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ANDRUS: Trudeau has bet double-or-nothing on Freeland to pacify with West

If we want a fair deal, the Prime Minister simply sending subordinates to “listen really really hard” is not going to help.

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In a statement responding to the announcement of Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said, “We have much to discuss with the prime minister and his new cabinet on these and other items we have already set out in letters and public communications since the federal election.” 

No kidding. 

Justin Trudeau is putting former foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland – his star diplomat – in perhaps her most difficult role yet: intergovernmental affairs. It’s a fitting appointment, as the West has apparently become foreign territory to a Liberal Party that elected a total of zero MP’s between Winnipeg and Vancouver. 

The rise of Wexit, as well as Kenney’s landmark Firewall Speech, have shifted the political narrative in recent weeks away from climate change and blackface into the dangerous realm of national unity. Western alienation has become the front-page storyline across the nation. 

Freeland comes to the table with plenty of experience as Trudeau’s go-to minister, navigating dangerous diplomatic waters in negotiating the new NAFTA agreement. Her performance must have impressed Trudeau, as she now holds the portfolio that seems to be the most treacherous for the Liberal Party – bridging a growing divide between Alberta, Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada.

Premier Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (source: Justin Trudeau/Flickr)

 “Today, in 2019, I think Canadians understand that our most important challenges are more domestic,” Freeland said. “It’s a moment when we must work to be a united country and a country that can work in a united manner.” 

“The election sent a message from the West,” she told reporters, adding, “Now is a moment when we need to respond, to begin with, by listening really, really hard.” 

The rest of the cabinet appointments, at least at first glance, don’t seem to make her job much easier.  Noticeably, of the 36 cabinet ministers, 10 were from Quebec. An over-representation of Quebecers could prove to be a bane for Freeland, especially as Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and Premier Kenney are locked in a fiery battle of words over Alberta’s energy sector and Equalization. 

Newly appointed Natural Resource Minister Seamus O’Regan brings a lack of experience to the portfolio, and his strong ties to Newfoundland could add another obstacle in the way of resource development in the West.

“What it looks like the Liberals are trying to do is to just piece together a semblance of a national cabinet that includes people that can at least claim that they have a Western voice — that they’re not tone deaf,” said pollster Nik Nanos.  “The fact of the matter is, when you’re looking at individuals like Freeland and [environment minister Jonathan] Wilkinson, they can say that they’re from the Prairie provinces.”

Freeland was born in Alberta, but spent most of her life in the East, and represents a Toronto constituency. The Liberals seem to believe that the soil of her birth will add to her credibility with Westerners.  

Whether the strategy pays dividends is another question.  What is needed to bridge the divide between the West and Ottawa are structural changes. Western alienation is not an issue in which a band-aid and simple recognition can fix.  

Kenney’s recently announced “Fair Deal Panel” now have a clearer picture of what kind of a federal government they are working with. Granted, just because Trudeau has signalled that he is listening, the centralized manner in which he has operated his government means that those making decisions lie in the Prime Ministers office. 

If we want a fair deal, the Prime Minister simply sending subordinates to “listen really really hard” is not going to help. It’s going to come down to Albertans to make sure that we are heard. 

It’s time to fight for a fair deal. A fair deal that abolishes an equalization program that has deepened an already devastating recession in Alberta. A fair deal that upholds the constitutional right to free trade across provincial borders for goods, services, and infrastructure such as pipelines. A fair deal that builds into government regional representation, rather than hoping that the federal government is actually listening. 

The ball is back in Kenney’s court now.

Opinion

ROYER: Eastern Canada was born of Imperial Loyalty. The West of Frontier Freedom.

It is difficult for those in the heartland to comprehend that there is an alternative; one that might actually be fairer and that it is firmly planted “out West”, in the hinterland.

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The Teck oilsands mine decision and the related “rescue package” for Alberta are emblematic of the gulf in thinking between East and West. Alberta doesn’t want handouts and dependency; it wants investment, jobs and opportunity. The federal government – rooted in colonial thinking – believes that it can buy peace and compliance by offering trinkets.

