At a time when commerce and industry was beginning to flourish in Eastern Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan were not yet a part of Confederation.
Before joining Confederation in 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were part of an enormous expanse which Canada called the North-West Territories. This land was bought by the Canadian government from Hudson’s Bay Company in 1868. Representatives from the North-West Territories including First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and settlers were not consulted.
The acquisition of the North-West Territories by Canada was thrust upon its people; not in partnership with them.
The template for how our people would be treated by the established Eastern political class was set in the purchase. This land was not bought for its inhabitants - indigenous and settlers alike - to have an equal partnership with the political and business interests to the East. This land was purchased in order to prevent the territory and the wealth it could create for Canada from being acquired by the Americans.
This inequality of the West’s place in Canada was acutely displayed when the North-West Territories’ first premier, Sir Frederick William Alpin Gordon Haultain, sought provincial status for his large western territory, which he called Buffalo. The federal government feared this would concentrate too much power in one province and grow to rival Quebec and Ontario.
Despite Premier Haultain’s efforts, Alberta became a province separate from Saskatchewan on September 1, 1905.
The Eastern political and business class never intended for Alberta to be equal in Confederation. They intended for us to be a colony, providing wealth and raw resources without having an equal share in prosperity and power.
Under the 1867 British North America Act, provinces were given jurisdiction over their public lands and resources, but this right was denied to Alberta and Saskatchewan. The federal government justified retention of control over Western lands by arguing that they needed to promote immigration and settlement; and therefore, provincial control “would be ruinous . . . disastrous” to this national endeavor. This stance cemented the colonial view of Albertans to the Eastern political and business class. Ottawa attempted to make up for seizing the West’s revenue by providing subsidies based on population. However, Premier Haultain wanted no part of this compensation package and demanded the same right as other provinces. The Calgary Herald described this situation as the “Autonomy that Insults the West.”
Albertans wanted to control their own destiny without handouts from Ottawa then, and we want the same today.
Alberta’s struggle with Canada’s federal government continued through the 20th Century. After the oil boom of the 1970s, Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau imposed unprecedented measures to restrict the growth of the Alberta economy, often with the support of Eastern politicians. The National Energy Program (NEP) remains a historical stain on the relationship between the federal government and the people of Alberta. At a time when wealth, opportunity, and political influence was thriving in Alberta, the first Prime Minister Trudeau took it upon himself to attack the natural resource sector in Alberta with destructive force. When Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed asked why Ontario-based manufacturing products were sold to Albertans at tariff-protected prices, while Alberta oil was being sold to Ontarians at half the going rate, no justification was given. The government of the day unapologetically displaced billions of dollars in investment, which forced Albertans from their homes, bankrupted businesses, destroyed livelihoods, led to suicides and set the province back for a generation.
Never acknowledged or rectified, this malicious act stands as a reminder of the colonial attitude towards Alberta, and what happens when the political power class of the East turns, with intent, against the West.
Premier Lougheed continued his fight with Ottawa over provincial autonomy and jurisdiction over Alberta’s natural resources through the patriation of the Constitution. While Prime Minister Trudeau’s amending formula in the Victoria Charter of 1971 would have given Ontario and Quebec permanent vetoes over changes to the Constitution, it was Lougheed who ensured this would not be entrenched in the Constitution. The current amendment formula which requires seven of the ten provinces representing at least 50% of the population to agree to the amendments is due to Lougheed’s negotiations. However, Lougheed was forced to give in on equalization, Senate reform, and other measures of inequality in order to secure an amending formula that did not enshrine permanent second-class provinces.
Today, a new generation of Albertans face the same policy of economic and political strangulation by another Prime Minister Trudeau who, through regulation, legislation and sparking civil unrest, is usurping the sovereignty over Alberta’s natural resources for which Lougheed fought so hard.
Since 2015, the incumbent Prime Minister has made a series of policy decisions that have precipitated significant economic decline in Western Canada. In Trudeau’s tenure, Alberta has suffered substantial unemployment as billions of dollars of private sector investment fled our industries.
The political veto of the Northern Gateway pipeline, regulatory strangulation of Energy East, silence over U.S. President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, passing Bills C-69 and C-48; small business tax increases, the carbon tax, nationalization of the TMX pipeline, failures to address significant trade issues with major economies like China and India; and refusal to enforce the rule of law on approved resource development projects or on illegal blockades have all served to close Alberta’s economy to investment and job growth.
