Let's Opt Out Of Ottawa!
Last week, there was a story in the news that, at first glance, may seem unrelated to Alberta's fight for fairness.
However, when we dug into the details, we realized that it could have major implications for our province and our relationship with Ottawa.
On the last day of May, British Columbia Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson, and her federal equivalent, Carolyn Bennett, held a joint press conference in Vancouver to announce that the federal government would be giving the British Columbia government an exemption from the enforcement of Canada’s federal drug policy.
This is an exemption that the British Columbia government has been pushing for, for quite some time, and means that in British Columbia, it will no longer be a criminal offence for Canadians over the age of 18 to possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.
Now, whatever your opinion on this particular policy, the idea of the federal government giving a province an exemption to a federal law is a unique and intriguing idea and this exemption to one law for one province could very well set a very important precedent.
I mean, if British Columbia can do it, why not us?
If the federal government can give British Columbia an exemption to one federal law, it seems only logical that they could give Alberta an exemption to a federal law too, right?
In fact, there are a litany of federal laws with which our provincial politicians - of various political stripes, I might add - have taken issue when it comes to our dealings with Ottawa.
Equalization immediately comes to mind.
If Alberta doesn’t want to ship $22-billion per year to bribe Quebec to keep them in Canada, then why should we?
Perhaps Alberta could ask for an exemption to the “No More Pipelines Law,” formerly Bill C-69, which creates a shifting environmental review process and effectively kills all future pipeline and major energy projects?
Maybe Alberta’s newly appointed Chief Firearms Officer, Teri Bryant, should immediately seek to obtain an exemption for Alberta to Bill C-21, a gun control bill described by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “some of the strongest measures in Canadian history” when it comes to the government seizing private property.
Why not get an exemption to the rules that require federal taxes to be collected federally, and then an Alberta Revenue Agency could collect both federal and provincial income taxes right here in Alberta?
(Heck, while we're at it, how about an exemption from federal income and GST taxes entirely - we can dream, right?)
Now, of course, none of this means that the federal government would have to agree to give Alberta these exemptions.
That's a different matter entirely and would have to be subject to intense lobbying, pressure, and negotiation.
But you don't get anything you don't ask for, so we might as well start now.
Besides, the current federal government won't be around forever, and a future government could very well take this precedent in some interesting directions.
If it becomes the accepted norm in Canadian politics that provinces can seek and obtain exemptions when it comes to the implementation of federal laws, then this could dramatically shift the balance of power in Confederation, and Alberta should be using this technique to seek as much autonomy from the federal government as is possible.
Perhaps most importantly, developments like this clearly demonstrate what Project Confederation has been saying all along.
Whenever Alberta has asked for more autonomy, we get pushback, and sometimes even ridicule, from Ottawa, academics, and the media, who all like to say that that's not how the constitution works.
But, clearly based on this precedent, Canada's constitution is not fixed, and politicians are perfectly able and willing to bend it to suit whatever happens to be politically convenient to them at that particular time.
That can cause major problems, as federal politicians ignore precedents to take advantage of Alberta.
Historically, Quebec has been given incredible latitude to do whatever they want - whether constitutional or not - and now British Columbia is joining in on the party.
But we can also use this same pliability to advantage Alberta and push for changes that benefit Albertans.
We are not asking for anything unique or radical.
We are just asking for the same treatment as the rest of the country.