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FILDEBRANDT: There’s not going to be any Equalization referendum

However limited in scope its intention was in 2017, there is a real risk that an Equalization vote would become a proxy for independence in 2020.

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I sat down this morning to write a column titled “Tories show guts in government wage rollbacks,” but scrapped it. While the Tories are showing guts on that important file, they appear to be backing down fast on another, more important one: Equalization and fairness in confederation. 

It’s been a slow, gradual process, but Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has now all but officially popped his own balloon of an Equalization referendum. Kenney didn’t come out and say it, but he has gradually walked back the conditions that Ottawa must meet to avoid the vote to such an extent that they are now effectively met already.

Kenney first began his charge towards an Equalization referendum in 2017 with a promise to hold the vote if Ottawa didn’t meet several clearly defined demands from a government under his leadership. These were: a new deal on Equalization, scrapping the federal carbon tax, repealing Bill C-48 (tanker ban) and C-69 (no more pipelines), and the building of both the Energy East and TMX pipelines. 

Jason Kenney campaigning in his blue truck (source: Jason Kenney/TwitteR)

By the fall, Kenney appeared to have dropped the demand for a new deal on Equalization and Energy East so long as the other conditions were met; but in his State of the Province speech yesterday, he mentioned only one lone demand: the construction of the TMX pipeline. 

However troubled the beleaguered TMX pipeline may be, it does appear to be headed towards successful construction. Trudeau’s new hardline anti-pipeline MP Steven Guilbeault dropped his opposition to TMX in an interview the night he was elected, so long as no new pipelines were approved, and even Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet accepted TMX so long as no pipelines go forward through Quebec, like the ill-fated Energy East proposal. 

Baring a wild change in policy, TMX will be built, and the only remaining demand of the UCP government will have been satisfied. If people don’t remember that there were five other demands attached to it, Kenney can call it a victory and declare that no referendum is necessary.

This all begs the question: Why would Kenney back away from the showdown with Ottawa that so many in Alberta want? 

The most likely answer is that he is afraid of what it could ignite. 

While Eastern pundits insist that Kenney is a secret separatist pouring fuel on the flames of discontent, he has gone out of his way to calm the waters since the federal election. 

When Kenney was campaigning on an Equalization referendum during the UCP leadership race and General Election, there was no real fear that it would be about much else than its face value: Albertans want a better deal. But since Trudeau’s re-election in a minority Parliament requiring the support of the NDP and Bloc, the independence movement has moved firmly into the mainstream of public opinion. No longer consigned to cranks in rural southern Alberta, independence is a movement now searching for a vehicle, with some like former Harper Minister Jay Hill believing it should happen within the UCP, and others believing it will require an entirely new party

However limited in scope its intention was in 2017, there is a real risk that an Equalization vote would become a proxy for independence in 2020. This risk is elevated by the reality that Ottawa would almost certainly tell Alberta to pound sand after a successful referendum.

Having been rejected by Ottawa after an emotional referendum, many moderates hoping for reform within confederation would conclude that they are now faced with a binary option of the status quo, or independence. The polarizing effect of a rejection of Alberta’s demands by Ottawa would not be unlike that in Quebec after the collapse of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. 

Most activists in Alberta’s independence movement have dismissed the Equalization referendum as a needless middle step that wouldn’t get anywhere in any case; but more patient sovereigntists have been counting on its campaign to mobilize a movement, and its inevitable rejection by Ottawa to sharpen public opinion. 

Kenney can’t well come out and simply drop his signature promise to hold a vote, but his moving of the goalposts makes it extremely unlikely that it will ever be held. He hasn’t so much killed the referendum, as he has put it on an ice float out to sea. 

Federalists carping that he is stoking the flames of independence should be more thankful. 

Opinion

LETTER: Stop repatriating ISIS fighters to Canada

A reader says that Canada must shut the door on returning ISIS fighters.

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RE: Calgary man charged with terror crimes after allegedly training with ISIS in Syria

The arrest of a Calgary man by the RCMP on terror-related charges linked to his time with the Islamic State should be a stern reminder to Canadians that the old foe of Islamic extremism hides beneath current tensions. The RCMP say there are 190 Canadians linked to Islamic terror groups. Sixty have returned to Canada. The most notorious organization, Islamic State, butchered its way across nations and conquered sizable territory and resources.

We should never forget that these groups intend us harm. ISIS, more than any other, seduced many individuals into committing crimes for them – many of these persons were never officially linked to Islamic State. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is right to counsel Ottawa to never allow the repatriation of ISIS fighters back into this country. Last month, Human Rights Watch accused Canada of abandoning some of these people inside prison camps variously controlled by the Kurds and the Turks.

