Alberta Politics
Fair Deal Panel members, UCP MLAs Tany Yao, Miranda Rosin and Drew Barnes (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As predicted, ‘Fair Deal’ Panel reheats the Firewall Manifesto to manufacture consent for policies Albertans don’t want

Posted on June 18, 2020, 2:20 am
9 mins

Consider the report of Alberta’s “Fair Deal” Panel, released yesterday by Premier Jason Kenney with considerable fanfare.

It strongly suggests the Harper-Kenney wing of the Canadian Conservative movement is made up of people who purport to be Canadian patriots when they’re in power in Ottawa but are Prairie separatists when they’re on the outs with voters in the Rest of Canada.

Stephen Harper, when he was prime minister of Canada in May 2011 (Photo: Prime Minister of Greece/Flickr).

Patriots of convenience, you might say. Pay no attention to that red maple leaf flag in the background of those portraits from their Ottawa days.

It turns out the eight surviving Fair Deal Panel members — including a retired civil servant, an unsuccessful Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate, some undistinguished MLAs from the United Conservative Party backbenches, and a superannuated titan of the Reform Party — didn’t have an original thought among them.

They just put Stephen Harper’s 2001 sovereignty-association screed into the microwave, give it a couple of turns at low power, and — voilà! — served it barely warm.

It would be a vast overstatement to call this unappetizing concoction Firewall Letter 2.0. This is the Firewall Letter drafted by Mr. Harper and his Americanized cronies in the University of Calgary’s political science and economics departments two decades ago cut and pasted into the third decade of the 21st Century. It’s the same C+ effort that deserved the trip to the recycler premier Ralph Klein, its nominal recipient, gave it in 2001.

The panel members needn’t have wasted their time pretending to listen members of the public at 10 town halls across Alberta. They obviously paid no attention to what they were being told, especially on the topic of having Albertans’ retirement funds hijacked to finance the foundering fossil fuel industry.

Not only do most Albertans hate the idea of replacing the Canada Pension Plan with an Alberta pension scheme — recommended for further study by the panel — they’re opposed to most of the rest of its key ideas.

Firewall Letter signatory Rainer Knopff (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In the end the Fair Deal Panel seems to have listened only to six people other than Mr. Kenney himself: Mr. Harper, Tom Flanagan, Ted Morton, Rainer Knopff, Andy Crooks and Ken Boessenkool, the original signatories of the Firewall Manifesto. And here it is again, whole cloth; reused, not recycled.

A provincial police force, Americanized private health care, incursion into federal jurisdiction while screaming at the feds to stay out of our lane, even the grand theft of Albertans’ CPP funds, it’s all as predicted in this space yesterday.

People in other parts of Canada may wonder, why bother? Most of this is unlikely to come to pass. Certainly there will be no constitutional change in Canada to suit Alberta’s post-oil tantrums.

There are, however, strategic reasons for much of this — now as in 2001. They include:

Neutralizing the threat from the right

Last fall, when this nonsense was being plotted, Mr. Kenney was worrying his promotion of Alberta separatism might have worked too well, and the UCP could face an electoral threat from its own loony far-right fringe.

Fair Deal Panel member Preston Manning (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Recruiting Preston Manning and throwing the Wexit nuts a few bones from the Firewall days seemed like a good way to nip it in the bud.

By now, of course, COVID-19, the vigour of the federal government compared to Edmonton’s pallid response to the pandemic, and public realization of just how unsavoury some Wexit leaders are, has rendered this unnecessary.

Distracting from the UCP’s ideological project

Neoliberalism is in disrepute around the world. Even in Alberta now might seem like a bad time to be pushing a radical neoliberal legislative program like the UCP’s. Releasing this report with a certain amount of hoopla, though, sucks the oxygen out of Alberta’s already stunted political discourse.

After all, it’s apparent that even a global pandemic can’t keep the citizens of the West’s faltering democracies from protesting in the streets when the stakes are high enough. Why take a chance on Energy Minister Sonya Savage’s misplaced optimism that COVID-19 will keep most folks from protesting the UCP’s radical program?

Getting rid of Naheed Nenshi

UCP target Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

You may wonder why the Alberta government would be so foolish as to spend millions on a referendum demanding a change to the Canadian constitution that has zero chance of happening. To get rid of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, of course.

