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Buffalo Project calls for new deal for Alberta, Saskatchewan

A political action group is calling on the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan to forge a new deal with the federal government. 

Open letter urges provinces to reassert on immigration, trade, transportation and taxes

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, along with leaders from both provinces, were penned an open letter from the Buffalo Project. (Marie-Christine Gendreau Bouillon/Radio-Canada)

A political action group is calling on the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan to forge a new deal with the federal government. 

In an open letter to premiers Jason Kenney and Scott Moe, the Buffalo Project urges the provinces to increase their sovereignty over immigration, trade, transportation corridors and taxation.

It closely mirrors the recommendations of Alberta's Fair Deal panel, a recent effort by the province to reassess its relationship with Ottawa, though with much more aggressive timelines.

The Buffalo Project, not to be confused with the Buffalo Declaration, outlines five of the "most important initial steps" in the letter, published Wednesday. 

It calls for the creation of a "fair" formula for national transfers and recommends a referendum on equalization be held by the end of 2020 — much earlier than the Fair Deal panel which is eyeing October 2021.

The letter also calls for an Alberta pension plan, modelled after Quebec's, and proposes Saskatchewan could join to create a shared Buffalo Pension Plan. Third, the group calls for "asserting control over distribution of taxes" generated within the provinces, and, fourth, a review of trade and immigration policies.

Lastly, the letter calls for a "Buffalo corridor" — the creation of an unobstructed port access for the landlocked provinces with fibre optics, transmission lines, roads and pipelines.

The group — which takes its name from an early, proposed name for what became Alberta and Saskatchewan — says a better relationship with Ottawa is vital to Alberta's future. It was created in part by former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

It differs from the Buffalo Declaration, created by four Conservative MPs from Alberta, which in February called for "immediate action" from the federal government under threat of separation.

The letter was signed by seven "concerned citizen groups" and over 60 high-profile people from the provinces, including retired Petro-Canada president Norman McIntyre.

Kenney says he welcomes new ideas

Spokesperson Derek Robinson, who worked for Wall while he was premier, said the Buffalo Project wrote the letter after commissioning a poll in mid June from Angus Reid.

He said the poll found the majority of Albertan and Saskatchewan respondents didn't feel their provinces were treated fairly.

"I think there's a number of people who kind of felt we need to start taking more action towards a fair deal for Alberta and Saskatchewan," Robinson said.

On Wednesday, Kenney answered questions about whether the letter might signal people's impatience with the Fair Deal timelines set up by his government.

He said the province welcomes debate about ways to make Alberta stronger.

"There is a great deal of frustration in this province," Kenney said.

Moe says his government shares and understands the "concerns of Western Canadians."

"Saskatchewan continues to be a vocal advocate for fixing equalization and fiscal stabilization programs that treat western Canada unfairly," Moe said in a statement, emailed from his press secretary on Wednesday. 

"We will also pursue opportunities to strengthen Saskatchewan's autonomy within the Canadian federation, such as appointing a Saskatchewan Chief Firearms Officer and reviewing opportunities for a Saskatchewan-led immigration system."

Ted Morton, a former Alberta finance minister and a signatory of the letter, says the province is "under attack" and many people are unwilling to accept that.

However, he added that he thinks many of the timelines in the letter are too aggressive and wouldn't allow enough time for public discussion and public debate.

"I think there's growing momentum...driven by growing fear about what's going to happen," Morton said.

"I think where we need to go is there's a lot of glue in between those two extremes — the status quo and separation — that need to be explored and and dealt with and achieved in order to rebalance Alberta's … economic contribution to Canada."

With files from Mirna Djukic and Elise Von Scheel

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