This guest column is jointly written by Conservative MPs: Michelle Rempel Garner, Blake Richards, Glen Motz, and Arnold Viersen. The Buffalo Declaration can also be read at buffalodeclaration.com.
Canada is in crisis.
Our federation has reached a crossroads at which Canada must decide to move forward in equality and respect, or people in our region will look at independence from Confederation as the solution.
We believe a Canada united in equity is in the best interests of its inhabitants. However, that is not the current state of Canadian federation. Immediate action must be taken to permanently correct inherent inequities that privilege some at the expense of others.
The economic and social challenges faced by Canada today are not the cause of the strains on our union, but rather are the symptom of the colonial power structures from which Alberta and Saskatchewan were born. Many of the people who we represent have expressed to us that they feel Canadian federation is deeply broken, and inherently unjust. They are disconnected from, and feel disrespected by, the power class of the Laurentian consensus.
We must emphasize that the roots of the anger felt by our people are not a passing political moment in time. They have been historically repeated and are entrenched in our political system. While challenges faced by Albertans today have been exacerbated by the incumbent federal government’s punitive legislative and regulatory changes; the political veto of critical infrastructure projects, and inaction when our economy is in crisis; these too are a symptom of a historical and pervasive structural problem.
This is to say that defeating the incumbent Liberal government, or building a pipeline, will not permanently address the systemic inequities Albertans face. For confederation to be sustainable, Canada must commit to permanent nation-building structural change within its institutions of power. In a more equitable Canada, one region’s ability to prosper should not be dependent on what political party is in power in Ottawa.
No longer can the fate of our people be determined by a class of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, academics, journalists, or business leaders who have no real connection to, or understanding of, our land or our culture.
All of Canada’s political leaders have a duty to their country to fight for an equal confederation. Those seeking Western support to lead the Conservative Party of Canada have a distinct duty to do more than list platitudes of support, but to commit their names to achieving necessary reforms.
Bluntly put, the status quo is no longer acceptable to people we represent. Many Albertans are considering their place in Confederation and are done with failed appeasement tactics or temporary measures. That said, we also believe many want Canada to firmly commit to work in good faith with us to make a concerted effort to repair our national bonds before seeking to cut them.
On behalf of the people we represent who are frustrated, hopeless, jobless, and who will not accept the status quo any longer: we are drawing clear line in the sand. In this declaration, we set before you the inequities our people face and concrete ideas to rectify them.
Immediate action must be taken because we are hearing from many people in our province that they will be equal or they will seek independence.
I. Our Challenges
1. Alberta is not, and has never been, an equal participant in Confederation.
At a time when commerce and industry was beginning to flourish in Eastern Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan were not yet a part of Confederation.
Before joining Confederation in 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were part of an enormous expanse which Canada called the North-West Territories. This land was bought by the Canadian government from Hudson’s Bay Company in 1868. Representatives from the North-West Territories including First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and settlers were not consulted.
The acquisition of the North-West Territories by Canada was thrust upon its people; not in partnership with them.
The template for how our people would be treated by the established Eastern political class was set in the purchase. This land was not bought for its inhabitants – indigenous and settlers alike – to have an equal partnership with the political and business interests to the East. This land was purchased in order to prevent the territory and the wealth it could create for Canada from being acquired by the Americans.
This inequality of the West’s place in Canada was acutely displayed when the North-West Territories’ first premier, Sir Frederick William Alpin Gordon Haultain, sought provincial status for his large western territory, which he called Buffalo. The federal government feared this would concentrate too much power in one province and grow to rival Quebec and Ontario.
Despite Premier Haultain’s efforts, Alberta became a province separate from Saskatchewan on September 1, 1905.
The Eastern political and business class never intended for Alberta to be equal in Confederation. They intended for us to be a colony, providing wealth and raw resources without having an equal share in prosperity and power.
Under the 1867 British North America Act, provinces were given jurisdiction over their public lands and resources, but this right was denied to Alberta and Saskatchewan. The federal government justified retention of control over Western lands by arguing that they needed to promote immigration and settlement; and therefore, provincial control “would be ruinous . . . disastrous” to this national endeavor. This stance cemented the colonial view of Albertans to the Eastern political and business class. Ottawa attempted to make up for seizing the West’s revenue by providing subsidies based on population. However, Premier Haultain wanted no part of this compensation package and demanded the same right as other provinces. The Calgary Herald described this situation as the “Autonomy that Insults the West.”
Albertans wanted to control their own destiny without handouts from Ottawa then, and we want the same today.
Alberta’s struggle with Canada’s federal government continued through the 20th Century. After the oil boom of the 1970s, Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau imposed unprecedented measures to restrict the growth of the Alberta economy, often with the support of Eastern politicians. The National Energy Program (NEP) remains a historical stain on the relationship between the federal government and the people of Alberta. At a time when wealth, opportunity, and political influence was thriving in Alberta, the first Prime Minister Trudeau took it upon himself to attack the natural resource sector in Alberta with destructive force. When Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed asked why Ontario-based manufacturing products were sold to Albertans at tariff-protected prices, while Alberta oil was being sold to Ontarians at half the going rate, no justification was given. The government of the day unapologetically displaced billions of dollars in investment, which forced Albertans from their homes, bankrupted businesses, destroyed livelihoods, led to suicides and set the province back for a generation.
Never acknowledged or rectified, this malicious act stands as a reminder of the colonial attitude towards Alberta, and what happens when the political power class of the East turns, with intent, against the West.
Premier Lougheed continued his fight with Ottawa over provincial autonomy and jurisdiction over Alberta’s natural resources through the patriation of the Constitution. While Prime Minister Trudeau’s amending formula in the Victoria Charter of 1971 would have given Ontario and Quebec permanent vetoes over changes to the Constitution, it was Lougheed who ensured this would not be entrenched in the Constitution. The current amendment formula which requires seven of the ten provinces representing at least 50% of the population to agree to the amendments is due to Lougheed’s negotiations. However, Lougheed was forced to give in on equalization, Senate reform, and other measures of inequality in order to secure an amending formula that did not enshrine permanent second-class provinces.
