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Alberta MPs issue Buffalo Declaration to call on Ottawa to address western alienation

Alberta MPs issue Buffalo Declaration to call on Ottawa to address western alienation
WATCH: A document signed by four Alberta MPs is calling for action from Ottawa and changes within Confederation. As Adam MacVicar reports, reaction to the Buffalo Declaration has been swift and mixed.

Four Conservative MPs have published an online manifesto decrying what they call the unfair treatment of Alberta within Confederation and a lack of acknowledgement in Canada that the province is a “culturally distinct region.”

On Thursday afternoon, Calgary-Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner tweeted a link to the Buffalo Declaration, a name that pays homage to a former premier of the Northwest Territories’ vision for a province called Buffalo, which would encompass a large territory including an area that is now Alberta and Saskatchewan.

READ MORE: Canadians divided on whether the West has legitimate beef with feds: Ipsos

“Alberta is not, and never has been, an equal partner in Confederation,” her Tweet reads. “The people of my province are suffering and need real, structural change.

“A line in the sand must be drawn. Here it is.”

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The proclamation is signed by Rempel Garner as well as three of her fellow caucus members: Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards, Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner MP Glen Motz and Peace River-Westlock MP Arnold Viersen.

Western alienation: the divide between Alberta, Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada
Western alienation: the divide between Alberta, Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada

“Canada is in crisis,” the document begins with.

“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,” the 13-page document reads in part.

“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.

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“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.”

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How is Alberta viewed outside the province? Looking at Western alienation from different angles
How is Alberta viewed outside the province? Looking at Western alienation from different angles

The declaration’s introduction also notes that the MPs believe “defeating the incumbent Liberal government, or building a pipeline, will not permanently address the systemic inequities Albertans face,” and suggests committing to “permanent nation-building structural change within its institutions of power” as a way forward.

“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,” the MPs write.

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The declaration then delves into a history of the province, suggesting the creation of the province itself and argues Alberta (and Saskatchewan) were not given the same level of jurisdiction over public lands and resources as other provinces when they were created.

“The Eastern political and business class never intended for Alberta to be equal in Confederation,” the declaration reads.

“They intended for us to be a colony, providing wealth and raw resources without having an equal share in prosperity and power.”

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READ MORE: Western frustration fuels Wexit separatist movement

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“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,” the document reads.

“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.”

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The declaration also highlights characteristics the MPs believe make Alberta unique from other parts of Canada, including “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.”

The declaration laments what the MPs say is the under-representation of Alberta in Ottawa and argues the province “contributes a disproportionate amount of wealth to Ottawa relative to what is returned.”

The MPs write that they support Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s efforts to address western alienation through his Fair Deal panel, which is exploring ideas like creating a provincial police force and withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan.

READ MORE: Kenney says proposal to pull Alberta out of CPP due to hostility from others

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The declaration argues that the “status quo of the equalization program is fuelling western alienation.” The equalization formula was last adjusted in 2009 by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Other suggestions made in the declaration include possibly allowing Alberta to collect its own taxes, as well as federal taxes, and then “remit the federal share to Ottawa.”

The MPs also suggest the federal government approve the Teck Resources’ proposed Frontier oilsands mine, create a national energy corridor, “repeal legislation punitive to our energy industry and its workers.”

READ MORE: In letter to Trudeau, Kenney says rejection of Teck Frontier project could be ‘boiling point’ for western alienation

Political commentators weigh in on Buffalo Declaration

Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, said she believes the manifesto may have more impact had it narrowed its focus somewhat.

Williams suggested she wasn’t sure if the declaration’s argument that Alberta is a distinct culture would be supported or acted on and “might detract from that central message, which is… the Alberta economy, the energy industry.”

“It seems like it’s feeding or responding to separate sentiments, which may or may not even be in line with the goals of the provincial [UCP] government… [or] with the goals of any national leader which has to try to balance demands from across the country.” she said.

“It’s the more exorbitant demands that I think are particularly puzzling here, because it’s hard to see how a federal Conservative leader could both lead the country and accede to some of these demands.”

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READ MORE: Western alienation is very real in Alberta and Saskatchewan

“Some of these things I think a lot of Albertans would support [but] some of them, particularly the notion that maybe separatism might be involved… may not have much of an audience here.”

Stephen Carter is the president of Decide Campaigns, a firm that he says “runs political campaigns for people.”

On Friday, Carter condemned the Buffalo Declaration and said “this rhetoric verges on traitorism.”

“[The four MPs are] stoking up the power of separation, which is this populist fearmongering that they’re bringing to its head based on misinformation,” he said.

Carter pointed to the manifesto’s criticism of Canada’s system of equalization as an example.

“Blake Richards voted for the current transfer payment scheme… [the Conservatives] voted for it!” he exclaimed.
“They designed it and created it and voted for it. So what are they telling us? That they brought in the wrong system? That is absent in their declaration… They have left out anything that incriminates them or [former] prime minister Stephen Harper.”

Carter added that he believes even the MPs’ interpretation of how the territory of Buffalo became Alberta and Saskatchewan, to both provinces’ detriment, is problematic.

“This idea that Buffalo existed and Buffalo was supposed to be the primary political division — sure, that’s certainly one interpretation,” he said. “But the other interpretation is that Saskatchewan and Alberta were politically distinct, and by having us both made provinces in 1905, we increased our political strength because we both had a seat at the first ministers table.

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“To only present one side is intellectually dishonest.”

Carter said he believes the federal government should not even bother to react to the document.

Kenney and Notley react to manifesto

When asked for his thoughts on the declaration Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his government was elected on a mandate to fight for Alberta and that’s “exactly what we’re doing.”

“It’s exactly why we’re in court challenging the federal carbon tax, challenging the no-more pipelines law — Bill C-69 — it’s why we launched the Fair Deal Panel and it’s why we’re prepared to go to Albertans with a number of ideas to maximize our autonomy as a province to defend our right to develop responsibly our resources, and that work is being done by the Fair Deal Panel right now.”

Kenney also emphasized that Alberta does have allies across the country, including support from other premiers on their fight against the federal carbon tax and Bill C-69.

“We’ve made it as clear as day to the prime minister and his government that Albertans not only expect, but demand, respect and fairness in this federation and that we are prepared to act if we end up with federal policies that further injure our economy. For example, should the Teck mine not be approved.”

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Late Friday afternoon, the leader of the Official Opposition in the Alberta legislature, NDP Leader Rachel Notley, said the Buffalo Declaration is “riddled with historic and factual inaccuracies and utterly fails to acknowledge the global context within which Alberta’s oil and gas industry has been fundamentally restructured.”

“It fails to acknowledge the 75 per cent drop in the global price of oil and it ignores the challenges we face as we grapple with climate change and a global economy within which private sector markets are demanding we get it right or get left behind,” Notley said in a statement. “It is a cynical, partisan appropriation of Alberta values to further a self-interested political agenda.

“Among the most unnerving things contained in this long-winded diatribe is the degree to which it mimics the language of our current premier.”

Notley added that she believes “a coalition with the separatists cannot help Canada” and that she thinks Alberta is proud to be part of Canada, “the greatest nation on the planet.”

“Jason Kenney must immediately reject this document created by his extremist allies in the Conservative Party of Canada,” she added.

“At the end of the day, as a born and raised Albertan, I love this province. I will not have my values mistakenly described by extremist MPs in the Conservative party.”