Alberta Politics
Donna Kennedy-Glans in March 2015 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

‘Has Trudeau committed treason?’ The answer is no and the question is completely bonkers!

Posted on December 26, 2018, 2:07 am
12 mins

Donna Kennedy-Glans, by all accounts an intelligent and accomplished Alberta Conservative, recently posted and pinned a Tweet asking, “Has Trudeau committed treason?”

If her intention was to grab the attention of Alberta’s chattering classes, she succeeded.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Edmonton. Has he committed treason? Answer: Nope! (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If she was out for attention, though, I’m not sure she really wanted the kind that had folks wondering, “Has Donna Kennedy-Glans gone off her head?”

This was the tone of many responses to the pinned query, since it was soon apparent to anyone who followed the link provided that Ms. Kennedy-Glans was at least half serious about this proposition.

All you needed to do was sub in the name of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and you’ve almost perfectly caught the tone of the original John Birchers whom Ms. Kennedy-Glans seemed to be channeling.

Is the John Birch Society now framing mainstream political debate in this province, or what?

Despite the nuttiness of the question, it’s worth spending a few minutes examining the argument, if only for what it tells us about the state of political discourse in Alberta on the cusp of 2019. After all, this commentary by a former lawyer for TransCanada Pipelines is bound to be treated as if it were gospel by the usual suspects on the right.

The post, co-written with former CBC announcer Don Hill on what appears to be a joint-venture blog called “Beyond Polarity,” includes a rambling Socratic dialogue with an unidentified “Constitutional Lawyer.” This character is strangely reminiscent of your blogger’s Perfesser Dave, only less funny.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959, when Republicans still wore brown suits and about the time the John Birch Society was accusing him of treason (Photo: The White House).

In it, the authors claim Mr. Trudeau is “obsessed with world governance and has abrogated his responsibilities as prime minister of Canada.” They frame this dubious assertion, grandly, as “the charge.”

As evidence of Mr. Trudeau’s supposed obsession and betrayal, they offer a report that the Liberal Government sent more delegates to a recent climate conference in Poland than it did negotiators to the free-trade table in Washington last summer (which seems reasonable given the latter was restricted to specialist diplomats) and the fact the PM argues his climate policy is in the national interest (as any politician would).

This is weak tea. Nonetheless, based on this, the authors ask if there is therefore a case for Mr. Trudeau’s removal from office.

This is startling, as Ms. Kennedy-Glans is a veteran Parliamentarian and former member of premier Alison Redford’s cabinet. She certainly understands how our Westminster system of Responsible Government works.

There is always a case to be made for removing a prime minister. It is up to its proponents to make it and, so far, Ms. Kennedy-Glans and her amanuensis are not making it very well.

Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, in 1875 (Photo: George Lancefield, Public Domain).

Perhaps they have been influenced by impeachment fever coming from south of the 49th. But we don’t live in the United States, so impeachment is not an option. A prime minister is only head of government, not head of state. Responsible Government provides mechanisms for removing prime ministers: they are a vote of non-confidence or an election.

As for the musings of the unidentified constitutional lawyer, putative source of the blog’s wisdom, they amount to a simplistic and misleading caricature of Section 91 of the Constitution Act 1867.

Section 91 sets the respective powers of the federal and provincial governments. It includes reference to the famous POGG Power, that bit of British colonial boilerplate that pops up in several countries’ original constitutional documents.

It says Her Majesty – Queen Victoria, that is, and subsequent monarchs – “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and the House of Commons” can “make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada.” The inevitable acronym, therefore, is POGG.

Learned counsel, if summarized accurately by the bloggers, seems to think POGG is a constitutional magic bullet that allows a prime minister to override the jurisdictional rights of provinces set out in the Constitution at the stroke of a pen.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1975 (Photo: Rob Mieremet, National Archives of the Netherlands).

This is not quite right. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain and more recently the courts in Canada have spoken, and Canadian prime ministers are nowadays somewhat limited as to how they may apply the POGG Power to intrude on provincial jurisdiction. Nevertheless, exceptions are fairly broad, and one is to achieve goals of “national concern.”

But since there is inevitably going to be disagreement, sometimes profound, about what a matter of national concern truly is, it would be up to the courts to determine, as Justice Gerald Le Dain of the Supreme Court of Canada put it in 1988, if the matter “has attained the required degree of singleness, distinctiveness and indivisibility that clearly distinguishes it from matters of provincial concern.”

It is a fantasy to imagine the POGG Power can be applied with a snap of a finger – or be resolved much more speedily than the current difficulties faced by the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project in Canada’s courts.

Even so, this is a weird thing for an Alberta politician to advocate simply because she is aggrieved about a Liberal prime minister doing things in a way she thinks is not in Alberta’s interest.

Hasn’t the whole history of Confederation since 1867 been provinces, often led by Quebec, fighting to reduce the POGG Power so they can operate in their own interest?

Yet here we have an influential Alberta Conservative arguing that since a pipeline to tidewater is obviously a matter of vital national interest (never mind Canadians are deeply divided on that question), and since Prime Minister Trudeau is not using the POGG Power to push it to completion (never mind that is exactly what his government appears to be doing), therefore he “could” be guilty of treason for “saving the world but letting Canada’s economy fizzle out” (never mind that’s a highly tendentious interpretation of the impact and nature of his policies).

British Columbia Premier John Horgan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Stick with me, though. I think I know where Ms. Kennedy-Glans and her journalistic and legal sidekicks are trying to go with this.

Are they not proposing a new Constitutional doctrine harkening back to prime minister John A. Macdonald’s original scheme – except that instead of the federal government holding the bulk of the power, Alberta would?

Sir John envisaged a Canada in which a strong federal government could override weak provinces pretty much at will. Thanks to the rulings of the courts, and the patriation of the Constitution engineered by prime minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1980s, things have changed a bit since then.

Ms. Kennedy-Glans appears to be proposing that we return to 1867 – only with Alberta politicians at the controls. And not just any Alberta politicians! Presumably only ones who share her conviction a pipeline to tidewater is self-evidently in the national interest would qualify.

If this doesn’t go over very well elsewhere Canada, she seems to think, that’s just tough. “B.C.’s John Horgan and Quebec’s new premier Francois Legault … have no authority to block pipeline construction in the ‘national interest’. It’s federal jurisdiction.”

Unsaid but implied is that as mere Canadians the premiers of B.C. and Quebec also ought to have no right to challenge this interpretation before the courts. This is pretty mainstream in Alberta, as those who followed the “rule of law” hysteria here a few months ago are sure to understand.

Or perhaps the authors think it is only a matter of time before the country comes to its senses and brings back Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney to run things.

Alas for them, neither is very likely.

First Nations are also not mentioned by the authors. One imagines their thoughts on Indigenous rights follow a similar logic.

However, when the federal government decides to enact policies Alberta doesn’t want, apparently, it becomes “treason.”  Or something. The bloggers’ narrative is murky at this point.

But even raising the possibility is bizarre. It is certainly neither a sound interpretation of the Constitution nor Section 46 of the Criminal Code.

No one would have taken such nonsense seriously five years ago, when Albertans ruled the roost in Ottawa. Now, apparently, large numbers of Albertans do!

So what does this tell us about the state of public discourse in this province?

Have we come completely untethered from logic, constitutional law and democratic theory?

Or do Ms. Kennedy-Glans and the UCP simply need new constitutional advisors?

20 Comments to: ‘Has Trudeau committed treason?’ The answer is no and the question is completely bonkers!

  1. Brett

    December 26th, 2018

    She is embarrassing herself.

    Reply
  2. John

    December 26th, 2018

    Alberta is coming to the slow understanding that there is a sea change in the province. Their reactions are desperate.

    Reply
    • David Grant

      December 26th, 2018

      I think you might be right about a sea change coming. Who would have predicted in 2015 that change would have come. Most were resigned that nothing would get better on the political scene and some have resigned to this for the next election expected to be held in the spring. The interesting thing about Ms. Kennedy’s-Glans is that she does seem to be progressive and forward thinking on social issues, but has some truly unenlightened positions on the economy and in regards to provincial relations. She is part of the old ways of thinking and it is quite ironic given that the aim of her blog is to challenge these kinds of thinking.

