Essentials Of Freedom Speech 2021

Speech To The Freedom Talk
Essentials Of Freedom Conference

By Josh Andrus
Friday, March 5th 2021

 

 

Thank you to Danny for putting on this wonderful conference, year after year, and thank you to all of the illustrious presenters for adding such valuable insight that we will absorb over the course of the weekend.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with who we are, my name is Josh Andrus and I am the Executive Director of Project Confederation. We founded Project Confederation in July 2019 as a response to rising feelings of western alienation amongst citizens of Alberta. These feelings are not new to politics in Canada, in fact, they have been a consistent theme throughout the history of this country.

And like so many others, I will begin with a brief journey through history, but not too far. I’m not going to take us through a long-winded soliloquy of federal-provincial tensions which date back to the purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson Bay Company in 1868. I’ll leave that to others today. I’m just going to take us back a few years, to the summer of 2014.

It was an interesting summer. Alison Redford had resigned in disgrace, and a leadership race was in full-swing for the Progressive Conservatives. At the time, the news was all bustling over license plate slogans, perceived infrastructure deficits, free memberships, and plane dossiers. But there was one story that stuck out to me at the time. And it was a spat over the Temporary Foreign Workers program.

Of course, we all remember the good days, perhaps bracingly. Alberta’s economy was booming on the back of record oil prices, bouncing off $100. There were more jobs than there were people to work those jobs and the Temporary Foreign Worker program was seen as a vital tool to bring in trained wonders to fill these openings. In mid-June, Canada’s Minister of Immigration - Jason Kenney - announced that the federal government would be capping the number of low-wage workers in an employer's workforce at ten percent. Of course, given the structure of Alberta’s labour force, this was met by hostility from our provincial politicians.

The reason I bring this particular story to mind is that even when times are good - and people are working - there are going to be areas in which having more provincial autonomy is a positive for Alberta. There are those who may scoff at feelings of western alienation, those who believe that an oil price spike back to the $80-$100 range will fix everything. There are those who will say, if you vote one way or another, you will be taken care of. A simple walk down memory lane to a different time shows that Alberta needs to have more autonomy.

And yet, here we are. Jason Kenney is now the Premier of an embattled province, in the depths of a now-six-year recession. I am quite certain that he has spent many hours pondering his government’s positioning vis-a-vis the Fair Deal front that was announced sixteen months ago. He has already received stern advice from academics and policy thinkers - many in this room - business leaders, public sector unions and those dreaded opposition politicians. In the midst of all these opinionated thought leaders, I don’t want to presume upon you all, but I consider it prudent to add my own voice.

Over recent months, I have become increasingly concerned about the slow pace of movement on Fair Deal issues. I have to admit that at times it is difficult to recognize that this government’s front-of-mind issue is this COVID-19 pandemic that has dominated front-page headlines and imaginary water cooler conversations across our struggling province. However, the pandemic has only highlighted many of the reasons why greater autonomy is not a luxury we can afford to shy away from.

There are those on the other side - mainly populated by government-sector union leaders voicing what we can only imagine are the concerns of their well-paid and pensioned members. We have seen over the past year, as pointed out by Franco Terrazzano at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, our public sector expand while our private industries have been decimated. Hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of Albertans, are either underemployed or unemployed and increasingly dependent not on their own hands for income, but on handouts from the government.

The people involved with these public sector organizations are not particularly worried about our relationship with Ottawa and seem to be more intent on protecting their own interests at the expense of the taxpayers that pay them. We cannot become a province dominated by government employees. Jason Kenney had campaigned to create a free enterprise province, but alas I have become increasingly concerned in the direction this government has taken.

I may be concerned with the provincial government's actions, however, I am nothing short of alarmed regarding the behaviour of the federal government. We have seen no concrete action regarding the Biden administration's disastrous decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, killing thousands of jobs on both sides of the border. I am aware of the legal efforts that the provincial government has made regarding fighting this grave economic decision, however, without the support of Ottawa, these efforts are unlikely to succeed.