Today, a new generation of Albertans face the same policy of economic and political strangulation by another Prime Minister Trudeau who, through regulation, legislation and sparking civil unrest, is usurping the sovereignty over Alberta’s natural resources for which Lougheed fought so hard.
Since 2015, the incumbent Prime Minister has made a series of policy decisions that have precipitated significant economic decline in Western Canada. In Trudeau’s tenure, Alberta has suffered substantial unemployment as billions of dollars of private sector investment fled our industries.
The political veto of the Northern Gateway pipeline, regulatory strangulation of Energy East, silence over U.S. President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, passing Bills C-69 and C-48; small business tax increases, the carbon tax, nationalization of the TMX pipeline, failures to address significant trade issues with major economies like China and India; and refusal to enforce the rule of law on approved resource development projects or on illegal blockades have all served to close Alberta’s economy to investment and job growth.
The impact of these actions on Albertans have been profound and devastating.
Alberta has lost billions in investment capital and our best and brightest have fled to other jurisdictions such as the United States.
No segment of Alberta has been untouched. In every part of the province and in every industry businesses have shuttered. Families have been shattered, the suicide rate and incidences of domestic violence have increased. Many proud and industrious people, who have been out of work for years, are now at a point of desperation and anger.
The plight of our people has been dismissed by many with arrogance, hypocrisy, or apathy, and rarely acknowledged with any compassion. Our crisis does not lead national news headlines, yet we hear it on every door, in every conversation, and with every beat of the heart of our communities.
Albertans watch as Eastern Liberal politicians frequently spare no expense from the public purse when Eastern-based industries, many of which are extremely carbon intensive, are in trouble. This Prime Minister went as far as to interfere in the independence of the judiciary to secure a favoured outcome in a criminal proceeding involving Montreal-based SNC Lavalin and suggested it was to defend jobs and prevent a negative economic impact. At the same time, they watch our people punished by the very same hands.
At time of writing, activists with a colonial ideology are breaking laws in blockades of critical industry, for the sake of closing down Alberta industry. That they do this while purporting to be protecting First Nations from resource development is a stark example of their arrogance, and how divorced they are from the realities of those who are affected by the projects they oppose. For instance, the Teck Frontier mine has the approval of the local 14 First Nations in the region, all of whom are set to gain significant economic benefits from the project.
These projects benefit all of Canada. They have passed years of rigorous, world class, arms length, environmental review.
Now, government ministers muse about “aid packages” for Alberta in exchange for rejecting these projects.
History is repeating itself. This is not equality; it is an entrenched colonial attitude that has never been broken, and it must end.
2.) Alberta is a culturally distinct region, but this has not been recognized.
It is necessary to first give deference to the rights and culture of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people. We acknowledge the traditional territory of First Nations, and the right of and need for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people to tell their own stories of cultural distinction, and for reconciliation between our people.
Throughout Alberta’s history, we can see several distinct cultural themes. A struggle against a colonial government, a desire for individual freedom, a willingness and drive to achieve personal economic liberty; a deep connection and respect for our land; and an economy unique to other areas of Canada.
Immigration patterns of settlers to Alberta are also historically distinct. At a time when the East attracted bankers, lawyers and other capitalists into established industries, Alberta was drawing families who survived harsh climates and had an ability to live off the land. Settlers like the Hungarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Dutch, Germans, Scots, Chinese, and Icelanders immigrated to Alberta because of poverty, overpopulation and unemployment in their homelands.
Still others came to Alberta driven by the desire for freedom from government oppression. Persecuted individuals like African Americans, Jews, Mennonites, and Mormons sought refuge and opportunity in Alberta.
Over generations, Albertans from diverse backgrounds have formed a culture of self-sufficiency, respect for rule of law, and equality of opportunity.
Alberta is populated by people from every corner of the globe; every religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Scott Hardy once said, “In Alberta, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. If you’re a good person and you work hard, you’re welcome to be here.” Our history shows our diversity is hard fought and inherent to who we are.
Therefore, the ire of Albertans is raised when power elite attempt to stereotype our people with the term “redneck.” It serves to perpetuate a falsehood regarding the capacity for tolerance of the people of our province; implying we are backward, ignorant and incapable of social progress. We admit we have our challenges and acknowledge there is still work to be done. However, for the power elite to suggest that they are somehow superior to Albertans in this regard serves to whitewash their own history with racism. Policies like state suppression of openly wearing religious symbols, and the ghettoization and marginalization of new immigrants happens in their own backyards.And, there are those who suggest Alberta is not as ethnically diverse as their part of the country. However, 2016 census data depicts the reality; the percentage of Ontarians and Albertans of European descent are roughly the same, with that number being markedly higher in Quebec. Maintaining our pluralism is an ongoing effort, and efforts to do so shouldn’t be hindered by unproductive assumptions.
It was Albertan suffragists, the Famous Five, who fought for women to be recognized as ‘persons’ within the British North America Act. Their push for equality of opportunity, even in the face of an opposing Supreme Court, an opposing Parliament, and massive pushback from the ruling establishment, remains a call to action for generations of Albertans, including the authors of this Declaration.
Indigenous and settler alike, we were a people who forged a strong connection to the land in order to survive, and we still do so today. Even in our urban centres, Albertans cherish our rural roots because our agricultural and natural resources sectors are the proud lifeblood of our economy. The stark division between urban and rural in many parts of Canada is much less distinct in Alberta.
Alberta’s rich ranching tradition stretches back to the late 1800’s, when thousands of cattle roamed the Prairie. Western heritage has been a part of Alberta’s distinct identity ever since. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Albertans take part in events like the Calgary Stampede and countless other rodeos and country markets to celebrate their ranching roots. These events celebrate our proud agricultural and ranching traditions. Millions of people have been introduced to Alberta art and culture which highlights our deep respect for our agricultural and ranching history.
Then, there is the uniqueness of Alberta’s natural heritage.
