Alberta Politics

Kenney’s Alberta Autonomy Panel given questions answered 15 years ago by Klein’s Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation Committee

Things are getting pretty weird in Alberta.

Deep cuts to the provincial budget are resulting in the cancellation of public services and job layoffs across the province, and the fallout from the federal election continues to dominate the political discussion. And crisis – organized crisis – reigns, as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government dramatically shifts the political narrative on an almost daily basis.

Preston Manning
Preston Manning

But things got really weird last week when elected councillors of the County of Wheatland, a 8,700 person rural municipality east of Calgary, voted for a resolution calling for a possible Alberta independence vote. The councillor who introduced the motion is Jason Wilson, who according to his online biography also sits on the board of the local UCP association.

Yesterday, Kenney stood at the podium at the now one-day Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer to announce the creation of a “Fair Deal” panel that will look at ways to give the province more autonomy.

Kenney’s panel is both a continuation of his personal political campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s Liberal Party was re-elected with a large minority government, and a reaction to the frustration felt by many of the 70 per cent of Albertans who voted for Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party.

While some of the frustration felt by Albertans is legitimate, regional and partisan grievances are deeply intertwined in this province. With the UCP essentially operating as a provincial-wing of the federal Conservative Party, it is hard to believe that this panel would exist if Scheer had not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on October 21.

Panel members include former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (who has openly warned about separatism), former one-term Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans (who recently wrote a blog post asking if Trudeau has committed treason), current UCP MLAs Drew Barnes, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao, Fraser Institute senior fellow and University of Alberta academic Moin Yahya, Canada West Foundation board chair Oryssia Lennie, former Alberta Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Jason Goodstriker, and Peter Lougheed’s son Stephen Lougheed.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity
Donna Kennedy-Glans

The panel will be given a $650,000 budget to hold seven town hall meetings to consult with Albertans on a prescribed series of issues that have been bees in Conservative partisans’ bonnets for decades, including:

  • withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and creating an Alberta Pension Plan (something that was hinted last week and could have a big impact on the migration of interprovincial labour to Alberta),
  • replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency,
  • ending contracts with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force (the RCMP are currently investigating allegations of fraud in the UCP’s 2017 leadership contest),
  • opting out of federal programs like pharmacare,
  • forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer (a Wildrose Party policy), and
  • creating an Alberta Constitution.

The panel’s mandate letter talks a lot about emulating Quebec, including implementing a rule that municipalities and school boards require the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government. This could be used by the Kenney government to cut off potential cooperation between municipalities and the federal government on projects like affordable housing, public infrastructure and climate change initiatives.

The panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s probably the plan.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

Kenney frequently boasts about the size of his electoral mandate, so it is notable that none of the autonomy polices to be considered by the panel were included in the UCP’s incredibly thorough election platform just six months ago.

The panel’s mandate and the questions it is being tasked with asking are remarkably similar to the questions asked by the MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation created by premier Ralph Klein in November 2003.

Chaired by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Ian McClelland (a former Reform Party Member of Parliament) and co-chaired by Red Deer-North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, members of the committee included Calgary-Fort MLA Wayne Cao, Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk, Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths, Calgary-Currie MLA Jon Lord, Calgary-North Hill MLA Richard Magnus, St. Albert MLA Mary O’Neill, and Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk.

The MLA committee was created in the wake of the infamous 2001 Firewall Letter, signed by right-wing luminaries Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, Andy Crooks, Ken Boessenkool, and future prime minster Stephen Harper, and in response to small but loud fringe groups like the Alberta Independence Party and the Separation Party of Alberta.

And, like many of the initiatives started in the final few years of Klein’s tenure as premier, it was a meant to create a distraction from what had largely become a rudderless government. 

Ian McClelland

The mandate letter of the MLA committee was filled with much more flowery and hopeful language than the doom-and-gloom fear of separatism included in the mandate letter of Kenney’s panel. But the real mandate of the MLA committee was to travel the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto – a similar mandate of Kenney’s panel.

The MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation held 12 public hearings between January and March 2004 and here is what they recommended:

Pension Plan: “The Committee believes that withdrawing from the CPP and creating a separate Alberta pension plan is not in the best interests of Albertans. That is not to say that the CPP should not be improved for Albertans and all Canadians. The Committee further recommends that Alberta develop and advocate further CPP reforms that will end the intergenerational inequity, and move the CPP to a fully-funded foundation.” (Page 19)

Tax Collection: “Collecting our own personal income taxes would be a costly venture. One analysis suggests that set-up costs would be $30-40 million and that annual administrative costs could be between $70 and $160 million (including the costs of an additional 1,000-2,000 full time positions that might be required). By comparison, the administrative fee paid by Alberta under the TCA is less than $5 million annually. The Committee is also concerned that individual Albertans and businesses in the province would incur higher out-of-pocket costs in complying with two separate tax systems. This consideration alone makes the idea impractical. The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta reach a new Tax Collection Agreement with the federal government that addresses Alberta’s concerns and provides increased tax policy flexibility.” (Page 21)

Mary Anne Jablonski

Police Force: The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP in advance of the 2007 cost review. This analysis should include a careful examination of costs, efficiencies, and levels of service. … The Committee further recommends that appropriate municipal stakeholders be consulted in the cost review negotiations in 2007, and that consideration be given to inclusion of such stakeholders on the Alberta negotiating team.” (Page 25)

Senate: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta, through the Council of the Federation, encourage the Premiers to consider a process that would see the Prime Minister fill Senate vacancies from lists of provincial nominees. In Alberta’s case, the list should be generated by a Senatorial election.” (Page 29)

Intergovernmental Relations: “The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta re-establish an office in Ottawa. Close proximity to, and face-to-face contact with, federal decision-makers would improve relations between our governments and would help ensure Alberta interests are accurately and efficiently conveyed and addressed.” (Page 58)

Our Future:The Committee also recommends that the Government of Alberta work towards fixing the underlying structural problems of our Canadian institutions that feed the flames of western alienation. The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta establish a fund for use in pursuing those legal challenges deemed to be necessary and desirable for safeguarding Alberta’s Constitutional jurisdiction.” (Page 59)

The MLA committee and its final report rejected the Firewall manifesto and was quickly forgotten after Paul Martin’s Liberals lost their majority in June 2004 and Klein’s PCs had their knuckles rapped in November 2004. But unlike Klein’s committee, which resulted in some fairly moderate and milquetoast recommendations, many of the panel members appointed by Kenney yesterday and the political environment they exist in are much more ideologically driven and politically divided.

This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s more crisis ahead.

Alberta to reopen office in Ottawa, again

In his speech to the Manning Centre, Kenney announced that the Alberta government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and British Columbia. It is unusual and unclear why the Alberta government would need offices in other provincial capitals or in Ottawa, where Albertans just elected 34 Members of Parliament to represent their interests. But an office in the federal capital is not unprecedented.

The Alberta government opened an office in Ottawa in 1939. The Ottawa office was closed in 1996 and its last executive director, Gordon Olsen (brother of War Room CEO Tom Olsen), relocated to Calgary. A government review conducted in 2000 concluded that technology allows people to research information just as easily without a full-time office in Ottawa.

In 2004, Klein publicly mused about opening an Alberta government-funded office in Ottawa for the province’s elected Senate nominees, but the unpopular idea died quickly.

Premier Alison Redford reopened the office in 2013 and Calgary energy lawyer Alan Ross was hired as Alberta’s representative. Premier Jim Prentice closed the office again in 2015.

(Photo source: Facebook)

12 replies on “Kenney’s Alberta Autonomy Panel given questions answered 15 years ago by Klein’s Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation Committee”

None of this separatist posturing is going to help get Alberta back on track. Stop playing politics and smarten up Kenney and focus on what you told us you would – jobs economy and pipelines.

Thank you for this. What a crazy waste of time and money. I’d rather see townhall meetings on the impact of the cuts to community and social programs. There was no consultation, no evaluation and no rationale for the cuts. And talk about a rigged panel! The Conservative Party had 40 years, 14,600 days, to get it right. And now they want to take us out of ? I am beyond outraged at this tactic. Get back to governing. Stop the divisive actions. Act for the people and not solely corporate interests.

So: there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of Alberta setting up its own, provincial police force, to replace the RCMP in those areas currently covered by the province’s policing contract with the Mounties. After all, Ontario, Quebec, and parts of Newfoundland & Labrador have provincial police services — the OPP, le Sûreté du Québec, & the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. There would undoubtedly be significant cost implications in setting up such a force, including a training system for new hires to substitute for the Depot in Regina from which all of our current Mounties have graduated.

The concern would be, would such a force be an arms-length, truly independent law enforcement agency, or would it be an arm of the government of the day? Would it be used to target and harass political enemies of the governing party — like the SQ under the Duplessis regime? Would it be used to suppress legitimate political dissent? Would it be used to reward the Premier’s friend, à la Doug Ford’s first choice for Commissioner of the OPP?

This is what gives people pause on this idea.