Mr. Nenshi is despised by the Calgary Sprawl Cabal and many more at the old Manning Centre, not because he’s a squishy liberal, but because he’s an effective one.

Astute observers of Alberta politics noted that the referendum on Canada’s equalization program would be timed to take place during next year’s province-wide municipal elections.

The UCP base in Calgary might not bestir itself in sufficient numbers merely to vote in most municipal elections, but a referendum on equalization might motivate enough of them to topple Mr. Nenshi.

This is likely why the Canadian Taxpayers Federation — would-be donors in the rest of Canada take note — got on board with this sovereignty-association guff!

Discomfiting Justin Trudeau

Nothing annoys Premier Kenney and his mentor Mr. Harper more than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, particularly now that a lot of Albertans are starting to realize how little their provincial government has been doing to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the feds.

It goes without saying that anything that that discomfits Mr. Trudeau is considered worth doing by Mr. Kenney — no matter how much it costs us Albertans in cash and credibility.

Manufacturing consent for policies Albertans don’t want

University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas wrote a useful thread on Twitter yesterday arguing that the Fair Deal Panel is “an exercise in disinformation” intended to build support for “policies Albertans have clearly said they don’t want.”

The Fair Deal Panel’s attack on equalization — genuinely unpopular and widely misunderstood in Alberta — is nothing more than a deceptive wedge to achieve this goal.

“No one province can unilaterally amend the constitution,” Dr. Thomas explained — a point sure to be lost on the UCP base.

It is a small irony that the equalization formula disdained by Albertans was put in place by Mr. Harper’s Conservative federal government, the one served so ably by Mr. Kenney.

26 Comments to: As predicted, ‘Fair Deal’ Panel reheats the Firewall Manifesto to manufacture consent for policies Albertans don’t want

  1. Bill Malcolm

    June 18th, 2020

    Yup, heard the pious-sounding kenney last night on the fair deal panel. He got twenty seconds. Nobody cares about his bleatings outside Alberta, because the lag in public perception about the state of Alberta’s wealth hasn’t sunk in. Poor little rich boy whining gets no traction in the rest of the country at the moment.

    Reply
  2. Phil

    June 18th, 2020

    Shouldn’t you be an Albertan to say so?

    Reply
  3. Dave

    June 18th, 2020

    This is the political equivalent of shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic that Alberta’s economy has become. We have struck an iceberg called low oil prices and our current provincial leaders are flailing, preoccupied with past petty jealousies and jurisdictional disputes.

    Changing who runs the Federal pension plan and who polices Alberta will not help address the fundemental economuc problems Alberta faces at all and the UCP is at best delusional to claim it will. If anything, it will probably make things worse.

    It is desperate to try resurect what was a bunch of half baked ideas from the early 2000’s, that were soundly rejected by the provincial government at the time, and now are even more past their best before date.

    I suppose it will provide some distraction from the fact that we are in a heck of a mess and the UCP government is clueless about how to actually improve things. A decent government at this time might admit they have completely lost the plot and resign so someone more competent can take charge and try fix things.

    However, some at the top of the UCP government are so power hungry. Rather than admit they are not up to the task, they will continue to muddle on while Alberta continues to languish, hoping no one will notice the little Emperor has no clothes.

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      June 18th, 2020

      Sorry, Dave, the Kenney Klowns believe they ARE improving things! They’ve guzzled the Republican Kool-Ade for so long they can’t imagine any alternative but “Cut, cut, cut some more.”

      I’m afraid that people who are stuck in an ideological rut get MORE desperate, not less, when–I mean “if”–they realize they’re failing. Hence Kennney’s budget based on $58 per barrel oil. The desperate attempts to appeal to the Base’s persecution complex is even more of the same.

      Could someone start a new political slogan, something about “We can do this!” Reconciliation, police reform, pollution control, renewable energy (that last may be Alberta’s best-kept secret). There must be something positive we can use to counter the strong-man pitch.

      Reply
    • David Bridger

      June 18th, 2020

      I note that you spelled ‘Economuc” in your second paragraph. How true it is because it truly is a muck.

      Reply
      • Dave

        June 21st, 2020

        Ah, all those tiny keys next to each other. I do read through before I post, but somehow missed that one. It wasn’t what I intended, but interestingly it does convey the situation well.

        Reply
  4. Magda

    June 18th, 2020

    Now would be a real good time for the NDP opposition to stop coasting and do their job of pointing out these truths in an effective manner. Winning the next election will mean breaking a sweat; better start warming up.