When the world thinks of Canada and its untamed beauty, the first image often evoked is of emerald blue Albertan mountain lakes flanked by the majesty of the Rockies. Alberta is home to six World Heritage sites, more than any other province in Canada. We are home to Canada’s first and most visited National Park. We inherently care about the land we occupy because it is who we are. Our ranchers, miners, hunters and farmers are some of the most active conservationists in confederation managing our land and vast environmental reserves. The stewardship of our land refutes the anti-environmental stereotype Eastern power elites try to paint of Albertans, while simultaneously whitewashing the environmental failures of the East. It is easier to falsely depict Albertans as dirty, than to address raw sewage being dumped into the St. Lawrence or to materially change their own carbon-intensive lifestyles.
Natural resources, like oil, natural gas, and coal, are an integral part of Alberta’s history. References to these valuable resources can be found as far back as the 1700s. Since that time, Albertans have proudly found innovative ways to extract these resources, harness their energy, and manufacture them into goods for the benefit of Canada. Albertans have also created world class technology and processes protecting our landscapes, environment, and workers. We have exported this intellectual property and highly skilled workforce, entrenching Alberta’s position as a world leader in energy production and environmental sustainability.
We are innovators, entrepreneurs, and risk takers. Some of the most lucrative innovations in the world have their roots in Alberta.
Albertans are proud of our history, our rural roots, and Western way of life. We are not content to live off the government dole. We find pride in self-reliance and self-sufficiency. We reject efforts by the East to further yoke us to the coffers of Ottawa. If we are to be part of this nation, then the federal government must not stand in our way.
Alberta is a beacon of economic opportunity for bold entrepreneurs who uproot themselves to chart a bright future. This entrepreneurial spirit continues today and talented Canadians from across the country have immigrated to Alberta to seek prosperity and embrace its culture. This innovation hub has been an economic boon to not only Alberta, but for all of Canada.
Surviving on our side of the Rocky Mountains requires a bit of rugged determination. Much of Alberta’s success is because it is a place where taking risks is encouraged. Where business leaders are weary of government intervention; preferring to succeed by the work of their own hands.
We are distinct in Canada. We are proud of who we are.
3.) Alberta is physically and structurally isolated from Canada’s economic and political power structures.
For many in the East, Alberta is a place to which they have little connection. For Canada’s political class who frequently travel the country, Alberta is simply a long stretch of time on a flight between Toronto and Vancouver.
On a per capita basis, Alberta is the most underrepresented province in both the Senate and House of Commons. This is one of the key sources of anger within Alberta. While having twice the population of all four Atlantic provinces combined, Alberta has barely more than half the Senators of either New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. Every successful democratic federation in the world has a democratic upper legislative body with some measure of equality for its sub-national states. Canada is a notable exception to this principle of equality, being a major country in the democratic world where some of its sub-national states hold less representation than others, despite having a larger population.
As Alberta contributes a disproportionate amount of wealth to Ottawa relative to what is returned, and is under-represented in Ottawa’s political institutions, it should be obvious to Canadians why Albertans are frustrated: taxation without representation.
There is also underrepresentation of Albertans within the federal public service. Within Canada’s federal bureaucracy, the number of people who have experience in Alberta is dramatically outnumbered by those who have spent most of their lives in Ontario and Quebec. Only one relatively small federal government agency is headquartered in Alberta, and it has limited interaction with Ottawa. As a result, advice given to ministers and decisions made by the public service often lacks the lens of someone who has direct experience with the culture and needs of our province.
This is compounded by the fact that the main influencers on legislators and public servants are lobbyists and government relations representatives from Eastern Canada. It’s relatively inexpensive and quick for a company or NGO based in Toronto or Montreal to send its representatives to Ottawa, as compared to those in Alberta. There are many flights per day, they can drive from place to place in a few hours or take the train. There are also significantly more of these entities headquartered in Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa as compared to Alberta, with few of their staff having lived experience in Western Canada. As a result, Alberta is often an afterthought, if even a thought at all, during decision making and policy advocacy at the federal level.
The structure of our Supreme and federal court also works against Alberta’s equality of representation. For example, federal court judges are mandated to live in the Ottawa region, meaning they are disconnected from other parts of the country including Alberta. In addition, official bilingualism requirements disqualify an overwhelming majority of qualified Albertans from ever serving on the Supreme Court.
Alberta’s isolation from major power structures is also felt in the media. The Press Gallery, members of which get preferential access to the halls of Parliament do not reflect a Western voice. We need only to turn on our national government broadcaster to see a steady stream of news coverage of American issues receiving more airtime than the economic downturn in Alberta.
This structural isolation extends to the various iterations of the only two federal political parties to ever have formed government, in the context of our electoral system.
The power base of the Liberal Party of Canada is in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and Ontario. They spend little time or effort campaigning for the hearts and minds of Albertans. They do not need Alberta to form government. The number of seats available to the Liberals in Alberta are few compared to the number of “safe seats” in Toronto, Montreal, and Atlantic Canada. Therefore, the electoral cost of making policy punitive to Alberta, but politically advantageous in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, is beneficial to the Liberal Party.
In contrast, the Conservative Party’s traditional power base is in Alberta, and Alberta has consistently elected representatives from parties that oppose the Liberals. Yet, in order to form government, the Conservatives must convince urban voters in Ontario and Quebec to move away from the Liberals, or have another left-leaning party gain enough support to split Eastern votes. The result is Alberta voters have one path to influence in government: through the prioritization of political resources on Ontario and Quebec voters. Consequently, issues important to Albertans, such as the energy sector and equalization, are viewed as being detrimental to winning votes in Ontario and Quebec.
The path to government is through Ontario and Quebec, therefore, incumbent Alberta MPs are required to campaign in other parts of the country to ensure the voices of their constituents are heard. For the same reasons, incumbents in Ontario and Quebec of any political party rarely visit Alberta during an election. In many cases due to these factors, the only time some candidates from other parts of the country come to Alberta is to fundraise for their own campaigns. Without this experience on the ground in communities in Alberta, incumbent MPs from other parts of the country sometimes lack understanding of the rawness of the issues facing our people.
