For decades, a common lament in Alberta and Saskatchewan was the special treatment given to Quebec by the Confederation process.
It wasn’t just the equalization funds. It was everything that seemingly allowed the province to operate as its own entity within Canada. This was completely unfair, Alberta’s politicians railed for years. If Quebec didn’t like being part of Canada the way it was, then it should just bloody well leave, many in the Prairies screamed.
Well, times have changed. Now it’s Alberta and Saskatchewan’s turn to demand special treatment, vowing to solidify powers and authority over their provinces in a way we haven’t seen before. This portends extremely difficult times for the country.
In Alberta’s case, it started under Premier Jason Kenney, elected in 2019 on a promise to explore the ways in which his province could become more independent from the rest of Canada. He touted ideas such as creating an independent police force and pension plan. He oversaw a referendum on equalization.
Alas, he wouldn’t get a chance to realize his dreams because his own party quashed them by quashing him – or at least his leadership. Never fear, however, because the front-runner to replace him has even an even bolder vision.
By now, most have heard about Danielle Smith’s plan to introduce the Alberta Sovereignty Act as the first order of business upon being sworn in as premier, if she is elected the new leader of the United Conservative Party in October. This is a proposed law that says the Alberta government will effectively ignore any federal edict it believes is not in the best interests of the province.
While it has been written off by constitutional experts across the country as madness and, well, quite unconstitutional, Ms. Smith has since doubled down. In a recent op-ed, she argued that over the years, Alberta has tried to make it work with Ottawa only to be met with “a lawless federal government invading our jurisdiction.”
Presumably, this was not a problem during those years when a Conservative government was running the country. This lawlessness only runs rampant, we are to gather, when the Liberals are in charge – specifically, a Trudeau.
Next door in Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe has also declared war with Ottawa. Last November, the Premier said his government wanted to make the province “a nation within a nation” – borrowing language often associated with Quebec independence.
Mr. Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government has been conducting consultations throughout the summer on the “future of Canada’s economic sovereignty.” As part of this venture, it is looking into the ways in which Ottawa intrudes on Saskatchewan’s jurisdiction.
Anyone who thinks this is a joke should be disabused of this notion immediately. Just this week, the Saskatchewan government accused officials from the federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change of trespassing on private property while taking water samples – something the department has been doing across the country for 50 years.
Mr. Moe’s cabinet even amended and later approved a change to the provincial trespassing laws. An addition was made that states a “person” caught trespassing can now include “the Crown in the right of Canada.” The “trespassers” in this case were federal water scientists taking a sample near a highway in Pense, Sask., while conducting pesticide testing.
It’s difficult not to be cynical about all this woe-is-me business coming out of Alberta and Saskatchewan these days. It’s not like they’ve been barely scraping by under the Constitutional rules as they are. Alberta has been an economic powerhouse for decades, even during oil’s down years. Saskatchewan has also enjoyed the bounty that high resource prices can bestow on a jurisdiction that has them. Both have been the economic envy of other provinces for years.
This is really about politics, about getting back at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government. This would not be happening if Stephen Harper was still the prime minister. Not a chance. And if Pierre Poilievre ever becomes prime minister, and Ms. Smith becomes premier, and Mr. Moe continues to serve as one, all this nation-inside-a-nation stuff will become nothing more than a soft murmur.
Still, it would be folly to write this all off as political nonsense we shouldn’t take seriously. We should. There are unquestionably tough times ahead that will test the mettle of this country. I don’t discount the possibility of irreparable harm being done.
Mr. Moe and Ms. Smith are deluding themselves if they think their perceived problems will disappear with Ottawa out of their lives.
It won’t fix anything. In fact, they will almost assuredly discover they didn’t have it so bad after all.
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