If not now …when? Using western Canada for the benefit of Montreal & area, Toronto & area, Vancouver & area has gotten more blatant under Trudeau than before. It’s because of the climate change agenda our federal government wants to shut down our oil sands everyone knows this. So why can’t the climate alarmists be honest enough to tell us that? And we have to fight back our lives depend on it.

Mr Hierath:
If you accept the premise of climate change activists & the consensus of the scientific community — including the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, by the way — our lives, or at least those of our children & grandchildren, may depend on phasing out fossil fuels as an energy source. There are differences of opinion about how fast this must happen, with Greens advocating the fastest transition to non-combusting energy sources, while federal Liberals & Alberta New Democrats feel we can afford to be a bit more deliberate — but that transition must happen, sooner or later, if our civilization is going to have much of a future.

If you don’t believe this, there’s no debating with you. It’s like debating the laws of gravity.

A majority of Albertans voted for a new provincial governance (sic); therefore, it’s reasonable to learn from and be guided by Albertans (subsequent to public consultations several political generations ago) on how to ‘work’ with a tone-deaf federal government seemingly indifferent to The West (aside from the Lower Mainland, and Victoria). If you read Ms. Donna Kennedy-Glans column (linked in your editorial), an op-ed for the CBC, you might understand she believes in Canada, and is everything BUT a separatist. Full disclosure: I’m the co-writer of the aforementioned op-ed you reference.

I think Albertans have to start to ask some serious and intelligent questions here and not just continue to spout some half baked grievances and allow themselves to get riled up by certain local politicians who have their own agendas.

First, what is the purpose of Alberta trying to take over various Federal services? Is this meant as leverage to threaten or scare the Feds? What if that doesn’t work and they just say ok set up your own pension plan as long as it is compatible and matches ours, just pay for your provincial police yourselves and by the way no we will not transfer tax authority to you.

Second, is it meant to appease those riled up by those local politicians? I doubt that will work either, because supposedly as we have been told many times by these same politicians one major frustration is about delays in building pipelines. I don’t see how having a provincial police force or pension plans would help build any more pipelines any faster.

Western grievances as outlined by some of our local politicians are a vague, somewhat changing, slippery mix of historical issues, antagonism to a particular Federal party (also stirred up by local politicians) and frustration about delays in pipelines. I think they are now being used a pretext or opportunity for a power grab by certain current provincial politicians, a distraction from other things like their budget cuts or perhaps a bit of both. This benefits those politicians, but Albertans – not so much.

I think the real reason behind all of this is far more simple: it’s a temper tantrum by proto-fascists who don’t really believe in democracy. Look at the evidence: the last time this horseshit was proposed, the Chrétien Liberals had been re-elected with a third straight majority, and Alberta “conservatives p” were pissed off. As soon as Harper won his first mandate, all of the whingeing from Oilbertastan stopped. Now, the Liberals have just won a greatly reduced mandate, and the screaming and breath holding has begun anew.

Alberta simply doesn’t get democracy, and never really has. In The Rest of Canada, governments change hands every few elections, both federally and provincially. If your party loses, you dust yourself off, reassess your policies and your campaign platform, figure out what went went and how to appeal to voters next time, and go into the next election with a reasonable chance of throwing the bums out and winning government. Many MPs and/or MLAs may have experience on both sides of the aisle, allowing both Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet to be filled with people who truly understand the inner workings of government and can either implement and defend, or criticize, government policy from a position of firsthand knowledge.

Alberta has never really had this experience, except for the brief — and in many quarters, unnatural — 4-year interregnum of the Notley NDP government. Liberals ruled from 1905 to 1921 (16 years); the United Farmers of Alberta from 1921 to 1935 (14 years); Social Credit from 1935 to 1971 (36 years); and the Progressive Conservatives from 1971 to 2015 (44 years). No person under the age of 62 living in Alberta had ever seen, as an adult, a change of government in Edmonton by the time the NDP won in ‘15. (Remember, before the 1971 election the voting age was 21).

So, the typical Alberta politician, and voter, is simply unfamiliar with changes of government, and thinks The Rest of Canada should be as monolithic in their politics as this province is. When TROC demonstrates that it isn’t, they become unhinged.

My wife and I are in our 60’s. I can no longer work because of health issues, and my wife is my caregiver. We cant start drawing old age pension until we are 65, and we are both 61. My CPP combined with hers, comes to about $500.00 per month, so social services pays the rest. We were told that there would be increases to funding and funding for bus passes. Our bus passes have been taken away. And our rent just went up $100.00 Our assistance check just came in, and its $200.00 less with no explanation. We are tired of raiding the garbage at 7-11 for food at the end of the month. No one should have to live like this after supporting this countrys tax base for over 50 yrs. At this point, murder/suicide seems to be our only option.

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