Remembering the ‘Firewall Letter’ – a look at the origins of Wildrose Alliance policy

Actual Alberta Provincial Police officers. Really! Are they returning soon to a roadblock near you, like this one near Trochu? More APP oficers below.

Charter schools and union busting are both standard planks of the market fundamentalist platform, so it should come as no surprise that a new ideological party like the Wildrose Alliance would adopt such policies as it tried to attract supporters on the right fringe of the political spectrum.

Likewise, opposition to women’s reproductive rights and sensitivity to “parent rights” over school curriculum animate so-called “social conservatives,” so it is natural that a new right-wing party seeking to build support would also stake out positions on these issues.

But why, for heaven’s sake, would the Wildrose Alliance advocate withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, a notion certain to cause grave disquiet among many potential supporters at or near retirement age, even those with strong right-wing views?

And why would the Alliance call for replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force when the Mounties enjoy such broad respect and support among the very voters the party needs most to attract?

The answers to these and other Alliance policy mysteries are found in the once-famous “Firewall Letter,” sent in 2001 to then Alberta premier Ralph Klein by Stephen Harper, Ted Morton and four other influential Alberta independentistes.

The Firewall Letter, so nicknamed because it advised Mr. Klein “to build firewalls around Alberta,” is not much spoken of any more. It was published in Conrad Black’s far-right vanity publication, the National Post, on Jan. 27, 2001. However, with Mr. Harper now occupying an important federal post, his darkly sovereignist view of the national government’s “aggressive and hostile” intentions has pretty much disappeared down the corporate media memory hole.

As the ninth anniversary of its publication approaches, however, it is worth remembering that, although sensibly ignored by the pragmatic Mr. Klein, this document was influential in the rise of the post-Progressive-Conservative neocon alliance in Canada, and its spirit clearly lives on among the supporters of the Wildrose Alliance.

The Firewall Letter specifically called for:

  • Dumping the RCMP as Alberta’s provincial police force when its contract with the province expires in 2012. The letter said this was because Mr. Harper et al. did not approve of the force being “misused as a laboratory for experiments in social engineering.” (Services in two languages?)
  • Getting out of the Canada Pension Plan, a la Quebec.
  • Separately collecting Alberta’s income tax, also in the manner of Quebec, instead of having it collected with the federal income tax, which simplifies the paperwork for Alberta taxpayers.
  • Dropping out of the national health care system to pursue Alberta’s own course not subject to the controls of the Canada Health Act. “If we lose, we can afford the financial penalties that Ottawa may try to impose under the Canada Health Act,” the letter said. (Ah, those oil revenues!)
  • Using provincial referenda in the manner of Quebec’s sovereignty referendum to force Senate reform onto the national constitutional agenda.
  • Reducing Alberta’s contributions through transfer payments to other provinces.

This fairly radical sovereignist project, which the letter argued was within Alberta’s existing constitutional powers, would, the authors claimed, unleash the private sector, increase individual freedom, improve public education and bring Albertans in closer touch with their provincial government.

Reflections of five of these six of these policies can be found in the Wildrose policy summary displayed on the party’s Website, albeit sometimes in circumspect language:

  • “Expand the role of sheriffs to handle Provincial justice issues.” That is, to replace the RCMP as the provincial police.
  • “Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and create an Alberta Pension Plan.”
  • “Collect the Alberta personal income tax.” (Without further elaboration, this must mystify some readers, who no doubt imagined that their income taxes had in fact been collected!)
  • “Hold elections for Alberta Senators at the same time as Provincial Elections.”
  • “Fight for Alberta’s deserved share of federal tax dollars through a more equitable distribution of federal transfer payments and contracts.”

The disappearance of any mention of plans to escape the bonds of the Canada Health Act is likely a reflection of political pragmatism of the Alliance’s new leader, former Calgary journalist Danielle Smith, as she seeks to broaden the party’s appeal to mainstream voters.

Ms. Smith is savvy enough to realize both that the principles of the Canada Health Act are popular among Alberta voters, and that to a significant degree she and her party have been surfing on the unpopularity of recent Alberta government health policies. Indeed, she must know that the Conservative health policies now so offensive to Alberta voters, and hence so advantageous to her, in fact embody the spirit of the Firewall Letter and the neocon political movements like the Wildrose Alliance that it spawned.

