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Opinion: Fair Deal Panel repeats calls to transfer money and power from feds

Are Alberta's Fair Deal panel recommendations in touch with what Albertans want? Photo: Metro Creative Connection

The Alberta government finally released its “fair deal panel” report on June 17.

It arose from anger at other provinces’ opposition to pipeline construction and Premier Jason Kenney’s interest in running the country rather than the province.

But the panel essentially repeats century-old calls to transfer money and power from the federal government.

Its 25 recommendations include a few interesting ideas, mere expressions of frustration, internal contradictions, and dangerous notions such as leaving the Canada Pension Plan. Here are some prominent themes.

Politicians first, people second: Most recommendations would give provincial politicians more legal and financial power. Barely mentioned are ways to make life better for individuals. One of the most obvious is to end divided provincial control of inheritance issues; the current system creates legal complications and large costs related to writing wills and distributing estates across provincial borders.

Do as we say, not as we do: The panel would allocate seats in the House of Commons more strictly according to population. That would give Alberta five more seats (and Ontario seven more and B.C. three more) while taking seats away from more rural provinces, including Quebec. No kidding? This from the province that tries as much as possible to maximize rural power in the legislature?

Give us more money: The report says caps on the federal Fiscal Stabilization Fund should be removed, giving Alberta an extra $2.4 billion. The demand runs absolutely counter to justification for the province’s Heritage Fund. If Alberta can’t stabilize its own revenues, both its tax policy and its handling of the Heritage Fund have failed.

Let’s all get along, even if we try not to: The report calls for much freer trade among the provinces, a very good idea and a direction the government has already tried to implement. The panel’s polling found more public support for this idea than for any other. But the report’s many calls to shift power and money to the provinces would help them keep trade barriers. Hilariously, the report calls on Ottawa to “enforce free trade,” while every other recommendation suggests ways to diminish federal power.

Um, we’ll have to think about that: The panel would like Alberta to leave the Canada Pension Plan and set up a separate Alberta Pension Plan. It recommends a referendum on the proposal. It adds that “due diligence” should be conducted first “to assure Albertans that benefits and risks are understood and can be positively managed.” In other words, they don’t know yet if what they want would work, and they do know there’s a lot of public resistance.

Equalization nonsense: The panel also recommends a referendum on removing equalization from the Constitution. It concedes a Yes vote would have no effect because other provinces would have to go along; it would be just a pricey way to let others know Alberta is unhappy. Shamefully, the report cites completely spurious and nonsensical numbers for Alberta’s “contributions to equalization.” Those numbers purport that Alberta alone has contributed more to equalization than has actually been made in total equalization payments. The numbers represent a squishy calculation called “net federal fiscal transfers” and, incredibly, come from a National Post newspaper article. Not only that, the article was no longer available online when I tried to read it.

We’re green: The report supports “market-based approaches to environmental protection.” Yet it vigorously supports ways to fight any federal carbon tax.

Let’s think about this: Suggestions for more provincial control of immigration and creation of a provincial police force may be worth a look, although a lack of immigration has not been a problem for Alberta. The report sensibly calls for study of the pros and cons of a provincial police force. Surprisingly, the panel’s polling found replacing the RCMP the second-least favoured of 16 potential actions — with 35% support, only one percentage point more than the number who saw some use in separating from Canada.

Mark Lisac is a long time columnist. He watches the political scene for Alberta Prime Times.