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Why no one will talk about Equalization this election

Taking the same position as the Liberals, NDP and Greens may make the Conservatives feel uncomfortable, but they have to date faced relatively little political backlash for it in the West. Without a western-based party like Reform to compete for their support, Westerners have been content to simply vote for the home team to punish the more-a-less explicitly hostile Liberals.

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Canada’s political map is as divided along regional lines as it has been for the last four years: Conservatives dominant on the Prairies, rural BC and rural Ontario; Liberals dominant in the three big cities, with a handful of battleground ridings in suburban Vancouver, Ontario and rural Quebec up for grabs. 

The party leaders will spend nearly all of their time in these key swing regions and make only a few token stops in their respective wastelands: downtown Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto for the Tories, and everything between Winnipeg and Vancouver for the Liberals. 

With established competitors on their left, the Liberal are still required to pay attention to their fortresses to fend off the NDP, Greens and Bloc. The Tories by contrast have less to worry about on their right flank with the PPC, believing that their voters will stay in line united by their common loathing of Trudeau.

This strategy is most relevant in Western Canada where there is boiling discontent with the federal government. With the significant exception of a commitment to repealing the Liberal’s anti pipeline legislation, the Conservatives have largely neglected commitments targeted towards the West.

Equalization by province

This year, the federal government will transfer $19 billion from the most productive provinces – primarily Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan, to less productive provinces with Quebec receiving more than half. Adding to this, the EI and CPP programs disproportionately take from the West, and regional pork barrel programs see most of that money spent everywhere but here. 

The Conservatives have good reason to downplay this issue. The current Equalization formula panned by many Westerners was renewed by the Trudeau government, but regretfully, was first passed by the Conservatives under Harper before it became a mainstream issue of discontent. 

However loathsome the program may be in the West today, it’s abolition or even minor amendment is unlikely to be mentioned by any of the major parties for the simple reason that those that pay – the West – is not in play, and that those that receive – Quebec and the Atlantic provinces – are all battlegrounds. The simple fact is that the Conservatives cannot win without engaging in the same vote-buying schemes as the other parties do.

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer

Speaking with nearly any Conservative MP in Alberta and Saskatchewan, they will express their extreme hostility towards the Equalization program, privately. Publicly, they are required to toe the party line. 

It’s an unenviable position. If the Conservatives did what they know to be right, they would stand little chance of winning more than a handful of seats east of the Ottawa River. Taking the same position as the Liberals, NDP and Greens may make them feel uncomfortable, but they have to date faced relatively little political backlash for it in the West. Without a western-based party like Reform to compete for their support, Westerners have been content to simply vote for the home team to punish the more-a-less explicitly hostile Liberals. It is precisely the West’s loyal support for the Tories that allows it to be taken for granted.

This all raises the question: what is the West to do? All major parties operate under the policy of, ‘Soak the West to pay for the Rest.’ The only major difference is that the Conservatives aren’t hell bent on stopping the West from producing and exporting the resources that make it all possible. By this standard, the Tories are clearly the lesser of two evils. 

Voting out Trudeau will feel good, but if we wake up on October 22nd with a new government, we shouldn’t be under any illusion that the plunder of the West is about to stop. 

Opinion

McALLISTER: Nenshi’s regional board is at war with rural development

Bruce McAllister writes that a radical move by the Calgary Regional Metropolitan Board will kill development in huge areas surrounding the city. And the province is letting it happen.

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With the stroke of a pen arbitrary drawn across a map, many thousands of acres of rural lands surrounding Calgary are about to be sterilized of their economic potential. Land that owners intend to develop – creating thousands of jobs – has been rendered useless.

We used to take pride in the ‘Alberta advantage’. The record shows that when we let good people use their land, they return the favour with growth, jobs, and wealth that build our schools and hospitals. Alberta’s innovation has done even more. It has produced enough wealth to share with those provinces with more limited opportunities. But it seems this is coming to an end.

