New panel to explore how to give Alberta more ‘leverage’ with Ottawa, Kenney says
Premier Jason Kenney announced Saturday the members of a new panel, including former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, to consult Albertans on various ways the province could secure “a fair deal in the federation.”
The panel is to discuss taking control of revenue collection, a government pension plan and policing programs now handled by the federal government, a mandate that draws heavily from the famous Firewall Letter of 2001, in which a number of prominent Alberta conservatives such as Stephen Harper advocated how to isolate Alberta from Ottawa’s influence.
“The federal government has given up on a fair deal for Alberta,” Kenney said in a speech at the Manning Centre Conference in Red Deer.
Resource-based economies like that of Alberta and Saskatchewan have been especially hurt by federal policies, and the province would focus on the crisis and prioritizing the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, he said.
“All of Alberta’s leverage will be focused on this goal,” he said, adding that the province would work to get a $1.75-billion retroactive rebate on equalization.
The panel will consult with experts, hold open town hall meetings across the province and undertake research to inform their recommendations, looking at how best to advance the province’s vital economic interests, such as the construction of energy pipelines, said a news release.
It will look at establishing a provincial revenue agency to collect provincial taxes directly by ending the Canada-Alberta Tax Collection Agreement, while joining Quebec in seeking an agreement to collect federal taxes within the province.
“I think Quebec and Ontario for the past 40 years have seized control of their own destinies, and done so by forming their own police services, having their own pension plans, having their own taxes, and so these are all things that other provinces do and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever we shouldn’t do here,” said Ken Boessenkool, former policy adviser to Stockwell Day and a signatory of the 2001 letter.
“I’m very heartened and excited that the province is putting a committee together to study these things,” said Boessenkool.
The panel’s mandate, like the letter, focuses on things the province can do without opening the constitution, he said.
“All of these things are things that Alberta can do without getting the consent of other provinces and I think this is a really important point,” he said.
The panel will also look at establishing a provincial police force by ending the Alberta Police Service Agreement with the federal government, and appointing the Chief Firearms Office for Alberta. As well, panellists will explore the idea of withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and establishing a provincial equivalent, the release said.
“Today’s remarks by Premier Jason Kenney are dangerous. He is intentionally stoking the fires of western alienation in order to advance his own political objectives. He did not campaign on any of these issues,” NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said in a written statement.
“Jason Kenney never talked to Albertans about putting their pensions in jeopardy in the last election and Albertans cannot trust Jason Kenney to be anywhere near their retirement savings,” Notley said.
The panel will also talk about getting Alberta representation in international treaty negotiations that affect Alberta’s interests.
“I don’t think there’s universal support for all of these ideas … but I think all of these ideas need a good airing. There’s arguments for and against each one of them,” Boessenkool said.
The panel will also talk about emulating Quebec’s legal requirement that municipalities and school boards must obtain the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government.
Opting out of federal cost-share programs with full compensation, such as the federal government’s proposed pharmacare program, and seeking an exchange of tax points for federal cash transfers under the Canada Health and Social Transfers, are both on the table.
The panel will include Stephen Lougheed, the son of former premier Peter Lougheed. Also appointed were civil servant Oryssia Lennie, First Nations leader Jason Goodstriker, former PC MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, University of Alberta law professor Moin Yahya, and three UCP MLAs: Drew Barnes, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao.
It’s set to discuss establishing a formalized provincial constitution and will conduct public consultations between Nov. 16 and Jan. 30, completing its report to the government by March 31 next year.
At least some of the initiatives being considered by the panel will need to be put to a referendum before they are ever implemented, including the pension plan and police proposals, Kenney said.
Kenney announced that the provincial government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and B.C. to defend the province’s interests, and introduce a Citizen’s Initiative Act to give Albertans the power to petition for referenda on matters of widespread public concern.