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Martin should address western alienation - Friday, October 17, 2003 at 13:38

PUBLICATION:  Calgary Herald
DATE:  2003.10.17
SECTION:  Comment
PAGE:  A19
BYLINE:  Grant Hill
SOURCE:  For The Calgary Herald
ILLUSTRATION: Photo: (See Hard Copy For Illustration).; Photo: Grant Hill;Photo: Paul Martin 

Ad-Lib: Paul Martin should address western alienation with actions, not words

There's an old truism in Canadian politics: provincial governments never suffer electorally when they fight with the feds.

Perhaps Ralph Klein is trying to turn that theory around today by holding a bury-the-hatchet meeting with prime-minister-in-waiting Paul Martin. However, I suspect it's not really Klein who has the ulterior motive in this role reversal.

Could it be that Martin, in his quest to end western alienation, might be trying to attach himself to one of the more widely popular premiers in Alberta history? Especially because those same Alberta voters who have elected and re-elected Klein have soundly repudiated Martin's Liberal party for as long as most can remember?

Perhaps I'm being too cynical. But for argument's sake, let's look at the record of Martin and his Liberal party on western alienation since they were elected in 1993 -- the same year Klein won his first mandate as premier of Alberta.

First item for assessment: the gun registry. Sold in 1994 with a net $2-million price tag, the cost Canadian families have had to bear for this boondoggle has spiralled to a billion dollars -- which might have been worth it, if it curbed crime in any significant way. But it doesn't. Instead, it targets the innocent. Farmers, duck hunters, collectors and generally law-abiding gun owners have the most to fear from the Firearms Act. For these reasons, the Alliance and the Reform party before it were opposed to this scheme since day one. We'd scrap it if we formed the government.

Where has resistance been highest to the misguided Bill C-68? Right here in Alberta, where the government went so far as to launch constitutional challenges to the gun registry. Who was in control of the federal purse strings as the gun registry bills piled up? Martin. To date, he has shown no willingness to back away from this mess, regardless of how many Canadians urge him to turn off the taps.

That brings us to another key Martin plank in his western alienation platform. He has proposed to eliminate the "democratic deficit" by giving ordinary members of Parliament more power to propose, debate and amend legislation, and less power to the prime minister and cabinet.

Agreed. MPs should be allowed all the freedom that our system provides to debate and influence legislation. If a member wants to express opinions in the House of Commons on any piece of business, there should be no restrictions. When the Reform party made its first electoral breakthrough in 1993, it campaigned on such ideals, as a means for western Canadians to become more engaged in the political process despite under-representation. The Alliance subsequently made these ideas some of its founding principles.

Why, then, was Martin so conspicuously absent when the House of Commons voted last week on a closure motion to shut down debate? Why then, has his Liberal party voted to shut down debate a record 83 times? Why, since 1993, did Martin never once vote against this deplorable practice, which undermines the role of parliamentarians and centralizes power with the cabinet?

Then, there's the mother of western alienation issues -- an elected Senate. Through all his feel-good platitudes about wanting to listen to western Canadians, Martin has yet to clearly commit, on record, to reforming the upper house of Parliament, and requiring a democratic mandate for senators to sit in their comfy velvet chairs. The West will "want in" as long as the federal government refuses to recognize that the democratic voice of our citizenry is more important than a system designed to reward Liberal cronies with patronage appointments.

Martin's record on addressing western alienation simply doesn't match his rhetoric.

Martin flies over fire-ravaged Kelowna and Kamloops for a photo-op; meanwhile, back in Ottawa, his Liberal colleagues vacillate on disaster assistance. Martin bemoans the plight of the western Canadian cattle industry decimated by the mad cow scare, while his government has yet to even make a trip to Washington, D.C., to try to get the border open again.

Western Canadians see through Liberal lip service. They've done it for decades, regardless of which Liberal occupies the prime minister's chair.

I presume Klein will be raising these issues with Martin when they meet today, just as we in the Canadian Alliance have been doing all along -- albeit with mixed results, since Martin still isn't in a position to be held accountable in the House of Commons.

We can only hope that such a meeting has, as its focal point, an honest appraisal of western alienation, and not more vague Liberal reassurances and Martin make-over initiatives. Klein knows the difference. As for Martin, actions speak louder than words -- and he's had nine long years to act.

Grant Hill is the Canadian Alliance MP for Okotoks-based MacLeod constituency.