Brian Jean: Canada is broken … Albertans are furious … and this saddle is killing me … (Photo: Facebook).

If former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean established anything on Monday with his Epistle to the Albertans, wherein he set out his “agenda to move Alberta forward,” it’s that he remains a man desperate to be taken seriously.

Much mocked in circles that no longer take Mr. Jean very seriously at all, if ever they did, his not-entirely-unexpected disquisition on Confederation and Alberta’s place in it nevertheless generated lots of Serious Ink, actual and virtual.

Mr. Jean and his wife, Kimberly Michelutti, announce they’re going to have a baby (Photo: Twitter).

In his screed, definitely meant to be taken seriously, the man on horseback from Fort McMurray proclaimed that “Canada is broken” and “Albertans are furious.” These are the sort of claims journalists love to repeat, even if they are contentious and their motivation tendentious.

I suppose we can agree some Albertans are furious. This has always been true as long as I’ve lived here, which is getting to be a very long time indeed. Perhaps it’s something in the water, although probably not in our constitutional arrangements with the rest of Canada, which for most of that time have been very much to Alberta’s advantage.

It is also true there’s an elite political consensus in this province that the country isn’t working the way it ought to, that is, that our leaders are not getting everything they want the instant they want it. But since other Canadians don’t necessarily or always want the same things Alberta’s leaders do, one could argue that’s evidence the country is working the way it should.

When a group of social media savvy Albertans who are not furious cooked up the ironic Twitter hash tag #NotAngryAB in response to Mr. Jean’s musings, that just made the citizens of the Principality of Angry Alberta angrier, to mainly comedic effect.

This can’t have been an entirely happy outcome for a man who had just informed us “Alberta’s future looks bleak unless bold action is taken” – that is, unless we Albertans swallow the prescription he has issued for us, to wit, to start acting like Quebec separatists, demand the Canadian constitution be renegotiated to our advantage, and, while we’re at it, recognize we have no better leader than Brian Jean. Still, better to be spoken of badly than not to be spoken of at all!

Mr. Jean made the first two propositions explicitly in his essay. As for the third, that’s implied but pretty obvious. He’s telling us he’s the only person who can, in his words, “return Canada to the original spirit of Confederation.”

The only problem with Mr. Jean’s convenient declaration that “our country is not working the way it was intended in 1867” as a starting point for his prescription for the future is that it is a profound misinterpretation of the reasons Canada was created, and the federal form it took.

It is simply not true, as Mr. Jean contends, that “the original constitution was essentially a business deal guaranteeing free trade and free passage of goods between and through our provinces, to bring prosperity to all Canadians.” This is an ideological fantasy with shallow roots in the late 20th Century.

Indeed, Alberta was part of the Northwest Territories, entirely under federal jurisdiction, until 1905, and did not receive full control over its natural resources until 1930.

Confederation was a 19th Century British Imperial project to strategically block the United States from the western half of British North America at an affordable cost that would be largely borne by citizens of the new country. It was also intended to meld badly functioning colonial governments like that in the former Upper Canada into a system that would be stable, and to break the historic deadlock between French and English Canada.

Mr. Jean addresses the Albertans: I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more! Actual Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated (Photo: Screenshot from Network, 1976).

Notwithstanding the horrible example of the American Civil War, still fresh in everyone’s memory in 1867, it took the form of a federation to ensure it could be accepted by the French-speaking colonists of what is now Quebec and long-established English-speaking colonists on the East Coast.

Free passage of goods among provinces was an afterthought at best, although it would get there in the fullness of time with the construction of railroads westward.

It is true our Canadian federation was structured to avoid the worst features of the United States’ slaveholder constitution – which led to the Civil War. So Mr. Jean is partly right when he says our original constitution – the British North America Act, passed by the Parliament at Westminster – “envisioned a central government making the ultimate political decision to declare a project to be in the national interest and thus override regional objections.”

But to suggest Canada could or should return to a near-unitary government able if inclined to enforce the decisions Alberta wants (and presumably only the decisions Alberta wants) is dangerous nonsense that ignores a century and a half of Canadian constitutional jurisprudence.

In our nearly 152 years, Canada has gone from being a highly centralized federation dominated by Ottawa to one of the most decentralized federal unions in the world. The ship Mr. Jean so fondly remembers sailed long, long ago.

Nor would bringing it back to port be good for Alberta, which inevitably would sooner or later be overruled by the majority on policies that matter to it. If anyone was suggesting this seriously, Albertans would fight it tooth and nail – and we would have allies in most other provinces.

Mr. Jean has to understand this stuff. He may be being a dope, but he’s not a dummy. He’s a lawyer, for heaven’s sake!

So what’s up? One can only speculate, of course, but consider the position he finds himself in.

Here it is, 2019, about the time he’d been hoping to be getting ready to take hold of the reins of Alberta’s government. Instead he’s a man without a party to lead or a political role to fulfill.

He’s not exactly a spring chicken at 55, but he and his second wife Kimberly Michelutti, whom he married in 2017, have just declared that they’re about to have a baby. Funny how his idea that “the marriage between Alberta and the rest of Canada is deeply troubled” seemed like an appropriate metaphor.

And recent polling suggests the aggressive advertising campaign by Alberta’s current NDP Government led by Premier Rachel Notley may in fact be working, moving Canadians in most places toward viewing a pipeline as a national necessity, just as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also says it is.

Mr. Jean’s rival in the conservative movement – now the leader of the United Conservative Party – is a former federal politician who apparently still casts covetous eyes at the Prime Minister’s Office, just down the street from the half-million-dollar condo he bought in 2009 with a little help from taxpayers.

