By Collin Gallant
Alberta Newspaper Group
Medicine Hat’s MP calls a document he signed that seeks massive overhaul of the structure and operations of the Federal government “a starting point” to address systemic problems for Albertans within confederation.
The “Buffalo Declaration” harkens back to provincehood, claims Alberta has always been considered “a colony,” asks for a formal apology from Ottawa over the National Energy Program, and states that a variety of reforms must be considered.
“Albertans have been feeling marginalized for some time,” Glen Motz, the member for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner, told a press event at his office on Friday, the day after the release of the document signed by him and three other Alberta MPs.
“It’s significant because it allows us to have a starting point on the conversation, and that’s what this is, because we have a unity crisis right now.”
Later adding, “It’s not an Alberta separation document, far from it … it matches what we’re hearing … There’s a lot of tension and we needed to show that we’re putting in a lot of work and through to give people hope. It’s to improve national unity.”
The 13-page document contains some main staples of conservative party policy, and claims that reforms begun by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper government up to 2015 are being reversed.
Comparing the NEP to today, “Albertans face the same policy of economic and political strangulation by another Prime Minister Trudeau who, through regulation, legislation and sparking civil unrest, is usurping the sovereignty over Alberta’s natural resources.”
Without permanent structural changes to Confederation, disillusion in Alberta will grow, it argues.
“Immediate action must be taken to permanently correct inherent inequalities that privilege some at the expense of others,” it reads.
The study and Western alienation is not new.
Famously, Stephen Harper helped pen a “Firewall Letter” with academic colleagues at the University of Calgary in 2001 arguing that then-premier Ralph Klein should consciously begin to isolate Alberta to improve the standing of the province.
It advocated that the province take over national pension programs, tax collection and policing, such as Quebec had done.
More recently, United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney campaigned on using several technical elements of law related to the Quebec Referendum initiate new discussions on equalization.
Many of the same ideas on pensions, policing and other matters are central questions of the provincial government’s “Fair Deal Panel” that includes Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.
He told the News on Friday that he was pleased that federally elected representatives are now discussing the ideas.
“It reflects a lot of what I’ve heard from hundreds of Albertans over the past few months,” he said.
Motz said there has been no co-ordination with provincial and federal conservatives regarding the declaration. It was penned, he said, by a number of members of the federal Conservative caucus, and he expects more signatures to be added in the near future.
The document is originally signed by four Conservative MPs, including Motz, Calgary area MP Michelle Rempel, Arnold Viersen (Peace River-Westlock), and Blake Richards (Banff-Airdrie).
While calling on all political parties to take note, it specifically references the Conservative leadership race, stating that party leadership candidates must commit to reforms.
The document also points out the need to move beyond discussions by politicians, the media, academics or business leaders. It also uses the phrase “Laurentian Elite” is an apparent reference to wrestling power from Central and Eastern Canada.
Input from all Canadians is required, but “sometimes you have to bump people out of their comfort zone,” said Motz, who encourages constituents to provide feedback on a dedicated website.
A list of 12 proposed structural changes include recognizing that “Alberta is not an equal partner in Confederation” and should be considered a distinct region. It calls for a redistribution of seats in the Commons and Senate on a purely proportional or regional basis, respectively.
Potential constitutional changes would include the addition of “free trade provisions” and giving provinces “sole domain” over resource projects, plus changes to the equalization formula.
It would add proportional hiring based on regions in the federal government, eliminate bilingualism requirements for top judges, plus require better balance of federal infrastructure and, specifically, arts funding.
It also asks the Federal government to formally apologize for National Energy Program and formally recognize that rural Alberta communities are “isolated from the power structures of urban Eastern Canada and face unique challenges.
The latter would, according to authors, formalize consultation requirements on changes to policy on economic development, rural crime and firearms ownership.
Policy solutions include several planks of the most recent Conservative Party campaign platform, including the need for “energy corridors,” calls to resolve internal and international trade disputes that affect agricultural trade and removing “punitive measures” that hurt employment in the oilpatch.
It demands that farm operators be exempt from carbon levies and a go-ahead for the Teck Frontier oilsands project, among other measures.