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Alberta Politics

Fair Deal report a response to fringe separatist threat and distraction from UCP job cuts

The final report of the Fair Deal Panel was released yesterday. Here are my quick thoughts on the final report.

A reaction to a threat from the right: The appointment of the Fair Deal Panel was a direct response to a perceived threat to the United Conservative Party from the political right and fringe separatists following the re-election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal government in October 2019.

The panel, which was announced by Premier Jason Kenney at the Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer, was a relief value to give frustrated Conservatives an opportunity to express their anger at the Liberals and a steering wheel to allow the Premier to control the political narrative around Alberta’s political relationship with Ottawa.

Kenney played a major role in the federal Conservative Party’s campaign against the Trudeau Liberals, with the premier even traveling to Ontario and Manitoba to campaign during the election, but despite all the bluster it appeared to have little impact on voters in those provinces on Election Day. The Conservatives did very well in Alberta, earning 69% of the vote, but saw their support decline in almost every riding Kenney campaigned in.

A federal Conservative landslide in Alberta is nothing new, it literally happens every four years. But the latest electoral division reflects an increasing feeling inside Alberta that the rest of Canada does not support the province’s energy industry and a growing feeling outside of Alberta that the province is a laggard on climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

Alienation and anger at Ottawa is omnipresent in Alberta politics, but the separatist threat that spooked Kenney seven months ago has largely evaporated and the crash in the international price of oil and the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of the provinces being able to work with a federal government for financial relief.

Fair Deal Panel meant to distract from the UCPs job cuts agenda: Creating external enemies and manufacturing crises is something that Kenney excels at. The focus on the Fair Deal report and its recommendations are meant to distract Albertans from the UCP’s political agenda closer to home.

Despite claiming to be obsessed with creating jobs, Kenney’s government has done the opposite by cutting tens of thousands of jobs in Alberta’s public service, schools, colleges and universities. A high-profile dispute with Alberta’s doctors, which included an incident where Health Minister Tyler Shandro yelled at a physician at the driveway of his home, has mired the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The UCP is also moving forward with plans to close and privatize Alberta’s provincial parks.

And it is expected that the Kenney government could soon introduce anti-union legislation and a $2/hour rollback of the $15/hour general minimum wage, directly targeting many of the low income service workers who have been praised as “heroes” during the pandemic.

Police and pension plans: There is little in the final report that the UCP government wasn’t already prepared to pursue or consider. Kenney has said that the government plans to implement or study 23 of the 25 recommendations in the panel’s final report.

Despite public opinion polls showing Albertans do not support replacing the Canada Pension Plan with an Alberta Pension Plan and replacing the RCMP with an Alberta police service, Kenney’s response to the panel report indicated the government was planning to study the two proposals. Both ideas are expensive and likely within provincial jurisdiction to implement, but the creation of an Alberta Pension Plan contradicts other proposals in the report meant to break down trade barriers and increase labour mobility with other provinces.

Equalization referendum: Kenney has spent much of the past year threatening to hold a referendum to remove the equalization article from the Constitution of Canada, so it was unsurprising to see the panel recommend it as well. The threat originated with frustration around delays with the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the federal government’s purchase of the pipeline did not convince Kenney to abandon the pledge.

In its report, the panel admits that a provincial referendum will not have the power to force the federal government or other provinces to reopen the Constitution or renegotiate the equalization formula.

There is probably no scenario where Alberta, a province that is wealthier than most other Canadian provinces even during an economic downtown, will receive funds from a national equalization program. But the unfairness of equalization is a talking point engrained in mainstream Alberta that is not based in fact and is not going away anytime soon.

The panel suggests holding a referendum on equalization would “morally obligate” the federal government and provinces to negotiate amendments to the Constitution. The same argument has worked unsuccessfully for thirty-years on the issue of Senate reform, which the panel report also recommends the province continue to pursue through provincial Senate Nominee elections.

Hijacking the 2021 Municipal Elections: As I first wrote more than a year ago, it is no coincidence that the proposed referendum and the rebooted Senate Nominee election will take place on the same day as the municipal elections across Alberta, October 18, 2021. The timing of these two votes will be used to increase turnout by conservative voters in the municipal and school board elections in an effort to boost support for candidates aligned with the UCP.

