Alberta has been forced to a crossroads and only two honourable options remain for us: equality, or independence.
Accepting the status quo – regardless of who rules in Ottawa and Edmonton – will see Albertans anger wax and wane, but it will keep Albertans as a second-class people and a quasi-colony to be milked for vote-buying elsewhere.
Inequities faced by Alberta are many: Equalization and a host of lesser-known transfer programs that cost us $20 billion a year, a Senate where provinces with one-fifth our population have three times as many seats, an “economic union” whose free-trade enforcement is laughable.
Albertans are proud Canadians, and we want nothing more than to be treated equally with our fellow provinces. To achieve this, we once put our faith in the Mulroney PCs to deliver us from Pierre Trudeau, only to be taken for granted and plundered to buy-votes elsewhere. We started the Reform Party to demand “The West Wants In!” only to discover that for the West to get in, we had to water down our demands for reform so much that the project left us little better in the end.
The math is simple: Alberta has most of the money, and little of the votes. Whomever resides in the prime minister’s office will only tilt the degree to which Alberta is plundered.
Begging for Ottawa to buy us a pipeline or requesting small, tinkering changes to Equalization will fix none of this.
In my travels, Albertans have told me clearly: the time for talk is over. It’s now equality, or independence.
The Freedom Conservative Party is committed as our most important election pledge that if Alberta’s next government cannot negotiate an agreement recognizing a place of equality and honour for Alberta within one year of this election, that Albertans will decide for themselves in a vote on independence.
What does equality look like? For the FCP, it means: ending Equalization, a hard cap on net wealth transfers from Alberta to other provinces, equal and elected Senate representation, and strengthening the now worthless constitutional protections for free-trade and market access across provinces. It means Alberta having the same rights as Quebec to: establish our own police force, an Alberta Pension Plan, an Alberta Employment Insurance Plan, directly administer the Firearms Act, and establish our own immigration system.
None of these demands ask for special treatment or favours. Only equality.
If Alberta’s demands for equality cannot be met within one year of the next provincial election, then Albertans should decide directly for themselves in a referendum between the status quo, and independence.
It is our hope that the prospect of independence will convince Ottawa that pennies-on-the dollar handouts will simply no longer due; but that threat must be real and credible.
The Freedom Conservative Party is the only party in Alberta that believes that independence must now be on the table. It is something that we do not do lightly. A reformed, equal confederation is preferable to independence, but independence is unquestionably better than continuing to live under the status quo.
Those who scoff at the mere mention of independence as an option are effectively arguing that “it is better to live on our knees, than to die on our feet.” We reject this false dichotomy. An equal Alberta inside of confederation can live on its feet and continue to be the anchor of Canada, but if this is not possible, then an independent Alberta – with or without other Western provinces – can prosper beyond our current horizons.
An independent Alberta would have a GDP per capita in the very top-tier of nations; in the same class as Singapore, Switzerland and Norway, moving us from 34th globally, to 9th.
An independent Alberta would be landlocked like a provincial Alberta, but would retain an extra $20 billion (net) in taxes a year, and hold considerable leverage in negotiating with a British Columbia that surely desires Canadian-access, as much as Alberta desires coastal-access.
An independent Alberta would negotiate its own trade relationships, unencumbered by Ottawa’s obsession with sex, race and carbon, and the main areas of disagreement with the United States: steel, aluminum and supply-management of dairy.
And should we choose, Alberta would be free to rid ourselves of supply management itself, which makes it effectively illegal for Albertans to produce enough dairy for our own consumption so as to protect Quebec-based quotas.
Independence would not be easy. It would not be a solution to all Alberta’s problems. But it would finally allow Alberta to live on its feet.
If the Freedom Conservative Party elects a strong caucus to Alberta’s next legislature, we will fight first and foremost for an Alberta that can continue in confederation with equality and honour; but should the status quo prevail and Ottawa fails to heed the prairie fire burning its way, then we will ensure that the people have the right to choose an Alberta that is strong, free, and sovereign.
Derek Fildebrandt is the Leader of the Freedom Conservative Party and the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks.