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Opinion

CUSANELLI: Secession: Say it Like You Mean It.

We seem to have long term memory loss given how often we’ve flirted with separatist talk.

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Preston Manning was given the last word of the first panel discussion at the Manning Networking Conference Saturday morning. 

“I’d like to share something that you’ll find amusing, or maybe not so amusing…the definition of a Canadian optimist: is someone who believes things could be worse.”  

He may as well have led with this statement. It may have offered a ray of hope to a chapfallen room of attendees finding their current hope in the idea of Alberta independence. The room sat collectively prepared to applaud the topic like a cat readying to pounce on a mouse. The panel topic was ‘What’s Next:  A Look at What the Federal Election Result Means for Alberta and the West’. Sitting on the panel, moderated by radio talk show host Danielle Smith were Preston Manning, former Alberta Minister of Energy Ted Morton, Toronto journalist, Ken Whyte and Diane Francis, US born Canadian columnist and author.  

Non-Albertan readers might be wondering if people here are truly serious about independence. We are. It seems like that’s what’s left to do now that our back is against the wall, as Ottawa manages (or mis-manages) our country as a weakened but seemingly unwounded minority. Wexit, independence, separation, referendum and even the word secession came up. This isn’t just the roaring fire after an election that was for Conservatives to lose, now lost. The despair to be heard, recognized and respected by the rest of Canada is palpable. There was nearly a salad slinging at our lunch table when an Ontarian in the group shared that Easterners think Alberta should “just diversify its resources.” This led to a woman choking back tears to speak of her son whose young family – including his expectant wife – has been separated so he could find work.  Meanwhile the gentleman next to her choked on his bread at the “disrespect and arrogance from the East,” he says has sparked his interest to attend this conference. 

Panel discussion on the West’s future at the Manning Centre conference in Red Deer

In his defense, the Ontarian was calling our bluff. And why not? We’ve been down this path before.  He admitted, more carefully, the Eastern perception that whenever Alberta is in a bust, they whine about confederation.  Ironic, isn’t it? Most would think that when we are bubbling over during the good times, we might be inclined (and certainly better positioned) to call to question our issues with confederation; equalization, senate reform, more control over immigration. Instead, we are soothed by our own good fortune and the raising of a “clear question” on secession becomes moot. Every. Time. 

We seem to have long term memory loss given how often we’ve flirted with separatist talk.  Following the Great Depression, Albertans called for independence but were advised to keep level heads by Social Credit Premier William Aberhart. The 70’s and 80’s would be marked by plenty of fuel for separatist fire when Trudeau Sr. was leading the country. Western alienation was perhaps at its worst with the wildly unpopular National Energy Program. How convenient for Trudeau Jr. that voters in the West would have collective amnesia in 2015. 

But even when Conservatives were at the helm in Ottawa in the mid 80’s and the Harper era, Alberta couldn’t seem to be heard above the squeakier wheels of Ontario and Quebec. Should this surprise us? The math is pretty simple said Ted Morton during the panel discussion.

“The left of center are outbidding each other to attack the wealthy”. 

He recognizes that the inequality is a by-product of the structure that has created Canada’s resource rich, voter poor West and its resource poor, voter rich East.  Morton insists this will churn the same movie that will play over and over until we change the rules. However, the reality for leaders like Premier Jason Kenney, is that changing the rules is easier said than done.  Morton articulated it perfectly saying if we go too far, too fast on the issue we may shed moderate voters, but going too slow may cause Wexit or other parties to gain traction. 

This is not an enviable position for any leader to be in.  Even less enviable for Premier Kenney after meticulously taking steps to bring about unity between the fractured Alberta Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties. So to the Ontarian over the din of our ham and cheese sandwich, we may be bluffing. The problem is, this has become a poker game where Albertans may just be ready to double down.  

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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