The impact of these actions on Albertans have been profound and devastating.
Alberta has lost billions in investment capital and our best and brightest have fled to other jurisdictions such as the United States.
No segment of Alberta has been untouched. In every part of the province and in every industry businesses have shuttered. Families have been shattered, the suicide rate and incidences of domestic violence have increased. Many proud and industrious people, who have been out of work for years, are now at a point of desperation and anger.
The plight of our people has been dismissed by many with arrogance, hypocrisy, or apathy, and rarely acknowledged with any compassion. Our crisis does not lead national news headlines, yet we hear it on every door, in every conversation, and with every beat of the heart of our communities.
Albertans watch as Eastern Liberal politicians frequently spare no expense from the public purse when Eastern-based industries, many of which are extremely carbon intensive, are in trouble. This Prime Minister went as far as to interfere in the independence of the judiciary to secure a favoured outcome in a criminal proceeding involving Montreal-based SNC Lavalin and suggested it was to defend jobs and prevent a negative economic impact. At the same time, they watch our people punished by the very same hands.
At time of writing, activists with a colonial ideology are breaking laws in blockades of critical industry, for the sake of closing down Alberta industry. That they do this while purporting to be protecting First Nations from resource development is a stark example of their arrogance, and how divorced they are from the realities of those who are affected by the projects they oppose. For instance, the Teck Frontier mine has the approval of the local 14 First Nations in the region, all of whom are set to gain significant economic benefits from the project.
These projects benefit all of Canada. They have passed years of rigorous, world class, arms length, environmental review.
Now, government ministers muse about “aid packages” for Alberta in exchange for rejecting these projects.
History is repeating itself. This is not equality; it is an entrenched colonial attitude that has never been broken, and it must end.
2.) Alberta is a culturally distinct region, but this has not been recognized.
It is necessary to first give deference to the rights and culture of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people. We acknowledge the traditional territory of First Nations, and the right of and need for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people to tell their own stories of cultural distinction, and for reconciliation between our people.
Throughout Alberta’s history, we can see several distinct cultural themes. A struggle against a colonial government, a desire for individual freedom, a willingness and drive to achieve personal economic liberty; a deep connection and respect for our land; and an economy unique to other areas of Canada.
Immigration patterns of settlers to Alberta are also historically distinct. At a time when the East attracted bankers, lawyers and other capitalists into established industries, Alberta was drawing families who survived harsh climates and had an ability to live off the land. Settlers like the Hungarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Dutch, Germans, Scots, Chinese, and Icelanders immigrated to Alberta because of poverty, overpopulation and unemployment in their homelands.
Still others came to Alberta driven by the desire for freedom from government oppression. Persecuted individuals like African Americans, Jews, Mennonites, and Mormons sought refuge and opportunity in Alberta.
Over generations, Albertans from diverse backgrounds have formed a culture of self-sufficiency, respect for rule of law, and equality of opportunity.
Alberta is populated by people from every corner of the globe; every religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Scott Hardy once said, “In Alberta, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. If you’re a good person and you work hard, you’re welcome to be here.” Our history shows our diversity is hard fought and inherent to who we are.
Therefore, the ire of Albertans is raised when power elite attempt to stereotype our people with the term “redneck.” It serves to perpetuate a falsehood regarding the capacity for tolerance of the people of our province; implying we are backward, ignorant and incapable of social progress. We admit we have our challenges and acknowledge there is still work to be done. However, for the power elite to suggest that they are somehow superior to Albertans in this regard serves to whitewash their own history with racism. Policies like state suppression of openly wearing religious symbols, and the ghettoization and marginalization of new immigrants happens in their own backyards.And, there are those who suggest Alberta is not as ethnically diverse as their part of the country. However, 2016 census data depicts the reality; the percentage of Ontarians and Albertans of European descent are roughly the same, with that number being markedly higher in Quebec. Maintaining our pluralism is an ongoing effort, and efforts to do so shouldn’t be hindered by unproductive assumptions.
It was Albertan suffragists, the Famous Five, who fought for women to be recognized as ‘persons’ within the British North America Act. Their push for equality of opportunity, even in the face of an opposing Supreme Court, an opposing Parliament, and massive pushback from the ruling establishment, remains a call to action for generations of Albertans, including the authors of this Declaration.
Indigenous and settler alike, we were a people who forged a strong connection to the land in order to survive, and we still do so today. Even in our urban centres, Albertans cherish our rural roots because our agricultural and natural resources sectors are the proud lifeblood of our economy. The stark division between urban and rural in many parts of Canada is much less distinct in Alberta.