If this supposition is correct, that Ms. Smith has succeeded speaks to her skill as a politician and leader. But she will face greater challenges.

The Wildrose strategy seems to call for the party to portray itself as “moderate” and “centre right,” a term frequently used by Ms. Smith, as it drives up the middle to displace a Conservative government maneuvered into foolishly trying to outflank the Alliance on the right.

To succeed at this gambit, Ms. Smith will require all her rhetorical and political skills to divert public attention from the radical program that inspired her party’s creation and which still animates many of its supporters.

That may mean dropping all reference to some of these planks at a planned party policy conference, although it is reasonable to assume they may be reintroduced as policy later on should the party be elected.

Ms. Smith can also count on the mainstream media to assist with such political legerdemain, just as it has misdirected the audience while Prime Minister Harper made his ideological history disappear in a puff of smoke.

We can expect the media again to help draw voters’ attention to the horserace between the Alliance and the Conservatives while it continues to ignore these important questions of policy.

7 Comments on "Remembering the ‘Firewall Letter’ – a look at the origins of Wildrose Alliance policy"

  1. NLAR says:

    I got nothing against WAP, but I also don't agree with WAP, mostly because of the double meanings that exist in their policies which frankly I consider dishonest. As an example given the extent of what I know about WAP it does not seem farfetched that they might introduce toll roads in Alberta, but how am I truly going to know until they come out with a clean slate of policies.

  2. NLAR says:

    Another thought that I have Dave is that Alberta Politics always seems to need a ‘bogyman’ in order to motivate people to get involved in the democratic process. So far we have been under assault by everything ranging from rats from Saskatchewan, to NEP, equalization, our portion of heath care funding, environmental activists, or in the case of WAP their enemy is the P.C. Party of Alberta and just how true they are to conservatism or not. I’ll vote for the party that can articulate a positive vision for Alberta as opposed to telling me who the next enemy is.

  3. workeradvocate says:

    I just finished reading the comments on "daveberta" about the defection of Saskiw to the Wildrose Alliance. That kind of political rhetoric and religious bigotry must stop.
    Clearly and competently illustrating the Wildrose Alliance principles and policies is the more constructive approach.
    And confirming our principles as lib.er.al is the beginning.
    Open minded, broad minded and tolerant of all viewpoints. Bringing all progressive politicos into the big tent.
    Progressive meaning moving forward not backwards, favouring reform and protecting personal freedom.
    Socially generous and culturally oriented.

  4. k.w.m says:

    the WAP protecting personal freedom? How is that accomplished if they wish to bring in an Alberta Police Force while removing the RCMP, it has already been proven the corruption of the EPS, which in turn is the ONLY police service that has Jurisdiction on the Legislature. Where is our personal freedoms when that police force refuses to act on criminal activity within the Legislative control? Where are our Personal Freedoms when complaints of Human Rights violations go unchallenged? The WAP is only going to increase these situations and take away more of our rights and freedoms. May I suggest reading the progressive Group of Independent Business policy and compare it with the Wildrose policies, you will find that Mr. Chandler seems to be having quite the say in the WAP, between that and the Ms.Forsyth who, when solisitor General had refused to act on criminal allegations of Bribery within a Alberta Government agency (Hansard March 5,6, & 10th 2003), Mr.Anderson who was the main person behind Bill44, and now his buddy Mr. Saskiw , if that isn't stacking the deck with P.C fascism then I don't know what is. One last thing policies are put in place to be followed,which is another P.C tactic, only the blind cannot see that this WAP is just another P.C party created to cause TWO similar parties, to enable one to be the party in charge while the other is a "FAKE" opposition in the Legislature, any intelligent person can see the see the repercussions of that.

  5. anne says:

    I haven't even read this article yet but I am looking forward to it like a glass of wine after a day's decent work.

  6. Anonymous says:

    These fire wall ideas look really good to me. Why do we need to live under central Canadian control when we know we can do it better. Our federal system of on size fits all only drags us down to the lowest comon denominator. Equal for all only means equally poor for all, the socialist dream.

  7. Holly Stick says:

    "…Why do we need to live under central Canadian control when we know we can do it better…" Because we have not proven that we can do it better. We have a one party state which has wasted our resources and failed completely to plan for the future.

    Remember the bumper sticker "Please Lord, send us another boom. I promise not to piss it away this time." Well, we let Ralph piss it away; and Stelmach appears to have learned nothing.

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