While the Liberals have had occasional isolated victories in Alberta, they have consistently failed to attract any long-term measurable success. Pundits and political commentators have long pontificated over the reasons behind the Conservative Party’s struggle with attracting comparable levels of support the Liberals enjoy in places like Quebec. Yet, the Liberal Party’s consistent rejection by Albertans is shrugged away and ignored as irrelevant to the political discourse.
Even with one of our own, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, in the Prime Minister’s Office, many policies putting Alberta on equal footing were quickly repealed upon the Liberals taking power.
Alberta’s isolation from Canada’s economic and political power structures is at the heart of its inequitable place in Confederation and must be rectified.
4.) Alberta is treated as a colony, rather than an equal partner in Confederation.
Alberta has been a lucrative source of wealth for Canada.
Between 1981 and 2018, Albertans have sent more than $1 trillion to Ottawa in revenue and received only $650 billion in return. That is a transfer deficit of more than $400 billion.
Albertans have been proud to contribute to Canada. However, with yet another Liberal government assaulting the autonomy of our province and its industrial base, the current Equalization formula has become an untenable proposition and flashpoint for Western alienation.
When the federal government continually chooses to stifle the growth of our economy, and instead prepare an “aid package,” Albertans know they are not being treated as partners.
Major industrial projects have been allowed to proceed in Quebec with full support in Ottawa. By contrast, the federal government has endorsed opposition to Alberta’s right to work. They side with those special interests who wish to shutter Alberta’s economy, while simultaneously benefiting from the wealth generated in our province. This not how a government treats an equal partner. This is how a colony is treated.
Throughout the 2019 general election, we heard from voters who desperately wanted to know why Alberta’s value within Confederation was tied to the fortunes of one political party. No other province in the country faces legislation intent on destroying the economic fortunes of their industries depending on the election of one party over another. Only Alberta is forced to provide billions of dollars to the federal government while at the same time bearing the brunt of their oppressive and hostile assault on our people and our province.
We will not continue to be milked for equalization payments while our right to work is stolen from us.
II. Path Forward
Alberta must be allowed to take immediate actions to exercise equality in Confederation. We support Premier Jason Kenney’s initial efforts in this regard, as his government’s Fair Deal panel explores the creation of a provincial revenue agency, withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, establishing a provincial police force, and other measures. These measures could give Alberta greater autonomy while creating leverage and awareness of the need for greater structural reform.
But we must go further. Much further.
To rectify some of these critical injustices we have given serious thought to several structural reforms. This list is meant to be a starting point, not an exhaustive list. In addition to acknowledging the issues discussed above, any leader concerned about the unity of Canada must commit to immediate, concrete action to rectify the historical inequities of Confederation. We encourage everyone to see this as a starting point, to add to this list, and to build upon it. We also encourage every Canadian who is concerned about the future of our Confederation to participate and share their solutions to the issues we have raised.
1) Recognize Alberta is not an equal partner in Confederation.
2) Balance representation in Parliament to ensure unique regional interests, like those in Alberta, are safeguarded. Whether it be through Senate reform or otherwise, we must balance the current representation by population with an elected element of regional representation to create fairness in the federation and ensure all parts of the country know their voice will be heard no matter who is in power.
- As the Constitution will need to be reopened to accomplish the critical change above, the federal government must, as an interim measure, immediately commit in legislation to only appoint Senators elected through the process in place in Alberta to do so.
3) Recognize Alberta – or Buffalo – as a culturally distinct region within Confederation. Promote awareness of the same.
4) Acknowledge, in the House of Commons, the devastation the National Energy Program caused to the people of Alberta.
5) The status quo of the Equalization program is fueling western alienation. Many are asking for the elimination, or the phase out, of the Equalization program in addition to retroactively lifting the cap on the Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which is already supported by all provinces and territories. An immediate change to the Equalization program should include treating all resource revenues in each province/territory the same under the program. These changes would acknowledge that programs like the Canada Health Transfer and the Canada Social Transfer already provide equitable stable funding for provincial social programs, would ensure all regions are treated equally, and would serve to remove disincentives for provinces to improve their fiscal situations.
6) Retrench and clarify free-trade provisions in Canada in the Constitution.
7) Constitutionally entrench resource projects as the sole domain of the provinces.
8) In the event Alberta begins to collect its own taxes, enable the province to also collect federal taxes and remit the federal share to Ottawa.
9) Enact structural change within Canada’s federal government to ensure all regions have a voice within its political and justice system, including:
- Mandate proportional regional equity within the federal public service and within the various departments and agencies, especially at senior levels.
- Remove the requirement that federal judges must live in the Ottawa region.
- Mandate federal consultation processes to be regionally equal, so that provinces like Alberta are no longer undermined by proximity advantages held by Eastern-based lobbyists and interests.
- Work towards greater equality of regional representation on all parliamentary and cabinet committees. In Cabinet, where no representation from the governing party exists, establish a formal cabinet consultation process with members of the Opposition.
10) Mandate regional balance in all federal infrastructure funding programs.
11) Mandate equitable regional distribution of funding to arts and culture as part of federal spending programs. Ensure Western art is prominently displayed in national museums.
12) Recognize rural areas of Western Canada are isolated from the power structures of urban Eastern Canada and face unique challenges. This means creating a formal consultation requirement to ensure their voices have equal import in policy related to economic development, rural crime, and firearms ownership. Repeal any policies with detrimental impacts regarding the same.
The structural inequities above have perpetuated serious policy issues, which need to be addressed immediately to restart Alberta’s economic engine so it can fulfill its potential and continue to be contribute to the success of our country.
1) Restore investment stability in Alberta’s energy sector by formally acknowledging and promoting Alberta’s energy sector as a source of sustainably produced energy.
- Recognize the contributions of Albertans and Alberta industry to the global green technology ecosystem.
- Repeal legislation punitive to our energy industry and its workers.
- Uphold the rule of law in the build-out of approved and future energy projects.
- Allow the Teck Frontier mine to proceed, given it has passed years worth of world class, credible, rigorous, arms length environmental review.
- Move forward with a plan to build a national energy corridor.
- Ensure regulatory and taxation frameworks prevent foreign produced energy from displacing Alberta energy within Canada within an open market economy.
