Separation? Not until Alberta cleans up its own backyard.

Ahh look at that dashing young separatist leader. I was hardly grey yet. It took another 15 years of political play before I really developed that thinning, silver mane that I now enjoy.

Yes, as some commenters on the blog like to remind folks (as if it was a secret), I founded & and led the Alberta Independence Party into the 2001 election back when I was in my 20s. We made a pretty good splash at the time but fell apart not too long after the election. I will be the first to admit that my inexperience and poor leadership choices were primary factors in the later collapse of the party. I still learned a hell of a lot during that period though and in the years since.

With the Energy East pipeline now a dead project, I am hearing many enraged Albertans calling for secession. These flare ups of separatist sentiment come about periodically and they fade away again over time. Sustained federal Liberal governments are prime contributors to provincial ire as Chretien did more to boost separatism in Alberta through the 90s than I ever could have as leader of the AIP. Trudeau Sr. brought Alberta separatism to its peak in the 80s and now Trudeau Jr. is working to fill his Daddy’s Prime Ministerial shoes in feeding western alienation in Canada.

Separatism in Alberta won’t be going anywhere far for now despite people being more than a little upset with our broken system of confederation. A more dynamic leader with a better organized movement could surely go farther than I did but it still will inevitably fail until a number of things are addressed.

Selling secession is a tough task. You are dealing with some very deep seated emotional attachments to the nation for folks. Their flirtation with separatism is often fleeting and passes as their anger fades.

The first thing that will be tough to sell is convincing somebody that Alberta would be any better managed on its own than it is right now within confederation.

We have a provincial NDP government people! 

Until we get the socialists out of Edmonton, how the hell are we supposed to claim that we would be any better off as an independent nation? We as a province have proven ourselves to be capable of electing a provincial government that is even worse than the federal one. Notley’s lip service to pipeline infrastructure development has has been token and flaccid at best. The NDPs lack of solid support for the energy industry and its lack of strong lobbying for it abroad is a large part of why pipelines are not being built.

Do you think that TransCanada’s decision to dump Energy East is solely due to Trudeau’s management of the NEB? They took into account how terrible a place Alberta is to do business in right now too.

If we were suddenly independent, that would mean Notley would be our Prime Minister (or President or whatever). Would you really like to empower the NDP that much more? Alberta truly would look like Venezuela but without the attractive weather.

In order for a serious separation movement to grow, all other options have to be tried and failed.

The provincial government needs to truly fight Ottawa and neighboring provinces with all of the powers of the courts and provincial jurisdiction that they can.

We need a provincial government that will turn off the taps to BC for awhile to teach them just how important Alberta energy products are to them. This can be done with Eastward products too. No bullshit carbon tax ideas in pursuit of a fake concept of “social license”. The government needs to truly battle the roadblocks facing our energy industry.

Danielle Smith pointed out the next important points on her show today as well.

Back in 2000 Stephen Harper along with Tom Flanagan, Ted Morton, Rainer Knopff, Andrew Crooks and Ken Boessenkool penned a letter to Alberta’s government called the “Alberta Agenda” (later called the Firewall letter). 

This letter laid out steps that the provincial government could take in order to gain more local autonomy and strengthen our position within confederation. All of the steps are within our jurisdiction as a province. We just need a government with the will and courage to implement them.

Here is the text from the letter below:

 Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Pension Plan offering the
same benefits at lower cost while giving Alberta control over the investment fund. Pensions
are a provincial responsibility under section 94A of the Constitution Act. 1867; and the
legislation setting up the Canada Pension Plan permits a province to run its own plan, as
Quebec has done from the beginning. If Quebec can do it, why not Alberta?

Collect our own revenue from personal income tax, as we already do for corporate income
tax. Now that your government has made the historic innovation of the single-rate personal
income tax, there is no reason to have Ottawa collect our revenue. Any incremental cost of
collecting our own personal income tax would be far outweighed by the policy flexibility
that Alberta would gain, as Quebec’s experience has shown.
Start preparing now to let the contract with the RCMP run out in 2012 and create an Alberta
Provincial Police Force. Alberta is a major province. Like the other major provinces of
Ontario and Quebec, we should have our own provincial police force. We have no doubt
that Alberta can run a more efficient and effective police force than Ottawa can – one that
will not be misused as a laboratory for experiments in social engineering.

