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DESVEAUX: Signs hint that Stephen Harper is preparing to take back the Conservative leadership

“I think I probably could still easily be leader of my party if I wanted to. I mean, I’m de facto the founder of my party” — Stephen Harper, May 2018.

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In a public opinion survey released in November by Abacus Data only Stephen Harper is preferred by self-identified Conservative voters over Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer. The poll neglected to measure the relative support for Scheer against the much-touted Rona Ambrose or Jason Kenney, for examples, but curiously included both Mark and Caroline Mulroney as possible leadership candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Source: Abacus Data

According to David Coletto with Abacus, “Our test of potential alternatives to Mr. Scheer finds none, except for Mr. Harper, are preferred over Mr. Scheer among those who voted Conservative in the last election. This should give him some comfort, especially since Conservative members will ultimately decide whether to initiate a leadership election.” Scheer could find some comfort in these numbers if Stephen Harper was firmly committed to Harper & Associates and his new role as an international business and public affairs consultant – but I’m not convinced the former PM is out of partisan politics quite yet.

Chairman of Abacus Data, Bruce Anderson, is also the Chairman of Summa Communications where “he offers communications and campaign counsel and strategic advice to clients.” The link to Summa Communications goes nowhere but the Summa Strategies website boasts that “A new partnership with Bruce Anderson adds communications counsel to the services available to public affairs clients.” Summa Strategies is home to Tim Powers, the nominally-conservative voice on CBC’s “Power and Politics”, who playfully describes Scheer as a “little kid baby brother.” It’s also home to Jim Armour who calls Harper “a natural prime minister.” According to his online profile, Armour “was Communications Director for two Leaders of the Official Opposition and helped brand the launch of both the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative Party of Canada.” One of the conservative leaders Armour worked for was, of course, Stephen Harper.

Andrew MacDougall was also formerly Director of Communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. MacDougall lashed out at Andrew Scheer in a Tweet on Saturday after Scheer announced his decision to fire his chief of staff and director of communications. MacDougall came as close as one could to calling for Scheer to resign, without actually saying it. It’s absolutely standard practice for political leaders to replace staff, especially after a failed election, and MacDougall certainly knows this.

Source: Twitter

On August 14, 2019, Rachel Curran, senior associate with Harper & Associates, publicly questioned Scheer’s ability to capitalize on Trudeau’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act over his interventions on the SNC-Lavalin corruption case. In an interview with CBC Radio after the election, Curran was less delicate with her language saying “real mistakes” were made in a “winnable election.”

Source: Twitter

Several Harper-appointed Senators have left the Conservative Caucus and joined the new Canadian Senators Group in the Upper House, citing discontent with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Senators Jean-Guy Dagenais and Josee Verner both criticized Scheer’s view on issues like same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005 and Scheer was clear that he has no intention of changing that law. Rather than defend the leader of their party against predictable attacks, the Senators instead repeated Liberal talking points that Scheer is hiding a secret agenda.

It is also worth noting that Stephen Harper sits on the Conservative Fund of Canada, the money branch of the party, so he has not cut official ties to the CPC.

Pressure is clearly mounting for Andrew Scheer to resign on his own or for Conservative delegates at the next convention to force him to resign by demanding a leadership vote – and this pressure is coming from many key Harper supporters.

The Abacus Data survey is not the first time the former Conservative Prime Minister has been mentioned as a possible replacement to Scheer. In fact, over the last two years there has been what looks like a quiet campaign to set the stage for Harper’s return.

In October 2017 – just months after Scheer narrowly won the Conservative Party of Canada leadership election – a professionally produced click-bait ad was being promoted on Yahoo & Google search engines asking Conservatives to vote “Yes” to Stephen Harper and “No” to Andrew Scheer. Scheer was still working to establish his personal brand and increase his national profile, but Conservatives were already growing frustrated by his perceived inability to make an impact on the polling numbers despite a blundering Trudeau. It is unclear who is behind this ad campaign, but it can be traced back to Calgary.

Image source: Google ad

On August 23, 2018, hope of any post-leadership race unity in the Conservative party was shattered when failed leadership candidate and high-profile Conservative Member of Parliament, Maxime Bernier, left the party to start the People’s Party of Canada. Bernier took aim directly at Scheer when he said “I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.” While partisan Conservatives were mostly critical of Bernier’s decision to leave the party, they also felt the failure to keep Bernier happy and occupied was a failure of leadership that landed squarely on Scheer. It is worth noting that Bernier did not directly criticize Harper when he left the party despite their well-known hostility to one another.

While Scheer was dealing with lacklustre polling numbers and a breakaway conservative insurgency led by Bernier, Harper addressed an audience at the prestigious Stanford School of Business in May of 2018 saying, “I think I probably could still easily be leader of my party if I wanted to. I mean, I’m de-facto the founder of my party.”

In September 2018, exactly one year before the Canadian federal election, Stephen Harper released his latest book, “Right Here, Right Now”, the title of which reads like a campaign slogan.

While Trudeau was mired in scandal at home and abroad – primarily the SNC-Lavalin affair, and blunders on the world stage with his embarrassing official visit to India – and Scheer was dealing with his own inability to capitalize on this in the polls, Harper was enjoying prestige on the world stage. On January 8, 2019, a professionally produced video was released of the former prime minister having a very serious meeting with current Indian Prime Minister Modi. While the video provided a contrast between Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau on what dignified foreign diplomacy and trade talks look like – it also reminded Conservatives that Harper has the gravitas Scheer lacks: Harper is a statesman; Scheer occupied a junior position in the Speaker’s Office. Harper was the leader of the National Citizens Coalition; Scheer was a junior insurance salesman. Maybe.

Throughout the campaign, photographs and video circulated of Harper with foreign leaders like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen. The message was clear: The only person fighting effectively for Canada on the world stage during the federal election was a man not even in the race.

All of this can be easily explained, of course. Those loyal to Harper are disappointed in the performance of the man who replaced him – and they are speaking out. Harper is showcasing his work on the world stage because that’s his new gig. Perhaps, but I find the picture in its entirety too compelling to ignore: Harper has been carefully planning his return to federal politics and is the only person, according to the Abacus Data poll, who can defeat Andrew Scheer.

Additionally, Conservative federalists are terrified by the prospect of a credible independence party (federally and provincially) gaining traction at their expense. Stephen Harper may be the only Westerner with the credibility to pacify its growing base.

I’m going to speculate even further: Over the next six months, we will see a draft Stephen Harper website and social media channels designed to collect data in order to properly message and run a leadership campaign. You might also see Maxime Bernier float the possibility of shutting-down the People’s Party of Canada if Stephen Harper comes back. The PPC has no party constitution or governing council that could prevent such a move. Bringing Bernier back into the CPC family would be a major win for Harper who was the architect of bringing together the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party. A win for Harper here would be a blow to Andrew Scheer, exactly what Bernier seems to want.

If Stephen Harper is interested in returning to federal politics, the universe is unfolding exactly as it should – or maybe it’s being gently nudged in the direction the brilliant strategist and his friends want it to go. If I’m right, it could be bad news for both Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau.

Clinton P. Desveaux is a social thought leader and can be contacted at ClintonDesveaux@gmail.com

Opinion

MORGAN: Supply management is bad policy in good times. It’s terrible policy in bad times.

We can immediately reduce the food bills for all Canadians simply by ending our supply management system.

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My wife grew up on a small farm near Rockyford, Alberta. Her father had a small dairy operation with a dozen cows. Cream would be separated from the produced milk and sold. Remaining milk would be used to feed the household and supplement livestock feed. There would still be a large amount of milk remaining every day as the family could only consume so much. That milk would be poured into a nearby ditch. 

Why would a farm family with limited income pour away a product which other families have to pay dearly to purchase? 

They had to. It is was, and still is the law. The family farm only had a government-issued quota to sell cream. It would have been illegal for my wife’s father to sell a single drop of milk. 

Welcome to Canada’s supply management system. 

As the world enters an unprecedented economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are going to have to find ways to reduce the cost of living for struggling families. Canada’s Soviet-style supply management system on dairy and poultry products adds nearly $600 per year to the average family’s grocery bill in order to benefit a small number of producers, primarily in Quebec. It is time to examine why we are punishing consumers with this terrible system. 

The government controls the number of producers and the amount of product they may produce through a rigid quota system. If a farmer is found to have 301 chickens on their farm without having a state-issued quota for them, the farmer can be charged. The same applies to turkeys, geese, eggs and dairy products. 

It is not an exaggeration to compare this system to that of the former Soviet Union. This is exactly how the USSR managed their agriculture, with predictable results. 

Currently, Canada’s dairy farmers are pouring milk down the drain as the Coronavirus shutdown has decimated demand for dairy products, and it is illegal for them to drop their prices in order to adapt to the change in demand. Families are literally rationed in how much expensive milk they may purchase right now, while producers are not allowed to sell them more.

