Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the creation of a panel that will examine ways to make his province more independent of Ottawa in a speech to the conservative Manning Centre on Saturday in which he rejected separatist arguments.
Kenney's "Fair Deal Panel," which will include former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, will consult with Albertans on ideas such as establishing a provincial revenue agency, withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan in favour of a new provincial agency and establishing a formalized provincial constitution.
The point of the panel, Kenney explained, is to secure a fair deal for Alberta and advance Alberta's economic interests, such as the construction of energy pipelines.
Kenney noted that several of the ideas are borrowed from Quebec, such as collecting taxes and seeking provincial representation in treaty negotiations that affect Alberta's interests.
He said that none of the ideas would be implemented without Albertans endorsing them in a referendum.
Kenney told the audience that separating from Canada would landlock Alberta and not make it any easier to get a pipeline built to a coast, but that he sees the fear in Albertans eyes about their economic futures.
"It's expressed most devastatingly in an increase in the rate of Albertans who have taken their own lives over the past five years. The per capita rate of suicide in Alberta is 50 per cent higher than it is in Ontario," Kenney said in his speech in Red Deer, adding that economic woes are also contributing to a wave of rural crime and opiod addiction.
"So this literally for many people is a life-and-death question."
Other members of the panel will include Stephen Lougheed, a businessman and son of former premier Peter Lougheed, as well as University of Alberta law professor Moin Yahya, First Nations leader Jason Goodstriker, Canada West Foundation chair Oryssia Lennie, and some members of Kenney's United Conservative Party caucus.
Kenney's speech was the keynote address at the conference, where three of four panels discussed the federal election result and what it meant for Alberta and the West.
In the days that followed the Oct. 21 vote, a simmering separatist movement in Alberta gained momentum under the "Wexit" umbrella, a name seemingly created to mimic the Brexit movement aimed at separating Britain from the European Union.
The group's founder, Peter Downing, earlier this week filed paperwork with Elections Canada to form a federal Wexit Alberta party that could, in his words, do for Western Canada what the Bloc Quebecois does for Quebec.
Kenney said the status quo isn't acceptable, but that he and most Albertans don't want to give up on Canada forever.
"So what is the alternative?" Kenney asked. "Bold action."
The panel will conduct public consultations between Nov. 16 and Jan. 30. It will complete its report to government by March 31.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley responded in a statement that Kenney was "intentionally stoking the fires of western alienation in order to advance his own political objectives."
The NDP leader also noted that Kenney never mentioned withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan during the provincial election last April.
"Alberta is part of Canada, and Jason Kenney needs to accept that," Notley said. "This premier needs to cut the theatrics and get back to the job of getting Albertans back to work."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2019.