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Fair Deal Panel Edmonton Alberta Politics

Alberta’s “Fair Deal” Panel hosts first Separatist Open Mic Night in Edmonton

Dozens of speakers stepped up to to the mic to share their two-minutes worth of opinions at the first “Fair Deal” Panel town hall meeting in Edmonton last night. The event in the large meeting room at the St. Michael’s Heritage Hall was well-attended, but not overflowing with crowds of angry Albertans demanding separation from Canada.

The panel was appointed last month to decide whether Alberta is receiving a fair deal from Ottawa.

Fair Deal Panel Edmonton Alberta Politics 1

Fair Deal Panelists: Oryssia Lennie, Preston Manning, Stephen Lougheed, Jason Goodstriker, Donna Kennedy-Glans, Drew Barnes, Moin Yahya, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao.

The first speaker up to the mic told the panel that he was a separatist from Quebec when he moved to Alberta in the 1980s and feels Alberta is not getting a fair deal from Ottawa. The second speaker used his two-minutes at the mic to boisterously declare that Canada was broken and that his personal Christmas wish was for Premier Jason Kenney to hold a referendum on separation.

A few speakers criticized the government for stirring up separatist sentiment, expressed hope that Alberta could collaborate with other provinces, and said they wouldn’t trust the United Conservative Party government to manage a provincial pension plan (a statement which got some enthusiastic cheers from sections of the room). But many of the speakers tended to share separatist, or at least anti-federal Liberal sentiments, venting frustrations about federal environmental laws, delivering detailed plot summaries of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and offering their expertise on constitutional issues.

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips

In what was probably the most thoughtful two-minutes of the evening, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, Edmonton’s former historian laureate and host of the Let’s Find Out Podcast, urged the panel to focus less on what we believe we are owed and more on taking care of each other.

Chang-Yen Phillips went on to explain that a fair deal in Confederation for him would be where every province does its part to lower carbon emissions, or transition away from fossil fuels. His comments might fall on deaf ears on the panel but it was a refreshing break from the separatist rhetoric that dominated the evening.

Who stood up at the mic was also telling. While not all of the speakers were white men who appeared to be older than 60 years old, it certainly skewed toward that demographic from my view in the room.

The panel was created following the Liberal Party‘s victory in the October 21, 2019 federal election, despite the Conservative Party earning 70 percent of the vote in Alberta, and was prescribed nine policy proposals that would ostensibly make Alberta more autonomous from the federal government in Ottawa. The proposals, ranging from creating a provincial police force to withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan to barring municipal governments from making agreements with the federal government, are inspired by the Firewall Manifesto penned by a group of conservative luminaries in 2001.

Separatist Open Mic Night Edmonton Alberta

The panel hears from a speaker at the town hall

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

The first town hall took place on the same day as the international credit rating agency Moody’s once again downgraded the provincial government’s credit rating.

During their time in opposition, the UCP was very eager to blame the credit downgrades on the New Democratic Party government’s “reckless” and “ideological” agenda, but it turns out that the credit rating downgrades have more to do with structural problems facing Alberta’s finances – like our unwavering over-dependence on oil and gas royalties to fund the day to day operations of the public service. That might have been a topic at a town hall interested in a fair deal for Albertans in Alberta, but this panel has a narrow political scope – and Kenney has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is square in its sights.

There are plenty of articulate arguments to be made in favour and against pursuing the nine autonomy policies presented by the panel but they weren’t heard last night. The two-minute open mic format is a good way to let people vent and a poor way to collect meaningful information. If this is the format that is going to be used for the rest of the panel’s town hall meetings, it is difficult to believe they will gather much substantial feedback for their report to the government.


Independence Party of Alberta fires its President

Overshadowed by the media-darling Wexit group, the Independence Party of Alberta appears to be in a bit of internal turmoil.

The IPA, which recently changed its name from the Alberta Independence Party to the Independence Party of Alberta, released a statement on Nov. 1, 2019 announcing that interim president S. Todd Beasley had been removed from the position and his membership had been rescinded. The party then released another statement accusing Beasley and a group of former candidates of breaking internal party rules and being in possession of books of party membership forms.

Beasley is a controversial conservative activist who was believed to be the frontrunner for the UCP nomination in Brooks-Medicine Hat before he withdrew from the contest after making derogatory remarks about Muslims.