Just ask any senior citizen of Ukrainian descent how well a centralized food supply management system served them in the 1930s. Governments manage pretty much everything poorly. Food is one of the areas where we least need their intervention. 

A diverse local food production system with a myriad of producers throughout the nation is the best way that consumers can avoid price and supply shocks due to global market incidents. It is impossible for producers to diversify their production under the current supply-managed system. 

When dairy supply management began in 1971, there were approximately 145,000 dairy farms in Canada. Today there are less than 10,000 and it is dropping as large operations continue to buy up limited quotas and push their competitors out of business. The average dairy farmer has a net worth of over $5 million. It’s pretty easy to prosper when the government literally makes it illegal for people to compete with you. 

In shedding our archaic supply management system, we would give agricultural producers a means to diversify their outputs while solidifying a more localized food supply. It would provide opportunities for increased local employment on these farms and competition will spurn innovation which would lead to entirely new value-added products for agricultural producers to sell. 

Dairy and poultry cartels jealously protect their monopoly through aggressive and effective lobbying of federal politicians. It was embarrassing to watch Andrew Scheer groveling to the dairy cartels as he was obligated to due to their propping up his leadership bid for the Conservative Party of Canada. The cartels have their hooks deeply embedded into the flesh of politicians in every (major) federal party and it is going to take a strong public call for an end to supply management in order to break these politicians loose. 

Federal Liberals have even begun musing about extending supply management to other agricultural sectors, citing the present crisis as their excuse. The Tories would have few legs to stand on in opposing its expansion into other sectors, since they so vigorously support its mandatory application in dairy and poultry. 

New Zealand and Australia used to have supply management systems like ours. They shed those systems and producers prospered despite the fear-mongering of their local cartels. Our agricultural producers will flourish with the constraints of supply management lifted as well. 

We are entering difficult times as a nation. We need to examine every possible way to help citizens recover from the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Food is a need and it must be kept as affordable as possible for citizens. We can immediately reduce the food bills for all Canadians simply by ending our supply management system. The only question we should be asking ourselves is why we haven’t done this already.

Cory Morgan is a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

QUESNEL: Northern B.C. Should Leverage the Buffalo Declaration

Alternatively, rocking the political boat with talk of redrawing provincial boundaries could be enough to finally awaken the British Columbia government to the seriousness of northern alienation in their province.

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Talks about Western independence and the release of the well-timed Buffalo Declaration should be leveraged by marginalized northern regions in the West to place their issues front and centre in the national conversation.

Within the wider discourse of Western alienation exists the reality of northern alienation that has existed for quite a while without finding an appropriate vehicle. For example, northern British Columbia has long felt marginalized within British Columbia politics and ignored by provincial politicians. After all, only about seven percent of B.C.’s population resides in the northern half. 

The province tends to prioritize the southern half of the province when it makes large infrastructure investments. Despite automation and changing technologies, the northern B.C. economy is still largely dominated by resource industries. Forestry, mining, and the energy sector still serve as a backbone for the rural northern economy, despite economic diversification efforts on the part of northern rural municipalities.

In terms of economic structure and attitude, northern B.C. residents are more like northern Albertans. People in Kitimat feel alienated from the latte-drinking urbanites in B.C.’s capital city of Victoria. Granted, however, that the  B.C. Premier has stood up for major projects that would benefit the north, such as the Coastal GasLink project. However, this doesn’t change a basic alienation that the north feels from the core of political power in the province. 

A similar situation has occurred in northwestern Ontario where large communities such as Kenora have felt ongoing neglect from a distant and unresponsive government in Queen’s Park and have seriously discussed joining Manitoba. Many felt that on issues such as the forest economy and on healthcare, Ontario seriously neglected them. At one point, a disgruntled community in southwestern Manitoba wanted to join Saskatchewan. 

This might be the perfect time for northern British Columbians to raise the stakes in the discussion by raising the “S” word. The real possibility of separation might be what the out-of-touch B.C. provincial government needs to prioritize northern concerns. 

In November of last year, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released a major policy paper that discussed redrawing the provincial boundaries of Alberta and Saskatchewan to provide tidewater access to both provinces. 

Residents of Northern B.C. – both from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities – should consider and perhaps leverage such proposals, such as joining Alberta. First Nations in northern British Columba might have more success in forwarding their issues of self-government and nation-to-nation dialogue, especially with the focus on reconciliation.  

