Kenney's 'fair deal' plan 'would completely change Alberta' if successful: political scientist
EDMONTON -- A speech during which Premier Jason Kenney lamented unfair treatment by the federation and promised Albertans autonomy from Ottawa was his most significant address since taking office, says one political scientist—especially if Kenney's 'fair deal' plan goes through.
At a Manning Centre conference in Red Deer on Saturday, Kenney announced Alberta would be opening offices across the country to defend its economic interests, as well appointing a panel to look into the province setting up its own pension program, tax collection agency, police force and even constitution.
- 'Time for Ottawa to start working for us': Kenney announces plan to get Alberta 'fair deal' in federation
"We are demanding a fair deal now for Alberta within Canada," the premier told the crowd.
"One that respects the constitution and gets Ottawa out of the way so we can do what we do best—what Alberta has always done: grow our economy, create jobs, get back to work, and generate an oversized contribution to Canada's wealth."
Some of the proposed reforms the nine-person panel is tasked with studying are similar to those requested of Ralph Klein by conservatives nearly two decades ago.
"The ideas that (Kenney) put forward are not new," Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt told CTV News Edmonton.
"They have been circulating in conservative circles in Alberta for decades. Clear echoes of the Alberta Agenda, the infamous Firewall Letter of 2001 that Stephen Harper and Ted Morton and Tom Flanagan wrote."
However, that they're being raised again is noteworthy, the political scientist believes.
"(Kenney) had talked about creating this panel the day after the federal election in the legislature. But at the time, it seemed, there were no details," Bratt said.
"This is the most significant speech Jason Kenney has given... becuase if this does go through, it would completely change Alberta."
The difference, Bratt notes, is that the panel appointed by Kenney has the backing of the provincial government.
"The premier didn't give a blank slate and say, 'Look at Alberta's place in confederation.' He said, 'I want you to look at A, B, C, D, E and F and go out and do that.'"
'Fair deal' plan looks at Alberta 'asserting' itself in Canada, but leaves behind other western partners
According to constitutional lawyer Brendan Miller, all of the changes are possible without reworking Canada's supreme law.
"They don't require constitutional amendment," he confirmed, noting the panel, effectively, will be exploring Alberta becoming less reliant on Ottawa.
"Essentially asserting, not of course, independence or Wexit—that's not what's happening. But asserting our active role within confederation," Miller commented.
"That if Ottawa's not going to listen to us and essentially not do what's in the interest of Alberta for us, we're going to start taking more control and essentially (choose) our own path or destiny, if you will."
While Kenney addressed the growing "Wexit" sentiment by declaring in Red Deer, "I am, and always will be, a Canadian patriot," Official Opposition and Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley has since accused him of stoking the fires of western alienation.
"He is exploiting the real frustrations of everyday Albertans by sowing the seeds of separation with tired ideas from decades ago," she said in a statement. "Alberta is part of Canada, and Jason Kenney needs to accept that."
But Bratt said Kenney's remarks likely drown out the calls for western separation.
"It has just cut the Wexit argument off at the knees," he said. "Any discussion of Wexit is now going to be superseded by greater autonomy for Alberta within Canada."
That sentiment comes across as an Alberta-first approach, Bratt added.
"The issue then becomes: Are other provinces going to do the same thing?" he asked.
"You look at this Wexit, this alliance that Kenny and Scott Moe have in Saskatchewan. I think they've just cut Saskatchewan off at the knees as well," Bratt said, noting Saskatchewan's smaller population may affect its ability to run its own pension plan, and the province's history with the RCMP.
The Fair Deal Panel will consult with the public and stakeholders between Nov. 16 and Jan. 30, 2020, to hand in a report by the end of March.
Kenney, in his speech in Red Deer, said a provincial pension plan or police force would not be created without the endorsement of the majority of Albertans.
How those referenda would be done, how their results could affect Kenney's plan to maximize the province's leverage in Ottawa, and whether Alberta would support the initiatives are all unknowns, Bratt said.
"Quebec is willing to pay that extra cost for all of these programs, and duplication of services, because of national identity: language, culture, history. Are Albertans willing to pay that extra cost?"
With a report by CTV Edmonton's Sarah Plowman