There is absolutely no assurance that similar instances will not mar federal-provincial relations in the months and years ahead. I would even argue the reverse - that they are inevitable. This does not have to be the case. As the Premier, and head of the government, Kenney has many tools at his disposal in order to create a firewall around this province and help to prevent the federal government from crushing our already beleaguered economy.

I have seen much chatter in recent months opposed to the Fair Deal efforts that the provincial government has, to their credit, at least begun to undertake. We have seen more animosity from our eastern “allies” than ever before. Even in our darkest hours, while we struggled to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases in the winter, we were ridiculed by eastern academics and politicians alike. The most egregious of insults was hurled our way by University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran who suggested that the federal government not help Alberta in the fight against COVID-19, and called our struggles “cocky failure.” Was he met by derision by the federal government? No. Nothing but crickets.

This government must guarantee to themselves, and to us, their citizens, that they will do everything they can to protect us from an ignorant and hostile government in Ottawa. In no other way can this province begin to regain hope, and begin to rebuild. We need firewalls around us to help to cushion the blow of a federal government dedicated to destroying our livelihoods.

I am sorry that this is the way we must go. I was born Canadian, loud and proud. I proudly wore that maple leaf on my sleeve while I watched our countrymen compete in international affairs - from business to politics to athletics to academics. However, the fragmented state of our current relationship with Ottawa has become nothing short of disastrous. For decades we have been cheated, and essentially treated as a colony of the east, forced unwillingly to send billions upon billions of dollars to the rest of the country in the form of equalization. We do not have the political representation in Ottawa to stop these unfair transfers, with only 34 of the 338 MPs in the House of Commons representing our province.

It is vital to the future of Alberta that these abuses stop. We are a province struggling in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression and yet Ottawa still sees it prudent to continue to stomp on us. There are two, and only two, ways to fix this. Anything less would be considered a profound disappointment, not just to me but to thousands of people in this province who are being hurt by the unfair treatment of the federal government.

First, the government of Alberta must hold a referendum to abolish equalization from the Canadian constitution. The proposed wording as laid out by the Fair Deal panel is as follows:

“Do you support the removal of Section 36, which deals with the principle of equalization, from the Constitution Act, 1982?”

According to the Quebec Succession Reference of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998, any constitutional resolution passed by any provincial legislature triggers a duty for the federal government to negotiate with the provincial government that holds it, as long as that question is clear. According to the Constitutional Referendum Act in provincial law, all constitutional resolutions must be first put in front of the citizens in referendum form. The clarity of the question is vital: asking to “reform” or “renegotiate” equalization is not a clear enough question to trigger this clause - especially when only the concept of equalization, but not the formula, is engrained in the constitution itself.

Second, Mr. Kenney must call on his contemporary premiers to have a constitutional convention in order to work through the issues that we have. On the question of representation, Kenney was first elected as a member of the Reform Party, which fought extensively on the concept of a Triple-E Senate. For those of you who are unfamiliar or have forgotten the Triple-E Senate concept, this means that constitutional changes are required to create an elected senate, with an equal number of senators per province, and with effective powers. This would create a more potent second arm of the legislature, one that can act as a check on the House of Commons where 199 of the 338 seats in Parliament are in Quebec and Ontario alone.

The Triple-E Senate is not a dead letter (or three) simply due to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the reforms can not be dictated to them by the federal government. That ruling left the door open for the provinces, through coalition-building and hard work, to come to that agreement. It is vital that the government of this province understand that. However, in order for either of these objectives to succeed, the government of Alberta must be taken seriously. This is why the success of my two recommendations is dependent on the establishment of the Firewall initiatives as laid out in the Alberta Agenda 20 years ago.