If residents of northern B.C. entertained the possibility of joining Alberta, Alberta would need to extend an offer to northern British Columbia residents explaining the benefits of joining Alberta. Northern B.C. would need to inform the Alberta government of the problems they are facing which propelled them to leave British Columbia. Alberta could then address those problems and offer residents of Northern B.C. a better deal. 

During the Quebec secession crisis, there were some Quebec Indigenous leaders who did not reject the sovereigntist cause completely, instead, asking the leaders of the Quebec sovereignty movement what they would offer them. Being pragmatic, they realized that if they could not stop or fight the secession vote, they would settle for a better deal from a sovereign Quebec government than the one they had with a united Canada. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in northern B.C. should adopt a similar attitude and posture. 

A very attractive element of northern B.C. joining Alberta would be the promise of permanent coastal access for Alberta’s energy sector, which would greatly benefit many communities and First Nations of northern B.C. 

Alternatively, rocking the political boat with talk of redrawing provincial boundaries could be enough to finally awaken the British Columbia government to the seriousness of northern alienation in their province. This could finally force the province to adopt a serious plan for the north, that includes investment in necessary infrastructure.  

Mayors in northern B.C. communities should be able to get the premier on the phone and receive attention on pressing matters. Industries such as forestry, mining, and energy should receive as much attention as issues that concern Metro Vancouver and among suburbanites in the Lower Mainland. 

Raising the spectre of redrawn borders might just be enough to force the province to deal with its Northern Alienation problems.

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Opinion

LETTER-ANGLIN: Buying KXL pipeline shares opens it up more legal troubles

Now that the UCP has blindly jumped into this project as the primary investor and guarantor of the XL pipeline, they may have doomed the project.

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RE: Alberta government will spend $1.5 billion in KXL pipeline to kickstart construction

The absurdity of Alberta investing $1.1 billion in the [Keystone] XL pipeline and guaranteeing another $7 billion + in loans is nuts! TC Energy claims they will buy back Alberta’s equity interest after the pipeline is in service. However, no one has provided any specific details how that buy-back would occur. The announcement should set off alarm bells across Alberta. In the UCP announcement, Kenney claims construction will begin as early as April 1, 2020. This is absolutely not true! The latest court challenge that TC Energy inflicted upon itself has yet to make its way to the Court of Appeals. There are many more court challenges to come, and most all of these challenges are self-inflicted by TransCanada’s previous efforts to circumvent environmental laws. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with TC Energy’s strategy to prolong the project in the courts. They had every right to take that risk. Now come Kenney and the UCP!

By signing this agreement, Kenney and the UCP downloaded the project’s liability onto the Alberta taxpayers. If the project succeeds, TC Energy shareholders profit. If the project fails, Alberta’s taxpayers take the loss. Stated another way, Alberta practices capitalism in times of growth, and socialism in times of economic contraction, but only for the select few. Without getting into the weeds of the legalities, courts routinely disregard the separate legal personality of a corporate entity when a corporation is completely dominated and controlled by another (used as a shield) for an improper purpose. Whether it can proved or not, a logical argument can now be made accusing the Alberta government of hiding behind a corporate shield (improper purpose) to advance a pipeline project for its benefit in the United States. The insanity of thinking a foreign government – Alberta’s UCP – could through their proxy, TC Energy, expropriate or take by eminent domain private property in the United States for a pipeline to benefit Alberta is a constitutional sitcom that is too far-fetched to contemplate. Didn’t anyone in the UCP government even think to consult with a U.S. corporate and/or a U.S. constitutional lawyer before signing this agreement? 

It is very likely, the first court cases to be filed will seek to pierce the corporate shield, and this may take years by way of state action in each of the states affected by this pipeline. Forget any environmental court challenges, which there are many. It will be seven years before the first “property rights” challenge reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. By signing this agreement, Kenney and the UCP opened a constitutional can of worms for opponents to challenge this pipeline. Politically, I can say with significant confidence there will be no Republican or Democratic politician in Nebraska, Montana, or the Dakotas that will support the expropriation of its citizen’s private property for the benefit of Alberta. Now that the UCP has blindly jumped into this project as the primary investor and guarantor of the XL pipeline, they may have doomed the project. If this agreement is reported correctly, TC Energy will receive a $1.1 billion cash injection, and should they default on their debts, Albertans are stuck with the bill. Is this what TC Energy intended all along?

The irony has not escaped me. For the last four years, Trump’s leadership – or lack thereof – has divided Republicans and Democrats like never before. With the stroke of a pen, Kenney and the UCP’s agreement with TC Energy may just well unite them. You just can’t write this stuff!

Joe Anglin is the former Wildrose MLA for Rimby-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

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