Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has asked a former Saskatchewan Party MLA and former MP who recently was a part of the Wexit movement to co-host "in-house" meetings about increasing Saskatchewan autonomy.
Allan Kerpan — who served in opposition with the Saskatchewan Party and was also a Reform MP — and veteran SP MLA Lyle Stewart (Thunder Creek) have been chosen by Moe to lead the closed-door meetings across the province this month.
"The premier has been speaking about some sort of independence from Ottawa for quite a while in terms of the economy," Kerpan told the CBC's Morning Edition host Ted Deller on Monday.
Kerpan said he and Moe have met over the last few months and is now being asked to "try to gauge the opinion and the feelings of people who live in our province."
He says after a couple of meetings a theme is emerging.
"People are saying be more Quebec-like — in other words, take back the powers to our province that were afforded to our province under the Constitution originally.
"I think [Quebec's] alienation probably with Ottawa was more cultural based. Ours is probably more economically-based, although culture comes into that as well."
In 2021-22, $3.46 billion, or 19.1 per cent of Saskatchewan's overall revenue, came through transfers from the federal government.
Kerpan said he is "not looking for Confederation to really change," but said Saskatchewan and all other provinces "could all be a nation within a nation."
A national survey released in April asked whether respondents wanted their provinces to do more to develop an identity separate from Canada. In Saskatchewan, 40 per cent said they liked the status quo and 24 per cent said they wanted the province to do more to differentiate itself.
Kerpan says he does not support a separation movement.
"I am not interested in independence from Confederation, but I'm certainly very interested in some sort of independence from Ottawa," he said.
Kerpan hosted a series of town hall meetings in 2019, organized by Wexit Saskatchewan that asked: "Can Federation Be Fixed?"
At the time Kerpan said, "I would rather have a real hard look at a western, independent Saskatchewan than have to suffer through four more years of [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau."
Kerpan eyes energy, environmental policies
When asked for specific areas of concern, Kerpan pointed to pipeline projects, Bills C-48 and C-69, and the federal government's carbon pricing system.
"We've got no new pipelines to move our oil and gas to markets," he said. "That's been a big issue."
During the interview, Deller mentioned the federal government's $4.5-billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline project in 2018.
"We'll see how that all works out," Deller said.
"And I'm still not convinced that's going to be the end of the thing," Kerpan replied.
Kerpan pointed to Bill C-69, was passed in 2019, which allows the federal government to consider the effects of new resource projects on issues such as climate change, and Bill C-48, which was passed in 2019, which prohibits tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of oil from docking along British Columbia's north coast.
Kerpan says that's a problem. Every province should have "control over their natural resources, which includes getting them to market."
On the federal government's carbon tax, which was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in March 2021, Kerpan said the tax, coupled with the new clean fuel regulations, are "very, very hurtful financially to farmers."
Moe has raised each of the issues mentioned by Kerpan, and has repeatedly said he is not interested in an independent Saskatchewan.
In 2020, he appointed Stewart as legislative secretary for provincial autonomy.
In Nov. 2021, Moe said he wanted Saskatchewan to become a "nation within a nation."
The government's throne speech in 2021 said it wanted to "build a stronger, more independent Saskatchewan within Confederation."
In one of the first of the in-house meetings, Kerpan said he "loved" the idea one attendee suggested that Saskatchewan collect its own income tax.
When asked how representative the meetings would be given they are not open to the public, Kerpan said those interested should contact their MLA: "I'm sure that nobody's going to be turned down."
Kerpan said his tour is "essentially the very same thing" as the current provincial tour being done by new NDP Leader Carla Beck.
Affordability more pressing than autonomy: Beck
On Monday, Opposition Leader Carla Beck said the government is focusing on autonomy when it should be addressing inflation and the added cost of living.
Beck says affordability, education and health care are the top issues on the minds of people in the province.
It is "fair to say there is frustration expressed with the federal government," Beck said, but said holding closed-door meetings that could shape public policy is "troublesome."
"I'm not sure how fanning the flames of separatism and increasing division is helping address the things that people in Saskatchewan do need to be addressed by all levels of government," she said.
If this is a priority of the government, she says, it should allow meetings to be open to the public and it should publish the findings.
Beck said the meetings at this point are not "representative."
Kerpan's expenses covered
The government caucus office is covering Kerpan's expenses.
"No government funds from a specific MLA constituency would be used for his expenses," said John Saltasuk, chief of staff for the government caucus office.
Saltasuk said Kerpan is a former MLA who "has remained engaged and interested in what Saskatchewan can achieve and what barriers are in place to that success."
"If anyone is interested in participating in these specific meetings they can absolutely reach out. You will see more public events in the coming weeks from our MLAs in other formats,"
LISTEN | Former MLA Allan Kerpan on his meetings about provincial autonomy: