Letter to Premier Kenney Regarding Fair Deal Panel Report

Premier Kenney,

I want to sincerely thank you for inviting me to participate as a member of the Fair Deal for Alberta Panel.I am very grateful to my colleagues on the panel with whom I spent the lion’s share of three months traveling this great land and listening to those who voiced and presented their concerns, ideas and vision. I also would like to thank Albertans who contributed and represented themselves and their communities to inform the findings of this report.

I value, commend and support much of the report submitted by the Fair Deal Panel to the Government of Alberta, and wish to convey my own thoughts to you and to Albertans at large.

It is difficult, however, to adequately reflect the level of frustration, discontent, desire for change and desire for a stronger Alberta in the written word. Many Albertans went to the microphone and spoke with intense passion, emotion and vision. Many more have reached out to me through several channels to express their thoughts and feelings, again overwhelmingly from a position of concern, frustration, and most importantly, an ever-increasing sense of alienation.

It is clear that the majority of Albertans want to challenge Ottawa and our provincial partners in areas of resource development and access, constitutional inequities like the Senate and Supreme Court (under) representation, equalization, taxation, spending inequities, and property rights. It is also abundantly clear that if constitutional equality cannot be achieved within confederation, that many Albertans will seek their independence. Many of these frustrations have been expressed at length in the Buffalo Declaration.

I firmly believe the will of the people of Alberta is that we act upon all of the positive recommendations contained in the Fair Deal Report, but those recommendations in and of themselves, cannot and will not adequately address Alberta’s place in confederation. Addressing our place in confederation must include acting upon several areas of study noted by yourself in the panel’s mandate to consider, as well as several other constitutional reforms not seriously considered.

Below are some of the most important proposals that I have heard supported by Albertans who have participated in the Fair Deal townhalls, and reaching out to me directly, that upon serious consideration, am advising that we act upon as a government.

Equalization

I applaud my colleagues on the Fair Deal Panel for recommending that we go forward with a referendum on Equalization. I believe that the issue must be addressed immediately and with firm timelines.

Albertans should be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum within six months on a constitutional amendment to not only remove equalization from the constitution, but to expressly forbid Ottawa from enacting its objectives through legislative means.

Taxation

Albertans should not only collect their own corporate taxes, they should also collect Albertans personal taxes and join with Quebec in giving Ottawa 5 years notice that Alberta will begin collecting the federal share of all taxes. This will allow Alberta more autonomy, more fiscal levers, and allow Alberta to enhance our low tax jurisdiction status.

Tax Points and Provincial Jurisdiction

The federal government regularly uses its spending powers to force its way into matters of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. Canada’s founding fathers made clear that healthcare and social policy were the clear domain of the provinces, and this must be reasserted. The Canada Health Transfer ($42 billion) and Canada Social Transfer ($15 billion) not only allows Ottawa to meddle in our jurisdiction, but constitutes another massive wealth transfer from Alberta to other provinces without our consent.

Albertans should be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a constitutional amendment to expressly forbid the federal government from spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction, and transfer these ‘tax points’ back to the provinces.

Alberta Constitution

Alberta’s own constitution is essential to ensure Albertans have the ability to enhance their freedoms by the power of government over citizens.  I believe that the process of developing a written Alberta constitution would also allow for Albertans to collaborate together on defining our values, freedoms, culture and right to develop our resources. Alberta is the leader in Canada in risk taking, entrepreneurship, sharing, and community building. Our own constitution would allow us to enhance and grow our culture, families and communities.

To facilitate the writing of a constitution, Albertans should be given the opportunity to elect an independent constitutional convention. This convention should debate and propose a constitution to be ratified by Albertans in a binding referendum.

Referenda and Recall

Many Albertans spoke assertively about democratic reform and having more of a say in their economy, representation, and resource development. You have spoken of adding citizen-initiated referendums to Alberta law. There is overwhelming support for this is and Albertans desire the ability to generate effective and inclusive referendums not encumbered by too high a signature bar, too short a period for signing or not allowing modern technology like e-signatures. We have the technological ability, or the ability to develop, the means with which to create true participatory opportunities. 

Albertans should be given an unshakable right to initiate referenda and recall representatives in the aforementioned discussion of an Alberta Constitution.

Immigration

Alberta should take control over immigration and border security. Immigration has from our earliest settlers built this province into the place of opportunity that we are known for. It is essential that Albertans have control over the levels, skills required and initial placement of new Albertans and Albertan families. Whatever Albertans or its government’s specific views on immigration policy, Alberta must assert total control over it within our constitutional framework. The federal government has demonstrated many times that it does not understand Alberta, and therefore cannot be relied on to deal with immigration with understanding for all involved. 

As this is already a matter of provincial jurisdiction under the constitution, Alberta should immediately begin to assert its authority.

Senate Reform

Alberta and the West (more broadly) are made second-class citizens by our permanent under-representation in the Senate. While Alberta contains twice the population of all four Atlantic provinces combined, we have little more than half of the seats allotted to New Brunswick. Every functioning federation in the democratic world has an upper legislative chamber providing some measure of equitable representation for its sub-national jurisdictions. This injustice towards the Western provinces, and Alberta in particular, violates the basic principle of “no taxation without representation”. The panel has made positive recommendations towards the democratization of the Senate.  But, without addressing the unequal nature of Western representation within the Senate’s seat makeup the west will continue to remain a group of second-class provinces.

As such, Albertans should be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a constitutional amendment to create a Senate that is elected and equal, along the lines of the models in place in the United States, Australia or Germany.

Free Trade

Canada’s founding fathers would be aghast at the state of free trade within what was supposed to be a single, free market. Successive Supreme Courts and governments have over 150 years, made a mockery of their vision of internal free trade. My panel colleagues rightfully point out that Alberta must take the lead in collaborating with other provinces on this front. In fact, you have shown leadership on internal free trade by unilaterally dismantling several trade barriers. But decades of experience and effort have shown us that collaboration alone will not be enough to dismantle the many internal trade barriers that continue to exist.

Albertans should be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a constitutional amendment to clarify and strengthen internal free trade provisions, including the right to move our resources across provincial boundaries.

Supply Management

The federal government’s “supply management” program violates our basic principles of free trade and free enterprise, but also structurally disadvantages Alberta farmers and consumers. The supply management system legally forbids Alberta’s dairy farmers from producing enough of their product for domestic consumption, necessitating the important of goods from Quebec.

In the aforementioned discussion on free trade, a constitutional amendment should make supply management an exclusively provincial matter, allowing provinces to opt out if they so decide, while trading freely between them.

Resource Development

One of the most pressing issues for obtaining a fair deal for Alberta must involve protecting our precious natural resources from federal encroachment. Ottawa’s meddling in the development of our oil and gas industry must not be tolerated. The panel is correct in pointing out that we urgently need to tackle this issue, however any lasting solution will require protections in the national constitution.

Albertans should be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a constitutional amendment to strictly firewall off any encroachment by the federal government over the internal development of our natural resources.

Next Steps

I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to listen to the thousands of Albertans that came to share their vision with the Fair Deal Panel. With an increasingly hostile government in Ottawa, you have had the foresight to understand that Albertans will no longer accept the inequities of being a second-class people under the constitution. My colleagues on the panel have given thoughtful consideration to the proposals before us, but it is necessary for me to express clearly to you and to Albertans what I feel in my heart must be done.

It is my final advice in the conclusion of the Fair Deal Panel that its main recommendations proceed to implementation and referenda where specified, but also the dissenting opinions expressed in this letter. I further advise that these proposals be voted on in two broad questions proposed to Albertans in a referendum: one on actions that Alberta can make unilaterally without federal consent, and one on constitutional amendments requiring the consent of the federal and other provincial governments.  I recommend that this process be started forthwith, with an action deadline of no more than nine months.

As we do so, we should be clear with Ottawa and the other provinces that if the people of Alberta vote for a fair deal of constitutional equality within confederation, but these proposals are rejected, that Albertans will be given the opportunity to vote on their independence. While I appreciate that my colleagues on the panel do not believe that Alberta can or should raise the prospect of independence under any circumstance, I must respectfully disagree. A free people must be willing to at some point of injustice without rectification, to draw a line and make a stand.

I do not make any of these recommendations, and the last in particular, lightly. I was born a Canadian, and sincerely wish to build a reformed Canada that treats all of its people equally and fairly. In fact, this is another opportunity for Albertans to lead the way, for by finding equality and fairness for ourselves, we can create the framework for others to find the same. Ultimately, this will help to build a stronger, freer, prosperous, and more united Canada.  But if this is not possible, the majority of my constituents in Cypress-Medicine Hat and from across our land have made clear that we must seek another relationship, as a sovereign people.

Sincerely,
Drew Barnes
MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

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