      Reply
  3. Farmer Brian

    December 26th, 2018

    For me David, I enjoy working with numbers. As such I always try to find numbers to justify my outlook. With a little googling I found this: Distribution of Federal Revenues and Expenditures by province(www.lop.parl.ca/en_CA/201701E). This article uses Statscan data to in a series of graphs show the differences across Canada by province of what the federal government spent and collected in revenue in 2016. “In that year, federal revenues per capita exceeded expenditures in only four provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The difference was greatest in Alberta, where strong economic growth in 2016 raised the amount of revenues collected by the federal government to nearly twice the level of federal expenditures in the province.” Now keep in mind this article was written by an employee of the federa government not the Fraser institute. Also was not aware that 2016 was a banner year in Alberta but apparently it was. According to the graph the Feds returned $6200 per capita to Alberta in 2016, the lowest in Canada according to the graph and Alberta sent $11700 per capita to Ottawa, the next highest provinces were Saskatchewan and Newfoundland at $8700 per capita. So Albertans sent $5500 per capita more to Ottawa than they received back!

    Now David I fully appreciate your blogs outlook and that you take it upon yourself to make Conservatives like myself look bad. In my opinion the numbers justify the anger. Now there is no doubt Alberta has only 24 out of 338 members of parliament and as such the numbers are against Alberta and we have no clout. What interests me is this, Alberta has been sending far more to Ottawa than it has received for at least the last 15 years, does this in any way upset those of you on the left? You also appear to consider anything suggested by Conservatives as ridiculous, what are your solutions?

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      December 26th, 2018

      I suppose “Farmer Brian” could try addressing the issue at hand, like an honest man, which is that the party he is serving is descending into carefully cultivated madness. But that would require that he were an honest man.

      Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      December 26th, 2018

      @Farmer Brian: Albertans, in the aggregate, receive less from the federal spending pool than other provinces, primarily for unbiased demographic reasons: our population is younger than the national average, and so we have a smaller proportion of the population receiving CPP, OAS, and other federal seniors’ benefits. We also have lower unemployment than many other provinces, despite the downturn in the ‘patch, so the EI fund sends less money into Alberta than to the rest of Canada. (To be fair, many of those Albertans who have lost jobs in the oilfield downturn also aren’t eligible for EI, as they were self-employed and lost contracts with industry). Finally, we contribute more in both personal and corporate income tax, as well as in GST, than other provinces do, because of Alberta’s higher provincial GDP.

      For Alberta to qualify for equalization, for example, would require us to endure a provincial economic depression of historic proportions, not something I think the usual suspects on the right are advocating when they assail this federal programme. Similarly, Alberta would have to undergo a huge demographic shift towards more seniors, fewer children and less in-migration from TROC, before we started seeing more federal dollars flowing into the province than is currently the case.

      Facts matter. Season’s Greetings :-).

      Reply
      • TENET

        December 26th, 2018

        No matter how clear the facts are, their minds are muddled and they cling to their myths. In May it will be Hinterland versus Metropolis. I trust you are the later. We can see Brian’s roots and boots.

        Reply
        • Jerrymacgp

          December 29th, 2018

          Actually, Mr Tenet, I live in a small city, Grande Prairie, sort of a “middle-opolis” of just under 70k residents in the Peace Country. From the perspective of Calgary or Edmonton, usually lumped in with Hinterland.

          Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      December 26th, 2018

      Belated Merry Christmas, Brian!

      There is no disputing your numbers, my friend, but do remember, the name of the program is equalization. Remember, it is only an accident of geology that those oil resources are under our soil instead of New Brunswick’s. The numbers you cite happen in an effort to prevent egregious economic disparity. I really hate seeing arguments about Alberta leaving confederation made public. It is too easy to foresee a day when we grow beyond fossil fuel use, and Alberta reverts back to an economy based on agriculture and tourism, and it is us asking for equalization payments.

      Reply
    • Ken Larsen

      December 26th, 2018

      Farm Brian: with all due respect, you have cited your numbers out of context. The money coming out of Alberta is from Federal Income Tax payments by individuals and companies domiciled in Alberta. This was explained in paragraph 3.2 of the document you cited along with a footnote to the original Stats Can report. The equalization formula which sends some of that extra money from those four ‘rich’ provinces to the less well off was revised during the Harper/Kenney administration.

      You asked for ‘solutions’ to this non-existent ‘problem.’ The Government of Alberta could have greatly lessened those payments coming out of Alberta by charging a sensible royalty rate thereby lowering the “nominal profits” of the oil industry subject to Federal income tax, effectively transferring that money to the Govt. of Ab. However, the Ab Cons chose not to do that.

      Instead the Klein Cons chose to hold a big whoop-up where everybody got to buy all the toys they wanted and feel rich because their real estate was going up. That is over now, and flooding the world market with heavy oil that is not really in great demand will not help, and in fact might make the oil price worse.

