Alberta's 'Fair Deal Panel' begins feedback tour with Edmonton town hall

EDMONTON — A panel examining Alberta's role in Confederation kicked off its public town hall tour Tuesday, with many telling the panellists the province deserves a better deal — but through collaboration rather than confrontation.

More than 150 people spoke to the panellists at a north Edmonton community centre.

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The speakers were given two minutes to make their points.

Alain Gauthier said he was born and raised in Quebec and believes Alberta needs to learn from Quebec's push to gain greater independence for itself on cost-shared programs with Ottawa.

"The last couple of decades, yeah, I think we're not really getting a fair deal," Gauthier told the panel, which includes three United Conservative legislature members and former federal Reform Party leader Preston Manning.

"Stand up and organize ourselves. It took referendums for them and threats of separation (for Quebec to get a better deal).

"I don't think separation should be on the table now, however, why not have it kind of (in the background)."

Diego Carducci said no one in Canada feels like they're getting a fair deal, but the underlying issue is Alberta being held hostage to the decisions of other jurisdictions to get its natural resources to market.

"We want greater self-determination over our own economic development. That is just driving us crazy right now," said Carducci.

"We're the best at developing the resources that we have. We have some of the lowest carbon oil in the world and we're being stifled in that development."

But he urged Alberta collaborate with other provinces and build alliances with Ottawa and the provinces to get it done.

Premier Jason Kenney has said provinces like British Columbia and Quebec should not be allowed to obstruct pipelines from Alberta while benefiting financially from those industries.

Last month, he created the Fair Deal Panel and tasked it to come up with recommendations on how to best advance Alberta's economic interests within Confederation, including possibly creating its own police force and pulling the province out of the Canada Pension Plan.

Mic Farrell said the panel is creating more problems than it solves and urged the panel to rethink suggestions such as exchanging federal cash transfers for tax points.

"Tax points instead of cash transfers? I would warn all of us that sounds an awful lot like a way to get around the Canada Health Act," said Farrell.

"I have seen American health first-hand. You won't like it."

Neil Rudiger had a blunt comment on pensions.

"Keep your hands off my CPP. I wouldn't trust the UCP government with the proceeds from a bingo let alone my retirement," he said.

Rudiger also criticized the combative stance Kenney's government has taken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals.

Kenney campaigned against Trudeau in the federal election and has said federal policies, such as revised rules on mega-project development and a tanker ban on the northern B.C. coast, are deliberately undermining Alberta.

"I think it's time for the government to put their big-boy pants on and even though they don't like the outcome of the federal election, figure out a way to work with the federal government, keep Alberta in Confederation and make it work," said Rudiger.

The government says any bold proposals would need to be approved by Albertans in a referendum.

The panel has until Jan. 30 to hold the meetings across the province, gather online feedback and consult with experts.

It is to submit a final report with recommendations to the government by March 31.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2019

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