Alberta’s rich ranching tradition stretches back to the late 1800’s, when thousands of cattle roamed the Prairie. Western heritage has been a part of Alberta’s distinct identity ever since. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Albertans take part in events like the Calgary Stampede and countless other rodeos and country markets to celebrate their ranching roots. These events celebrate our proud agricultural and ranching traditions. Millions of people have been introduced to Alberta art and culture which highlights our deep respect for our agricultural and ranching history.
Then, there is the uniqueness of Alberta’s natural heritage.
When the world thinks of Canada and its untamed beauty, the first image often evoked is of emerald blue Albertan mountain lakes flanked by the majesty of the Rockies. Alberta is home to six World Heritage sites, more than any other province in Canada. We are home to Canada’s first and most visited National Park. We inherently care about the land we occupy because it is who we are. Our ranchers, miners, hunters and farmers are some of the most active conservationists in confederation managing our land and vast environmental reserves. The stewardship of our land refutes the anti-environmental stereotype Eastern power elites try to paint of Albertans, while simultaneously whitewashing the environmental failures of the East. It is easier to falsely depict Albertans as dirty, than to address raw sewage being dumped into the St. Lawrence or to materially change their own carbon-intensive lifestyles.
Natural resources, like oil, natural gas, and coal, are an integral part of Alberta’s history. References to these valuable resources can be found as far back as the 1700s. Since that time, Albertans have proudly found innovative ways to extract these resources, harness their energy, and manufacture them into goods for the benefit of Canada. Albertans have also created world class technology and processes protecting our landscapes, environment, and workers. We have exported this intellectual property and highly skilled workforce, entrenching Alberta’s position as a world leader in energy production and environmental sustainability.
We are innovators, entrepreneurs, and risk takers. Some of the most lucrative innovations in the world have their roots in Alberta.
Albertans are proud of our history, our rural roots, and Western way of life. We are not content to live off the government dole. We find pride in self-reliance and self-sufficiency. We reject efforts by the East to further yoke us to the coffers of Ottawa. If we are to be part of this nation, then the federal government must not stand in our way.
Alberta is a beacon of economic opportunity for bold entrepreneurs who uproot themselves to chart a bright future. This entrepreneurial spirit continues today and talented Canadians from across the country have immigrated to Alberta to seek prosperity and embrace its culture. This innovation hub has been an economic boon to not only Alberta, but for all of Canada.
Surviving on our side of the Rocky Mountains requires a bit of rugged determination. Much of Alberta’s success is because it is a place where taking risks is encouraged. Where business leaders are weary of government intervention; preferring to succeed by the work of their own hands.
We are distinct in Canada. We are proud of who we are.
3.) Alberta is physically and structurally isolated from Canada’s economic and political power structures.
For many in the East, Alberta is a place to which they have little connection. For Canada’s political class who frequently travel the country, Alberta is simply a long stretch of time on a flight between Toronto and Vancouver.
On a per capita basis, Alberta is the most underrepresented province in both the Senate and House of Commons. This is one of the key sources of anger within Alberta. While having twice the population of all four Atlantic provinces combined, Alberta has barely more than half the Senators of either New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. Every successful democratic federation in the world has a democratic upper legislative body with some measure of equality for its sub-national states. Canada is a notable exception to this principle of equality, being a major country in the democratic world where some of its sub-national states hold less representation than others, despite having a larger population.
As Alberta contributes a disproportionate amount of wealth to Ottawa relative to what is returned, and is under-represented in Ottawa’s political institutions, it should be obvious to Canadians why Albertans are frustrated: taxation without representation.
There is also underrepresentation of Albertans within the federal public service. Within Canada’s federal bureaucracy, the number of people who have experience in Alberta is dramatically outnumbered by those who have spent most of their lives in Ontario and Quebec. Only one relatively small federal government agency is headquartered in Alberta, and it has limited interaction with Ottawa. As a result, advice given to ministers and decisions made by the public service often lacks the lens of someone who has direct experience with the culture and needs of our province.
This is compounded by the fact that the main influencers on legislators and public servants are lobbyists and government relations representatives from Eastern Canada. It’s relatively inexpensive and quick for a company or NGO based in Toronto or Montreal to send its representatives to Ottawa, as compared to those in Alberta. There are many flights per day, they can drive from place to place in a few hours or take the train. There are also significantly more of these entities headquartered in Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa as compared to Alberta, with few of their staff having lived experience in Western Canada. As a result, Alberta is often an afterthought, if even a thought at all, during decision making and policy advocacy at the federal level.
