They just keep coming, fast and furious, like water gushing from a firehose.
Yesterday Mr Kenney announced the formation of the Fair Deal Panel, the latest in a suite of things Mr Kenney says we need to protect ourselves from those who prey on us. So far, he’s created:
- The $30 million War Room which has done nothing but hire a retired journalist to consult on strategy, hire a failed UCP candidate to head it up, and changed its name…twice.
- The $2.5 million public inquiry into “anti-Alberta” energy campaigns which paid over $900,000 in legal fees under a sole-source contract to the Justice Minister’s former law firm, and interviewed people behind closed doors. An interim report (not public) is due at the end of January 2020. The second phase of the inquiry (which may or may not be public) will end on July 2, 2020 when the commissioner presents his final report to the government. This report will be published (fingers crossed) within 90 days. Not exactly a “public inquiry” in the ordinary sense of the word.
- The Fair Deal Panel which will focus on ways to strengthen Alberta’s economy, give it a bigger voice within Confederation or increase provincial power over institutions and funding within its jurisdiction. The Panel will conduct 7 open houses between Nov 16 and Jan 30 and submit a report to the government by Mar 31, 2020. It will hire people to set up “more structured citizens reference panels,” get public input, maybe hire pollsters, and consult with individuals and organizations that may offer “useful information or knowledge” (Project Confederation, the “firewall” people, have already received their invitation). Budget: $650,000.
Let’s take a closer look at the Fair Deal Panel’s mandate bearing in mind the threshold question: why is Mr Kenney doing this?
Fair Deal Panel
The Panel will consider whether any of the following changes will advance Alberta’s interests:
- Replacing the federal revenue agency with an Alberta revenue agency to collect provincial and maybe federal taxes. Estimated cost around $500 million/year according to economist Trevor Tombe.
- Replacing CPP with an Alberta Pension Plan. Cost?
- Replacing RCMP with a provincial police force. Cost?
- Being represented in international treaty negotiations affecting Alberta’s interests. Sure, let’s get all the provinces and territories around the table, it’s not as if these treaties take years to negotiate or anything.
- Preventing public bodies (eg municipalities and school boards) from entering into agreements with the feds unless they get prior approval from the Alberta government. That will cut Mayor Iveson and Mayor Nenshi down to size.
- Using Alberta’s existing provincial power to appoint the Chief Firearms Office for Alberta. If you have the power to do it and you want to do it, just do it. Cost?
- Opting out of federal cost share programs. Mr Kenney mentioned the proposed pharmacare program, what about existing federal cost share programs relating to roads, infrastructure, disaster relief and heritage sites?
- Exchanging tax points for federal cash transfers under Canada Health and Social Transfers. Like most Albertans, I have no idea what this means.
- Setting up a provincial constitution. Will it have a notwithstanding clause exempting Alberta from constitutionally guaranteed rights?
And if this isn’t enough, the Panel is free to consult on other ideas including Kenney’s platform promises.
The Panel is made up of Preston Manning, founder of the Reform Party, Stephen Lougheed (Peter Lougheed’s son), Moin Yahya, economist and U of A law prof, Jason Goodstriker, member of the Blood Tribe of the Blackfoot people, Oryssia Lennie, former DM of Western Economic Diversification, now a director with Canada West Foundation, Donna Kennedy-Glans, lawyer and former PC MLA, and three current UCP MLAs, Drew Barnes, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao.
It’s good to have diversity on the Panel, but we’d have more confidence in the Panel’s impartiality had the UCP ideology not been overrepresented by Mr Manning and the UCP MLA contingent.
The big question is why?
Why would Mr Kenney create a panel to consider changes that will duplicate services available at the federal level, increase the size of the public service, increase red tape and cost millions?
Mr Kenney says he wants to acknowledge that some Western Canadians no longer feel at home in their country. He suggests “Laurentian elites” have benefited from Alberta’s wealth and abandoned it in its time of need. He says it’s perverse to “blame the victim” when Alberta’s done so much to share its wealth with the rest of Canada.
I see, we’re asking Albertans whether they want to firewall themselves from the rest of Canada because they feel like victims and don’t feel welcome in Canada.
In his book The Road to Unfreedom, historian Timothy Snyder identifies this strategy as nothing more than spectacle intended to inflame the emotions of both supporters and distractors and strengthen polarization. It’s about friends and enemies, not policy that might improve the lives of citizens.
Snyder says, “If citizens can be kept uncertain by the regular manufacture of crisis, their emotions can be managed and directed.” This strategy is effective in the hands of someone like Donald Trump who governs like he ran for office: by producing outrage rather than formulated policy.
Mr Snyder’s comment applies equally well to Mr Kenney. While in opposition he said it was all Notley and Trudeau’s fault, now that he’s in power it’s all Trudeau’s fault. Meanwhile Mr Kenney sits around waiting for oil prices to come back.
Mr Kenney rejects the suggestion he’s a separatist. He says, “I am and always will be a Canadian patriot. I believe that in their heart of hearts the vast majority of Albertans are Canadian patriots.” In the next breath he says he wants Albertans to know Trudeau’s government is “a danger” to the federation.
This just doesn’t cut it.
A patriot does not create war rooms and closed-door inquiries and panels that feed the myth of victimhood. A patriot knows Canada is a great country and does everything in his power to ensure Alberta’s place in Confederation is not jeopardized.
Perhaps Mr Kenney could give this some thought tomorrow when he lays a wreath at a cenotaph to honour the Albertans who fought and died for Canada.