Going to the Mattresses

To prepare for a lengthy war between mafia families by housing their soldiers in small, secure apartments.

In front of a friendly, conservative crowd in Red Deer, Premier Kenney set out his list of grievances with federal energy policy, outlined the Alberta government’s resistance and announced further actions to combat the federal government’s attack on the oil and gas industry.

Sir Frederick Haultain

The speech was a bit of a stem-winder.  Although he didn’t mention Louis Riel (the granddaddy of western alienation), he did quote Haultian, The Premier of the Northwest Territories before 1905. The history review also made a whistle stop to remind the audience of the Lougheed – Elder Trudeau battle of the National Energy Program.  The central point was to remind everyone that western disaffections with Ottawa was hardly a new phenomenon.

The speech recast the central problem as the federal government failing to honor the constitution. And moreover, the Trudeau government has also failed to fairly support Canada’s economic union.

In 1982, Western provinces (led by Peter Lougheed and Merv Leitch) negotiated a clause in the constitution (92A) that provided provincial jurisdiction over most resource taxation and resource management.  Provincial jurisdiction is not completely unfettered; but the fundamentals of control of resource development remain with the provinces.

Kenney contends that the Trudeau government is contravening the constitution or acting in bad faith related to provincial rights with oppressive policies:

  • The federal carbon tax
  • Bill C69 environmental regulations
  • Bill C48 eliminating West Coast access for bitumen
  • Expanded methane emission regulations
  • New fuel standards.

He further argues that Trudeau failed to uphold federal powers to support the constitution and the economic union by:

  • Cancelling Northern Gateway as part of a bargain with environmental interests
  • Allowing Quebec and BC a ‘de facto veto’ over interprovincial pipelines
  • Failing to use federal powers to further free trade within Canada.

And while he was on a roll, Kenney claimed the federal indifference to resource development issues like Mountain Pine Beetle, Species at Risk, and foreign trade issues related to softwood lumber, canola and pork.

Having described the cause of western angst he described the to do list he thought the federal government ought to get busy with right away:

  • Provide a firm guarantee that the TransMountain pipeline would be completed
  • Remove the cap on a program called the Fiscal Stabilization Program so that Alberta would receive $1.75 billion instead of $250 million. (this program acts as a backstop for provinces that experience severe revenue losses).
  • Establish a flow-through share tax incentive that would apply to carbon capture and storage, abandoned well reclamation and industrial GHG emissions.
  • Abandon implementation of Bill C48 (West Coast tanker ban) and change federal regulations related to the new environmental agency.
  • Address the Equalization Program’s formula.

After he paused for breath, Kenney announced the formation of a citizen’s panel to explore a number of mechanisms that might make the province more autonomous:

  • Establish a provincial tax collection agency for provincial taxes and perhaps even collect federal taxes within the province.
  • Create an Alberta Pension Plan and withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan.
  • Establish a provincial police force.
  • Increase Alberta’s representation in treaty negotiations that effect Alberta’s interests.
  • Ensure municipalities and government entities get provincial approval before entering into agreements with the federal government.
  • Appoint a Chief Firearms Office for Alberta.
  • Withdraw from federal cost share programs in favour of cash to the province.
  • Take tax points instead of federal cash transfers from the Canada Health and Social Transfers.
  • Establish a provincial constitution.

Many of these ideas come out of the ‘way back machine’ of a so called “Firewall Letter” from 15 years ago.  The old ‘firewall’ ideas are largely un-economic, but they still warm the hearts of many Alberta conservatives. Some believe that paying an extra premium for autonomy is justified.

And severely normal Albertans will notice none of these initiatives by themselves addresses the two root causes of Albertans’ anger.  

So, what does all this mean?

By framing the issues within a constitutional or economic union context, Kenney lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the federal government. The to do list is his opening position for negotiations with the federal government.

It isn’t yet clear to severely normal Albertans what the end game is for the Panel’s work:

  • A lever to push the federal government to take Western concerns seriously?
  • A way to contain and manage western separation sentiments? 
  • A step toward a different relationship in Canada?
  • The groundwork for separation?