2) Immediately table a plan to see the reversal of agricultural trade restrictions with countries such as China, India, and the United States that have had a disproportionate negative impact on Western Canada.
3) Immediately table a plan to protect the integrity and essential services provided by Canadian infrastructure such as rail, pipelines, and highways to ensure Canadian commodities have access to global markets.
4) Table a plan to restore confidence in our agriculture and agri-food sector by exempting agriculture and agri-food from carbon pricing and provide producers credit for their carbon sequestration and conservation efforts.
5) Enable greater access for Western-based journalists to the Parliamentary Press Gallery to ensure widespread coverage of issues facing Alberta within the national news narrative.
III. Why we are speaking out
Our goal is to present possible solutions that will correct the crisis we are currently facing. We are elected by the people we represent to give voice to their concerns, and we are proud to do what is right by our people.
We do this in recognition that previous attempts for a greater voice for the West within Ottawa are incomplete. With the rallying cry of “the West wants in,” Westerners fought to be heard in Ottawa with the Reform Party from 1988 until 2002. In 2003, most Westerners agreed to put this strident voice aside to form a broader, pan-national coalition, and eventually were a part of the government from 2006-2015. While the gains made during this time were important, they were temporary in nature. The Stephen Harper-led Conservatives believed no future government would reverse the consensus it built, because it should be obvious to subsequent leaders any policy made by Canada’s government should be in the best interest of every region of the nation.
Trudeau proved us wrong. Now the rallying cry that is emerging is “the West wants out.”
The tone has changed because gains made during previous governments were erased in the first months of the current Trudeau Liberal government, and worse, more inequities have been put in place. Therefore, we acknowledge without immediate and permanent structural change, this cycle of paternalism towards Alberta is doomed to continue. This is especially true as Eastern Canada continues to urbanize, and the divide between our way of life and the power elites of the Laurentian consensus becomes more acute.
Canada must understand what we are hearing every day from many distraught Albertans. Structural, constitutional change must happen within Confederation or a referendum on Alberta’s independence is an inevitability. In is not our job to explain Alberta’s value, it is now up to Canada to show they understand Alberta and our value to Confederation.
Alberta has persevered despite systemic problems within the structure of our Confederation. However, relentless and historic attacks on Alberta’s economy and right to work by a hostile government has resulted in unprecedented frustration among young Albertans.
They are cognizant of what is being said by the ruling Laurentian power class. This includes arrogant suggestions of “getting cleaner jobs” or “transition to a new economy.” Many Albertans see billions of dollars leaving the province to fund infrastructure, social programs, seemingly to buy votes with their hard-earned dollars. How can we be told there is nothing wrong with Equalization?
Many in Alberta’s young generation no longer see Alberta as the place of opportunity their parents worked hard to build. A place where hard work is not only rewarded, it is encouraged. A province where anything is possible if you put in the work. A place that cares not about where someone came from, what they look like, who they love, or who they worship. Instead, many Albertans are seeing opportunity and investment blocked at every turn by a hostile government intent on shutting down a way of life because we do not share their ideology.
Some will attempt to diminish these words or look for ways to ignore them. They will say this will drive away investment, while not acknowledging this has already happened. What they fail to grasp is that without real change, the prospects of continuing our culture and our way of life are limited by Confederation, as opposed to being enhanced by it.
It would be an abdication of our responsibility to the people we represent, who entrusted us with overwhelming mandates, to allow this to continue. They have asked us to be their catalyst for change.
Given the urgency of these issues and the situation in our region, we are confident Canada’s political leaders will respond to our list of proposed structural changes. We are open to engage in bilateral meetings with any interested party to seek a productive resolution to this situation. Any leadership contestant for the Conservative Party of Canada who seeks the support of Albertans should be prepared to address this declaration.
We also encourage the people of Alberta – and all Canadians who care about an equitable and sustainable confederation – to add your voices to ours, to submit your ideas and opinions to build on the foundation we have put forward. The path forward starts today.
One way or another, Albertans will have equality.
This guest column is jointly written by Conservative MPs: Michelle Rempel Garner, Blake Richards, Glen Motz, and Arnold Viersen. The Buffalo Declaration can also be read at buffalodeclaration.com.
MORGAN: When Kenney keeps moving the goalposts, ‘benchmarks’ mean nothing
“Businesses need to push back and it’s time for UCP caucus members to stand up. There is nothing left to lose now, and threatening fines for businesses going bankrupt means little.”
When I was a kid, I had a cousin who used to invent new card games. I would play by his rules and the game would go smoothly, unless I began winning. Whenever I would try to play a card which would win the game, he would suddenly invent a new rule and explain why that card could not be played. The only answer was to stop playing his games.
The Alberta government is playing the same same game with its citizens and businesses, and it is time that we stopped playing by their rules.
As infections plummeted this year, desperate businesses began opening in open defiance of government regulations forbidding it. It was clear that the second coming of the plague was not materializing, but the very real possibility of bankruptcy was looming and businesses could no longer afford to wait for the government to let them open. It began with the Whistle Stop Diner in Mirror, Alberta and the rebellion began to spread like wildfire as food service establishments across the province joined the Restaurant Revolution.
This rebellion put Premier Jason Kenney in a tough spot. The optics of having police enter and arrest dozens of desperate small business owners in Alberta would be terrible, but if he let the revolt continue, it would be clear that his government had lost its authority to impose continued COVID-19 restrictions.
In a rushed Friday afternoon press conference, a clearly upset premier announced a plan for reopening businesses in Alberta. It was clear that nothing would stop businesses from flaunting laws if the owners couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. People needed to see a plan and Premier Jason Kenney provided it.
Step one of the plan came into effect on February 8th and allowed for very limited restaurant dine-in options along with allowing some outdoor children’s sports activities and some one-on-one fitness training in gyms. More important than these small reductions in restrictions was the clear establishment of benchmarks for further reopening. Businesses could see where things had to be before reopening and they could see which businesses would finally be able to reopen.
