Drew Barnes

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes

On the very day the Wildrose Party was finally and officially dissolved by Elections Alberta, one of the last Wildrosers of the old school did something that would do honour to the traditions of his old party: he spoke freely.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, but served a term and a half before that as a Wildroser. He came in a strong second place against Brian Jean in the 2015 leadership race, and was a prominent front-bencher under both Brian Jean and Jason Kenney. Today, he is a senior member of the province’s Fair Deal Panel, traveling around the province listening to advice about Alberta’s next steps within the federation.

He’s kept a relatively low profile in this job until word came down from Ottawa that the Liberal government there was preparing an “aid” package to mollify Alberta in the event that they kill the $20 billion Teck Frontier oilsands investment. It is stunningly tone-deaf that the Liberals would even consider such a devastating move against Alberta at a time when support for breaking away is at an all-time high.

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On Friday afternoon, Barnes issued a statement that almost surely was not approved by the communications staff in the Premier’s Office:

“As a longtime Albertan & member of the Fair Deal panel it is clear that federal interference in approving Teck’s Frontier application will drastically heighten Albertan’s desire to hold a referendum on independence.”

Barnes was only a few characters away from declaring his own support for independence if Ottawa kills the Teck Frontier investment.

“I ask Premier Kenney & the UCP government to turn down any comparative scrap of compensation offered to Albertans to negate Albertan’s opportunity to fully develop our best in the world oil and gas industry.”

This second part of Barnes’ statement could end up putting the Tory government in a bind. They most certainly want the Teck mine to go forward – and have used strong language to that affect – but they were most likely prepared to (grudgingly) accept an aid package as a consolation.

‘Were’ prepared.

Barnes told the Western Standard that beyond his opposition to accepting a penny of any ‘aid package’, that he would fight for there to be a vote in the legislature on it. Holding a vote in the legislature on accepting Ottawa’s guilt-money could prove potentially divisive, if the Tories are willing to accept it. If Barnes manages to gain traction with his refusenik campaign, Kenney may just decide to go along.

But doing so will draw a line in the sand with Ottawa. As I said in the space on Thursday, this would trigger a game of chicken with Ottawa. Would Trudeau really be willing to plunge a dagger in the heart of Alberta’s economy, if Alberta was not willing to put a band-aid on the wound as it said “thank you”?

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Barnes’ unplugged statement didn’t just break with the political orthodoxy, but with the strict message discipline that strangles MLAs in both of Alberta’s major parties. He may have some support for his position in the UCP caucus, but it won’t make for a particularly fruitful political career if any of them speak out. The pressure will likely come down hard and fast on any other MLAs thinking of speaking their minds on the subject, unless the government decides to listen to Barnes.

Canadians regularly complain that their MPs and MLAs are potted plants just doing what they are told, but normally support the leader of their respective parties when they try to silence independent elements that speak out of turn. Albertans willing to draw a line in the sand with Ottawa should encourage the few representatives willing to speak up on their behalf.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard, and President & CEO of Wildrose Media Corp.

Publisher, President & CEO

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher, President & CEO of Western Standard New Media Corp. based in the Calgary Headquarters. He served from 2015-2019 as an Alberta MLA & Wildrose finance critic. From 2009-2014 he worked for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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