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Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.

Two decades after the infamous “firewall letter” signed by Stephen Harper and other prominent names in conservative politics, Albertans have another document that’s trying to capture the frustration in the province and force federal politicians to act.

The Buffalo Declaration, which was posted online on Thursday and signed by four Conservative MPs from Alberta, spends 13 pages laying out a list of grievances that stretch back before Alberta had become a province and warning that a referendum on separation is inevitable if they are not addressed. It includes the National Energy Program in the 1980s, the equalization system, carbon taxes and, more recently, the continuing rail blockades linked to a B.C. natural gas pipeline.

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It includes more than a dozen proposals, including:

  • Constitutional changes to “balance representation” in Parliament, such as through an overhaul of the Senate.
  • The repeal of environmental legislation such as C-69.
  • Expanded free trade among provinces.
  • The creation of a national energy corridor (which was a key Conservative campaign promise).
  • Changes to the equalization formula.
  • A formal acknowledgement in Parliament of the harms of the National Energy Program, in which the government of Pierre Trudeau attempted to exert greater control over the oil industry.
  • Recognition that Alberta should be recognized as “culturally distinct."

Many of the ideas are not new within conservative circles and the frustrations echo what Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and others in the province have been saying for quite some time. Those sentiments have been amplified since the federal election that returned the Liberals to power, albeit with a minority.

Mr. Kenney said he hadn’t read the document in detail and didn’t comment on its contents, but said it reflected real frustrations in his province. Still, when asked if he supported the declaration, he said his focus was on his own government’s work to get a “fair deal” for Alberta. He has struck a panel to study a series of ideas designed to give the province more autonomy, such as by starting its own pension plan, creating a provincial police force and collecting its own taxes.

Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who signed the document, is considering running for the Conservative leadership, and even if she doesn’t run, the declaration will likely inject these issues into the leadership race.

Candidates running for the Conservative leadership weren’t eager to engage with the ideas put forward in the declaration.

Erin O’Toole issued a statement that acknowledged real anger in Alberta, but otherwise did not comment on the document. Peter MacKay’s campaign did not respond to an interview request and Marilyn Gladu declined to comment.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

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Around the West

MURDER TRIAL: The trial of Rocky Rambo Wei Nam Kam wrapped up on Wednesday with closing arguments. The 27-year-old Mr. Kam is charged with the first-degree murders of a Vancouver couple he had not previously met after entering their home, armed with a hatchet, knife and twine, during an evening walk. Mr. Kam has repeatedly said he cannot explain why he killed the couple, but the Crown attorney said the defendant is simply being evasive about his motives.

RIDE-HAILING LICENCE: Vancouver is set to launch the first multicity ride-hailing licence on the continent as of April 1, but it’s not clear yet whether all key municipalities will join in, including Surrey. Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has said he supports a regional licence but also wants more changes in the provincial rules to ensure that taxis aren’t put at a disadvantage because of stiffer requirements for insurance, accessibility or allowed areas of operation.

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: As lockdowns remain in place in China because of the COVID-19 virus, Chinese students who want to attend university in Canada are facing another challenge. The testing agencies that run the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) – tests that are required for international students seeking to attend Canadian universities – said last week that exams in China have been suspended through the end of March.

RCMP COMPLAINT: The civilian RCMP watchdog did not directly comment on complaints made by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association that Mounties unlawfully restricted access to a remote logging road before enforcing an injunction this month on behalf of Coastal GasLink, which is developing the pipeline. But Michelaine Lahaie did say that her organization's report on that dispute, which involved Indigenous-led protests, was submitted to the RCMP in March, 2019, and she is awaiting the police force’s response to the document.

STUCK IN HUBEI: Xiao Xu looks at the inconsistencies around which permanent residents were able to join flights back to Canada, while others remain stuck in the lockdown affecting the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

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DRAG QUEEN: By day, he is Farzam Dadashzadeh. But most nights, he is on stage as Cleo. Mr. Dadashzadeh, 32, who is gay, fled his home country, Iran, in 2011. He had hidden his sexual orientation in the Islamic regime, where being gay is punishable by death, and lived a relatively peaceful life. But he said he was outed when CBC, shooting footage for a documentary portraying the struggles of the LGBTQ community in Iran, captured his image. He said his life fell apart.