This plan bought peace from rebellious business owners as they saw a route to reopening. If hospitalizations stayed below 450 cases after three weeks of step one of the plan, they would be to step two. Retail restrictions would ease, conference centers, hotels and banquet halls would see the ability to host limited gatherings and gyms would see restrictions reduced. People trusted the government and settled down to wait and see if hospitalizations would remain low.
On the morning of March 1, business owners were jubilant. We hadn’t just met the benchmark for reopening, we had crushed it. Hospitalizations were at 250 and dropping. We had reached the benchmark for step three opening. Surely, the government would keep its promises to move to step two.
It didn’t. Instead, the UCP government changed the rules of the game at the 11th hour and moved the goalposts yet again.
As can be seen in the image below, the government changed its plans at the last minute. Eager businesses were left to languish in an indeterminate state of limbo yet again.
At a press conference attended by Premier Kenney himself, he proudly announced that gyms could allow low-intensity activities such as pilates, while libraries would be able to open to with 15% of their capacity. This watered-down step two helps nearly nobody, and makes little sense. Why did they shut out all the step two businesses, while adding library openings (which were supposed to be part of step three)?
What is wrong with these people? What are they thinking? Did they just change their minds at the last minute, or was this phased reopening a lie only designed to keep rogue businesses from defying their rule?
Support for the UCP is already low. This betrayal of small business owners is only going to bring it lower still.
Infections are low, hospitalizations are low, and the ICU levels are outright tiny. There was no need to back off on the reopening plan. Is it only that the government has fallen in love with its new powers so much that they just can’t let it go? Nothing much else makes sense.
What hope is there now for business owners? Clearly none of the benchmarks and paths to reopening set out by the government mean anything. Any of the plans can – and clearly will – be changed arbitrarily. How can this government be trusted? They are either completely dishonest with their reopening benchmarks, or are completely incompetent. Neither scenario lends confidence to struggling small business owners.
It is time for the rebellion to begin again. It appears that this is the only way to get the government to relinquish the control over people’s lives that they so relish. Economic and health statistics clearly don’t matter.
This government is making its decisions in a bubble, and only through pending mass civil disobedience are they willing to back off. Businesses need to push back and it’s time for UCP caucus members to stand up.
There is nothing left to lose now, and threatening fines for businesses going bankrupt means little.
Cory Morgan is the podcast editor and a columnist for the Western Standard
NAVARRO-GENIE: Computer modellers are still driving the COVID-19 fear wagon
“Meanwhile, we can hope that media learn to treat #COVIDzero experts the same way they treat those claiming the virus doesn’t exist.”
Renewed calls for prolonged lockdowns to deal with the new SARS-CoV-2 mutations are wrong headed. It has been a year since emergency measures were declared. Yet, the policy response to the COVID-19 crisis has been and continues to be moved by fear that is in turn propelled by statistical models incapable of accounting for risk and of pondering consequences. SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the disease identified as COVID-19, is a reality. It poses health risks to a well-defined segment of the Canadian population. And while SARS-CoV-2 can infect everyone, the models and responses largely pretend everyone can equally suffer and die from COVID-19. The logic of this pretense points toward lockdowns and heavy restrictions for all instead of carefully-designed protection of the vulnerable.
The initial reaction to this logic may have been reasonable in mid-March 2020, were it not for the fact that the panic-prone politicians discarded existing pandemic plans designed precisely to prevent panic. Their lockdown strategy, they argued, would bend the curve to protect the integrity of the medical system until it could be reenforced. Such reinforcement would help to save lives.
The system did not become more resilient and the infections did not stop after nearly two months in lockdown: the strategy was a failure. But such failure has not prevented the continuation of wrongheaded policies and restrictions. There are now misguided calls for #COVIDzero (or #zeroCOVID), which pretend to drive COVID-19 cases to zero by wiping out the virus and all its variants, if only we locked down hard again for another seven weeks. Like the previous failed strategy, this one also is driven by modellers and their flawed mathematical models.
In March 2020, the world seemed gripped by images from Italy, Iran and China, and one model stampeded policy-makers into various forms of lockdowns. It was the work that College of London theoretical physicist Neil Ferguson led. Their “Report 9: Impact of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to Reduce COVID-19 Mortality and Healthcare Demand,” called for 510,000 deaths in Great Britain and 2.2 million in the US. Ottawa’s model version “showed deaths would easily top 300,000 (but only 46,000 with a lockdown) in Canada, while Edmonton said 32,000 Albertans could die here and 1.6 million could be infected. World-wide, Ferguson and his team expected seven billion infections and 40 million deaths. None of that has happened.
Ferguson’s model raised troubling questions. First, Ferguson refused to publish the original source code and Imperial College refused a British Freedom of Information Act request. Writing in the Financial Post in June 2020, Peter St. Onge remarked that Ferguson’s code was unreliable and fragile, “giving different answers depending on the processing speed of the computer running the model.” Similarly, Chris von Csefalvay noted that the code was practically antique (13 years old), and it was written to model an influenza pandemic. Moreover, thousands of lines of code were “undocumented,” making impossible to take it apart and examine for errors — or to correct them. In his view, the code was “a tangled mess of undocumented steps.” Accordingly, von Csefalvay wondered how the British government assessed and validated the model. He concluded that only Ferguson’s reputation made the Imperial College model authoritative.
Except that there was no reason to hold Ferguson’s work in high esteem. Ferguson’s “apocalyptic” predictions were gross exaggerations. An earlier model of his predicted 150,000 deaths from mad-cow disease in 2002 (the number of fatalities was 2,704). In 2005, Ferguson’s model predicted 200 million deaths from avian flu (455 persons died). Eventually, Ferguson resigned from the British Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), not because his COVID-19 model was so inaccurate as to be worthless but because he was found violating the lockdown that he so vocally supported for everyone else by entertaining someone else’s wife in his London residence. After the fact, commentators wondered why anyone listened to Ferguson in the first place.