A provincial pension plan is a statement piece that would get attention across the country. As a young working-class population, Albertans contribute much more into the Canadian Pension Plan than we receive in payments. Establishing a provincial pension plan would immediately see premiums drop substantially for our citizens while giving us the ability to maintain benefits as is. Most of the opposition I have seen from public-sector unions on this file is along the lines of “don’t touch my pension,” however, a new provincial body should - like the Canadian Pension Plan - be overseen by an independent group of decision-makers. For example, while I have become quite alarmed at the immense exposure to China that the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board has undertaken in recent years, it would be unfair for me to criticize the board as an arm of the federal government. Investment decisions in both cases must - unequivocally - be independent of the government.

A provincial police force is another necessity. It is not a direct financial benefit to Albertans, and there have been some steps in recent months to improve the rural crime problem that has dominated headlines for years. However, the point of the exercise is to build firewalls around Alberta and having a police force that is provincially-run, trained and operated will allow for policy flexibility that is currently unavailable in a federal force that works from coast-to-coast. There will be costs, but the current estimates put forth by the RCMP union severely overstates most of the needs - especially given the existing infrastructure which would not need to be built from scratch.

Now, I am not arguing that any one person or group of people can develop the ideal police force or pension plan - whether that be on a federal or a provincial level. The difference in each case is that the objectives of each organization would be immensely benefited by the localized nature of the organizational design. Decisions would be taken with the citizens of a smaller subsection of people in mind, leading to more focus at a micro-level rather than a macro- one. The fundamental principles that drive more autonomy for Alberta, of localized decision-making, will be present in this province even if - or when - we see economic good-times return.

It will be argued by some that these firewall objectives are steps on the path of independence, and those arguments are essentially true. There are objectives in the Alberta Agenda, such as tax collection or opting out of federal transfers, that were deemed unnecessary by the Fair Deal panel report. However, like Justin Trudeau’s inability to be taken seriously as he “defends” the interests of our energy sector, it is vital to the Fair Deal stance that Alberta makes it clear to Ottawa that we are not be taken lightly. Failing to enact enough legislation, to build enough institutional support for autonomy, will inevitably weaken our hand as we head to Ottawa seeking fairness. Failing to enact any of them makes our position untenable and unserious.

The economic accolades of our province in past years are but fond memories. What is important today is to build cornerstone institutions that will be set up to thrive once we can position our economy in the right way - in whatever form that may take. We owe our past success to the hard work of our blue-collar population who have been forced to watch a once-thriving energy industry become a global laughing stock.

There are many variations of a fair deal that can be achieved, but all tools at our disposal must be in play as soon as possible. Time is of the essence, and as our situation further deteriorates urgency is required to alleviate the pressure. I can tell by the Premier’s demeanour of late that he is frustrated with the lack of support he has from those who sent him to Edmonton in the first place. It is important to note that the problems that have existed since 1868 are still ever-present in our political conversations, and by working to fix these problems Kenney will undoubtedly find that Albertans will have his back and that he will not be taken lightly. After all, isn’t one of the great lessons of politics that through firm belief, dogged determination, an imposing presence, and pervasive oratory performances that anything is possible?

I hope that Mr. Kenney will remember that it was local considerations that influenced past Alberta political icons such as Ernest Manning, Peter Lougheed, and Ralph Klein. When he does, I hope he does not forget that to do justice for all Albertans is to work on our future for our own ends, legislate for our prosperity and do not bend at the knee to a country that views us as a way to fund their lavish lifestyles. I hope that he will not be influenced by the contemplation of an overwhelming and overshadowing country. We must be ambitious in our aspirations and not apprehensive in our ambitions. It is time that we stand up for ourselves, and stop being constantly reminded that we are all subjects of an overreaching government dedicated to crushing our economy.

 

PS: Project Confederation doesn't accept any government funding and never will. We think you should be free to choose, for yourself, which organizations to support. If you're in a position to contribute financially to our important work fighting for Alberta, you can make a donation here.


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