On Dec 10 the circus rolled into town. It called itself a “Fair Deal Panel Town Hall” but like the Ringling Brothers, its purpose was to distract Albertans from their troubles by dazzling them with spectacle.
It took place on a bitterly cold week night, somewhere in the boonies well past the Calgary airport. It was sold out.
There were about 350 chairs in the auditorium. At least 70 seats were empty when the event started. A middle-aged man told us this was because “the union” bought up all the tickets. Mr Soapbox asked whether he had any proof. He said someone at the front of the room told him so. When all else fails, blame the unions, eh?
The moderator introduced the Panel and the topic. Albertans can be forgiven for assuming the town hall was a farce given the Panel includes three UCP MLAs, a former progressive conservative MLA and Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party, and the government justified the exercise with faulty assumptions (no, Alberta is not “the biggest contributing province to Canada’s prosperity by far,” Quebec and Ontario are bigger).
Mr Soapbox made the wry observation that this was the “biggest collection of grey hairs and bald heads” he’d seen in a while. He was right, there were more older people than younger people, more men than women, and way more whites than visible minorities.
Ms Soapbox assumed two minutes would not be enough time to make a submission. She was wrong…and extremely grateful when the moderator pulled the plug on the separatist raging against the Laurentian elites and Gerald Butts who’d indoctrinated the nation on climate change.
Fewer than 40 people made submissions. They could be (roughly) grouped into the following categories:
- I’m a proud Canadian (“Canada First”)
- I want a fair deal, either Kenney’s fair deal or a different fair deal
- I’m a separatist
- I’m not sure
- Odd balls who wanted to decriminalize sex workers, change the federal regulations governing the sale of ammonites, or put CPP payments into escrow until this was sorted out.
The Canada First people and the Fair Deal people made roughly the same number of submissions, about 35% each. Two separatists presented submissions, but many fair deal people said they’d consider separation if they didn’t get a deal. Five people made not sure/odd ball submissions.
Canada First Submissions
The Canada First people are worried about losing their CPP and the impact the Alberta pension plan would have on labour force mobility between the provinces. They said if Alberta collected provincial income taxes this would increase bureaucracy and red tape. Some presenters were heartbroken that we were even having this conversation, others were adamant that they loved Canada, united and strong.
The guy who said appointing a Chief Firearms Officer was a nod to the gun lobby was met with applause and boos, one from the guy behind me who took offence to the suggestion he was about go out and shoot somebody.
The presenter who won my heart was the woman who said she was more concerned about getting a fair deal inside Alberta for kids’ education, seniors’ pharmacare and the vulnerable, because “I’m human, I’m not a jerk.”
Fair Deal Submissions
This group was all over the map.
Some were satisfied with the deal outlined in Mr Kenney’s mandate to the Panel. Others wanted Kenney’s fair deal plus an Alberta immigration system, an Alberta Employment Insurance plan, and the abolition of equalization, guaranteed free trade across Canada and a Triple E senate.
Another group demanded all of the above plus restrictions on the prime minister’s power, an overhaul of the Supreme Court of Canada, and a referendum on the Clarity Act (which requires a clear majority before a province can start negotiating on separation).
Some Fair Deal proponents suggested their objectives could be achieved by “turning off the taps” and stopping the transport of goods from the Port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada.
One fellow noted if Alberta had its own police force it could slow down Ottawa by refusing to enforce “bad laws” within Alberta. Silly me, I thought this was an attempt to circumvent any investigations into allegations of corruption around Mr Kenney and the UCP leadership race.
Many Fair Deal proponents said they wanted Alberta to fight for a fair deal and simultaneously prepare for separation. They were annoyed Mr Kenney gave up the option to “walk away” by saying he was a nationalist.
The Separatists were clear. Alberta is the doormat of Confederation. It’s in crisis and must separate. It should enact the firewall now and consider its options which including joining the USA. The sooner the better.
It’s a wrap
Many speakers had not had their turn at the mic when the moderator called time.
It didn’t matter. We’d heard enough.
The Canada First proponents are resolute and heartbroken. They say the Panel lacks credibility and is being used by Mr Kenney to exacerbate divisions within the province and isolate Alberta from the rest of the country.
The Fair Deal proponents are furious. They’re convinced the Trudeau government wants to kill Alberta’s energy sector. They accept Mr Kenney’s argument that it’s government policy not global oil prices that drive Alberta’s economy. Interestingly no one believed this when the PCs and Harper Conservatives were in power during the previous oil busts.
And the Separatists would be gone tomorrow if it were possible.
The Panel said it wouldn’t prejudge the outcome. However, it also said many of you are angry, partly because you’re not getting a fair deal from the federal government and our purpose is to define and secure a fair deal. If that’s not prejudging the outcome, I don’t know what is.
These town halls are nothing more than bread and circuses. The ringmaster’s panel will write a report that confirms what the ringmaster has been saying all along, it’s all Trudeau’s fault.
Albertans will divert significant time (measured in years) and resources (measured in millions of dollars) attempting to fix what one presenter called “a crisis in the making”.
In the meantime, the Separatists will gain momentum.
Conclusion: The circus is not worth the price of admission.