Resume provincial responsibility for health-care policy. If Ottawa objects to provincial
policy, fight in the courts. If we lose, we can afford the financial penalties that Ottawa may
try to impose under the Canada Health Act. Albertans deserve better than the long waiting
periods and technological backwardness that are rapidly coming to characterize Canadian
medicine. Alberta should also argue that each province should raise its own revenue for
health care – i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points as Quebec
has argued for many years. Poorer provinces would continue to rely on Equalization to
ensure they have adequate revenues.

Use section 88 of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Quebec Secession Reference to force
Senate reform back onto the national agenda. Our reading of that decision is that the federal
government and other provinces must seriously consider a proposal for constitutional reform
endorsed by “a clear majority on a clear question” in a provincial referendum. You acted
decisively once before to hold a senatorial election. Now is the time to drive the issue
further.

All of these steps can be taken using the constitutional powers that Alberta now possesses. In
addition, we believe it is imperative for you to take all possible political and legal measures to
reduce the financial drain on Alberta caused by Canada’s tax-and-transfer system. The most
recent Alberta Treasury estimates are that Albertans transfer $2,600 per capita annually to other
Canadians, for a total outflow from our province approaching $8 billion a year. The same federal
politicians who accuse us of not sharing their “Canadian values” have no compunction about
appropriating our Canadian dollars to buy votes elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Premier, we acknowledge the constructive reforms that your government made in the 1990s
– balancing the budget, paying down the provincial debt, privatizing government services, getting
Albertans off welfare and into jobs, introducing a single-rate tax, pulling government out of the
business of subsidizing business, and many other beneficial changes. But no government can rest
on its laurels. An economic slowdown, and perhaps even recession, threatens North America, the
government in Ottawa will be tempted to take advantage of Alberta’s prosperity, to redistribute
income from Alberta to residents of other provinces in order to keep itself in power. It is
imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an
aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.

Once Alberta’s position is secured, only our imagination will limit the prospects for extending
the reform agenda that your government undertook eight years ago. To cite only a few examples,
lower taxes will unleash the energies of the private sector, easing conditions for Charter Schools
will help individual freedom and improve public education, and greater use of the referendum and
initiative will bring Albertans into closer touch with their own government.

The precondition for the success of this Alberta Agenda is the exercise of all our legitimate
provincial jurisdictions under the constitution of Canada. Starting to act now will secure the
future for all Albertans.

Before secession is even considered, these steps have to be implemented. As that letter broke onto the political scene at the same time the AIP took off, I can assure you I know that its proposals strongly effected our ability to grow. I don’t know how many times I heard people say “Let’s try the Alberta Agenda First. Then maybe separation.” This truth will remain today for any aspiring separatist movement.

Last but most importantly, if a movement for secession is to be successful in any way, they have to mean it!

People then and people now are openly saying “let’s threaten separation”. That’s like telling an entire table you are bluffing before raising the pot. Some say that Quebec has always simply threatened but never meant to go. Quebec came within 1% of separating in 1995 in a referendum with a 94% turnout. They were not bluffing people.

To seriously threaten secession a province needs serious support for secession and Alberta isn’t even close yet despite how vocal some are becoming.

I still contend that Canada’s system is broken. I still feel that we will one day need constitutional reform and that the only likely catalyst that could make that happen will be a province either separating or being on the verge of it. Ted Byfield used to call that notion “reconfederation” and that is where I sat when leading the AIP. I really did want out, but felt that secession could lead to negotiation a better confederation later.

Secession sounds tempting at a glance but it simply is not a viable goal or option right now. For those who truly want to get there eventually, you have to pursue the aforementioned steps before secession is even a consideration. Until then, you are simply wasting political capital.

 

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