The Alberta Independence Party fielded 63 candidates in the April 2019 provincial election and earned a total of 0.71 per cent of the province-wide vote. Party leader Dave Bjorkman resigned shortly after the election and Wexit leader Peter Downing had announced plans to seek the leadership but his supporters appear to be continuing to collect signatures to form a separate Wexit Party.

Meanwhile, another group of separatists led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise, appears to be continuing its effort to collect signatures to register the Alberta Freedom Alliance as an official party in Alberta.

What the heck is a Wexit?

It’s a silly name and a bad idea, but that isn’t stopping the latest version of Alberta’s separatist movement: Wexit.

Apparently inspired by Brexit, Grexit, Albexit, and a long list of other “-exit” suffix terms that have entered our daily conversations over the past few years, Wexit (Western-exit, I assume) has been holding meetings across the province promoting an agenda for an independent Alberta to “Enhance economic, military, and geo-political cooperation with the United States of America” and for a “Head of state to be an elected President of Alberta with an appointed cabinet.”

Peter Downing Wexit leader

Peter Downing

The Wexit Alberta group appears to be part of something called the “Prairie Freedom Movement,” a group who’s website promotes near identically branded “Wexit Saskatchewan”, Wexit Manitoba, and “Saskatchewan Fights Back” groups.

The Wexit group’s Alberta-branch is led by past Christian Heritage Party candidate Peter Downing, who is also the executive director of Alberta Fights Back, a third party political advertiser responsible for billboards that ask if Canada is headed for a civil war and a recent clash with Edmonton’s nude cyclist community.

One of the largest donors to Alberta Fights Back during Alberta’s 2019 election was Sharon Maclise, a former Wildrose Party candidate and interim leader of the Alberta Freedom Alliance, an unregistered political party promoting Alberta’s separation from Canada.

The Wexit group’s main grievances appear to revolve mainly around Justin Trudeau being Prime Minister, the carbon tax, unemployment levels, and the delay in construction of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion (which is now owned by the Government of Canada). But the grievances are broader among some of the group’s supporters, including one guest speaker at a recent Wexit meeting in Red Deer who named American billionaire George Soros and Antifa as enemies of Alberta.

It is not clear how many people have actually attended the Wexit meetings, but it is not difficult to understand why separatists in western Canada feel emboldened these days.

Heated political rhetoric coming from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers about the threat posed to Alberta by Trudeau, socialists, Quebec, equalization, and nefarious foreign-funded environmental groups adds fuel to the flames of those who feel Alberta has no place in Canada or would actively campaign for separation. Kenney quickly tried to rebuke any criticism that he is anything but a dedicated federalist, but it is clear that he is stoking regional grievances in order to achieve his short-term political goal of defeating Trudeau’s Liberals in October’s federal election.

Jay Hill (photo credit: Jake Wright)

The Wexit groups also have the support of some of Kenney’s former Ottawa colleagues, including former British Columbia Member of Parliament and former Jim Prentice confidant Jay Hill, who appears to have relaunched his political career as an advocate of Alberta separatism, and former Saskatchewan MP and MLA Allan Kerpan. Hill and Kerpan are the keynote speakers at a pro-separatist event scheduled to be held in Lloydminster on August 24, 2019.

With the exception of a single by-election win for the Western Canada Concept in February 1982, separatist groups like the Independent Alberta Association, West-Fed, Western Canada Party, Western Independence Party, Alberta First Party, Separation Party of Alberta, Alberta Advantage Party, Alberta Independence Party and the Freedom Conservative Party have firmly occupied the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.

Downing has announced his plans to run for the leadership of the Alberta Independence Party, which ran 63 candidates in the 2019 election and earned 0.7 per cent of the vote. In a post on Facebook, Downing wrote that he has spoken with Freedom Conservative Party president Stephen Burry about a merger of the two parties. The FCP was known as the Separation Party of Alberta and the Alberta First Party before former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt led it into the 2019 election to earn 0.5 per cent of the vote. 

At this point, the total lack of a viable political party, legitimate plan for separation, and any real electoral support from Albertans for the separatist agenda is a big challenge for those who dream of one-day creating a landlocked prairie petro-republic.