As it is with fashion, it can be with politics, too: What’s old is sometimes new again.
Take the panel Alberta Premier Jason Kenney just named to explore ways in which the province can get a fairer deal in Confederation. Effectively, Mr. Kenney would like to see Alberta carve out almost the same level of independence that Quebec has. Another distinct jurisdiction within the federation.
Consequently, the panel will explore the idea of Alberta taking control of revenue collection, and having its own pension plan and provincial police force – all things the province can do without opening the Constitution. These matters would be in addition to the long list of demands the Premier has already made to Ottawa to quell discord in the province and talk of separatism.
For students of history, the initiatives Alberta plans to examine likely sound familiar. They should, because they are not new. They were first contained in a 2001 open letter to then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein penned by a group of prominent, Alberta-based conservatives after Jean Chrétien’s Liberals defeated Stockwell Day’s Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance in the 2000 federal election.
Among others, the letter was signed by Stephen Harper, who was then president of the National Citizens’ Coalition. The same Mr. Harper who later became prime minister and the boss of Jason Kenney, during his days as a federal cabinet minister. Mr. Harper remains a confidante of Mr. Kenney.
Although Mr. Klein mostly ignored the overture, the dream expressed in the document – which became known as the “firewall letter” because it imagined Alberta building protections from unwanted intrusions from Ottawa – never died among conservatives there.
And so here we are today, with conservatives in the province once again upset about the outcome of a federal election, once again stoking division because they don’t have a government in Ottawa that reflects their ideological leanings. So what to do? Make life as miserable as possible for the Liberal Prime Minister, who won the election fair and square and as such has the authority to run the country as best he can in a minority-government scenario.
All of which is to say, had Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party prevailed, you wouldn’t be seeing this reprisal of the “firewall” demands. This is a purely partisan play by a conservative premier upset he didn’t get his way federally and so he’s going to do something about it – in this case, take advantage of the fury in his province and milk it for all its worth. (Prominent economists have suggested the powers Alberta is demanding will not necessarily improve the province’s bottom line but will require a huge build-up of the bureaucracy to administer it all.)
At this point, the whole debate about what’s upsetting people in Alberta has become so tedious to the point of being irrelevant. They want a pipeline. One is being built as we speak, and yet the Premier keeps talking as though it’s never going to happen. They’re upset about Bill C-48, even though the federal Liberals campaigned on it in 2015 and won a massive majority. They’re upset about Bill C-69, even though there are many who believe it is not the death knell for pipelines Mr. Kenney and others are making it out to be.
They’re upset that there aren’t plans to build multiple pipelines, even though more than 60 per cent of the country just voted for parties with serious climate-change agendas that commit the country to meeting emissions-reduction targets set out in the Paris agreement. There is absolutely zero talk coming from the Kenney government about how we can build all the new pipelines Alberta demands and still meet those reduction goals.
That, it seems, is someone else’s problem. That is the rest of Canada’s problem.
Mr. Kenney knows reconciling his energy needs with the country’s climate-change prerogatives is a complex, if not impossible, task. Maybe that’s why he wants no part of that discussion. It’s easier to foment dissent. To lead what Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley has called a “dangerous” conversation. “He is intentionally stoking the fires of Western alienation in order to advance his own political objectives,” the former Alberta premier said over the weekend.
And it’s hard not to see it in that light.
It’s worth noting that former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has been asked to head the “fair deal” panel that Mr. Kenney has set up to explore the “firewall” initiatives. This is the same Preston Manning who recently told a conference that independence, secession from Canada, has to be on the table and part of Mr. Kenney’s negotiating strategy with Ottawa.
Conservatives upset about an election result. What’s old is new again.
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