      In my view the hard truth is there are no market solutions to restore the Ab oil boom, and that just leaves regulation, like the restriction on production taking effect this January 1st. The Notley NDP also has an obligation to regulate access to the pipeline system to provide equitable opportunities for oil and gas producers to export through the existing system – that would keep a lot more people working in oil and gas and that would clearly be in our Provincial and National interest.
      Enjoy the new year.

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        December 27th, 2018

        Ken, one of my first thoughts was how can Alberta interrupt the flow of money from the oil companies to Ottawa? And yes I do agree that it seems logical that if you increased royalties it should lower the profit margins of the company and therefore lower the corporate tax that goes to Ottawa. It would also lower the corporate tax collected by Alberta but we would benefit with more royalties collected. Keep in mind that of the almost $12000 collected per capita only $2000 comes from corporate tax. $6200 comes from personal tax, $800 from social insurance plans, $1200 from GST and the rest from unidentified sources of revenue.

        I also agree with you to a certain extent on the chances of the return of an oil boom. In the USA capital investment and growth in the oil industry is going through the roof but in Canada the current political climate has sent investment south and is contributing to this growth in the USA. As a result the latest chance at growth has already passed us by.

        Reply
    • tom in ontario

      December 26th, 2018

      Alberta closes the oil sands and Ontario shuts the auto plants.
      Let the rest of Canada subsidize us!

      Reply
    • Political Ranger

      December 27th, 2018

      All it takes to make your conservatives look bad is that they speak, or write, about pretty much anything.
      If anything, our host bends way over backwards to give the nutjobs on the right far more intelligence, sobriety and eloquence than they display.

      Reply
  4. David Grant

    December 26th, 2018

    Very good piece as usual. By her logic, Stephen Harper would also be guilty of treason as he tried harder than anyone to get pipelines built and failed. The name of this blog seems to imply that a move to break out of habits of thinking, but the authors cannot seem to break out of thinking that if something goes wrong in Alberta it is the federal government’s fault. She confirms the teachings of Perfesser Dave in one of your earlier columns. The good news is that there are people responding to her tortured logic.

    Reply
  5. TENET

    December 26th, 2018

    Off with her head!
    “Has Donna Kennedy-Glans gone off her head?”
    It serves no useful purpose.
    Sometimes I wonder if it is all “in my mind”, but your insights provide a harbour light and some moorings.
    The conservatives on both sides of the border are getting loonier (sorry yanks -something akin to bird brains). The Trump base and the UCP base are a threat to civilization as the know it.
    The migration back to caves is in motion. A dark curtain is descending on North America: the ending may well be a whimper.
    Happy New Year and stock up on Prozac.

    Reply
  6. Bob

    December 26th, 2018

    Kennedy-Glans is right and will likely form a key advisor for Kenney in the next government.

    Reply
  7. Scotty on Denman

    December 27th, 2018

    There really ought to be a law against rule-of-law hysteria before the federation becomes completely lawless.

    Reply
  8. Poggo

    December 27th, 2018

    If Alberta has managed to be one of the few rat free places on earth without resorting to walls, how hard would it be to keep stupid carpet bagging chancers like Jason Kenney, et al from overwhelming your little Duchy? Walls? Needless! Courtesy and intelligence tempered by good sense might suffice!

    Reply
  9. Jerrymacgp

    December 29th, 2018

    All the time that Mr Trudeau, Ms McKenna, Mr Sohi, and other members of the Liberal federal Cabinet are being attacked by all sides in the Alberta political wars for their failure to facilitate the transport of Alberta oil & gas products to the famed “tidewater”, outside Alberta they are being assailed by other politicians both federal & provincial—Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May, John Horgan, Andrew Weaver, Francois Legault, among others—and by environmentalists, for their failure to fully buy into the COP24 message about the urgency of addressing climate change, and their ongoing support for the Alberta oil & gas industry. Charges like “real climate change fighters don’t buy or build pipelines” may sound jarring here in Oilbertastan, but are tossed around freely outside our borders.

    So, were is the treason? Of course, there isn’t any. There are legitimate and valid political disagreements in this country about the best path forward, and the Liberals can fairly be challenged for trying to be all things to all people, but throwing out the “treason” charge is so over the top, it’s on an escape trajectory from solar orbit.

    Reply

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