ABANDONED WELLS: Taber, Alta., is the site of a pilot project that is converting abandoned oil wells into solar installations that feed power back into the grid. If all goes to plan, the pilot will expand across the Municipal District of Taber, home to 3,000 inactive oil and gas wells. The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, a non-profit that advocates for accurate and transparent data on the province’s oil and gas liabilities, puts the cost of cleaning up those wells at close to $251-million.

OIL SANDS EMISSIONS: The Pembina Institute is warning Alberta's oil sand producers that it will need to find new technologies to meet its climate commitments, according to a new report. The Calgary-based environmental think tank also listed higher carbon taxes or stricter government regulations as possible ways to help meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s goal of making Canada carbon neutral by 2050.

ALBERTA DOCTORS: The Alberta government, fresh off failed contract talks with doctors, is ending its long-standing master agreement with them and putting new rules in place in the spring. Changes include new fee rules on extended patient visits that doctors have already said will devastate the bottom line for some family and rural practices.

RURAL CRIME: Alberta’s Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer, is advocating for longer sentences for offenders with addictions. He believes that if Ottawa makes the change to the Criminal Code, it will help people get better access to drug-treatment programs and deter criminals from targeting rural areas. Mr. Schweitzer said crime in isolated communities is largely fuelled by the province’s growing substance-abuse problem, and he specifically points to meth addicts.

TECK: The Frontier oil sands mine proposal has been on the tongues of many politicians this week. The mayor of Wood Buffalo was in Ottawa this week and said that he believes the federal cabinet is giving the project a fair hearing. Meanwhile, on Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney warned that if the proposed development is nixed, it will send a devastating message to prospective investors in this country. A decision is expected next week.

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RETRAINING OIL WORKERS: While numerous training initiatives are under way in Calgary to match people who lost oil and gas jobs with openings in technology, challenges remain for both workers and companies. Writer Cailynn Klingbeil spoke to some workers who considered the switch, as well as educators who explain retraining unemployed oil and gas workers is not just about giving the new skills, but also managing expectations around work culture.

TRAIN DERAILMENT: Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment said Thursday that new figures from Canadian Pacific show that 1.6 million litres of oil spilled, up from an earlier estimate of 1.2 million.

MANITOBA RECONCILIATION: Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has signed a preliminary agreement to transfer ownership of northern airports and ferries to a First Nations authority – a move that Premier Brian Pallister called a concrete example of reconciliation.


Gary Mason on which Indigenous voices we’re hearing from: “B.C. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was talking this week about the Wet’suwet’en pipeline dispute and how young Indigenous leaders who will live with the consequences of the outcome need to be in charge of determining what happens. ... Mr. Phillip couldn’t be more right. But as it turns out, he was speaking about young Indigenous people who were turning out to protest against the Coastal GasLink project. He was not, in fact, talking about those who truly need to be heard: the new generation of Indigenous leaders in the B.C. Interior who are proponents of the project, the ones whose voices are most important here.”

Grant Bishop on the Frontier oil sands mine decision: “The federal government has rightly advocated carbon pricing as the economically efficient way to reduce Canada’s GHGs. However, championing carbon pricing while rejecting Frontier would be inconsistent – not to mention the fact that the political uncertainty that nixing Frontier would cause would be a major blow for oil sands investment.”

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Adrienne Tanner on camping by-laws: “About two years back, Andy Schwanicke, owner of Croation Mobile Home Park in Campbell River, leased five small spaces on his land to people in RVs. He knew he was contravening city land-use bylaws, so he set about trying to change the rules. ... The hearing was set for Monday but has now been indefinitely postponed. When the day comes, Campbell River, a resource town where many have fallen on hard times, will have a chance to do right by this marginalized segment of B.C.’s residents. Because if one municipality approves RVs in mobile home parks, it’s possible others might follow, legitimizing a situation that exists underground province wide.”

Merran Smith and Dan Woynillowicz on the Conservative party leadership race: “As they work to figure out where the party goes from here, the facts on the ground – both in Canada and in the United States – suggest that there is more than enough room for a Conservative leader who is also a clean-energy champion.”

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