We Can't Back Down Now!
If there was one major takeaway from last night's UCP leadership debate, it was that Alberta's place in Confederation remains the most prominent topic of discussion in this race.
And all the candidates seemed to agree: Ottawa needs to stay in its lane.
Most of the candidates made positive statements about a number of issues that we have been promoting at Project Confederation - abolishing equalization, an Alberta pension plan and police force, the importance of Alberta controlling our own natural resources, and more.
The main disagreement, actually, was the best approach to take.
After four years of policy frustrations and a lack of appetite for action among the current administration, there were some on stage ready to crank up the heat, and others that seemed ready to take a step back.
The current Alberta government has certainly talked the talk about standing up to the federal government much better than previous administrations.
Actions speak louder than words, though, and action has been sorely lacking.
It has been more than nine months since Albertans strongly voiced their opinion in favour of abolishing equalization from the Constitution.
In the aftermath, the muted response from the federal government speaks volumes - when we called, nobody answered.
It has, therefore, become glaringly obvious that the equalization referendum was not enough to convince Ottawa to come to the table and initiate constitutional talks.
It's also important to make sure we keep focused not just on any one particular problem, but on the core issue itself - the jurisdictional fight between the federal government and the provinces.
That's why we need to effectively communicate to every Albertan three things:
- How the Canadian federation is supposed to work
- How it's actually being run at the moment
- How to fix the problem and get it back to how it should be
How Canada is supposed to work is misunderstood (or misrepresented, perhaps deliberately so) all the time by the media, academics, politicians, and many others.
Canada is designed as a federation, and that word actually means something.
A federation is a union of (at least partially) self-governing states or provinces.
The creation of Canada didn't merge a bunch of provinces, territories, colonies and countries into a single new entity.
Canadian confederation created a system where there was a clear division of powers between the federal government and the provinces.
Many (especially in Ottawa) think that the federal government sits "above" the provinces, suggesting it is more important, more powerful, and can tell the "lower" level of government what to do.
In fact, the federal government has complete sovereignty over the issues they were given jurisdiction over, while the provincial governments have complete sovereignty over the issues they were given jurisdiction over.
In short, Alberta - and all the other provinces - are supposed to be equal partners in this country, not subservient to continuously hostile federal governments in Ottawa.
Unfortunately, over time, the federal government has exerted jurisdiction over things it's not supposed to control, and because the federal government gets to appoint federal judges, the federal judges have tended, also over time, to let the federal government get away with this.
Historically, this has involved ever-increasing federal control of natural resources and environmental concerns and the current federal government continued this trend, spending the past seven years trampling all over the constitutional jurisdiction of Alberta - through Bill C-69, Bill C-48, the carbon tax, and more.
Worse, they haven't just completely ignored Alberta's complaints about this overreach - they've actually continued to make things worse.
Since the equalization referendum, the federal government has continued to roll out even more new federal policies that will take over Alberta's jurisdiction on a wide range of issues - childcare funding, healthcare rules, agriculture and fertilizer constraints, environment regulations, and more.
The current relationship between federal and provincial governments in Canada is not how it is supposed to be, and it isn't sustainable.
Something has to give.
Given this approach by the federal government, it has become abundantly obvious that the equalization referendum was not enough to convince Ottawa to come to the table and negotiate some kind of compromise with Alberta.
Alberta must stand up for itself.
Alberta needs to start saying no to Ottawa, not just asking Ottawa nicely to change their mind.
Alberta must also demand that the Canadian Constitution be re-opened.
If the federal government's judges are willing to twist the words in the Constitution so much that they become meaningless, then we need to re-write sections of the Constitution to make it crystal clear, in plain language, that the federal government's current actions will not be tolerated or permitted any longer.
At a minimum, these changes would involve:
- Abolishing equalization
- A fair House of Commons
- An equal Senate
- Unrestricted free trade (including pipelines)
- Complete provincial control over resources
Yes, this would be a big change from the current status quo.
But, let's be clear, that's only because things have drifted so far from what they are supposed to be.
Albertans are not actually asking for anything unique or radical.
We are simply asking for the federal government to follow the rules of the Constitution as they are written, not as they've been twisted to mean since.
And if the federal government won't even agree to something as simple as that, well... at least we'll have our answer then.
To achieve all this, we need your help to:
- Develop the ideas needed to make confederation fair again
- Conduct research to determine how best to approach the ideas
- Build grassroots support to implement the ideas
- Assemble the political support needed to get the job done