N.B. premier asked if Quebec is the favourite child this election: 'That's not a new thing'

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs waded Friday into the contentious issue of Ottawa's treatment of Quebec, telling media at a Conservative Party campaign stop in Fredericton that "it's been forever, really," that Quebec has been favoured.

Higgs was responding to reporters' questions at an appearance by Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer at a brewery in N.B.'s capital. 

Higgs said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau "basically shut down an industry in Alberta," referring to the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline project, which would have transported oil from west to east. 

That's when a reporter asked: "So, are you suggesting Quebec is maybe like the favourite child right now?"

"Well, not right now. It's been a continuous thing," Higgs responded. "I mean, it's been forever, really, so that's not a new thing."

"When you get $13 billion a year in transfer payments for being part of a nation, then there's got to be some obligations that come with."

Higgs was pointing to the $13.1 billion in equalization payments Quebec received from the federal government in 2019, which prompted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to threaten to hold a referendum in 2021 if his province doesn't get changes to the equalization formula and permission to build oil pipelines.

Provinces 'more divided'

Earlier in the scrum with reporters, Higgs was asked about Scheer's relationship with Quebec Premier François Legault and the "difficult task" the next prime minister will have of bringing the provinces together.

"We have become more divided as provinces than any time I can remember in my history," Higgs said. 

He contrasted Alberta and Quebec, saying the latter didn't have the same amount of "national interest" as the former. 

"I spent a lot of time going across the country meeting with colleagues out in the West because I feel there's a national interest there," Higgs said. "I don't see the same national interest in Quebec and that's the sad part. They need to be part of it because they benefit too from being part of a good country. And I appreciate the uniqueness in Quebec. I get all that. But they have to be part of a national program as well."

Higgs closed by endorsing Scheer's bid for the country's leadership. 

The premier has expressed similar sentiments in the past. In July, Higgs told CBC Moncton's Information Morning that Quebec should lose some of the equalization payments if it doesn't allow a pipeline on its territory. 

Legault has said he would oppose any future projects like Energy East because there's no "social acceptability" in the province for it. TransCanada had promised Energy East would create thousands of jobs in New Brunswick.

Earlier at the campaign stop, Conservative Party supporters shouted at a Radio-Canada reporter for asking questions in French. 

"For the second time in two days, a Conservative supporter has asked me to ask my questions in English," tweeted Philippe-Vincent Foisy, who is a parliamentary correspondent and has been covering Scheer's party this election. 

Trudeau responded later, at a campaign stop in Ontario, saying Higgs should instead focus on defending women's rights and "ensure there is access to abortion services for all women in New Brunswick."

The province's only abortion clinic announced a little more than a week ago it would be closing because the government refuses to help fund out-of-hospital abortions. 

CBC