November 29th, 2021

Laying It Out: In all fairness, what a waste of time

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on June 20, 2020.

“Fair’s fair,” as they say. Whatever that means.

You gotta hand it to the editors at the Calgary Sun for running that phrase in triple-digit font size on the front page, because they were able to describe in two words what members of the Fair Deal Panel needed 68 pages to say.

Not much.

Columnist Rick Bell was there to give his daily reminder of how outraged we all are, but even he didn’t see much point to the report upon its release. It’s not that I agree with Bell’s point of view, as he seems to think a document that already reads like a kid about to take their ball and go home isn’t threatening enough, but he’s the premier’s favourite scribe by a long shot and even he could see the lack of real worth.

Bell took moderate aim at Jason Kenney for his commitment to Confederation, seemingly suggesting that for Alberta to truly get a fair deal in Canada, it must be prepared to leave, or at least throw some real weight behind the threat. That opinion, it would seem, is more in line with our own Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes than it is the premier.

Barnes in a letter to Kenney this week followed up the report with some bold statements about what “the majority of (his) constituents in Cypress-Medicine Hat and from across our land” feel about the report’s demands, as apparently we have “made it clear that we must seek another relationship, as a sovereign people” if they aren’t met.

Odd assertion considering the Fair Deal Panel report which he helped author said “one in three” Albertans are willing to pursue independence, and my trusty iPhone calculator informs me that 33 per cent is almost for sure less than 66. Kenney suggests from polling he’s seen that, at best, it’s more like 25 per cent and that if it were put to a vote, it wouldn’t likely see better than half that in official support.

Barnes, the man who prides himself on opposing unnecessary spending of any kind, thinks we should hold a referendum on it. His boss called talks of separation nothing more than an “empty threat” and even told News Talk 770 in Calgary that, “(Barnes) had a chance to make those arguments and the panel concluded that was not a useful point of supposed leverage.”

So, if an MLA member of the panel and the premier who tasked that panel can’t agree on what Albertans would want if said panel’s demands aren’t met, should we trust that Albertans would even agree on what those demands should be? Strangely enough, the report was both super specific and ultra unsure of itself in its listing of the myriad ways Alberta is getting a raw deal, while continuously suggesting we hold referendums to find out if Albertans agree.

I thought the panel was travelling the province for three months on the public dime to draft Alberta’s fair deal demands, but I guess it was just a multi-million dollar excursion to figure out which demands we should ask Albertans if they’d like to actually demand. Seven months ago, before the panel began its province-wide tour, the UCP used public dollars to buy front-page ads in Ottawa making specific demands for a fair deal. Every one of those demands appears in the Fair Deal Panel report, and yet, all it concluded was that we should ask Albertans what demands we should make.

See what I’m getting at here?

The entire process is just more theatrical nonsense meant to confuse and distract people. If we’re all busy wondering when Ottawa will decide to be fair to us, maybe we’ll gloss over the weekly displays of unfairness coming at us from Edmonton.

Let’s look at equalization as an example.

The report says we should hold a referendum on this federal program that constitutionally exists to ensure all Canadians have equal access to basic services. Albertans are told to hate it because we put more into it than we get out of it, but they’re rarely told that it works that way because Albertans have more people making higher wages coupled with a younger population that has fewer needs.

More importantly, Alberta has zero say in how this works, and if people are really dying for some answers, they should probably just ask their premier, whose CPC government wrote the formula while we had a Calgary-based prime minister. It’s possible that Stephen Harper and Kenney hate Albertans as much as Justin Trudeau does, but it’s probably a little more likely that the public’s perception of how equalization works isn’t entirely accurate.

Speaking of public perception… Who wants to ditch the RCMP? Or the Canada Pension Plan? The Fair Deal Panel thinks enough of us would vote yes that we should hold referendums on those things as well. Never mind that referendums are expensive, drawn-out undertakings, does anyone in their right mind think Albertans would vote in favour of these pricey pursuits? I doubt it.

Our provincial government’s favourite activity is distracting us from unrelenting austerity measures. While we’re on the topic of listing demands, maybe one could be that Albertans stop footing the bill for the distractions.

I mean, fair’s fair.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. Contact him by email at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com, or follow him on Twitter at @shmitzysays

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