Sure sounds like Jason Kenney has a problem. He’s promised to release his Fair Deal Panel’s report next Monday, but it’s not at all clear Albertans are going to like what they hear.
In politics, like the dairy cooler, things come with a best-before date. And the Fair Deal Panel’s has come and gone.
Lots has changed since last November when Mr. Kenney cobbled together the panel from a group of likely suspects and gave it its sovereignty-association mandate as a way to keep the minority Liberal federal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on its back foot.
In case you missed it, there’s been this thing called COVID-19.
The global pandemic’s been bad for everyone, of course, leading to Depression-level unemployment all over the planet. That in turn has reduced fossil fuel demand everywhere, a double whammy for oil-revenue-dependent jurisdictions like Alberta.
It’s not pretty, but while your typical weactionary Wexiter might miss the obvious, it’s been dawning on lots of Albertans who voted for Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party last year that the politicians in Ottawa, not the ones in Edmonton, have been the ones paying the freight to keep folks’ heads above water.
About the only jobs the UCP has saved, meanwhile, have been those of their party’s political staffers, by claiming they’d stopped fund-raising so the party could game Ottawa’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program. Well, that and keeping those meatpacking plants running no matter what.
Throw in that Saudi-Russian oil price war and the fact the UCP forced through a delusional spring budget based on estimates Alberta’s bitumen-based crude would fetch nearly $60 per barrel, and “more Alberta and less Ottawa” doesn’t sound like nearly as good a slogan as it did last fall.
There are other reasons too. Maybe some folks thought it was a good idea when Mr. Kenney put $7 billion of our money on a bet Donald Trump would win next November’s presidential election and finish that Keystone XL Pipeline Alberta’s taxpayers were kindly bankrolling.
But after last week? Maybe not so much! Who’s betting now that the Trump Administration will necessarily even last until November?
And every time Mr. Kenney runs the Fair Deal Panel’s predetermined sovereignty-association flapdoodle up the flagpole, nobody seems to want to salute. Alberta Parole Board anyone? Pffffft! Hand over your Canada Pension Plan to the Alberta Investment Management Corp., also known as AIMCo, so it can sink it in the oilpatch? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Indeed, the panel’s eight remaining members got enough of an earful about that last one on their travels around the province that if it’s in the published recommendations on Monday, we’ll know for sure the old Kenney fixeroo was in.
The UCP’s own legislative priorities generate disquiet too. If you try really hard, it may be possible to overlook the Trump Administration’s efforts to turn the United States into a police state. But it’s troubling when the UCP follows his example with blatantly unconstitutional legislation designed to suppress public demonstrations against its pet projects right here at home.
So this is probably not the best moment to be rolling out a report predestined to include a bunch of Charter-busting, disruptive, quasi-separatist measures to a population that’s already growing justifiably dubious and jittery.
The government’s been sitting on the report since May, so Mr. Kenney’s strategic brain trust knows what’s in it.
But what to do? It’s not easy to stop a train even if you haven’t announced its arrival time in less than a week.
This may explain why Angela Pitt, MLA for Airdrie-East and the Deputy Speaker of the Legislature, got the job last weekend of trying to reframe the report as a harmless, Euro-style exercise in provincial autonomy.
“Should Alberta be an autonomous Province?” she asked on Facebook. “South Tyrol has — The province is granted a considerable level of self-government, consisting of a large range of exclusive legislative and executive powers and a fiscal regime that allows it to retain a 90% of revenue, while remaining a net contributor to the national budget.”
South Tyrol, in case you missed it, is a mostly German-speaking Italian province that didn’t get rolled into the German Reich along with next-door Austria in 1938 because the leaders of Germany and Italy at the time were somewhat simpatico, even if the Italians didn’t exactly encourage use of the German language there. Since 1945, Austria and Italy have yelled at each other now and then about who ought to run the place, but nobody seems to have moved the army to the border.
Be that as it may, South Tyrol has a population of about half the size of Calgary, some apples and decent wine, good scenery, and a plethora of tiny separatist parties. So there’s that.
Unlike Alberta, though, South Tyrol doesn’t appear to have any ambitions to run half the continent, or any notions of its own manifest destiny. It has no pipeline demands.
Predictably, Ms. Pitt’s hot-air trial balloon attracted more darts than laurels, and some of the voices of support weren’t really the kind you want to hear from.
The MLA’s responses to some of these hoots of derision sounded plaintive. “We would remain Canadian,” she said to one. “Maybe this is the compromise for those on either side of the fence on this issue.”
I don’t think this idea has legs. Or even a usable hashtag.
The UCP has six more days to come up with a better idea. After that, don’t stand too close to the fan!