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Friday, January 18, 2019

Brian Jean: An agenda to move Alberta forward

Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier and Brian Jean (PC Voice file photo)
Brian Jean - Alberta and Canada are at a crossroads, and our province needs strong and ethical leadership to deal with the economic and social issues we are facing. A few days ago, I announced Kim and I are expecting the birth of a daughter. Events like that make you consider the future. Alberta’s future looks bleak unless bold action is taken.

Alberta’s financial situation is a mess. Our government isn’t doing a great job on several fronts, including in healthcare, education, social services, looking after seniors. There is much to be fixed. Any prudent government would have its hands full trying to make thoughtful, measured, and necessary improvements to control spending and generate a return on our public investment for Albertans. But, unlike the Klein government of the ‘90s which had to deal with similar problems, this time we won’t be able to count on economic growth to help us fix the fiscal mess.

That’s because our top resource industry, and the engine of Canada’s economy, is being shut in, land-locked and firewalled. We have oil and gas. The world wants to buy it, but we can’t get it to market. The amount of oil we can sell is capped by our limited pipeline and rail capacity. And in our efforts to do everything we can, we will soon impact our number two industry, agriculture, as we use every locomotive and all the rail tracks to move oil instead of grain.

Economic growth has always been what we counted on to solve economic problems, but Alberta’s economic growth is being held hostage by Canada’s broken confederation. Canada is broken. Our country is not working the way it was intended in 1867.

Canada came into being as an agreement by the fathers of confederation to work together, for all Canadians mutual benefit. The original constitution was essentially a business deal guaranteeing free trade and free passage of goods between and through our provinces, to bring prosperity to all Canadians. It envisioned a central government making the ultimate political decision to declare a project to be in the national interest and thus override regional objections. It also recognized political accountability for these types of decisions was settled by voters at the ballot box.

But somehow that no longer happens. Our courts, motivated by virtue-signaling to vocal minorities and triggered by legal actions funded by foreign interests, routinely override the explicit wishes of our legislatures and the electorate by claiming powers to overrule the executive decision-making of our cabinet.

All Canadians should be angry. Albertans are furious.

What is happening is a rejection of our history and a serious challenge to our future prosperity. But somehow, Canada’s elites just roll with it. They tell Albertans we have no right to be angry. They tell us to chill out.

None of our political leaders understand the current anger of Albertans - Albertans want a “Mad as hell” Party, that isn’t going to take it anymore.

Most Albertans love Canada. They want to see it work again. They believe it can be fixed.

But Albertans also recognize that the marriage between Alberta and the rest of Canada is deeply troubled. That drastic efforts need to be made to fix it. And that there are elements in Canada seemingly determined to push Alberta out of confederation.

Most Albertans aren’t separatists. And they know fixing a troubled marriage takes work. But they also know not all marriages can be saved. A marriage becomes unsalvageable when one side completely stops caring about the other side’s feelings. I think Canada still cares about our feelings.

I believe that good leadership can salvage that marriage and return Canada to its true path. Albertans want to be an important part of a successful Canada. And I hope and believe Canadians want the same.

But to get there Alberta will need to show some tough love. We will need to adopt an approach similar to what Quebec has used since the 1970’s. We will need to push back hard. We will need to forcefully protect our rights. We will need to pull every lever, exercise every privilege, and occasionally be unreasonably disruptive. We must always be respectful, but we must not stop asserting ourselves. We will need to make it clear that if we can’t fix things, we won’t stay in an abusive relationship. We need to do all these things to force the federal government and the other provinces into constitutional negotiations.

The top priority for Alberta should be re-opening the Constitution and getting a fair deal that returns Canada back to the original spirit of confederation.

All Albertans should take up the cry to get Canada back on track.

But I am worried that no political party in Alberta is prepared to take up this fight. Some don’t have the stomach for it. Some prefer catering to elites instead of understanding Albertans’ anger. Some won’t risk offending future voters in other parts of Canada. None of them seem willing to push other premiers to deal with the obvious problems facing confederation.

Make no mistake, other parts of Canada will not appreciate Alberta pushing back. Constitutional discussions are never fun, but they have never been more necessary. We must return to the original Canadian model that says that we are all in this together, and that we will work together to allow each part of Canada, and Canada as a whole, to reach its greatest potential and be as prosperous as it can be.

Alberta needs a government committed to a forceful agenda to fix Canada and move Alberta forward.

Albertans must accept nothing less from their political leaders.

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