The structure of our Supreme and federal court also works against Alberta’s equality of representation. For example, federal court judges are mandated to live in the Ottawa region, meaning they are disconnected from other parts of the country including Alberta. In addition, official bilingualism requirements disqualify an overwhelming majority of qualified Albertans from ever serving on the Supreme Court.
Alberta’s isolation from major power structures is also felt in the media. The Press Gallery, members of which get preferential access to the halls of Parliament do not reflect a Western voice. We need only to turn on our national government broadcaster to see a steady stream of news coverage of American issues receiving more airtime than the economic downturn in Alberta.
This structural isolation extends to the various iterations of the only two federal political parties to ever have formed government, in the context of our electoral system.
The power base of the Liberal Party of Canada is in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and Ontario. They spend little time or effort campaigning for the hearts and minds of Albertans. They do not need Alberta to form government. The number of seats available to the Liberals in Alberta are few compared to the number of “safe seats” in Toronto, Montreal, and Atlantic Canada. Therefore, the electoral cost of making policy punitive to Alberta, but politically advantageous in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, is beneficial to the Liberal Party.
In contrast, the Conservative Party’s traditional power base is in Alberta, and Alberta has consistently elected representatives from parties that oppose the Liberals. Yet, in order to form government, the Conservatives must convince urban voters in Ontario and Quebec to move away from the Liberals, or have another left-leaning party gain enough support to split Eastern votes. The result is Alberta voters have one path to influence in government: through the prioritization of political resources on Ontario and Quebec voters. Consequently, issues important to Albertans, such as the energy sector and equalization, are viewed as being detrimental to winning votes in Ontario and Quebec.
The path to government is through Ontario and Quebec, therefore, incumbent Alberta MPs are required to campaign in other parts of the country to ensure the voices of their constituents are heard. For the same reasons, incumbents in Ontario and Quebec of any political party rarely visit Alberta during an election. In many cases due to these factors, the only time some candidates from other parts of the country come to Alberta is to fundraise for their own campaigns. Without this experience on the ground in communities in Alberta, incumbent MPs from other parts of the country sometimes lack understanding of the rawness of the issues facing our people.
While the Liberals have had occasional isolated victories in Alberta, they have consistently failed to attract any long-term measurable success. Pundits and political commentators have long pontificated over the reasons behind the Conservative Party’s struggle with attracting comparable levels of support the Liberals enjoy in places like Quebec. Yet, the Liberal Party’s consistent rejection by Albertans is shrugged away and ignored as irrelevant to the political discourse.
Even with one of our own, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, in the Prime Minister’s Office, many policies putting Alberta on equal footing were quickly repealed upon the Liberals taking power.
Alberta’s isolation from Canada’s economic and political power structures is at the heart of its inequitable place in Confederation and must be rectified.
4.) Alberta is treated as a colony, rather than an equal partner in Confederation.
Alberta has been a lucrative source of wealth for Canada.
Between 1981 and 2018, Albertans have sent more than $1 trillion to Ottawa in revenue and received only $650 billion in return. That is a transfer deficit of more than $400 billion.
Albertans have been proud to contribute to Canada. However, with yet another Liberal government assaulting the autonomy of our province and its industrial base, the current Equalization formula has become an untenable proposition and flashpoint for Western alienation.
When the federal government continually chooses to stifle the growth of our economy, and instead prepare an “aid package,” Albertans know they are not being treated as partners.
Major industrial projects have been allowed to proceed in Quebec with full support in Ottawa. By contrast, the federal government has endorsed opposition to Alberta’s right to work. They side with those special interests who wish to shutter Alberta’s economy, while simultaneously benefiting from the wealth generated in our province. This not how a government treats an equal partner. This is how a colony is treated.
Throughout the 2019 general election, we heard from voters who desperately wanted to know why Alberta’s value within Confederation was tied to the fortunes of one political party. No other province in the country faces legislation intent on destroying the economic fortunes of their industries depending on the election of one party over another. Only Alberta is forced to provide billions of dollars to the federal government while at the same time bearing the brunt of their oppressive and hostile assault on our people and our province.
We will not continue to be milked for equalization payments while our right to work is stolen from us.
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