July 24th, 2021

Viewpoint: Where to from here?

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on June 30, 2021.

Research Co. conducted an online survey recently to find out, where to from here?

Twenty-five per cent of responding Albertans support independence, but the majority do not. Independence for the three westerly provinces is at 29% in Alberta/Saskatchewan, but only 12% in British Columbia. Forty-five per cent of British Columbians believe the federal government is responsive to their needs, but satisfaction in Alberta drops to 32% and in Saskatchewan to 26%. A few Albertans [18 %] showed interest in joining United States.

Most Albertans choose Canada, but some two thirds are not satisfied with Ottawa’s response to Alberta. Can this situation be improved?

Preston Manning advocates that Albertans should build alliances with other Canadians to work for changes. Once he led many Albertans in a failed attempt to elect nominees for appointment to the senate, and now he wants to build new alliances for other reforms. It is unlikely any significant changes will result.

Premiers Jason Kenney and Scott Moe express dissatisfaction with Ottawa’s decisions affecting their provinces, but they are also federalists. A choice between either Ottawa, or their provinces, and their constituents could be in second place.

Jack Mintz, Ted Morton and Tom Flanagan [University of Calgary] have discussed more provincial autonomy. The Fair Deal Panel identified some areas for more provincial control: an Alberta pension plan, a provincial police force, collection of provincial taxes and receiving tax credits rather than federal transfers. Additional areas include immigration, a provincial constitution and opting out of national supply management.

A move toward more provincial autonomy will probably cost Albertans more than the existing arrangements. Alberta has 4.4 million people, which is considered relatively small for the costs to be incurred and specific subsidies from Ottawa would end.

More autonomy is to build the infrastructure necessary for either a new constitutional arrangement, or for potential separation. This approach parallels the new Maverick Party, “…has adopted a twin-track approach [constitutional change/independence] to achieve greater fairness and self-determination for Western Canadians.”

Autonomy is more feasible if three prairie provinces collaborate. Churchill on Hudson Bay could be developed into a prairie port; the northern railroad is upgraded to transport freight more safely. A pipeline is built to Churchill. The Bay can be an all-season waterway. The provinces, the Indigenous people and private businesses form a partnership for these mega projects.

A more drastic option is separation. It is easy to support publicly, and it will assure a prominent headline with even a photo. But, that is the easy part because the road appears to be nearly impassable. The Clarity Act identifies the six steps for this process, which were ruled by the Supreme Court.

The federal government must approve the referendum question; it must accept the results of the vote. Then negotiations follow. This process will be difficult because the federal government exists to keep the country unified. Many challenges include the division of assets, the separation of funds [EI, CPP], the sharing of the national debt, the right of way, the transfer of international treaties, the borders and the interests of Aboriginal peoples.

Any agreement will have to be an amendment to the constitution. The SCOC did not rule whether acceptance requires either unanimity by all the provinces and the federal government, or support from seven provinces with 50% of the population and the federal government. The probability for approval today appears low.

Any unilateral decision to separate could be disastrous because countries tend to distance themselves from such action. Canada and the United States would have to recognize Alberta’s independence; otherwise, Alberta would encounter major operational difficulties. Separation may be a future possibility, but today more autonomy, partnering with our neighbours, appears more practical.

Larry Samcoe is a Medicine Hatter. Feedback can be sent to letters@medicinehatnews.com

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