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Other provinces might object to Alberta 'fair deal,' Fort McMurray resident tells panel

Alberta might face challenges convincing less-fortunate provinces it needs a new "fair deal" in the Canadian federation, a former Maritimer told a panel of MLAs in Fort McMurray on Wednesday.

100 people turn out at panel session in Alberta's oil hub

Twelve residents addressed Alberta's Fair Deal Panel in Fort McMurray on Wednesday. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Alberta might face challenges convincing less-fortunate provinces it deserves a new "fair deal" in the Canadian federation, a former Maritimer told a panel of MLAs in Fort McMurray on Wednesday.

"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," Alice Caswell said.

Caswell, who has lived in Alberta for 23 years, told the panel that Alberta is a diverse province. Not everyone is a fourth-generation Albertan, she said. And Alberta is alone among provinces in being without a provincial sales tax.

"We still have a lot of wealth in this province and we're very lucky," she said.

Caswell was among 100 people who turned out to the evening meeting with the Alberta government's "fair deal" panel. Twelve people addressed the panel members directly, commenting on topics ranging from taxing marijuana and decriminalizing prostitution to creating an Alberta pension plan.

Former Maritimer Alice Caswell takes the microphone Wednesday to share her thoughts with members of Alberta's 'fair deal' panel. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Premier Jason Kenney created the panel last fall to come up with recommendations on how to best advance the province's economic interests within Confederation.

It is considering nearly a dozen proposals, including 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 but other demands may have kept people away.

"Everyone here is working and they're working long, hard hours," Yao said. "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."

About 50 people attended a session earlier in the day with the chamber of commerce, Yao said.

The Fort McMurray meetings had 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.

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?" he asked.

"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."

Chantelle Tatum told the panel she wants to see more support for Indigenous communities in Alberta. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Chantelle Tatum, a 27-year-old Métis woman, told the panel Indigenous communities need more support.

"We need clean drinking water in all our communities," Tatum said. "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 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 make recommendations to the government 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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