History tells the story of this gulf in thinking.

Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were colonies loyal to the top-down imperial system. In 1780, the United Empire Loyalists fled the American Revolution with its crazy ideas of freedom, democracy and individual rights and came to Upper Canada, reinforcing subservient loyalty. Similarly, the mostly French inhabitants of Lower Canada would rather stay subjects of the British Empire than govern themselves as a U.S. state.

American expansionism threatened to encircle the Canadas. In the great land grab of the mid 1800’s, it became clear that if you settle it, you own it. Mexico lost one-third of its territory (Texas to California) because it allowed Americans to settle in its lands. Americans were also drifting north. 

The Canadas decided to populate the prairies to stop the Americans.

However, there were not enough loyal British subjects to fill these vast lands. It was opened up to continental Europeans. They had no connection to the crown or the imperial power structure. Indeed, the opposite was true. They were fleeing the tyranny of Europe. They sought freedom, democracy and self-initiative as described coincidently in American recruiting.

The West became a colony of a colony. But its foundation was a desire for freedom, democracy and self-initiative. This is contrary to colonial loyalty in Upper and Lower Canada.

The Canadas were slow in relinquishing the colonial mindset. An Act of the British Parliament in 1931 finally cut the apron strings (Westminster Act). Australia held its independence referendum in 1902.   

When Canada did exert independence, its constitution of 1982 (with no pesky referendum) did more to cement the power of English Ontario and French Quebec than to create equality for all citizens. 

Over the years the Prime Minister’s Office assumed virtually all of the powers of the crown. Canada centralized and consolidated power (an imperial theme) even while Britain devolved it.

Canada’s Equalization Program is an economic cornerstone of colonial thinking. Central Canada takes 70 per cent of the wealth transfer. Canada is the only modern state to take from the hinterland to support the industrial heartland. In most modern countries, the opposite is true.

In the U.S. all states were admitted to the union with full and equal rights. Not so in colonial Canada. The prairies fought to gain control of their resources through the Progressive Party in 1925. The equality fight continues today.

The Sir John A. MacDonald’s National Policy was an instrument of economic colonialism, as was Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program. Today’s Teck oilsands mine decision is as well.

The historic legacy is that the West wants to be part of a representative democracy that supports freedom, democracy, self-initiative and the equality of all citizens. New arrivals take on that same thinking. Some of the most adamant supporters of the Western spirit have arrived from Eastern Canada. 

Understanding is possible. But a quirk of colonial thinking is that it ranks people by colonial value. It is difficult for those in the heartland to comprehend that there is an alternative; one that might actually be fairer and that it is firmly planted “out West”, in the hinterland.

In an age where differences are supposed to be celebrated, why is it so difficult to overcome colonial stratification and even consider that we in the west think fundamentally differently? 

Randy Royer is a Columnist for the Western Standard and the author of “Alberta Doesn’t Fit”

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Opinion

LETTER-WAGNER: Alberta is culturally distinct, but not so much for the reasons offered in the Buffalo Declaration.

The existence of the independence movement rises and falls like the stock market, depending on external factors. If, however, support for independence could be rooted in Alberta’s distinctiveness, then the movement could have staying power.

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RE: The Buffalo Declaration

I was very pleased to read that four Conservative MPs had produced the Buffalo Declaration. It’s an important and articulate expression of the frustration many Albertans feel right now.

I was especially pleased that it contained a section entitled “Alberta is a culturally distinct region, but this has not been recognized.” In my view, one of the weaknesses of the Alberta independence movement is that it focuses almost exclusively on economic matters. This focus means that the movement rises and falls based on federal government policies. When those policies harm Alberta, support for independence rises; when those policies benefit Alberta, support for independence collapses. The existence of the independence movement rises and falls like the stock market, depending on external factors.