Although they dominate in federal and provincial elections, Conservatives have less success at the municipal level where candidates campaign as individuals and mayors offices, town councils and school boards have been more likely to be populated with Albertans more closely aligned with the NDP or Liberals.

Candidates in Alberta’s previous Senate Nominee elections ran under provincial party banners or as Independents. Changes introduced in the Senate Election Act in 2019 (which the report incorrectly refers to as the Senatorial Selection Act, which expired in 2016), will allow candidates to be marked on as a ballot as affiliated with federal political parties.

Injecting a federal party like the Conservative Party of Canada and its resources into a provincial vote being held during a municipal election will muddy the waters during the municipal election, forcing equalization and federal issues into local campaigns that usually focus on local issues. With the federals Liberals having abandoned their Senate caucus and the New Democratic Party continuing to call for Senate abolition, it is unlikely that the those parties will have any interest in participating in the Senate election, leaving the Conservatives to collect voter data and drive conservative voters to the polls.

Perhaps the best example of how the Fair Deal report is a partisan political document and not a serious effort in public engagement is this map found on page 52 of the report.

The map on page 52 of the Fair Deal Panel final report.
The map on page 52 of the Fair Deal Panel final report.

Framed as an East versus West political crisis over satisfaction with Canada, the map excludes British Columbia, where 60% of respondents to the Angus Reid Institute survey in January 2020 said they were satisfied with “the way things are going in Canada.”

The map also wedges Manitoba into the western bloc by listing that province’s dissatisfied number when the survey showed that 54% of Manitobans were satisfied.

So I fixed the map.

An edited version of the map on page 52 of the Fair Deal Panel final report.
An edited version of the map on page 52 of the Fair Deal Panel final report.

The only two provinces where a majority of survey respondents were unsatisfied are Alberta and Saskatchewan, which also happen to be the only two provinces where a majority of voters supported the Conservative Party of Canada…

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 56: Police problems and what meaningful accountability could look like in Alberta

Calls to defund and abolish the police have become a mainstream conversation in reaction to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer and countless other murders and examples of systematic racism and violent behaviour by police forces against Black, Indigenous and People of Colour across Canada and the US.

Avnish Nanda Edmonton Lawyer
Avnish Nanda

Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the massive shift in the public debate about the role of policing institutions and what meaningful police accountability looks like in Edmonton and Alberta.

We discuss the role of city councils, police commissions, and the provincial and federal governments in policing and how those levels of government can implement police reform. Avnish also shares news about the new Is This for Real? podcast, which is focused on telling stories about experiences Black Edmontonians have had with police (you can support this project on Patreon).

Thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for his work making this episode sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Categories
Alberta Politics

Once upon a time Alberta had a provincial police force. Fair Deal report could recommend we have one again.

While much of my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta focused on Canadian politics, one of my favourite courses covered a topic far away from the prairies – the Habsburg Monarchy. It was a combination of an unfamiliar topic and a passionate professor that made this course memorable. So my interest was piqued when the words “South Tyrol” began circulating in Alberta political circles this week.

Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)
Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)

“Should Alberta be an autonomous Province? South Tyrol has” asked Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt in a Facebook post linking to a website showcasing facts about the autonomous province in northern Italy.

While most of the separatist fever that swept Alberta following the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in October 2019 appears to have subsided, the United Conservative Party government is expected to release the final report of the “Fair Deal Panel” when the province-wide state of emergency expires on June 15.

Unless she was planning a post-COVID vacation to the Dolomites, this is likely the reason why South Tyrol was on Pitt’s mind.

“Autonomous-province” sounds similar to the “sovereignty-association” historically promoted by some sovereigntists in Quebec but it is unclear whether in practice Alberta actually has more autonomy in Canada than does South Tyrol does in Italy. Canadian provinces already have incredible amounts of autonomy to do things like form parole boards, establish police forces (more on this in a moment), conduct adventures in foreign affairs and abdicate responsibility for approving oil sands development to unelected and unaccountable boards.

