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FILDEBRANDT: ‘Fair Deal’ will keep Ottawa firmly in control

If Albertans were expecting their government to do battle with Ottawa, well, they got dressed up for nothing.




In Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart film, his chief lieutenant Hamish – face covered in blue warpaint – turns to his friend and says, “well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothin” as William Wallace rides off to pick a fight with the commander of the superior, professional English army.

If Albertans were expecting their government to do battle with Ottawa, well, they got dressed up for nothing.

The much anticipated – and serially delayed – ‘Fair Deal for Alberta’ report was released today. It wasn’t the prelude to battle that many had hoped for. Rather, the army showed up, exchanged words with the enemy, and rode home.

Premier Jason Kenney commissioned the panel weeks after Justin Trudeau was re-elected in October 2019, and life was suddenly breathed into the nascent independence movement. Knowing well that support for independence ran straight through his party’s support base, he had to strike quickly to throw a wet blanket on it. If Albertans turning toward independence could be shown that the premier could fight back strongly enough to win a fair deal for the West, then perhaps he could prevent them from causing trouble within his own party, or from decamping to another.

At the time, former PC Finance Minister Ted Morton said, “If he [Kenney] goes too fast, he losses moderates. But if he goes too slow, he risks Wexit and other groups rising up.”

Seven months later, and it appears the “moderates” have won out. The Fair Deal Panel’s report, is decidedly lukewarm.

Alberta – with twice the population of all four Atlantic provinces combined – has just about half the seats of tiny New Brunswick. To change this will require opening the constitution. The Fair Deal Panel is seemingly content with this second-class status, proposing only to talk with others about electing the paltry few senators that we have.

Hemmed in by a hostile federal government, BC, and Quebec, Alberta faces endless roadblocks to move its goods across provincial boundaries. The panel recommends, again, talking to other provinces and the feds to find harmony. This has been the strategy for addressing Canada’s laughable internal trade issue for a century or more, with predictable outcomes. Any remedy to this will surely be constitutional, which is not on the table.

The equalization bugbear gets a soft pass as well. They recommend that there still be a constitutional reference referendum on the issue, but whenever the premier thinks the timing best. Kenney told reporters it will be in the fall of 2021. No rush.

They do get it right on a few fronts to be fair. Albertans will vote in a referendum on pulling out of the RCMP and Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Provincial Police and Alberta Pension plan respectively. Those moves will surely anger Ottawa and provide Alberta with increased autonomy. But these are both measures that Alberta can take unilaterally.

Any ideas concerning constitutional reform of the federation – the senate, free trade, market access – is given a thumbs down in favour of more talk and “collaboration”. Even if Alberta got every single item enumerated in the report, it would still be treated as a second class province.

And it’s highly unlikely that Alberta will achieve much in the way of its ‘soft-asks’ in any case.

What threat might fair-deal-seeking Albertans hold over Ottawa and hostile provinces to exact said deal? The report makes clear: none.

“Some Albertans believe that the only way to get Ottawa and other provinces to pay attention to unfairness and misunderstandings is to use the threat of separation, implying that if Alberta does not get a fairer place within the federation, the province will pursue secession from Canada. Listening to Albertans, the panel understands their anger and frustration and sympathizes with their harsh personal experiences. But we do not believe the threat of secession is a constructive negotiating strategy.”

What does a “constructive negotiating strategy” consist of, when Alberta has no other chips to negotiate with? Money won’t do. Ottawa already takes whatever it likes with impunity. Elections won’t do. Albertans elect almost uniform slates of Conservatives, allowing them to take it for granted, and the Liberals to write it off.

This leaves us with complaining as the sole negotiating strategy. If we simply pass enough resolutions, and kick up enough dust in the media, maybe Ottawa will throw us some pity money; that we sent them.

UCP and former Wildrose MLA Drew Barnes stuck out his neck in February as the only provincial representative to back the Buffalo Declaration. Soon after the report’s publication, he stuck it out a bit further, releasing a letter to Premier Kenney dissenting from the majority opinion of the panel.

His tone was diplomatic, praising the premier and his panel colleagues for their work, but clearly wanting to go further – much further – than they were prepared to.

While Kenney says that the Equalization referendum will be in the fall of 2021, Barnes wants it to be held within six months.

Where the panel mostly rejects Alberta collecting its own taxes, Barnes says we should collect our own, and for the feds.

Where the panel rejects the creation of an Alberta constitution, Barnes calls for the election of a constitutional convention to begin writing one now.

Where the panel won’t speak a word about fair representation in the Senate, Barnes calls for a referendum on a constitutional amendment.

Where the panel talks in platitudes about talking with others about free trade and market access, Barnes says that it should be entrenched in the constitution. For good measure, he includes in this the right of provinces to opt out of “supply management”, which legally requires Alberta to import dairy from Quebec.

Most stunning of all though, is where Barnes parts with the majority panel report on the independence question. While they throw cold water on even uttering the word – even for leverage – he puts it squarely on the table.

“We should be clear with Ottawa and the other provinces that if the people of Alberta vote for a fair deal of constitutional equality within confederation, but if these proposals are rejected, that Albertans will be given the opportunity to vote on their independence. While I appreciate that my colleagues on the panel do not believe that Alberta can raise the prospect of independence under any circumstance, I must respectfully disagree. A free people must be willing to at some point of injustice without rectification, to draw a line and make a stand.”

This puts Barnes squarely offside with the official line of both parties in the legislature, but onside with the 45-48 per cent of Albertans that want out. In fact, his position might be a bit moderate for many of them.

When Kenney announced the Fair Deal Panel seven months ago, he did so with zeal, and anger in his voice. Today’s report – if it reflects the views of the government – is weak by comparison. Did Albertans get dressed up for nothing?

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com


BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.




Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.




In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.




RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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