By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 25, 2020.
The latest salvo in Albertans’ growing frustration with the province’s role within confederation was fired recently in a manifesto called the Buffalo Declaration.
The Buffalo Declaration was authored by four Conservative MPs from Alberta – Michelle Rempel Garner, Glen Motz, Blake Richards and Arnold Viersen. The document’s name harkens back to the early 1900s when Sir Frederick Haultain, the first premier of the Northwest Territories, proposed a new province consisting of what would become Alberta and Saskatchewan. Its suggested name: Buffalo.
The nearly 6,000-word document, available online at buffalodeclaration.com, details the history of western alienation and its causes, and also makes some recommendations to remedy the situation.
One of the declaration’s four main points in the problems it presents is: “Alberta is not, and has never been, an equal participant in Confederation.” The other three are:
– Alberta is a culturally distinct region, but this has not been recognized.
– Alberta is physically and structurally isolated from economic and political power structures.
– Eastern Canada functionally treats Alberta as a colony, rather than an equal partner.
The document highlights Albertans’ growing frustrations with issues such as equalization payments and handling of resource matters, and suggests independence from Confederation as a possible solution to the inequality and lack of respect.
“Our goal is to present solutions to the issues angering Albertans, and in doing so, strengthen Canada. 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.”
The National Post drew a comparison between this manifesto and the so-called “firewall letter” from some 20 years ago, which was a similar effort aimed at giving Alberta more say within confederation. Other analysts, including a Feb. 23 editorial in the Toronto Sun, are warning that the Buffalo Declaration shouldn’t be ignored.
Some might be quick to brush off the declaration as just another example of westerners complaining and blowing off steam. So what else is new?
But the reality is that it highlights a very real problem. Alberta, as one of Canada’s “have” provinces thanks largely to its oil and gas industry, is feeling pretty unappreciated of late. The province has long been a big contributor to the economic well-being of “have not” provinces through the equalization payments system and many Albertans feel taken for granted by the rest of Canada. The situation has been further aggravated by efforts to block pipelines or rail shipments necessary to ship the product to coastal points from which it can be sent to market.
Albertans have had enough, and the so-called “Wexit” movement and now the Buffalo Declaration of symptoms of that frustration.
Is it enough to push Albertans to actually withdraw from confederation? Probably not. Trying to make it as an independent entity would likely create more problems for Alberta than it would solve. But the anger is real. Alberta is calling for a new equalization formula, and the province wants a greater say in confederation befitting its important economic role.
Conservative politicians including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole say the West’s frustrations are very real. What’s needed, though, is for the federal government to take those concerns seriously, and to take steps to patch things up.
Western alienation is nothing new; it has flared up at other times in Canadian history, most notably during Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program in the early to mid-1980s and has always cooled down again.
But it’s at a high level now, and if the federal government wants to ensure co-operation from Alberta in keeping Canada strong and healthy, it would be wise to listen to the concerns.
As the Buffalo Declaration notes, “… it is now up to Canada to show they understand Alberta and our value to Confederation.”
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