'People are angry': Alberta 'fair deal' panel launches town hall meetings
'We want to get away from the rhetoric, away from the polarization'
A government panel looking at ways to give Alberta more political autonomy is holding its first town hall meeting Tuesday night in Edmonton.
The panel is tasked with tackling a deepening separatist sentiment in the province, says Donna Kennedy-Glans, a member of the "fair deal" panel and a former PC MLA for Calgary-Varsity.
"We want to get away from the rhetoric, away from the polarization and start to be a little more practical in this," Kennedy-Glans said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
"Waving your arms and saying you're angry is legitimate. People are angry and they're really frustrated.
"It's been tough across the province but the big question is, what do we do about it?"
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Premier Jason Kenney announced last month that the panel is to come up with recommendations on how to best advance Alberta's economic interests.
Ideas include withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan in favour of a new provincial agency, creating a separate police service and establishing a formalized provincial constitution.
We're really hoping to hear from ordinary people.- Donna Kennedy-Glans
Kennedy-Glans said only political extremes have been represented in the debate around western alienation. She wants the panel to cut through the rhetoric and find some middle ground.
"Advocacy, and even the media to some degree, especially social media, has really ratcheted up the rhetoric but what's really going on in people's heads, what's really going on in their homes?" Kennedy-Glans said.
"There are lots of people in this space advocating for Wexit and there are lots of people advocating for the status quo. We're really hoping to hear from ordinary people."
Deep schisms between Alberta and Ottawa are nothing new.
In 2003, six notable Alberta conservatives penned an open letter to then premier Ralph Klein, urging him to build "firewalls" around the province to protect it from federal raids on its energy wealth.
Klein didn't heed their advice but the sentiments motivating the "firewall letter" have been aggravated by an extended downturn, Kennedy-Glans said.
"Those were different times," she said. "We've had a surging economy that we've gone through in Alberta that has contributed to the rest of the country and now we're pretty back on our heels.
"To stay stuck in anger and grief and frustration is going to wear us all out; so how do we move forward and do something about it, do something constructive?"
The panel, which includes former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Stephen Lougheed, son of former premier Peter Lougheed, has until Jan. 30 to hold town hall meetings across the province, gather online feedback and consult experts.
The panel is expected to submit recommendations to the government by March 31. The government says any bold proposals would need to be approved by Albertans through a referendum.
Tuesday's meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at St. Michael's Heritage Hall. Seating is limited so participants are encouraged to register.
Additional town halls are scheduled in Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Fort Saskatchewan, Lloydminster, Airdrie and Medicine Hat.
Albertans will also have the opportunity to provide their input online. More information on how to participate is available at www.fairdeal.ca.
With files from Emily Senger and The Canadian Press