CALGARY — Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney says he didn't sow confusion on his recent trade trip to India, and says the contacts he renewed there can only help the province.
Kenney also mocked Trade Minister Deron Bilous for saying his office is now doing "damage control" with Indian officials to make sure Kenney's role and the provincial position on trade issues is clear.
"I don't think they would know who to call," Kenney said Monday.
"In the three-and-a-half years they've been in office, neither Premier (Rachel) Notley nor the trade minister has bothered to visit India, the world's fastest-growing, second-largest market. I have 20 years of deep connections in that country."
Kenney, along with fellow United Conservative MLAs Prasad Panda and Devin Dreeshen, toured India last week, meeting with senior government and oil and gas officials.
They also expressed concern about Indian tariffs on pulse crops.
Kenney said he went as Alberta's official Opposition leader and used the trip to renew and strengthen relations with Indian officials established previously while working as a federal cabinet minister.
He said the talks will help the province, particularly if Kenney's party wins power in the spring election.
"Should we elect a Conservative government next year, we will already have hypercharged our relationship with the senior commercial and political leadership in India," he said.
"I think that's good for Alberta."
Kenney also appeared to reverse himself on a core criticism of Notley's government. He has said that Alberta's tax system, particularly the carbon tax, is counterproductive and undermining investment, but in India he told a TV reporter that Alberta is a prime spot for investment because of many factors, including low taxes.
Premier Rachel Notley dismissed Kenney on Monday for playing "minister of make believe" abroad.
"He was in India, I understand, suggesting that he was a member of our cabinet and extolling the virtues of our government's policies," said Notley. "I think he's either seen the light or, conversely, getting started a little early on the pot legalization."
Kenney said for him partisan politics stops when he goes abroad.
"It's unfortunate the NDP here sought to politicize it, but I was very careful — we were very careful — in our time there not to mention a single word of criticism of the Alberta government. To the contrary, we talked up Alberta," said Kenney.
"When I leave the borders of Canada, I'm on Team Alberta."
Bilous has said Alberta has extensive and ongoing relations with India, adding that Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier has made two recent trips there.
Bilous said damage control was needed last week because one senior Indian government official referred to Kenney as a cabinet minister and it wasn't clear what was being discussed in the meetings.
— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton
The Canadian Press