The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) has been plodding along since Rachel Notley created it to impose a growth plan for the entire region that is highly prescriptive and anti-competitive. The central planners in urban municipal think-tanks and lobby groups in Calgary and Edmonton think they can build Alberta from behind a one-way-mirror at a focus group. They’ve had their chance, and they’ve failed.

Last week all the warning shots that we have been firing hit the target. The hammer dropped, the shoe fell, the truth was revealed. The CRMB made public the maps they are working on to plan the region, and what they reveal is very telling about what the future holds if the central planners at Calgary City Hall and the CMRB get their way. 

In short, there is a good chance that if you own land in the areas surrounding Calgary, it was just sterilized by this unelected fourth layer of government. They have just dictated from behind closed doors that you will now be severely restricted from building your business and contributing to the economy. You’re out.

The Board’s consultant – an urban planner from San Francisco – included three future development areas for the region, two in Rocky View and one in Foothills County. If you own land in one of those, you have a chance of moving something forward, but there’s a catch.

The CMRB growth plan will take precedent over any other land-use. That means that if a developer wants to amend his current plan and add units or do anything to remain nimble and adjust to the marketplace, they will have to do it according to the CMRB’s plans. 

But the most egregious act of this plan is what happens to lands outside these designated joint planning areas. Effectively, that land is frozen to any business or future development. 

Future development potential will now be restricted to urban locations, period. Their plan is to eliminate the competition. They did not present a better service or product. They just lobbied hard enough to change the master plan. It’s a toxic turn for southern Alberta’s economic future. 

We have been warning for some time that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has been using this Board and his allies from urban municipalities (not coincidentally those who buy their water from Calgary) to stifle growth in competing rural districts. 

If you own land near Calaway Park and you had a good idea for a business to serve families out for some fun on Sunday afternoon, you can forget about it. 

If you had a project on Highway 8 that would provide housing choice in the region, and competition for the marketplace, forget about it. That’s not on the map. But what about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that’s been spent getting projects through the approval process in neighbouring municipalities? It doesn’t matter. The Board has spoken. Well technically, not yet, but it’s about to. These draft plans move forward to the province for approval on March 1st.

Before we hold out hope that the province won’t approve the plan, we have to look at their track record on the CMRB. They have caved to the lobbyists at every turn. They prop up the CMRB when they should be dismantling it. The simple fact is that they need the votes and rural Alberta makes an easy loser in their eyes. 

It’s not like the UCP hasn’t been made aware of this. They appear to have other priorities.  Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, you can understand why they are distracted. But the Minister of Municipal Affairs, or Jobs and Innovation, or Red Tape, or somebody who even remembers what the Alberta advantage is all about had better act before it is too late.

If this land-use plan gets implemented there are thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment that will go with it.

Gone will be the Gardner project and its $3 billion investment along Highway 8. Gone will be the Qualico Elbow View. Gone will be any potential to amend the Glenbow Ranch project along Highway 1A. Anything near Calaway Park: gone. The second phase of The Omni by Genesis and its 4,000 jobs east of Calgary: gone. 

The central planners may think that nothing stands in their way as they begin to mount their master plan in Mayor Nenshi’s office and pour a round of drinks. They know that between a pandemic and a deadline of March 1st, so few eyes will see their plan. They know the development industry and landowners’ lobbying efforts to the province have failed, and they know that while eyes are turned elsewhere their master plan can take effect. They know that the CMRB is stacked in their favour, it was designed that way. But we can sound the alarm. 

What happened to the Premier Jason Kenney’s rallying cry to “make Alberta the best place to do business in North America”?

The UCP, Jason Kenney, and his ministers can stop this madness. The only question is, will they?

Bruce McAllister is a columnist for the Western Standard, Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: O’Toole used the wrong excuse to expel Sloan

“If O’Toole had not defended Sloan in 2020, if O’Toole had not courted his support for down-ballot votes, if O’Toole had supported the move to expel Sloan when he first made his remarks, he might then have a leg of credibility to stand on.”

