Project Confederation petitions for independent Alberta amid separation sentiments

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Project Confederation petitions for independent Alberta amid separation sentiments
WATCH: A new petition is swirling aimed at restructuring how Alberta operates. As Adam MacVicar reports, Project Confederation wants to see a more independent Alberta, similar to how Quebec is structured. – Oct 30, 2019

As talks of Alberta separating from the federation continue to swell following a Liberal victory in the federal election, a new group has come forward to petition the provincial government to take steps towards independence, without seceding from the Canadian Confederation.

Project Confederation is an independent group and a subsidiary of the Alberta Institute, an independent, third-party, libertarian public policy think tank.

The group started prior to the federal election, and began circulating a petition and open letter to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

“In order to move forward, we need immediate action,” Project Confederation executive director Josh Andrus said. “There [are] eight steps outlined in the letter, and we feel that those need to be taken in order to seek a new deal within Confederation — one that puts Alberta in more of an equal footing with the rest of the members of this federation.”
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The letter’s proposals include: referendums to abolish Canada’s equalization formula and clarify Section 92 and Section 121 of the Constitution Act — allowing for unrestricted free trade across provincial borders — and to reform the Senate to allow senators to be elected, rather than appointed.

Project Confederation also wants to see Alberta collecting its own revenue on personal income tax, withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Pension Plan, and withdrawing from the Canadian Employment Insurance program to create an Alberta employment insurance program.

Other proposals include establishing an independent and privately sponsored Alberta immigration system to replace the federal government’s system — something already done in Quebec.

The group also wants the provincial government to allow the contract with RCMP to expire in 2032, to create an Alberta provincial police force.

“People are reaching out to us saying they’re not quite ready to separate, but they feel there needs to be immediate action, and I think we struck that tone in the letter itself. We’ve been pushing for a more independent Alberta within the federation,” Andrus said. “We had to strike a tone that wasn’t conciliatory, but it also wasn’t emotionally driven.

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“To me, emotion is a part of politics — that’s natural — but we also have to be prepared to act in a rational, intelligent manner.”

According to organizers, the petition’s goal is 100,000 signatures, and as of Oct. 30, it has over 3,000.

Following the federal election, Kenney addressed the notion that Alberta needs more independence in the federation during a televised address to the province that aired on Global News the night before the provincial budget was tabled.

“Simply put, in an uncertain world where we can’t count on federal support, we must be self-reliant,” Kenney said. “We must put our house in order so that we are prepared for whatever the future might bring.”

‘Autonomy is appealing’

Lori Williams, an associate professor of public policy at Mount Royal University in Calgary, believes Kenney will be receptive to proposals put forward by Project Confederation.

“Jason Kenney has talked a lot about wanting power akin to what Quebec has, sort of [ramping] up the control that Alberta has over what goes on within the province,” Williams said. “[There is] a lot of appeal for that among those that think Alberta would like to have autonomy, and autonomy is appealing to anybody just on an individual level.”
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Williams said that while the proposals could work for Alberta, they each come with individual challenges, including costs to provide the same level of support that would exist for programs while they were under federal control. She said the other potential problem is that there are some powers that belong to the federal government under the Constitution that can’t be transferred to provincial governments.

“The sorts of things that Alberta is struggling with, in terms of federal and provincial powers at the moment, isn’t something that more autonomy for Alberta will fix,” Williams said.

Independence from the federation without separating could also come with political costs, Williams said.

“It may well be that some who are angry and want nothing short of, let’s say, separation or those who don’t think the provincial government or the UCP [are] doing enough in support of Alberta’s autonomy might splinter the conservative movement,” Williams said.
“The reality is, there isn’t a large constituency of support for separation in Alberta, [but] there is a large constituency of support for the recognition of Alberta’s economic difficulties and a demand that those are responded to.”
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According to officials in the premier’s office, Kenney is expected to announce a new panel that will consult with Albertans on the province’s place in the federation, which will include public hearings.

“Premier Kenney has been clear that he will continue to fight for a fair deal for Alberta in the federation, and has already taken concrete steps towards that goal,” Kenney’s press secretary Christine Myatt said in a statement to Global News.

“We know that Albertans are frustrated and fed up with a federal government that has not only failed to take the economic situation in this province seriously, but to exacerbate it with policies that block the development and export of our natural resources.”

Officials said the panel will be announced “in the coming days” and that Project Confederation is welcome to submit its open letter and petition to that panel once it is in operation.

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