    Reply
  5. jerrymacgp

    June 18th, 2020

    A couple of comments on these “recommendations”:
    – I was a bit puzzled by the “stricter rep-by-pop” item … if the recommendation were adopted by Elections Canada, Alberta would gain 5 seats, but at the expense of Saskatchewan & Manitoba, which wouldn’t make Kenney’s best buds Moe & Pallister very happy … and lefty BC would gain 3 & Ontario 7. Remember, the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA — where recent Canadian elections have been won or lost — has more people living in it than all of Alberta & Saskatchewan combined, and GTA voters are less enamoured of Kenney’s “all oil, all the time” rhetoric than the denizens of Calgary.

    – Re holding an equalization referendum in conjunction with civic elections next year, the AUMA may have something to say about that: https://auma.ca/news/join-virtual-meeting-june-18-vote-keeping-elections-local

    Reply
  6. Athabascan

    June 18th, 2020

    Even if 1`00% of those voting Albertans agreed to have Kenny steal the CPP, it would be constitutionally impossible.

    This fact was surely conveyed to Kenney by competent GOA lawyers. The reason he is going ahead and trying to score political points despite the legal realities is pure stunting.

    Again, let me remind fellow Albertans that no one outside this province is paying any attention to Kenney’s adolescent stunting. In any case, even his own out of touch supporters don’t trust him with their pensions. He’s just looking for another pile of money to plunder now that he’s emptied the Alberta treasury.

    Ignore his badly played political soap opera. Doesn’t he have gay teenage HS kids to beat up on?

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      June 18th, 2020

      I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again….Far better to have a strong central government in Ottawa, 2000 km away, than to have a Premier RIGHT HERE who can do whatever he damn well pleases.

      Reply
  7. Bob Raynard

    June 18th, 2020

    Mr. Kenney is promising us a referendum on equalization that, by the time it is held, everyone will be aware is meaningless. Our premier is less popular now than he was when he was elected, and likely to lose even more popularity when he implements his austerity plans because we have no money, especially when he then finds the cash for a meaningless referendum. Given that, I wonder how many people will choose to use their vote to simply express their dissatisfaction with our premier. In the last election there were certainly a lot of people who held their nose and voted UCP just to get rid of the NDP. The wonderful thing about a meaningless referendum is it allows the voter to make their feelings known without being stuck with any consequences. This whole thing could prove to be a real embarrassment for our premier. Personally I would vote that puppies are ugly if it meant embarrassing him.

    Reply
  8. Bruce Turton

    June 18th, 2020

    Any group that argues that the CPP, which gained some 3+% in the last update, should be apportioned to the Alberta investors of last resort for Alberta (and B.C.) fossil fuels should look again at how much that little cabal lost in their recent “investment” debacle. Public information should be getting out to seniors and those about to become such so that we can “illegally” demonstrate that we do not need/want any more of this kind of debacle done to our futures. I may need a haircut, but not from the UCP goons!

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      June 18th, 2020

      Matt? Is that you?

      Reply
  9. Scotty on Denman

    June 18th, 2020

    Wow. It’s like you’re clairvoyant or something!

    Reply
  10. Kang

    June 18th, 2020

    If memory serves, equalization is taken from payments made by companies and individuals on their Federal Income Tax. It has nothing to do with oil and gas royalties which the Province (well now perhaps the Alberta Energy Minister in consultation with individual companies) sets and keeps 100% of.

    Reply
    • John T

      June 19th, 2020

      That’s what 45+ years (- 4) of constant propaganda gets you. A populace that is woefully ignorant of one of the biggest cons the cons have perpetrated on Albertans.

      Reply
  11. Abs

    June 18th, 2020

    A vote for Jason Kenney is like a vote for house hippos. Everyone wants to believe in them (they’re so cute), but they are not real, so forget about it!

    Next time, Alberta voters would be wise to take a harm-reduction approach to voting. How much harm can the candidate do in four years? Which candidate is credible in terms of their actions speaking louder than empty words?

    Voting for something that doesn’t exist won’t make all your dreams come true. You might end up with a nightmare instead. This is what happened in April 2019.