Much of South Tyrol’s status appears to be a result of it having a German-speaking majority population in a country where most people speak Italian. The former princely county of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was annexed by Italy after the First World War.

Charles I, the last Habsburg Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia.
Charles I, the last Habsburg Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia.

I expect many German-speaking South Tyroleans would probably prefer to re-join their linguistic cousins in Austria than remain in Italy.

I am not sure which other province or region Alberta would join if we adopt what might be Pitt’s version of an autonomous-province. Perhaps Frederick Haultain’s dream of a Province of Buffalo could be finally be realized if Alberta merged with its smaller cousin to the east, Saskatchewan? Or maybe British Columbia’s Peace Country will finally be released to unite with its northwestern Alberta cousins?

But Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is certainly whittling down the number of possible candidates.

Stephan apologized to the Legislative Assembly this week after describing other Canadian provinces as “hostile, parasitic partners” in a speech about federal fiscal policies and equalization program.

The rookie MLA and sole UCP backbencher appointed to the powerful Treasury Board committee also claimed that “Alberta must liberate itself from this mess.”

While Alberta is not going to separate from Canada, the final report from the government-appointed Fair Deal Panel will include recommendations to increase provincial autonomy from Ottawa.

Jason Stephan (source: Facebook)
Jason Stephan (source: Facebook)

The Fair Deal panel was announced by Premier Jason Kenney at last November’s gathering of Alberta conservatives at the Manning Centre conference in Red Deer.

The panel and its open-mic town hall meetings were both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep control of the latest burst of separatist fervour. The separatist fervour from Alberta’s right-wing fringe, despite the media attention it generated, now appears to have mostly died out.

The panelists included former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, former Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, Peter Lougheed‘s son Stephen, and perennially disgruntled UCP backbencher MLA Drew Barnes of Cypress-Medicine Hat and fellow backbenchers Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis and Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. The panel was tasked with making recommendations on topics including withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency, opting out of federal programs like pharmacare, forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer, and forming a provincial police force.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Kenney already announced plans to appoint a Chief Firearms Officer, one of the recommendations the panel was tasked with studying, and there has been speculation by Postmedia columnist Don Braid that the report could urge the creation of a provincial police force to replace the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta.

Once upon a time, Alberta, like most other provinces, had a provincial police force.

The Alberta Provincial Police was formed in 1917 after the North West Mounted Police hastily withdrew from policing in Alberta.

The NWMP had been created in 1873 and was part of the federal government’s suppression of the North West Rebellion in 1885, but, by 1917, Ottawa’s attention was focused on the First World War and there was little federal interest in enforcing provincial prohibition laws that had been enacted in 1916.

The APP merged into the RCMP in 1932 following negotiations between the provincial and federal governments during the Great Depression. The agreement to offload the costs associated with policing to the RCMP stipulated that former provincial police officers who transferred to the federal police would maintain their seniority and be eligible to receive pensions in accordance with their years of service.

When officers hung up their blue APP uniforms on April 15, 1932, it was reported in the Calgary Daily Herald that it took more than a month for the red RCMP uniforms to arrive in Alberta. So during the short period following the return of the federal police, RCMP officers worked in civilian clothes or, for those who worked as police in Alberta before 1917, wore the uniforms of the old NWMP.

RCMP Take Over Policing of Alberta, Calgary Daily Herald, April 15, 1932
RCMP Take Over Policing of Alberta, Calgary Daily Herald, April 15, 1932

While Alberta politicians have generally expressed pleasure with contracting policing responsibilities to the federal government, there have been several attempts to reinstate a provincial police force. 

A resolution at the United Farmers of Alberta convention of 1935 called for the re-instatement of the APP, but the UFA were swept away from Alberta politics when the party lost all its seats in that year’s election.

The next notable attempt to reinstate the APP came in 1937 from Edson MLA Joseph Unwin, the Whip of the Social Credit government caucus. Unwin introduced a motion to abolish the RCMP in Alberta and replace it with an Alberta Provincial Police Force.

