Panel recommends a Wexit from the RCMP, CPP
A month after the Fair Deal panel’s report was handed over to the government, Premier Jason Kenney and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer publicly released it Wednesday.
The 68-page report, which the premier paused the release of during the public health emergency, offered up 25 recommendations for how Alberta can achieve fair treatment in Confederation, including the creation of a provincial police force and an exit from the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP).
Kenney, who struck the panel in November 2019 after the federal Liberal government was shut out of Alberta on election day, is keen on at least some of the report’s advice.
The premier said Wednesday he will hold a referendum in 2021 to gauge Alberta’s sentiment on the equalization formula as part of a push to get Ottawa to overhaul it.
“Failure to get a fair deal for Alberta is not an option,” Kenney said.
While the referendum question has yet to be crafted, the panel suggests it posits whether Albertans support the removal of the clause in the Constitution that deals with equalization principles.
A strong ‘yes’ from the province won’t be enough to overhaul the Constitution, but it could pressure the federal government to get onside with Albertans’ desire to change the system that has seen hundreds of billions flow out of the province since 1960.
Thumbs up for pension changes, police force and more
The UCP crafted a 16-page response to the report that outlines its support for a fleet of other recommendations, including letting federal judges live outside of Ottawa; increasing provincial control over immigration; allowing Alberta to opt out of new cost-sharing programs with the feds, such as the proposed national pharmacare program; and affirming Alberta’s cultural uniqueness into law (Culture Minister Leela Aheer will be digging into this one).
When it comes to establishing an Alberta Pension Plan (APP), Kenney says he is on board, but further analysis and development needs to happen first (the panel recommends a referendum be held on the exit from CPP too).
The report suggests the APP could be managed by AIMCo, which is facing an independent review by KPMG after its investment strategy led to $2.1 billion in losses this spring, or the government could opt for Alberta pensions to continue to be managed by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which manages the CPP and was consulted during the Fair Deal panel’s data gathering.
The panel recommended “unilaterally” and “immediately” creating an Alberta Police Service to replace the RCMP. According to the panel’s research, 35 per cent of Albertans support that action (making it one of the least popular proposals it polled the public on).
The move could mean the province and its municipalities are on the hook for $112.4 million annually — the amount Ottawa currently contributes to RCMP services in Alberta.
The UCP says police force planning will be weighed by cabinet and the premier’s office before moving forward. Premier Kenney also indicated the government’s own internal polling showed higher support for a new police force and the APP than indicated in the panel’s data.
Panel plays it safe in some areas, leading to rejection from the UCP
The panel shunned suggestions it said would add to the province’s administrative burden, but the UCP didn’t bite.
For example, the panel recommended Alberta not take more control over infrastructure project deals between the federal government and municipalities.
“The benefits of red tape reduction and local autonomy and accountability outweigh any concerns about possible back door federal encroachments,” the panel wrote.
The UCP countered that it’s “critical” that municipal projects receiving federal cash “align with provincial outcomes” — but added there are no plans to change intergovernmental dealings right now, although the province could revisit it.
The panel also suggested Alberta learn from Quebec’s experience and keep things status quo when it comes to tax collection. The UCP said “significant” further cost-benefit analyses are needed before it makes a call.
Kenney is also sticking with his election campaign platform commitment to swap federal health transfers from cash to “tax points,” which the panel opted against recommending, saying the strategy would lower federal transfers and make Alberta more reliant on its own tax base, which is currently experiencing “extreme volatility” thanks to the oil price crash.
The UCP said switching to “tax points” would reduce Ottawa’s “intrusions into health and social programming” and vowed to keep scoping out a plan to make the swap.
The panel noted it received limited feedback on “tax points” because their potential impact “is not widely understood by Albertans.”
Pandemic cooled the waters, panel says
Both the drop in oil prices and the fact the country has come together during the pandemic led the panel to change the order of its 25 recommendations to emphasize changes that Ottawa and Alberta could tackle cooperatively, rather than provincially focused suggestions.
“In recent months, as a result of the need for all Canadians and their governments to pull together to cope with the current health and economic crises, we have witnessed a much greater willingness on the part of the provincial and federal governments to mutually support and cooperate with each other,” reads the report’s opening statement.
“Alberta’s best bet is within Confederation,” panel chair Oryssia Lennie told reporters.
In total, 2,500 Albertans showed up to town halls and more than 45,000 gave feedback online.
The panel listened to separatists, including those in the Wexit movement, but the majority of Albertans they consulted wanted to find a better deal within Confederation.
Notley calls the report a ‘distraction’
NDP Leader Rachel Notley brushed off the report as a distraction from the government’s cuts to health care and education, as well as its failure to help struggling businesses.
“In all fairness, Albertans deserve better,” she said, adding the last thing Albertans want is to be forced into a referendum to save their pensions.
Notley said the assumption that Alberta’s contributes disproportionately to the CPP because of its young population is “simplistic.”
“Jason Kenney sees pensions as a tax — he doesn’t see them as an investment,” Notley said.
She said problems with equalization and fiscal stabilization are “glaringly obvious” — but also out of provincial jurisdiction.
When asked what the public’s appetite is for reopening the Constitution, Notley said “zero to minus 150.”