As the Alberta election draws closer, the main ballot questions have emerged. Among them is the federal transfer payments that Ottawa gives to Quebec and the Maritimes. Quebec is the primary recipient, scoring $20 billion annually. A federal budget agency did a 40-year forecast and, in every year, Quebec obtains an increasing amount and Alberta gets Zero.
The second burning question is how to react to the federal government’s constant drumbeat of moves to restrict oilsands development. Killing pipelines outright, stalling others, and tilting the environmental review process, has awoken Albertans that we are in an existential fight.
The political leaders have staked out their positions:
Premier Notley points to her track record of pushing the federal government on the TransMountain pipeline and legislation to “turn off the tap” to BC and more railcars. Remember when your Mom said, “Justin, you are not getting dinner until you clean up your room!” That is the Notley approach to federal provincial relations.
Jason Kenney, the 20-year Ottawa insider, is head of the government in waiting. Polls show he can capture a massive majority. He threatens to stoke the flames of western alienation if the feds don’t push through the TransMountain pipeline. “A pipeline or else!” he will hold an un-enforceable referendum on equalization payments just to make everyone angry.
Stephen Mandel, leader of the Alberta Party, said; “We want what Quebec gets!” So, he would start collecting Alberta income taxes directly and set up an Alberta alternative to the Canada Pension Plan. This is the ‘Firewall’ idea from the far right, dated 2004.
Severely Normal Albertans might want to look how other leaders met these problems. What about Danny Williams? The former Premier of Newfoundland played fearless hard ball with Prime Minister Martin in negotiations of the 2005 Atlantic Accord. At one point, he had the Canadian flag lowered on all provincial buildings to make his point. When the smoke cleared, he achieved a highly beneficial deal for both Newfoundland and Nova Scotia on resource development and equalization payments.
What Alberta needs is a strong negotiating platform, perhaps an ‘Alberta Accord’. So that it can have a proactive voice at the table on pipelines and fiscal policy. And should the feds be reluctant to engage – we will call in Danny Williams!