If, however, support for independence could be rooted in Alberta’s distinctiveness, then the movement could have staying power. Of course, economics will likely always be the main factor driving support for independence, but adding an element of cultural uniqueness would at least give it a foundation that doesn’t waver based on external factors.

Premier Kenney is certainly correct when he recently said, “A country is more than a balance sheet.” Although he was speaking of Canada, the same applies where Alberta is concerned. That is, there should be more to our Alberta patriotism than a desire for financial prosperity (important as that is). Hence, an emphasis on Alberta’s unique identity should form the basis of our Alberta patriotism.

That said, the Buffalo Declaration’s section on Alberta as a “culturally distinct region” is very disappointing. Some of it even seems to argue contrary to its intent. Saying, as it does, that “the percentage of Ontarians and Albertans of European descent are roughly the same,” does not point to uniqueness but to similarity. The fact that Alberta is populated by descendants of First Nations peoples and European settlers doesn’t seem particularly unique to Alberta, nor the fact that many Albertans have rural roots and want to be good stewards of our land.

There is much stronger evidence for Alberta’s uniqueness, but the Declaration inadvertently misses it. Perhaps this is a symptom of our society’s general historical amnesia. Providing a comprehensive account of Alberta’s uniqueness would take considerable space and effort, so here I will just suggest a glimpse.

During the 1950s, the University of Toronto Press produced a ten-volume series of books entitled “Social Credit in Alberta: Its Background and Development.” Included in the series were books such as Democracy in Alberta by C. B. Macpherson (a Marxist interpretation of the success of Social Credit in Alberta), Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada by J. R. Mallory (an analysis of the conflict between Alberta’s Social Credit government and the federal government), and Sect, Cult, and Church in Alberta by W. E. Mann (an explanation of Alberta’s religious uniqueness that contributed to the success of Social Credit).

The purpose of all these books was to explain to the world why Alberta was so different from the rest of Canada. Different, as in unique. Academics in Eastern Canada thought Alberta was a weird place and they wanted to understand why. As these books explain, the Alberta Social Credit Party was not just another political party. It was an expression of Alberta as a “culturally distinct region.” What other province had three consecutive fundamentalist Christian premiers?

More could be added, but this is already too long. I hope it makes a point.

Yes, Alberta is culturally distinct, but not so much for the reasons offered in the Buffalo Declaration.

Michael Wagner is the author of Alberta: Separatism Then and Now

Letters to the Editor of the Western Standard are posted under this account. Letters do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of the Western Standard or its columnists.

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Buffalo MPs draw a line in the sand with Ottawa

It’s a far fetch for the Liberal prime minister to take up the call of the Buffalo Declaration, but what of the Conservatives? What if they don’t?

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At 5,922 words and 22 pages, the Buffalo Declaration is a bit of a read, but for any Alberta or Saskatchewan patriot, it’s a page-turner. Four Alberta Conservative MPs: Michelle Rempel-Garner, Blake Richards, Glen Motz, and Arnold Viersen, broke with the routine bland talking points that infect most politicians and penned the most bold statement Parliament has seen since the Bloc Quebecois was formed in 1991.

The Buffalo MPs laid out in considerable detail the long history of Ottawa’s colonial approach to the West, and to the Prairie provinces in particular. It reads as one-part history lesson, one-part manifesto. The language is serious, and bold, and, shockingly for something written by politicians, actually says something.

“They [Albertans] will be equal or they will seek independence.”

If this wasn’t intended to make the collective heads of the Laurentian consensus’ spin, it still had the effect. The Toronto Star ran an unsympathetic story quoting Mount Royal University professor Lori Williams, who said it was “sort of wing-nutty”, and “reflects a failure to understand” the constitution of the country.”

“This isn’t inviting, it’s not persuasive, it’s demanding, it’s entitled.”

That’s to be expected. Less predictable was Brad Wall quickly coming out with his support.

“You and your colleagues deserve credit for this Michelle. There needs to be national attention to and action on the abiding unfairness in the confederation toward Alberta, Saskatchewan and the west in general.”