Unwin argued that it was preferable that “the police force in the province should be indisputably at the exclusive orders of the attorney general.” Given this comment and the context of the time, it is fairly safe to speculate that Unwin was hoping to create a police force that would enforce the Social Credit ideological and political agenda in Alberta.

Joseph Unwin
Joseph Unwin

Unwin introduced the motion the same week he was arrested on charges of libel and counselling to murder in what would become known as the Bankers’ Toadies scandal.

Unwin and British Social Credit expert George Frederick Powell were arrested when police raided the party headquarters following the printing of a pamphlet advocating the “extermination” of nine prominent Edmontonians. The nine men, labelled as “Bankers’ Toadies,” included Conservative Party leader David Duggan and Senator and former mayor William Griesbach.

Unwin was sentenced to 3-months hard labour for the libel charge, which was later overturned on appeal. He did not resign as an MLA when he went to jail and his return to the Legislature was celebrated by Social Credit MLAs with a “snake dance” on the floor of the Assembly.

Unwin was defeated by Labour Party candidate and United Mine Workers president Angus Morrison in the 1940 election.

Various PC MLAs called for the creation of a provincial police force during the 1980s and early 1990s but most of those calls were quickly discredited because they were usually followed closely by racist comments about RCMP officers wearing turbans or speaking French.

Ted Morton MLA
Ted Morton

Anti-oil patch activist Wiebo Ludwig called for the creation of a provincial police force during his brief run for the Social Credit Party leadership in 2000 before having withdraw from the race after a judge refused to waive the conditions of his bail.

Motions recommending the creation of a regional police force or to make public studies conducted to assess the creation of a provincial police force were introduced by Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths in 2003 and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol in 2004 were debated in the Legislature but gained no real traction.

But perhaps the most infamous call for the reinstatement of a provincial police force in Alberta came in the Firewall Manifesto in January 2001, signed by Conservative luminaries Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan, Ted Morton, Rainer Knopff, Andrew Crooks and Ken Boessenkool.

In 2006, Morton, then a candidate for the leadership of the PC Party, called for the creation of a provincial police force, a proposal mocked by outgoing premier Ralph Klein. “We studied it and it was rejected,” Klein said. “Thus far, we’re getting a pretty good deal with the RCMP.”

Premier Ed Stelmach defeated Morton in the leadership race and signed a 20-year agreement with the federal Conservative government that would have the RCMP continue as Alberta’s police force until March 31, 2032.

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

“This is wonderful news for the province and for Albertans,” Stelmach said in an August 2011 press release. “This agreement makes good financial sense for Alberta and strengthens a valuable relationship with a partner who continues to play a key role after more than a century keeping Alberta communities safe.”

In 2006, the Alberta Sheriffs Branch was created from the Courts and Prisoner Security branch.

The Fair Deal report will have to be publicly released before we know for sure what it recommends, but a move to create a new provincial police force in 2020 would face two powerful political factors

First, systematic racism and police violence against people of colour in the Canada and the United States has led to mounting calls to “defund the police.” Massive protests calling out systematic racism have taken place across the country, including a 15,000-strong rally outside the Legislature in Edmonton and similar rallies in Calgary and around the province. City councils and police commissions are now facing increased public pressure to reign in budgets and address systematic racism in the civilian police forces.

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

And most shockingly, video footage of RCMP officers assaulting Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam has made international headlines.

Second, Kenney has said that a great reckoning is coming for Alberta’s finances, which will likely mean more massive job cuts in the public sector across Alberta. If the Kenney is laying-off teachers and nurses, it will be difficult for him to explain to Albertans that he needs to spend money on creating a brand new police force. A lack of finances was the main reason why the provincial police were disbanded in 1932.

For Kenney there is also the inconvenience of the RCMP’s investigation into whether a “kamikaze” campaign for the leadership of UCP in 2017 defrauded donors. That investigation is being guided by a special prosecutor from Ontario.

Creating a new provincial police force in this context would be incredibly tone deaf and completely unnecessary. But like many political decisions being made in Alberta lately, the world appears to be moving in one direction and our government moving in another. It kind of reminds me of those Habsburgs just over a century ago.