Alberta’s so-called Fair Deal Panel, which might have seemed like a good idea when Premier Jason Kenney announced it last fall, presents something of a political problem for a government that has more often than not let Ottawa do the heavy lifting throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier Kenney pitched the rhetorical roadshow as a way to help ruggedly individualistic Albertans cast off the dead weight of Ottawa’s collectivist mentality and, in the words of the notorious Firewall Manifesto, “take greater charge of our own future.”
Most of the ideas the nine-member panel was instructed to explore came straight out of the risible independantiste screed penned in 2001 by Stephen Harper, three of his market-fundamentalist college teachers, and a couple of hangers on.
But faced with an actual crisis caused by the coronavirus, Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government mostly bowed to federal decisions, did its best to upload the costs onto the feds, and concentrated on yelling at the likes of Norway and China. The former was attacked for its lack of enthusiasm for getting back to the carbon economy as quickly as possible; the latter, inspired by U.S. President Donald Trump, presumably to deflect the blame for any shortfalls in the province’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
This makes it pretty obvious to Albertans who are paying attention, say what they will about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, what level of government you need to go to in a real crisis.
To put this metaphorically, it’s all very well to say that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but when fire breaks out in the castle kitchen, your imagined Englishman will still likely ring the fire brigade!
Which means that most of the “Fair Deal” Panel’s presumably predetermined recommendations — replacing the RCMP with a provincial force, no longer cooperating with Ottawa to collect taxes, finding ways to wiggle out of the Canada Health Act, appointing a provincial chief firearms officer dedicated to not enforcing the gun-control provisions of the federal Criminal Code, and dumping the Canada Pension Plan and replacing it with a provincial version — either have lost some of the cachet they appeared to have a few months ago or have already proved to be unpopular with voters.
More provincial autonomy as a general theme has certainly lost lustre now that Albertans have seen how little our provincial government is willing to do about anything, no matter how important, that isn’t among the bees in Premier Kenney’s bonnet.
The idea of grabbing CPP funds contributed by Albertans so that the UCP can dip into our retirement security to prop up Mr. Kenney’s beloved oil industry just about moved participants to tears of fury at some of the panel’s 10 small “town halls” across the province.
Despite the panel’s baked-in assumption Alberta gets a raw deal from the rest of Confederation and its apparent effort to lead witnesses to the conclusions the government wanted, plenty of people got up on their hind legs at the town hall I attended Jan. 9 in Fort Saskatchewan to proclaim their love of Canada and advise panel members they thought this province needs to start working with our fellow citizens instead of just yelling at them.
Soon after came the coronavirus, making their case for them.
Given all this, it should come as no surprise that the panel, which was supposed to report at the end of March and received an extension until mid-April, waited until May to hand in its homework to the government, according to the CBC. The government, in turn, didn’t say anything until Saturday, when it revealed to the public the report was in its hands. The report can now sit on the shelf until a more promising moment to implement Harper’s bad ideas, which even Ralph Klein had the good sense to spike back in 2001.
“I look forward to giving this report and its recommendations the proper attention it deserves once we have safely started to implement our relaunch strategy,” Mr. Kenney said in the government’s news release Saturday. The Saturday of a long weekend, of course, is an unusual time to publish information of this sort, even less likely to be noticed than on Friday night, the traditional time for publishing information governments would like voters to forget about as quickly as possible.
If you want to know what the panel recommended, you’ll just have to wait till a time of Mr. Kenney’s choosing.
“Government will announce a date for the public release of the report once the urgency of the COVID-19 response has subsided,” the government’s press release explained, a judgment, of course, that is entirely in the government’s hands.
The panel, chaired by former senior mandarin Oryssia Lennie, included Preston Manning, the godfather of the Canadian right; Stephen Lougheed, president of Alberta Innovates and son of the late premier Peter Lougheed; Donna Kennedy-Glans, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister now a blogger whose blog sometimes advocates some sort of sovereignty-association; law professor Moin Yahya; and backbench UCP MLAs Drew Barnes, Miranda Rosin, and Tony Yao. The ninth member of the panel, former Assembly of First Nations regional chief Jason Goodstriker, died suddenly on Jan. 16.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the report was handed in to the government on Friday. However, although the government’s news release on Saturday left the impression the report was handed in last week, the actual timeline is not yet clear.