The problem of terrorist repatriation is a global one. The Kurds and the Turks, by turns, have demanded their return and an end to their unwanted global responsibility. Britain’s appellate court has been lambasted by critics for allowing its former citizen, dubbed the Jihadi Bride, an ISIS member, to return home. Shamima Begum left Britain for Syria and stayed with the terror group for three years. Now sitting inside a refugee camp, she apparently begged to be repatriated. Britain’s Conservative MPs argue her return sets a dangerous precedent. They are correct in saying so.

Global, indeed Middle Eastern, security has always depended on a powerful alliance between the U.S, Israel, and a few Arab nations. States like Egypt and Jordan share military and economic partnerships with Israel. The American withdrawal from parts of the Middle East like Syria was a mistake. They enabled the Taliban to rebound and Hezbollah to resume attacking Israel. The China-Iran alliance could enable the tracking of Western forces. 

Christopher Mansour
Barrie, ON

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Opinion

LETTER: There won’t be any accountability for WE in this Canada

A reader says that Canadians shouldn’t hold their breath that any accountability will come in the wake of the growing WE Scandal.

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The Kielburger brothers are like the prime minister; they think most people would believe the WE charity along with the founders wouldn’t benefit from administering a near $1 billion dollar program. The Conservative’s have called for a RCMP investigation of WE and Trudeau’s involvement. I can’t see that happening.

Brenda Lucki, the RCMP Commissioner in the SNC-L affair, could have applied to the courts for release of cabinet documents, but she chose to hide behind the PM’s cabinets privilege. The Ethics Commissioner has no teeth to impose any real penalty on these ministers who again, abuse Canadian finances. This is a failed federation, lead by a corrupt PM and finance minister along with the PMO that has its head in the sand.

On another point.

WEXIT is sounding better, every day, for Albertans, but I don’t think Premier Kenney had any intention of taking the next step to give Albertans a say. Premier Kenney changed his tune after he was elected to the Premiership. I am not impressed with him as he was all fire and brimstone prior to the election, but now I feel he is just another politician who pulled a bait and switch on his real intensions. To bad I didn’t hear him tell Albertans that he was a committed Federalist prior to saying he was fighting for Alberta. I would have changed my vote for sure. 

Steven Ruthven
Calgary, AB 

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Opinion

BARNES: Time to replace the RCMP with an Alberta force

Drew Barnes writes that Alberta should immediately begin the process of creating its own police force.

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Guest opinion column from Drew Barnes, MLA

In the Fair Deal Panel report, it was recommended that Alberta create its own police force. It is what we heard loud and clear from Albertans across the province. It is imperative, now more than ever with the overreaching policies of Ottawa, that we have control over policing in our own land. Premier Kenney – in the government’s response – has committed to conducting a further analysis of the panel recommendation to move to an Alberta Provincial Police. This analysis will support why we should have our own police force that is overseen by a directly elected Alberta Chief of Police. An Alberta Provincial Police force is a constitutional right that we have, and it should be exercised. 

Historically, Alberta had its own police force from 1917 to 1932. During that period, Alberta saw an increase in arrest rate and conviction, and a decrease in movement into Alberta by those with criminal intent. The reason for this increase has been attributed to the institutional difference in focus and priorities of a national vs an Alberta entity. 

This history serves to underscore why we need a police force that is familiar with the Alberta experience. One of the issues the RCMP have that makes it difficult for them to effectively police the province is the constant in-and-out of its members in communities, which nullifies the benefits that come with being familiar with an area and its particular challenges. An officer raised in Jasper, Ontario will be less familiar with the issues and concerns of Jasper, Alberta, than an Albertan. While some RCMP recruits may be from Alberta and may land a position in Alberta, that is too often not how it works. The lack of familiarity with community, and short-term posting protocol of the RCMP is an ongoing, acknowledged hinderance, for both the officers and the community.

The costs to operate the RCMP increase at a higher rate than provincially run police forces. A study comparing these costs found that over the span of eight years, the cost of operating RCMP detachments rose an average of $44.50 per capita. The costs for the Ontario Provincial Police force rose only $37.10 per capita on average during the same period.

We can cancel the contract with the federal government and the RCMP with two years notice. Providing notice that we will cancel the contract can take place as early as March 31, 2021. This would allow us to terminate the contract as of March 31, 2023 at no cost. Within that two-year gap, we can work out the details, such as settling accounts over buildings and equipment, which the current contract provides a road map for.

As a province, we even have a basic template in place that make this easier. The Alberta Sheriffs already perform many police duties in our province with 950 sworn members and 16 stations. We would simply need to look at expanding them into the areas that presently utilize RCMP service. 

The RCMP is a proud and iconic symbol of Canada, made up of proud, hardworking members from across Canada, however, it is time for Alberta to consider taking back it’s policing, to create local ownership, accountability, and to hire Albertans to police Alberta. Albertans should determine their own policing priorities based on their particular needs. It is time to bring back the Alberta Provincial Police.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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