    Reply
  12. Sam Gunsch

    June 18th, 2020

    Kenney ‘wish list’ from pretty good satirical Twitter account:

    Freedom Eagle
    @FreedomEagleAB
    ·
    21h
    All I want is a province:

    – Permanently tied to a declining industry
    – Separated from Canada;
    – With a declining population;
    – Defunct pension plan;
    – No representation… Anywhere;
    – No trade deals & nothing to trade.

    Thanks Fair Deal Panel for sharing the vision. #ableg

    Reply
  13. Athabascan

    June 18th, 2020

    This whole pathetic and amateurish political comedy is embarrassing for intelligent Albertans.

    Albertans and especially its bad actors running the province will never succeed in changing the minds of the majority of Canadians.

    There will be no help for Alberta until they institute a provincial sales tax like everyone else. For every Canadian living outside Alberta, it’s pure logic. Why give money to people in a province who don’t pay a provincial sales tax?

    I donate to charities, much like other fine Albertans, but I don’t give to people who are richer than me. Why would I (we)? Kenney knows this about the rest of Canada, so why does he persist? My theory is that he is using the only currency the right-wing ever has – anger, misplaced resentment, and prejudice. That may play well among old white men in Alberta, but for the rest of Canada, his antics are irrelevant and ignored.

    Poor Kenney, he doesn’t realize yet that he can be Prime Minister no matter how many lies he tells.

    Reply
  14. David Bridger

    June 18th, 2020

    If this is anything but playing to the UCPs dwindling rural base and the fringe social conservative movement which wants to roll the clock back to prehistoric days (mid 1970s) in an effort to get re-elected, I don’t know what good it will do. Thinking Albertans have more sense than to swallow it.

    Reply
  15. lost in the colonies

    June 18th, 2020

    criKey it can be frustrating to be an Albertan, some days worse than others
    have Kenney/UCP been timing this magic medicine hooey show for times like these ?

    more and more Albertans are starting to see that maladroit and malign Kenney and the UCP have very little in mind that does any good for most middle class and other working Albertans . . . so

    pull out the usual BS and distract, distract, distract and probably spend more money that we don’t have on legal proceedings
    makes me cranky enuff to spit this is the stuff that the koolaid drinkers love

    Reply
  16. Just Me

    June 19th, 2020

    All this is Kenney putting on his angry midget underwear and screaming for the disgruntled masses of day-drinkers, who are so in love with going it along and screwing with Ottawa. The great thing about alcohol is that everything is great and all ideas are amazing, until the bender ends.

    Passed referendums will be considered approvals for higher and higher taxes, because independence is expensive.

    But I suspect that by the time that these referendums start happening, Kenney will be getting ready to, either, jump back into federal politics; or walk away from all the nonsense he’s caused. He’s never been one to finish anything, or to do anything where he would have to bear responsibility. Why start now?

    My next prediction is that the Leg. will take a break in late summer for the rest of the year. Why? Because a number of UCP MLAs will be heading to the US to campaign for Congressional GOP candidates. The mission is to assure that not only Trump reclaims the White House, but that the Republicans’ super-majority in the Congress is restored.

    Reply
  17. Murphy

    June 19th, 2020

    The term “conspiracy theory” is now part of the lexicon of the “progressive “ mainstream media (it’s implementation has caused me to drop Alberta Views magazine after a decade or so of loyal readership) but Harpo and Tailgunner Jay are nothing but the products of conspiracy. Alberta is a petrostate that has to be managed by the US, just like Iraq or Iran or Qatar. The Calgary School was initially headed by E Burke Inlow, a bona fide spook from US intelligence.
    https://thewalrus.ca/the-man-behind-stephen-harper/

    Reply
    • Just Me

      June 21st, 2020

      Conspiracy theories are wonderful things, because they may — just may — explain bizarre chains of events.

      The doc “The Family” tells the story of the marriage of convenience between Evangelical Christians and US politicians. If no one has checked out this very interesting film, watch it and receive the best explanation yet as to why the God-Squad is creeping into every house of political influence in the world.

      Is Harper a member of the Family? If he isn’t, it’s sure as hell certain that Kenney is.

      Reply
  18. Carlos

    June 19th, 2020

    This is better than the Cirque du Soleil and it is free. The design is almost entirely Harper’s.
    I just wished they had given the money they spent on this and other charades like the War Room to the Food Bank. It would at least have helped some people that are loosing their jobs due to UCP unnecessary cuts.
    Just thinking to go through this for another 3 years is what is agonizing.

    Reply

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