Conservative members of Parliament agree that Albertans are facing challenges, but are divided over a document created by four Tory MPs who warn a referendum on separation is inevitable unless the province’s grievances are addressed.
Last week, Alberta Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel Garner, Blake Richards, Glen Motz and Arnold Viersen issued a declaration outlining a list of complaints dating back to before Alberta became a province in 1905, and which includes the National Energy Program in the 1980s, the equalization system, carbon taxes and this year’s rail blockades.
Conservative MPs were coy Wednesday as they emerged from their weekly caucus meeting, with many declining to comment entirely, and others taking pains to be diplomatic about the document, called the Buffalo Declaration.
None of the signatories was available to comment. Mr. Motz walked up a flight of stairs when he was asked to comment on the declaration. Mr. Viersen’s office said in an e-mail that he didn’t “have anything to add.” Ms. Rempel Garner and Mr. Richards could not be reached.
The document includes more than a dozen proposals, including constitutional changes to “balance representation” in Parliament, such as overhauling the Senate; the repeal of environmental legislation such as C-69; expanded free trade between provinces; and the creation of a national energy corridor, which was a Conservative campaign promise; and changes to the equalization formula.
It says Parliament should formally recognize the harm of the National Energy Program, in which the government of Pierre Trudeau attempted to exert greater control over the oil industry in the 1980s, and says Alberta should be recognized as “culturally distinct."
Alberta MP Stephanie Kusie raised discontent, telling The Hill Times that she was disappointed the Buffalo Declaration had been created by “a few individuals, acting independently,” and without the support of the Alberta caucus.
Ms. Kusie said she pressed for more information after one of the individuals who signed the declaration said they would be releasing policy proposals on Alberta, but she was given “essentially no information” on the specifics of the document. She told The Globe and Mail that she would not be commenting further on the declaration.
Ontario MP Michael Chong said he believes Albertans are hurting and that the Liberal government needs to focus on the development of their natural resource sector. When asked if the document helps the cause, he would only say that he didn’t sign it.
Other Conservative members had similarly vague responses. Manitoba MP James Bezan said he would like to have a discussion about the document and “try to come up with a plan that everybody can get behind.”
Ontario MP Peter Kent said he is “leaving it to the Westerners to sort it out.”
Mike Lake, who represents Edmonton-Wetaskiwin, said the document reflects what he hears on the ground.
“I think that it captures the spirit of what I’m hearing from constituents. My constituents are incredibly frustrated, they feel abandoned by the government, and they have for a long time,” Mr. Lake said.
When asked if he would sign the declaration, he said that isn’t an option, but reiterated that he supports the spirit of the document.
Many of the document’s concerns echo comments Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has made, such as vowing to push for a “fair deal” for his province and blaming the federal government for increasing frustration and, in some corners, appeals to separatism.
Mr. Kenney said the manifesto reflects the frustrations of his province, but declined to say whether he supports the document.
Tim Powers, Conservative strategist and vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, said federal parliamentarians should “manage the discussion responsibly.”
“You’re elected to the Parliament of Canada. I think they just have to be careful with this because you shouldn’t be perceived or allow yourself in any way to be perceived as advancing an agenda of separation.”