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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Supply management. An economic anvil on the necks of Canadians.

eggs

Supply management in agriculture is a policy in Canada that is harming consumers and producers from coast to coast. It is hard to believe that we maintain an economic policy that is so detrimental to Canadians as a whole. Part of the issue is that most Canadians don’t even know that such a policy even exists and I suspect if most people realized that they are paying hundreds of dollars a year due to this market control system that they would happily support dumping this primitive policy.

There are nothing but benefits to be seen for Canadians if we get rid of our supply management policies. People will spend less on food essentials and have more opportunity to eat healthier while Canadian producers will be able to expand our export markets and diversify our economy.

Supply management is a socialist market control policy that allows government to micromanage supplies of dairy, eggs and poultry products through a system of quotas and tariffs. This protects a small number of producers who have production quotas thus forcing higher prices on consumers. A dairy producer pays roughly $28,000 for the right to keep one dairy cow. That means a herd of 70 (not terribly large) has a quota value of $2 million. That price is of course forwarded to consumers. Quotas are restricted and it literally is illegal to produce milk, eggs or chickens over a certain number without a quota.

The waste from this system is brutal too. My wife grew up on a small dairy farm for example. Her father had a quota to sell a certain amount of cream but was not allowed to sell milk. The cows were milked and the cream separated and sold. The remaining milk that was not consumed by the household was literally dumped. It would have been illegal to sell it. Sounds rather Soviet doesn’t it? These sorts of examples abound in all supply managed industries and we are all paying dearly for it.

In dairy alone families pay an extra $276 per year due to supply management. When chicken and eggs are taken into account, families are spending nearly $500 per year for these policies. These are premiums paid on staple food items. If families paid regular (much lower) market cost for these items, they would be more encouraged to purchase them of course meaning a likelihood of less processed and unhealthy foods being in the cupboards.

In Canada we actually had organized crime participating in cheese smuggling because our cheese costs so much more in Canada than right across the border in the United States. This sounds like a comedy but it really is happening. When supply of an item in demand is restricted by government, smuggling is always soon to follow.

Some people lamely try to claim that these market controls protect the family farm which is utterly untrue. Supply management has actually wiped out small farms and led to larger factory style production as only large companies can afford to operate under our quota system. From 1971 to 2011 the number of dairy farms in Canada dropped by 91%! This trend has happened in poultry and egg industries too. So much for the family farm.

Market diversification and creative production is stifled by these horrible policies. Free range chickens are much in demand by consumers. Nobody is allowed to produce more than 300 chickens without a quota however which is not enough to live on while a quota application could take years and may never be granted. Quotas are usually in the range of 70,000 or more birds too which hardly helps a small producer. How does one get started in this foolish system? The same applies to eggs.

Small farms making specialty cheeses or types of milk are nearly impossible. I remember a story of a small ice cream producer in Ontario being shut down because the cream costs were simply too damn high. How many other small to medium sized enterprises are we missing out on because of supply management?

Our policies are costing us billions in lost exports as well according to one report. Tariffs and quotas get our producers barred from foreign markets thus costing us countless jobs and tax revenue. Our outdated policies have been a sticking point in many trade negotiations with other nations too so we are losing on import and export opportunities that range outside of supply managed products due to these disputes.

Supply management is a losing policy that costs us all and only benefits a tiny number of people who hold those precious quotas. Most nations on Earth have moved away from supply management policies and have seen nothing but benefits in doing so. New Zealand is now known as “the Saudi Arabia of milk” now that they rid themselves of their supply management and let their economy develop and expand. With the size of our nation with so much viable farmland, we really are missing out on huge opportunities here.

Rarely is a single policy ever doing so much damage. People fight back and forth about the merit of cutting taxes to put more money back in the pockets of consumers. Well, if we got rid of supply management we would put billions of dollars back in the pockets of consumers and it would not cost the government a cent.

The protected dairy, egg and cheese producers are price fixing in a way that would be illegal if any other industry tried it. They are a strong lobby and are essentially racketeers sliding under the radar of public perception. Government hides from the issue for fear of angering the producers with quotas while all consumers and most producers pay the price.

We need to inform the public of the price they are paying for these idiotic policies and then have government repeal them. There is nothing but benefit to us all in doing so. As far as I can tell only the Libertarian Party of Canada is promoting such a repeal.  We need common sense and open markets and neither Harper nor Trudeau appear prepared to give them to us.

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