So, who knows, there might be a job opening in Edmonton soon. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the “‘Mad As Hell’ Party, that isn’t going to take it any more.”

So never mind the facts of history. What better way to set yourself apart from all those other little conservatives clamouring for the brass ring than to have a slogan concise enough to stitch on a ball cap: “Make Confederation Great Again.”

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  1. Very good post.

    I believe Mr Jean is originally from BC. Perhaps we can attribute his lack of Canadian history knowledge to the schooling there – we got a lot of it banged into our heads in high school in NS in the early sixties. And submitted a flag design to replace the old ensign in Pearson’s contest. We were proud to be Canadian.

    There seems in recent years to be a quite large number of people originally from outside the province who have taken up the cudgel to advance what they see as Alberta’s interests. They all seem a bit light on facts, preferring to retrieve opinion from their memories rather than facts from official sources. One thinks of Jason Kenney who forgets he was responsible for the last equalization formula update in 2007 under Harper, and which was Alberta-friendly because it threw away half the royalty income from resources when it came to calculating provincial government revenue. Misremembering facts accidentally on purpose seems a common Conservative characteristic of late. It helps them to bamboozle the public.

    You could have knocked me over with a feather to learn Mr Jean is a lawyer. Lawyers tend to be somewhat adept at looking up precedents when formulating cases for clients. Apparently this tendency to refer to facts professionally is abandoned when it comes to politics for Mr Jean when any old hearsay and prejudice will do do the job better. His CBC TV phone interview rant before Christmas convinced me that he was a rural convenience store owner howling at overbearing government regulations, and lacking in basic interview skills. When they finally slowly turned the volume and let him go he was still talking. Embarrassing for him. There’s nobody more passionate than someone who feels they’re hard done by, even if they’re full of it from beginning to end.

    1. Mr. Jean was born in B.C., but moved to Alberta before he was of age to attend kindergarten, so we Albertans will have to take the rap for most of the flaws in his education. He went to law school in Australia and prepped to practice in Canada at the University of Calgary. DJC

      1. Donna Kennedy-Glans, whose origin is not clear, is another one with a poor grasp of history. She and the less visible Don Hill have another incoherent blog post up, not having learned much from the response to the last one. In their view, Maurice Strong continues to be the villain, abetted by David Suzuki.

  2. Don’t be so fast to kick Brian Jean to the curb folks.

    In my humble opinion, Jean realizes, as all shrewd political piranhas do, that Jason Kenney’s political luster and relevance is beginning to wane with Lougheed-like conservatives. With the steady drip, drip, of UCP desertions (combined reams of negative press) Jean is merely biding his time until the “Kenney Saves Alberta” reclamation project falls flat on its face this election cycle.

    After being conned, politically eviscerated and stabbed in the back by Kenney during the PC/Wildrose merger and UCP leadership race, Jean is licking his chops. Expect more profound angry missives from Mr. Jean as the election cycle heats up. Then brace for the aftermath — a sure-fire bloodletting if Kenney loses to Rachel Notley and the NDP in the forthcoming.

  3. I suppose Mr. Jean actually does have some things to be angry about. For instance, lets start with the fact not so long ago he was happily the leader of the official opposition and anticipating becoming Premier of Alberta, that is until his leadership and party were stolen, yes stolen from him. I suppose that in itself is enough to make someone go a bit off. This sort of reminds me of Nancy McBeth and her videos with horses around election time years ago. Perhaps horses are the western equivalent of man’s or woman’s best friend and they don’t betray you or stab you in the back like say certain other Conservative people.

    Speaking of Conservative people, current UCP leader Kenney is certainly a very talented political organizer, who seems to have learned how to silence and control his party from his former Federal leader, but I am not sure strategy is his strongest point. There is an old saying about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer. Kenney seems to have banished or exiled a growing number of his former opponents and others from UCP la la land. Right now there are a lot of free range Conservatives out there and I am not sure they are helpful to Kenney, when even like Jean they might appear to be innocuous. As a politician, Kenney has seemed fairly skilled at channeling anger, but with one little video Jean seems to now have turned some Albertans into mocking this sort of anger.

    I am not sure Kenney is really much looking forward to Jean’s next public foray, but I have a feeling other Albertans are. At the least it might be entertaining, and whether intended or not, might provide us with a respite from all the recent overly manufactured and calculated political anger.

  4. One of the principal drivers of Confederation was concern amongst leaders of what were then the British North American colonies about a new expansionist mood in the United States after the end of the Civil War. Canada in the 18th & 19th centuries was somewhat of an affront to the US. Let’s not forget: one of the key milestones in Canada’s Constitutional history, the Quebec Act of 1774, was in fact among the so-called “Intolerable Acts” that led directly to the American Revolution. Later, in 1812, the US invaded the Canadian colonies, partly in retaliation for heavy-handed British actions in support of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. In addition, during the Civil War, many Canadians actually supported the Confederacy, not because of slavery, but because a Confederate victory would weaken the United States

    As to the decentralization of Canadian governance, most of that occurred in the early years of our history, when jurisdictional disputes between the federal & provincial governments were appealed to what was then the highest Court: the (UK) Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in London. The Judicial Committee’s decisions eventually drew sharper boundaries around federal authority than had been anticipated by the drafters of the original BNA Act. (The Supreme Court of Canada didn’t become Canada’s Court of last resort until 1933 for criminal appeals, and 1949 for other cases). One of the legacies of this history is the inability of a federal government to impose its will on a province, which is what would be needed to push a pipeline through its territory over provincial objections. And for those nutjobs yelling “notwithstanding clause”, that has nothing to do with this legal history, which long predates the 1982 Constitution Act & the Charter.

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