As if modellers were not discredited enough after Ferguson’s exaggerated predictions, CBC’s Laura Glowacki promoted Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his name) in September 2020. Smith? is a mathematician at the University of Ottawa. He builds models for infectious diseases. As case numbers rose at the time, Smith? called for a “ruthless” and “draconian” return to a full lockdown “for a few months … [that] … could bring numbers down to zero new infections.” There was no mention of previous model failure. The country had already locked down hard for a couple of months, and close to 10,000 people had died, mostly in Ontario and Quebec where the vast majority were vulnerable people whom policy makers had vowed to protect and save. Alarmist modelling like Smith?’s pushed the second round of bullying restrictions. Smith? is not among the experts who see a tension between health and economy. In his opinion, the economy would be ruined without a full lockdown.
In November, CTV Infectious Disease Specialist Abdu Sharkawy expressed similar alarms. “We need the hammer, and that hammer needs to be applied with conviction. It needs to be applied with some assertiveness, and we need to apply the support that’s necessary from an economic point of view to the people that would suffer if that hammer is laid down,” he said partially conceding to economic harm. Earlier, with some awareness of greater harm, he said: “You can call it authoritarian, you can call it dictatorial. The fact of the matter is, there’s no more room right now for a balanced approach. It’s simply too late.” Medical experts calling for the confinement of entire populations a new tyranny of “expert opinion” passing for scientific advice. No matter how one slices it, the forced confining of entire populations is not a medical measure.
What is worse, achieving zero infections by locking people down is impossible. If that was not clear in March 2020, it is clear now. The virus cannot be made to disappear at will, and no amount of hiding will eliminate it. But model builders keep driving up the fantasy. In Alberta, for instance, there are dreams of creating a zero-infection zone, in the same way the province is rat-free. Last October, CBC found Malgorzata Gasperowicz, an assistant researcher in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary. She studied biotechnology at Gdansk and has a doctorate in biology from Freiburg.
From a series of tweets based on her personal calculations, Robert Brown of CBC News Calgary gave her a platform for her alarmist prognostication of rising cases, warning of disaster is nothing was done “right now.” Gasperowicz’ motivation appears in a pinned Tweet from July 2020 (@GosiaGasperoPhD). It announces “we can achieve COVID-19 elimination in Canada.” She advocated turning Canada into a new New Zealand. Her October 29, 2020 tweet caught the attention of people looking for scary materials and warnings of impending disaster: “It’s too late for soft measures. We need strong decisive measures + $$ support for businesses and people ASAP, in order to substantially [sic] *reduce the scale* of the upcoming disaster. It takes 3-4 weeks from the shutdown date till the peak in cases and hospitalizations[,]” it read. Note the alignment of language with Smith? andSharkawy. Note how the tweet implies that there will be disaster regardless, but only strong medicine can reduce its scale.
Gasperowicz pointed out that the number of cases in Alberta was doubling every 16.9 days. Nothing was said about what hospitalisations or ICU cases would be. Nothing was said about the rate of hospitalizations being a fraction of what it was in the Spring. No extrapolations were offered, except to mention that there would be more “upticks,” as Brown called it. It was all about cases. Modelling for actual illness, hospitalization rates and ICU interventions may have proven far too complex.
While Gasperowicz predicted 2400 cases for December 5, there were 1765 cases at the peak of the case curve on December 8. The predictions were off by 27 percent, but it did not stop Calgary Herald’s Jason Herring from qualifying her projections on 12 December with “impressive precision.” Gasperowicz described the accelerating rate of cases each 2.5 weeks in an ominous-sounding calculus category no calculus professor is likely to teach: “über-exponential.” Predictions for thereafter were even worse, and were adorned with a catchy slogan: “If we shut down on Nov 15, we will reach 3000+ daily new cases before numbers start to decrease. Either we control the virus, or the virus controls us.” Alberta did not shut down on November 15th and the predicted onslaught for early December 2020 never materialised. Robert Brown did not once ask questions about the origin of the data Gasperowicz crunched, the methodology she used, the assumptions built into the calculations, why the model stopped at calculating case numbers, or any shortcomings the calculations might have. Her “results” were all taken as Gospel. If all one wanted was to drive up fear, there was no need for additional information.
With no mention of the significant error spread in her October calculations, in January 2021 Gasperowicz tweeted new warnings about the new SARS-CoV-19 strands, which she finds “terrifying.” She particularly worries about B117, the British strand, claiming it is “60 percent” more virulent. Elsewhere, she claimed its virulence is 30-50 per cent higher, and constitutes a “super-danger” Presenting freshly raised fears of the mutations, her model predicted that B117 will spread in Alberta above 2,000 daily cases by the third week in April, 2021, unless Jason Kenney implements another full shut down for 7 weeks. Seven weeks!
On January 22, Gasperowicz tweeted: “#COVIDzero (aiming to eliminate all community transmission of Sars-CoV-2 as fast as possible) is the solution: 7 weeks of effort and AB can be like NZ.” And on January 27, she said: “B117 is in the community[.] Current restrictions are not enough to prevent its spread. Assuming 10 cases on Jan25 & 50% transmissibility of B117, we can have: 1000+ daily cases on Mar 23 2000+ daily cases on Mar 31[.] This model does’t [sic] include the effect of schools reopening.” We’re a month away from March 23rd, Kenney has relaxed some of the restrictions, and the number of cases is not growing. One can guess that April 23 will not likely bring “disaster,” if we go by previous predictions but Global News was sufficiently impressed to make the claim that Gasperowicz’ modelled projection “shows how a seven week lockdown will drop new COVID-19 cases to zero in Alberta.”
Gasperowicz has not described what the lockdown she recommends for seven weeks looks like, but given her intention to eliminate the virus from circulation, one can assume that it includes stringent stay-at-home directives, shutting down most economic activity and government services. She also wishes to stop all travel, and published a co-authored column in the Calgary Herald in February 2021 arguing that if Alberta can keep rats out of its borders, it could certainly keep the coronavirus out. Although the column mentioned New Zealand as a model jurisdiction that had kept virus-free, they do not mention re-infecting flare ups. New Zealand had declared itself victorious over SARS-CoV-2 twice by mid-February 2021, only to call for another one in Auckland for three days. There was no thoughtful consideration of the spin-off and collateral damage of stopping and starting time and time again every time cases pop up. By the end of February 2021, with no explanation for the change in the face of the “super danger,” Gasperowicz’s recommendation for total confinement in Alberta, reportedly, was now only 6 weeks.