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On Wednesday afternoon, the federal Conservative Caucus made it official, expelling Derek Sloan into the political wilderness. He will now sit in the southeast corner of the House of Commons beside the Green Party, in Maxime Bernier’s old seat. Virtually at least. 

The party did have cause to boot Sloan. Unfortunately for them, it’s not the one they used in time to save face from the episode devolving into a farce. 

On Monday, O’Toole issued a white hot statement blasting Sloan for receiving a $131 donation to his leadership campaign from a neo-Nazi who sometimes goes by the name Paul Fromm. 

“Derek Sloan’s acceptance of a donation from a well-known white supremacist is far worse than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence.”

Well, that excuse held about as much water as a pasta colander. None of it added up

Very few people in 2021 know who Paul Fromm is. 

Paul Fromm made the donation under the name ‘Frederick P. Fromm’. 

The donation was for $131, and would attract the attention of precisely no one working for Sloan or O’Toole. 

The donation slipped not just by the CFO of the Sloan campaign, but also through the Conservative Party of Canada who took their own 10 per cent cut without question. 

The Conservative Party of Canada issued Fromm with a membership card and allowed him to vote in its 2020 leadership contest. 

Most reasonable people smelled a rat. Clearly, O’Toole wanted Sloan gone, and this was the trumped-up charge he would use to make it happen. 

It’s too bad, because O’Toole and his allies in caucus had cause to expel Sloan without the need for a farcical show trial. 

Sloan has made genuinely extreme statements that allow the Liberals to paint the entire party as intolerant. And they aren’t just the usual Liberal accusations that ‘everyone that disagrees with me is a: racist, homophobe, transphobe, Islamophobe’, ect, ect, ect. 

While seeking the Tory leadership in January 2020, Sloan told CTV: “Whatever the cause of sexual orientation, which I still maintain is scientifically unclear. That is the position of science right now.”

It’s not. Being gay is not a choice. For most of mankind’s history, those who were gay, wished that they weren’t. Even in broadly tolerant societies like Canada, many gay men and lesbian women still struggle with their innate identities. 

Claims that being gay is a choice – implicitly or explicitly – is meant to buttress long-discredited theories that we can “pray the gay away.”

Sloan is welcome to hold these views. But most Canadians, most Conservatives, and even most social conservatives, do not. 

His positions on other issues – abortion, child sex reassignment surgery – while controversial, are not necessarily extreme. They might go against the grain, but they should be a welcomed part of open debate in the political sphere, and within the Conservative Party. 

But claiming that being gay is a choice? The Conservatives need to draw a line somewhere, and that seems like a good place to start. 

Unfortunately, that’s not where O’Toole drew it.

After Sloan made these comments about gay-choice theory, O’Toole defended Sloan against attempts by mostly Peter MacKay-supporting MPs who were trying to expel him then. 

At the time, O’Toole needed third and fourth-place down-ballot support from Sloan to secure the Tory leadership. These views – while not his own – were welcomed in O’Toole’s “True Blue” coalition. 

Keen observers could see close parallels with Andrew Scheer courting support from social conservative Brad Troast in the 2017 leadership race, just to discard him once he had the job. 

O’Toole needed Sloan in 2020. He didn’t in 2021. 

Since 2020, Sloan has been mostly quiet, and hasn’t committed any political sin of note. O’Toole was grateful for the contrived scandal of a meager donation from a has-been hate monger made under another name. 

If O’Toole had not defended Sloan in 2020, if O’Toole had not courted his support for down-ballot votes, if O’Toole had supported the move to expel Sloan when he first made his remarks, he might then have a leg of credibility to stand on. 

Instead, he drummed up a fake scandal and played the self-righteous Liberal card.

And in the process, has made himself the bad guy, and Sloan the man who deserves justice. 

Now O’Toole looks like a man caught playing dirty backroom politics, and leaves the social conservatives in his party asking themselves if they are just there to hand over votes and money.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

CYR: Kenney has betrayed his ‘Grassroots Guarantee’ one too many times

“As a Wildrose MLA, I fought hard for the merger that created the UCP so that we could cast out the radical socialists and bring back better times to Alberta. It disheartening that time has proven that the new party we thought we created only turned out to be little better than a re-branded PC Party.”

