ANDRUS: Any fair deal won’t last without democratic reform

It’s now more than 30 years since Preston Manning became the leader of the nascent Reform Party and began his quest to reform the Canadian confederation.

He and his supporters envisioned a new party that would fight for economic and constitutional reform that would bolster the influence of the western provinces while strengthening national unity.

The Reform Party came to represent the idea that “The West Wants In” at a time when many were questioning whether they actually did.

Manning knew that the centre of political power in Canada has always resided in Ontario and Quebec and that for the West to have any clout, the Canadian Constitution would need to reflect and respect regional interests.

In order to address this disparity, Reform emphasized the idea of transforming the Senate into an equal, elected, and effective Triple-E Senate.

The idea gained significant support over the years, and yet change proved impossible even with a supportive prime minister, as Stephen Harper saw his own Senate reform proposal rejected by the Supreme Court.

Fast forward to 2020 and, once again, pent up frustrations in Alberta and Saskatchewan have led to calls for significant constitutional reform, or else the West might want out.

Economic activity continues to slow, layoffs continue to roll through the energy industry, tens of thousands have been out of work for multiple years, and if anything, Confederation is far more strained than it was even in the 1980s.

Alberta Premier (and former Reform Party MP) Jason Kenney has assembled a “Fair Deal Panel” of which Manning is a member, along with a cohort of other reputable political names.

It remains to be seen whether Ontario and Quebec will be willing to finally compromise, but one thing is clear to almost everyone in Alberta now -– the status quo cannot stand.

The real problem though, is that no matter how “Fair” of a deal — if any — Premier Kenney can wrest from Ottawa, anything that is agreed upon now could be undone almost immediately by any future federal government.

Therefore, in order for any “Fair Deal” for Alberta to last, the deal must include democratic reforms that will protect the deal from being eroded over time.

An elected Senate with effective powers and an equal number of senators per province is the key to preventing this erosion.

A Triple-E Senate would create a legitimate body that can act as a check on the House of Commons.

While not every province would always agree with Alberta’s priorities on every issue, a more representative Senate would strengthen all province’s hands during future Constitutional debates, helping to restore some Constitutional balance.

In a Senate designed to represent the interests of the provinces, rather than the federal government, it would be in each Senator’s interests to protect every other provinces’ interests as well.

Preston Manning’s experience all those years ago should tell him that the only way that Alberta will get, and crucially be able to keep, a “Fair Deal” from Ottawa is to address the fundamental balance of powers between the Federal government and the provinces.

Hopefully he can convince the rest of the Fair Deal Panel that it’s time to re-open the Constitution.

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