According to Global’s Jacqueline Wilson, Gasperowicz says “all non-essential businesses would need to close and all international and inter-provincial travellers would have to quarantine.” That most jurisdictions in Canada, including Alberta, have made a monumental mess in imposing what is “essential” for everyone was not part of the discussion.
A glance at the New Zealand case charts shows that the country has been at zero cases but for a few consecutive days here and there. Given that their standard reaction to reappearing cases (“outbreaks”) is locking down, chances are they will have more lockdowns. We have seen the same with PEI in early March, 2021. As Sweden’s ranking epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, puts it: “fighting Covid-19 is a long-term undertaking, meaning temporary lockdowns will ultimately backfire. …once they’re lifted, infection rates will again rise.” And vaccines will not get us there by incantation either. Even with the vaccines, serious scientists do not expect the elimination of the virus. “Even if you vaccinate, you’ve still got a fairly large number of susceptible people there,” says Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton. “So, we will still see outbreaks happen. Viruses simply aren’t rats. And when cases keep popping up, #COVIDzero is a misnomer or a deceitful expression, if zero means zero.
Alberta’s economy is plugged into the world’s and depends on its ties to the rest of the world, whether in agri-foods, tourism, energy or mining. It could not easily close its borders, airways, highways and railways, much less for another 6-7 weeks without returning to the enormous damage to human lives and to the economy already caused by the first and second rounds of confinement. Alberta is no island, making the virus here much more difficult to contain. Not that the issue is geography. The reason PEI has had so few cases is because not many people go to or through PEI. Conversely, Manhattan has been one of the most disastrous COVID-19 areas in the world. The difference is many people want to go to, or need to go through, Manhattan.
Although PEI and New Zealand are hailed as lockdown successes, they demonstrate the opposite point: it is impossible to hide from the virus, let alone make it disappear. #COVIDzero is a well-intended but irresponsible fantasy posing as medical advice that, if instituted, will again bring greater social and economic harm. So, let’s say no to #COVIDzero and to the fear it inadvertently peddles with the fantasy of virus elimination. Meanwhile, we can hope that media learn to treat #COVIDzero experts the same way they treat those claiming the virus doesn’t exist. After all, denying the existence of the virus seems as detached from reality as it is claiming that it will disappear if we hide from it.
Marco Navarro-Génie is a columnist for the Western Standard, president of the Haultain Research Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).
McCOLL: Frig it. Navy’s new ships over budget and behind schedule. Again
The cost of replacing Canada aging surface fleet skyrocketed $82 billion, and will be at least two years late.
The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released a new report on February 24 about the escalating costs of the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project. The program to build fifteen new Type 26 frigates in Halifax is behind schedule and billions over budget. Again.
The original 2008 budget from the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Harper Government – a number that many defence experts suggested was an impossibly low estimate – was $26.2 billion. A 2017 PBO estimate put the cost at around $62 billion. DND then updated their own estimate to between $56 and $60 billion.
In 2019, the PBO revisited the program, and again the budget increased; this time to $69.8 billion. The latest 2021 estimate is a staggering $77.3 billion if the ships are built on time, $79.7 billion if COVID causes only a single year delay, and $82.1 billion if the program is delayed by 2 years.
The PBO attributes these increases to a combination of factors “including a significant increase in lightship weight (from 6,900 to 7,800 tonnes) and a shift in the start of construction.”
Much of this 13 per cent weight gain is attributed to the Navy requesting Canadian customization of the British Type 26 design. Lockheed Martin – the design team lead – will be responsible for managing the $4.4 billion development work budget.
It is quite lucrative to reinvent things for the Canadian military, but not nearly as lucrative as being the local provincial government. Nova Scotia charges the military a 10 per cent PST on these ships.
In a Western Standard interview with the PBO’s Yves Giroux and the two lead analysts who wrote this report, I asked if Canadian taxpayers could save over $7 billion by building these ships in PST-free Alberta – hypothetically, of course – and their answer was a simple: “Yes.”
That PST bill is worth more than Nova Scotia’s last three years of equalization transfers combined.
The only Navy procurement that currently seems to be going well is Canada’s new Saab CU-176 Gargoyle maritime helicopter drone program. The Navy’s new Swedish drones are being assembled in PST-free Medicine Hat, Alberta.
An odd aspect of the PBO report was the cost comparison to alternate designs: the FREMM and Type 31e. A Navy expert interviewed off-the-record said that including the FREMM makes sense, but that the Type 31e should never have been considered.
The United States Navy recently selected the French/Italian FREMM design to be the basis of its new Constellation-class frigate program.
The PBO estimated the cost of Irving building 15 Constellation-class frigates in Canada at $71.1 billion. The PBO clarified in the interview that this was based on the US Constellation-class estimates, not on the $30 billion bid the FREMM consortium submitted to the Canadian government in 2017 that was rejected for failing to meet industrial benefit requirements.
The British Type 31e does not yet exist. It is a proposal for a much smaller, less capable, and more affordable frigate based on a Danish design. So why was it included? Because a politician ordered it at a committee. In my initial call, a PBO PR person said that they only looked at the FREMM and Type 31 because that is what the Government Operations and Estimates Committee motion ordered them to investigate.
When I pointed out that the Bloc MP who made the motion – in French – requested that the PBO investigate the FREMM, Type 31, “et de tout navire de catégorie comparable” (and similar ships) but that the official English record of the motion was mistranslated; there was an awkward pause followed by an invitation to interview the PBO.
Two hours later in said interview, the fluently bilingual PBO Yves Giroux explained that they fully understood the French motion but only investigated the FREMM and Type 31 due to time constraints.
He went on to say that the PBO would be happy to do a cost estimate for the F-105 and De Zeven Provinciën-class frigates (the two other bids that lost the 2017 design competition) should the Committee order a second report.
Perhaps instead of forcing nationally regulated private businesses to provide bilingual service, the Trudeau Liberals should concentrate on getting Parliamentary Committee motions correctly translated into English.
Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist for the Western Standard
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