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Would you even notice if your locally elected MLA was replaced in Alberta’s legislature by a Premier Kenney cardboard cut-out? If the answer is ‘no’, then your party has failed you.

Mainstreet Research conducted a poll in January 2018 where the UCP held 52 per cent support and the NDP just 25 per cent. Fast forward to January, 2021 and a new Mainstreet Research poll conducted for the Western Standard shows the UCP collapsing to just 26 per cent. In its place, the NDP have surged to 41 per cent, and the new Wildrose Independence Party has broken out to 9 per cent. What changed from three years ago?

The grassroots were abandoned.

The Wildrose Party had an unparalleled grassroots movement that we brought to the table before the merger, whereas, the Progressive Conservative Party (PC) held name recognition from 44 years of being in government. It made sense to combine both parties into one, the United Conservative Party (UCP). We had grassroots and name recognition and in return, were rewarded with record popularity to enact a mandate of throwing out the NDP to prevent further damage to Alberta.

Premier Kenney recognized early in his leadership campaign that putting the grassroots in charge was the answer, and rolled out his “Grassroots Guarantee”. This appealed to both parties’ members and led to resounding support. After successfully winning the leadership race, he rolled out the same narrative to Albertans and in 2019, the UCP grassroots platform walloped the NDP top-down platform.

What truly made the UCP successful had less to do with Premier Kenney being a battle-hardened politician and more to do with the party’s connection with the middle and working class. As a province, we all lived through the reigns of Alison Redford and the NDP, and saw first-hand how destructive top-down their leadership styles were. We found out that it inevitably leads to elitism and the disconnection of government from its citizens.

When Premier Kenney made the January 14 Facebook post to unilaterally eject the Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn from caucus, I was alarmed. Let’s set aside this MLA’s alleged transgressions and the fact that it was probably the right decision for the party. My concern is how it was done.

As a grassroots party, the caucus would normally be called together and the offending MLA would be given the opportunity to defend themselves. Once the caucus members received answers to their questions, they would hold a secret ballot to decide if the MLA is ejected or not. This is grassroots decision making at the highest level of the party.

Whereas, in a top-down party like the PCs of old and NDP, the leader ignores their caucus and makes the decision on behalf of the party.

If a leader has the unilateral power to eject caucus members, it gives them absolute power over the people’s elected representatives. What’s stopping the leader from ejecting the legislature speaker for not making a ruling they like, or an individual MLA voting with their conscience – or the worst offense of all – a conservative standing up for conservatism?

Leaders making the sole decision to eject caucus members is not grassroots. It’s authoritarianism.

But that’s not the most alarming part of the announcement Premier Kenney made in his post. It now appears that he usurped his own party’s board by taking complete control over the nomination process. For those that don’t know what this process is, it’s how the party chooses its candidates running in the next election. This means that your candidate likely won’t be chosen locally, but you will be told who represents your region by the Premier’s Office.

Presently, Premier Kenney has shown he doesn’t have enough respect for his fellow caucus members, his party’s board, UCP party members and their policies (he “holds the pen”), and the average Albertan who he promised with his “Grassroots Guarantee.”

What will be the result of this broken promise? Dave Rutherford put it best in a Facebook post, “Conservatives like me will never vote for the NDP, but when conservatives get angry, they don’t vote for the lefties, they stay home and don’t vote at all, or they find a non-threatening alternative to park their vote.”

These are powerful warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored. So again, I ask you, would there be any real difference between your MLA and a cardboard cut-out of Jason Kenney?

As a Wildrose MLA, I fought hard for the merger that created the UCP so that we could cast out the radical socialists and bring back better times to Alberta. It disheartening that time has proven that the new party we thought we created only turned out to be little better than a re-branded PC Party.

Scott Cyr is the former Wildrose and UCP MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake

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