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It's time for Albertans to stop taking "No" for an answer Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 20 June 2005

I got more reaction to last week's column to last week's column about Alberta separatism than I have on anything else in years.

Dozens of people sent emails, mostly favorable. A few attacked me for being a separatist (which I'm not), and more challenged me for not being separatist enough.

I had written that separatism is a fantasy unless Alberta's provincial legislature first draws up a formal list of grievances with Canada, and specific demands for redress.

That's how the English Parliament did it in 1641. They wrote the Grand Remonstrance, listing over a hundred specific abuses by royal authority. When King Charles I ignored it, Parliament felt both entitled and obliged to take up arms and cut off his head.

Likewise, only after long and fruitless political protest did the colonial legislatures in North America feel both entitled and obliged in 1776 to declare independence from England. They held a congress and published the Declaration of Independence, probably the noblest expression of political liberty ever written.

Most of it consists of specific grievances against the British government.

Alberta could draft a pretty compelling list of grievances, too, and should.

I doubt they'd impress the good folks of eastern Canada, but that's not the point. Most easterners will always assume Albertans are too rich for their own good.

For Albertans, however, the central issue is not money. It's the coarse colonial contempt of central Canadian media, politicians, judges and interest groups towards the province and its people--who they are, what they have built, what they believe, and what they want for their future.

Albertans have never accepted the new Canadian delusion that nations are built on social programs rather than sacrifice, politics rather than principle, self-deception rather than self-defence, and dictatorship rather than democracy.

There's a growing sense--growing for the last half-century--that Albertans just don't fit.

But the question keeps coming up, what can be done about it?

A few years ago the options were put quite simply by Ted Morton, a political science professor at the University of Calgary who is now an MLA eying the Conservative leadership after Ralph Klein retires.

Morton calls the Reform Party movement of the 1990s Plan A--reforming federalism from Ottawa. It was a noble failure.

Outright independence--separatism--he calls Plan C.

Like me, he advocates a middle course, which he calls Plan B--making full use of existing provincial powers, something no province except Quebec has ever done. For example, Alberta could establish its own provincial alternatives to the Canada Pension Plan, RCMP local policing, and federal collection of provincial income tax. Any province could do the same if it chose, but Alberta would probably be better off.

To my mind, Plan B is a given. If we can't get that, we won't get anything. And it should be accompanied by a province-wide statement of grievance and redress.

The separatists are right that the status quo is utterly unacceptable, and push must soon come to shove. But shove where?

Separatism is essentially a negative. What's needed is a positive proposal to the rest of the country from the government of Alberta on how to change federalism and why.

If and when that is turned down, as it well may be, only then will Plan C begin to look legitimate, including to most Albertans.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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