The former Saskatchewan premier is a member of a group calling itself the “Buffalo Project”.

Rempel-Garner has been touted by many as the only possible contender left standing for the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership that could challenge Peter MacKay. Her drawing of the line in the sand not just with the Liberals – but with the Laurentian federalist establishment – appears to have closed that door. She and three other signatories instead decided to put their careers on the line to try and force the current leadership contestants to see things their way.

“Any leadership contestant for the Conservative Party of Canada who seeks the support of Albertans should be prepared to address this declaration.”

“We are open to engage in bilateral meetings with any interested party to seek a productive resolution to this situation.”

That sound you hear is Peter Mackay and Erin O’Toole running down the halls of Centre Block to their offices to seek their endorsement. If they are willing to meet the bar they have set or not, is another matter.

The declaration lays out 12 “structural solutions” and 5 “policy solutions”, few of which Eastern establishment politicians are likely to be thrilled about.

Three of the structural solutions are largely symbolic, recognizing that Alberta is not yet an equal partner in Confederation, and recognizing “Alberta – or Buffalo – as a culturally distinct region within Confederation.”

The final symbolic solution would be a bit much for Justin Trudeau to swallow:

“Acknowledge, in the House of Commons, the devastation the National Energy Program caused to the people of Alberta.”

Justin Trudeau might be adept at apologizing for the actions of dead men hundreds of years ago, but apologizing for the devestation wreaked by his father could be more difficult.

Constitutional change might be verboten for Ottawa’s political class, but the Buffalo MPs demand it happen as a necessary condition for keeping Alberta in the federation.

They want Parliament rebalanced, ideally through Senate reform. There are several models to choose from, but Eastern Canada likes the deck stacked just the way it is. In the meantime, they want Trudeau to only appoint Alberta senators elected by its people. Even that easy ask might not pass muster with the Chief of all the Canadas.

They want Equalization abolished, or significantly overhauled. There are many good reasons for the have-not provinces to welcome Equalization changes, but none of which they are likely to accept.

They demand that Canada’s free-trade provisions in the Constitution be “entrenched and clarified”. That sounds easy on the surface, but the robber-baron premiers putting up roadblocks to trade are happy with the status quo.

Alluding to the Sword of Damocles hanging over the Teck oilsands mine, they want to entrench control over resource projects as the sole domain of the provinces. This should be easy for other provinces to accept, but the climate apocalyptics won’t easily relinquish their most blunt instrument with which to bludgeon Alberta’s energy industry.

After the big, structural changes, they list a page of easier, policy changes. The first is a six-part set of legislative changes mostly concerning the energy sector, including the repel of bills C-69 and C-48, approving the Teck Frontier oilsands mine, and building a national energy corridor.

If Parliament and Canada’s premiers took these demands seriously and passed them into reality, Alberta (and Saskatchewan) could probably live with Confederation. There would be quarrels with ups and downs, but no longer would the very existence of the Praire’s economic livelihood be put at stake every time the government changes in Ottawa. Federalists in the Rest of Canada would do the national union they love justice by taking up the challenge of the Buffalo Declaration.

But they probably won’t. Even friendly premiers in the East will wish to keep the constitution box closed, for fear of the ghosts of Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords escaping. It all hinges on Quebec; as usual.

Speaking to the Western Standard’s Dave Naylor, Rempel Garner said: “I sit three seats down from the leader of the Bloc, who speaks only on issues of concern to Quebec.” It seems his daily venom towards Alberta has grated on her.

And while the Bloc’s daily attacks on Alberta and the Teck oilsands project goes on, Justin Trudeau can be seen across the aisle, often nodding in approval.

It’s a far fetch for the Liberal prime minister to take up the call of the Buffalo Declaration, but what of the Conservatives? What if they don’t?

Derek Fildebrandt is Publish of the Western Standard and President & CEO of Wildrose Media Corp.

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