PM and Prentice discuss economy, energy, environment, aboriginal matters

Prentice said the topics discussed during Friday's meeting included the economy, energy prices, the environment, aboriginal matters.

CALGARY — Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Alberta’s new premier are both describing their first meeting since Jim Prentice was sworn in last month as productive.

Prentice said the topics discussed during Friday’s meeting included the economy, energy prices, the environment, aboriginal matters.

It also included Alberta’s labour needs and the importance of skilled labour — a subject Prentice has criticized the federal government for due to this year’s changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program.

“I thought that we made significant progress on a range of issues. We’re interested in having a constructive partnership with the federal government and we’ll continue to work towards that end,” Prentice said Saturday after spending time door-knocking in Calgary, where he’s running in a byelection to secure a seat in the legislature.

“There’s certainly a national perspective and an Alberta perspective on issues and we’ll continue to discuss that.”

Prentice, who once was a senior minister in Harper’s cabinet, said the meeting in Calgary lasted about an hour-and-a-half.

On Twitter, Harper said the meeting with Prentice was productive and he was looking forward to working with him to “build a stronger Canada.”

Prentice said he and Harper touched on the temporary worker issue during the meeting, but noted that federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney and his Alberta counterpart, Ric McIver, met this past week and are “exploring” how to work together to meet Alberta’s labour needs.

In June, Harper’s government brought in rules to limit the number of foreign workers that large and medium-sized companies can hire, to ensure Canadians are first in line for jobs.

The premier has dismissed criticism that an exploitative province is to blame for its labour shortage, which he’s said has hit Alberta’s roaring economy hard.

However Kenney reaffirmed last week that there will not be any changes to the June rules, saying that in Alberta the program has been “overused.”

“We’re basically going to allow minister Kenny and minister McIver to continue with their discussions and it’s the beginning of a process and not the end of a process,” Prentice said.

As of December 2012, there were more than 68,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta — 20 per cent of the Canadian total.

Prentice said he and the prime minister had a “robust” discussion about energy, the environment and securing market access for Alberta oil. But he wouldn’t go into detail when asked whether new strategies might be used to achieve the goal of building new pipelines to access those markets.

“These are increasingly challenging times. Energy prices have slipped significantly. We discussed the economy and the importance of the integration of energy and the environment policies,” Prentice said.

“Of course, a lot turns on market access because we cannot basically advance our standard of living as an energy marketer unless we’re able to access tidewater and international markets, because as Canadians and as Albertans, we’ll only secure global prices if we access global markets. So we had a discussion about that as well.”