus,” he said, adding that he was “very” pleased about the announcement that Highway 3 will be twinned from Taber to Burdett.
“It’s a step in the right direction that will improve safety and economic opportunities a lot,” he said. “I’ve worked hard on the (Highway 3 Twinning Association) committee’s recommendations over the years, and been a strong advocate of the years that for safety and economic reasons it needs to be twinned.”
Barnes also did not attend the Taber announcement regarding stretches of the route in the County of Forty Mile, which lay in his riding until boundaries were redrawn for the 2019 election.
Kenney said the work will help bolster the agri-processing hub near Taber and other industries in the region. He said his trip through southwest and southeast Alberta was informative.
“I’ve been barnstorming southern Alberta in a rented RV, getting out and meeting Albertans and seeing how communities are doing following the pandemic,” Kenney said at Thursday’s announcement in Taber.
No itinerary of the trip was made public or released afterwards.
He did visit Neubauer Farms (owner Nichole Neubauer was recently named to a provincial ag research council).
Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston, who accompanied the premier on a tour of Big Marble Farms along with MP Glen Motz, said his meeting was welcomed, but not particularly in depth.
“It was a very casual visit – a bit of an ag-focused visit,” Clugston said Thursday, adding COVID-19 health considerations didn’t lend to close-quarter one-on-one conversations or traditional handshakes.
“Of course, the visit to Lethbridge included an announcement, and we have our own list of projects with (Municipal Affairs).”
Kenney referred to the plan by his government to boost municipal infrastructure grants by $500 million this year on top of amounts in the recent provincial budget. Those funds are aside from a $10-billion infrastructure program announced late last week.