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Time for a hard line Print E-mail
Monday, 01 August 2005

So now what?

Alberta’s own history lays out the forward path

The “get in or get out” option will work if Albertans, encouraged by reform-minded Canadians elsewhere, understand that the status quo is suicidal for the whole country.

Most sensible people realize Canada has problems. Unfortunately, however, governments wedded to the present system are skilled at concealing the severity of the crisis.

In this regard, the government of Ralph Klein is as bad as the rest. It has spent the past decade arguing with Chretien and Martin over funding levels rather than building systematically on the work of Peter Lougheed, Don Getty and Preston Manning to reform national institutions like the Senate, the courts and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Impromptu Senate elections every six years do not constitute a reform agenda.

Rather than supporting the federal Reform Party, Klein ridiculed it as “a pimple on an elephant’s butt.”A provincial committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation rejected last year anything that might increase tension between Ottawa and the province.

The Klein government, like others, has vested great hopes in the new Council of the Federation.The council is just a new name for the annual premiers’ conferences of the past, and no more effective. Unlike the Senate, the council has no constitutional authority and is never likely to acquire any. It provides a platform for premiers to complain about federal funding, something they’ve been doing regularly for forty years.

If Canada is to be reformed, the Alberta government must be prodded into action.For that to happen,Albertans themselves must be shaken out of their current complacency, and shown the special responsibility that confronts them.

Albertans have risen to political challenges before.There were two huge social and political revolutions in the province’s past, the farm co-op movement and the social credit movement.

Both began as nonpartisan movements which educated and focused Albertans on the need for a specific, radical change. Both movements assumed that the provincial government would implement the necessary legislation, and both movements were turned down. Only then did they go political. In both cases they swept the old party out of office in a single election.

At least one leadership candidate, Rockyview MLA Ted Morton, espouses the “Alberta Agenda” – provincialization of police, pensions and provincial income tax collection. If public demand for this sort of hard line is rising as the leadership contest develops, other candidates may do the same.

The “get in or get out” movement should emulate this winning strategy. It should organize itself into local nonpartisan associations the way the UFA and Social Credit did, to spread information, build public awareness, gather supporting signatures and lobby MLAs from existing parties, especially the Conservatives.

There are modern ways of doing this, such as computer networking, opinion polling and media advertising. But in the end it still comes down to personal contact, and individuals volunteering personal time and effort.

The approaching Conservative leadership change in Alberta offers an opportune moment. Within the next year or so it will determine who Alberta’s next premier will be.

At this early stage, effort spent on starting new separatist or quasi-separatist political parties will be mostly wasted. Political parties have never been effective at public education, and most Albertans do not want to separate from Canada.

Until the Alberta public can see a way of defeating Ottawa without wrecking Canada, separatist parties will probably never find an audience.Albertans are the most patriotic citizens in the country.

If, however, there is widespread demand for a hard line against Ottawa, and the new Alberta premier ignores it, then all bets are off.The new movement, already organized, need only choose its own leader and “go political.”

It has happened twice before.

It can happen again.

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