The Alberta Disadvantage

Albertans have spent the last six years watching the Alberta Advantage slowly drip away, but three significant events in the last month have left many wondering if there's now an Alberta Disadvantage instead.

First, at the end of March, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6-3 that the federal government's carbon tax is constitutional.

The Canadian constitution makes clear that the provinces and the federal government are intended to be equals who each have jurisdiction over different issues, but the Court's decision has undermined this balance of power and infringed on provincial sovereignty - particularly over the development of natural resources.

The ownership and control of natural resources by the provinces, not the federal government, was enshrined in Canada's constitution after hard-fought negotiations by then Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed.

The Supreme Court's decision was the culmination of a long effort, dating back to at least the 1970s, by many Ottawa insiders to do away with the idea of a federal-provincial partnership and place the federal government above the provinces.

In effect, the federal government argued that because the environment is a federal matter and natural resources impact the environment, the federal government should control natural resources.

Using environmental issues as a backdoor, the federal government has finally found a way to regain control over Alberta's natural resources and - crucially - in doing so, has set a precedent for future federal overreach.

It's now only a matter of time until this ruling is used to justify further intrusions into more areas of provincial jurisdiction in the name of a big-government version of "peace, order and good governance".

To be clear, the ruling doesn't require the federal government to impose a carbon tax on the provinces; it just clarifies that the federal government may do so.

That means that a change in government at an election could save western Canada, right?

Technically yes, but in reality, no, as Supreme Court decisions tend to have a much wider impact on Canadian politics than is implied by just the legal limit of the Court's rulings.

This point was neatly made when the second major hit to Alberta came mere days after the Court's ruling, as Erin O'Toole, leader of the Conservative Party, announced that his party now also supports federal carbon taxes.

Now, despite the Supreme Court making it clear that a federal carbon tax is not required, just permitted, and despite polls showing that about half of Canadians don't support a federal carbon tax, every single party represented in the Canadian Parliament now supports a federal carbon tax.

While some were shocked by Erin O'Toole's announcement, anyone who understands the history of Confederation wasn't.

The Canadian political system favours interests in the east at the literal and figurative expense of citizens in the west.

This isn't some new phenomenon either; this is a long-standing structural issue of Confederation.

Maybe O'Toole does genuinely believe in a carbon tax.

But, more likely, he can count to 170 – the number of seats required for a majority in Parliament - and realizes he can't get there without Ontario and Quebec.

Of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, 199 are in Ontario and Quebec, while just thirty-four are in Alberta and fourteen are in Saskatchewan.

These are just facts, and they mean that no matter which party governs or which individual sits in the Prime Minister's chair, the west still loses.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, then it's time for the west to recognize a pattern.

Speaking of patterns, earlier this week, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled the first federal budget in more than two years.

The budget tacks on an additional $101-billion in new spending and drives Canada's debt across the $1-trillion mark – almost $30,000 of total debt per Canadian.

Despite being a federal budget, this is the third clear hit to Alberta because, as we all know, Albertans will be responsible for paying back a disproportionate share of this accumulated debt over the coming decades.

Despite Ottawa's already out-of-control spending, the 2021 federal budget introduces a massive new childcare program that is guaranteed to be expensive.
Of course, the federal government only plans on paying for half of the program, requiring the provinces to make up the difference at a price tag of $30-billion.

But, just like every other massive federal social program, Alberta won't just be paying for Alberta's share; we'll be called upon to do our patriotic duty and shoulder a significant portion of the cost for this enormous government program for all the other provinces too.

Beyond the cost, the program also represents yet another intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

Yes, the Supreme Court's carbon tax ruling opened the door for the federal government to make pretty much any policy issue a "national concern", but even we didn't expect them to move this quickly to erode any remaining respect for the constitution's division of powers.

Across all three issues, perhaps the most glaring problem facing Albertans is the absence of leadership from our own provincial government.

Time and time again, Ottawa has brought the hammer down on Alberta, our provincial rights, and our primary industry, and time and time again, our provincial government has failed to respond.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Premier Jason Kenney admitted he had no Plan B, even though it was his government that initiated the court challenge.

The federal Conservative’s adoption of a carbon tax as an official party policy was met with silence.

Alberta’s Finance Minister simply expressed disappointment in the federal budget.

The current Alberta government was elected to take Ottawa head-on, and every day that goes by without any action makes the situation worse.

Albertans want the Alberta Advantage back, but that will require leadership willing to tackle the structural disadvantages Alberta faces.

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  • Andrus Joshua
    published this page in News 2021-09-19 07:46:04 -0600