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Is the Kenney government trying to persuade Albertans that separation from Canada is a good idea?

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The "Fair Deal" panel at work, in Fort Saskatchewan

Is Jason Kenney's government trying to persuade Albertans, one step at a time, that separation from Canada would be a good idea?

How else do we explain the gratuitous inclusion of a question giving respondents the opportunity to express support for Alberta's separation from Canada in an online questionnaire published by Premier Kenney's so-called "Fair Deal" panel?

The question is a two-parter, which begins with the general query: "Given what you currently know, how much would the following options help Alberta improve its place in the federation?"

After that, there are 13 follow-up options, one of which is "Alberta alone or with other Western Provinces separating from the rest of Canada."

Asking anyone with an internet connection whether or not Alberta should separate from Canada may not be the best idea the Kenney government has had. As someone recently asked on social media: "What could possibly go wrong?"

By any standard, the questionnaire -- which Albertans are being urged by the government to complete -- is risibly unscientific and biased to dovetail with the panel's pre-determined recommendations.

Not only are answers provided by a self-selecting group of respondents, the tendentious wording of questions is clearly meant to steer respondents to the "right" answers from the panel's perspective, thereby supporting Premier Kenney's preposterous assertion Alberta is the red-headed stepchild of Confederation. Moreover, there's no space at all for those who might want to suggest, as Sir John A. Macdonald most certainly intended, that the federal government should be as strong as possible.

"Playing a larger role in international relations," is one option -- blithely ignoring the division of powers in the Canadian constitution to advocate a blatant invasion of federal jurisdiction.

Other options are tautologically rhetorical -- "reassert and strengthen provincial authority over areas of provincial jurisdiction…"

Some are worded to lead the witness to a dubious conclusion -- "more equal representation in the federal institutions, such as the … House of Commons."

Some are intended to create the impression there is support for bees that buzz only in the premier's bonnet -- "Alberta establishing its own institutions, such as a tax collection agency, police force, or pension plan."

Some pander to the worst instincts of the United Conservative Party's extremist base -- "appointment of an Alberta Chief Firearms Officer."

And some, like the separation question, are ludicrously illogical. I mean, seriously, how do you improve Alberta's place in the federation by separating from it? 

This would be hilarious, were the implications not potentially tragic. Did the leading intellectual lights on the panel draft the questions themselves without asking for help from someone who actually knows something about running an honest public opinion survey? Or were they the work of some propaganda brainiac in the bowels of the soon-to-be-renamed Manning Centre?

The opening questions -- do you think Alberta is treated unfairly, and what should we do about it? -- are also clearly biased in favour of the panel's mandated conclusions. The final section consists of the usual demographic questions, with the option of opting out of all -- which suggests to me the panel doesn't really give a hoot who you are, as long as you sound like you're old, white, male and might vote UCP again.

Oh, and you can go back and re-vote as many times as you'd like -- different answers or the same ones, as you please. One enterprising tourist tweeted last night that he'd voted three times -- from Belize!

One wonders if there will be a surprising number of Albertans seemingly enjoying winter holidays in St. Petersburg, Russia, this week?

In short, this survey is ludicrous, fatuous, risible, biased, intentionally misleading and a damned poor use of our supposedly scarce tax dollars. No real public opinion researcher would come near this thing with a barge poll!

The "Fair Deal" panel safely reach the conclusions Kenney wants from this survey, and the Government can argue it provides support for hare-brained ideas like stealing your pension savings to invest in the bitumen industry, claiming any old federal jurisdiction, firing the RCMP to replace it with a politically pliable provincial force, or writing an Alberta constitution that conflicts with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We know from the history of the postwar world that separatist movements are among the greatest threats to peace and security in modern nation states, whether those with some historical and cultural justification as in Scotland, Catalonia and Quebec, or those that exist only to serve the mischievous ambitions of local power elites.

For that reason, one would hope Canada's national security agencies are paying attention to what the Kenney government and some of its supporters are up to, along with the other threats that compete for their attention.

As I told the panel members in my run through the survey, "we should stop wasting money on rigged, unscientific questionnaires like this one designed to create support for separatism, thereby creating conditions that weaken the Liberal government in our nation's capital in order to advance Premier Kenney's personal political agenda."

The members of the panel are:

  • Oryssia Lennie, chair, a former senior civil servant
  • Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform Party of Canada whose eponymous Manning Centre funds anti-Liberal troll factories with names like Canada Strong and Proud
  • Stephen Lougheed, son of the late Alberta premier Peter Lougheed
  • Donna Kennedy-Glans, a former Alberta PC cabinet minister and author of blog that sometimes promotes separatist notions
  • Drew Barnes, a backbench UCP MLA
  • Moin Yahya, a lawyer and university teacher
  • Miranda Rosin, another UCP backbencher
  • Tany Yao, yet another UCP backbencher

A ninth panel member, Jason Goodstriker, died suddenly on January 16.

Two of these individuals are members of the Order of Canada.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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