There was no unifying voice as the UCP’s “fair deal” panel made a stop in Fort McMurray Wednesday night.
About 100 residents came out to the meeting and only 12 addressed the panel directly.
The speakers covered a wide range of topics from taxing marijuana to creating an Alberta pension plan, to decriminalizing prostitution.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney created the fair deal panel in the fall to come up with recommendations on how to best advance the province’s economic interests within Confederation, considering nearly a dozen proposals including the creation of an Alberta pension plan, a provincial police force, a tax collection agency, a chief firearms officer and a formalized provincial constitution.
Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao, who sits on the panel, said he would have have liked a bigger crowd at the meeting.
“Everyone here is working and they’re working long, hard hours,” said Yao. “Usually we’ve been getting about double this at minimum. But again we’re in a working town. Everyone is just getting off work right now.”
The panel had a meeting earlier in the day with the Chamber of Commerce, and Yao said about 50 people attended that session.
Fort McMurray did have a different tone than some of the other communities the panel has visited, he said.
“A lot of people here today were saying we should take our own pension plan, that we should have our own police force. And they’re very firm on it and they’re getting a lot of applause for that sort of thing,” said Yao.
Do we control our own destiny in Alberta or are we controlled by someone else?– Martin Pallard
“Those were just some concepts and ideas we put out because that’s what people were telling us before the formation of this panel,” he said.
Chris Davis supports exploring an Alberta pension plan, and would also like to see fewer barriers to trade within the country.
“We still seem to have greater challenges internally to shipping a beer from province to province and getting it on another province’s shelf than we do getting into the United States, for example,” Davis said.
Martin Pallard questioned Alberta’s ability to make its own decisions. “Do we control our own destiny in Alberta or are we controlled by someone else?”
“My only hope is that you can pursue all the proposals that were listed and then put us in a situation where we’re acting as a sovereign unit and then at some point the calls for referendum are too hard to ignore, Pallard said.
Alice Caswell, a maritimer who has lived in Alberta for 23 years, said she does “think that Alberta gets a fair deal generally.”
She reminded the panel that Alberta is diverse and not everyone is a fourth-generation Albertan.
“When you’re looking at whether we’re getting a fair deal and the changes you might take to Ottawa, please think of what a hard sell that might be to some other provinces who aren’t blessed with oil and royalties supporting their provincial government.”
That cause might be even more challenging since Alberta doesn’t have a provincial sales tax, she said.
“We still have a lot of wealth in this province and we’re very lucky.”
There is a need for more support for Indigenous communities, Chantelle Tatum, a 27-year-old Métis woman, told the panel.
“We need clean drinking water in all our communities. We need houses. We need infrastructure.”
Panel member Donna Kennedy-Glans described people in Fort McMurray as “practical”.
She said she’s noticed that people across the province fall into two camps: the patient and impatient.
Some people are willing to take small steps to make change, while others believe it’s impossible to deal with the systemic issues because Alberta has a smaller population, fewer senators and no members of Parliament from Alberta represented in the governing party.
“Some people are absolutely impatient with that and they think that we need to make change immediately, other people aren’t and they want to do it on a more incremental basis.”
The panel will put together a series of recommendations for the government to consider March 31. The panel has another four sessions scheduled, with the next meeting Thursday night in Fort Saskatchewan, about 36 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
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