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FORBES REVIEW: The Prairie Populist

The major problems of their time were not always about “conservative” versus “liberal,” but about West versus East.

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Can a viable third-party emerge to fight for Western interests at the federal level? Can the left and right set aside their differences for the sake of Western solidarity? This historical biography offers some lessons from the 1920s-1940s.

In The Prairie Populist, Saskatchewan historian John Conway tells the story of George Hara Williams (1894-1945). Williams was a farmer, veteran, Saskatchewan MLA, and member of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF party) who helped propel Tommy Douglas to victory as premier in 1944.

The main figures in this book fall on the left side of the political spectrum, including Williams himself. However, the book also explores the possibility for regional interests to take precedence over political ideology.

Summer on the Canadian Prairie in the 1910s (Source: WikiCommons)
George Hara Williams (1894-1945) was a Saskatchewan farmer and MLA

As Conway explains, Western farmers of that era often “vacillated between the left and right of the political spectrum.” Many of the same farmers who voted for the leftist CCF were just as willing to vote for the right(ish) Social Credit Party. They understood that the major problems of their time were not always about “conservative” versus “liberal,” but about West versus East.

George Hara Williams was politically complicated. He was a democratic socialist because he believed it was the only way to combat the Eastern industrialists, bankers, and other big business interests that seemed all too willing to push Western farmers around. Strangely, he was also a staunch monarchist who was proud of his family’s loyalist heritage. He challenged the rise of Bolshevism within his own party, and he fought for Canada in both world wars.

The story begins with the rise of the populist farmers’ movement in the 1920s. Ottawa’s trade policy of high tariffs seemed to be designed to support the Eastern industrial centres at the expense of farmers. Rural voters in the West and in Ontario responded by forming the first successful federal third-party in Canadian history: The Progressive Party.

Through the lens of Williams’ story, we read about the challenges of starting a new third-party alternative to the establishment Grits and Tories. The Progressive Party became an impressive Western bloc after the 1921 federal election, surpassing even the Conservatives to become the official opposition; however, the party collapsed within a decade due to poor leadership and major divisions within the movement.

With the Great Depression came the steep decline of wheat prices in the 1930s. Facing the constant threat of bankruptcy and foreclosures, Western farmers were desperate for real alternatives to the existing political establishment. The time was ripe for democratic revolutions, such as the rise of the Social Credit Party in Alberta and the CCF in Saskatchewan. Leaders like Williams in Saskatchewan (and Aberhart in Alberta) offered hope at a time when Ottawa appeared unresponsive to the peoples’ needs.

William Aberhart and his Social Credit Party cabinet after their historic Alberta election victory in 1935 (Source: WikiCommons)

As with today, many Westerners in the 1930s came to believe that secession from Canada was necessary. In Saskatchewan, secessionists rallied around a document called the “Wilkie Charter.” Unfortunately, the book offers only passing mention of the Wilkie Charter.

George Hara Williams did not believe in secession, but he did believe in Western solidarity over party interests. In Saskatoon in 1931, Williams offered this advice in a stirring speech: “Have nothing to do with the people with a personal grouge who would drive you apart; forget your paltry partyisms. Stand shoulder to shoulder in demanding and getting those things to which you and your children are entitled.”

When Alberta’s charismatic Premier William Aberhart toured Saskatchewan in 1938, he attracted massive crowds everywhere he went – 5,000 in Saskatoon, 4,000 in Prince Albert, and 5,000 in Melville. Some in the CCF even began to talk about cooperation with Social Credit for the sake of Western solidarity.

Such cross-partisan hopes were short-lived, however. Facing this “Social Credit invasion,” Williams and other CCF members spent more time fighting their rival anti-establishment party than they did fighting the establishment itself. The two sides split the anti-establishment vote, and the Liberal Party won Saskatchewan’s 1938 provincial election.

The forces of “partyism” would ultimately be Williams’ undoing as well. The popular Tommy Douglas challenged him for leadership of the CCF in 1940 and won. It was a heated and divisive campaign, during and after which Williams was maligned by the Douglas wing of the party. Williams never regained favour among the party faithful.

Westerners interested in third-party politics can learn from George Hara Williams’ story. He was an effective grassroots organizer who was able to turn rural frustrations into tangible political results for his upstart party, which later went on to govern Saskatchewan for two decades. But he also got caught up with party in-fighting and allowed party interests to undermine regional interests, despite his earlier warnings against “partyism.” There’s a cautionary tale in here for all of us.

The Prairie Populist offers a detailed behind-the-scenes look at early third-party politics in the West. Readers without much familiarity with Canadian history may prefer to pick up a more introductory book (perhaps Conway’s Rise of the New West). But those who want a deeper dive into the political history of Saskatchewan in the 1920s-1940s will find this book compelling.

James Forbes is a columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in History and writes about the history of politics, culture, and religion in Canada.

Features

Transgender candidate an unlikely voice in BC’s election

Jenn Smith has been shunned by much of the trans activist community for her stance of issues like pre-pubescent hormone treatments.

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Jenn Smith is a unique candidate in BC’s 2020 election. A transgender self-identified woman, Smith opposes what he sees as the mainstream trans policy program, and is taking on the NDP’s Education Minister as an independent candidate in Victoria-Swan Lake. 

Born “Ricky” in 1965, he grew up as a “wounded, rejected child” and began his transgender journey while in one of the six foster homes he was raised in.

“I had this foster sister in one of my homes that I lived in who was super popular, he was like one of those 1970s bad girls,” Smith told the Western Standard. “I would get dressed up in some of her mini skirts and stuff and I would actually go out walking around town.”

The bisexual Smith became a sex worker later in life. That life is behind her now, but she still typically presents long bleached-blonde curls, earrings, make-up, and leather with plenty of bling. 

But Smith prefers to be called “he” and says anyone who believes presenting as female “actually transforms me into an actual woman–that’s going too far.”

Roughly four years ago, Smith began to voice his criticisms of the transgender movement.

“Sports was one of the sort of real original triggers for me,” Smith said. “This is nuts because males are constructed totally differently than females. And for them to be partaking in women’s sports is just way out of line.”

Smith also believes rape shelters should not be forced to accept biological males, but what concerns him the most is “what’s going on in the schools in terms of indoctrination” through SOGI 123 teaching resources used in all ages of schooling.

Smith says a disproportionate number of BC foster children and those on the autistic spectrum are put on puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and then gender reassignment surgeries. 

“Cults do that to people who are sort of wounded, emotionally lost, looking for some sort of direction in their life. Same thing with transgender. It’s all these wounded people and they’re all being offered sort of a new life,” Smith said.

Smith’s stance has inspired support from moderate feminists and social conservatives, but raised the ire of others. “I’ve been besieged by the LGBTQ community and in that process, I’ve had my freedom of speech trampled over and over again,” said Smith.

In May of 2019, Oak Bay police shut down an anti-SOGI protest with Smith, in part of due to hundreds of protesters inside and outside of the building he was speaking in. “If you look at events like what happened to me at Oak Bay [and at UBC]…This may be the best example of cancel culture run amok in Canada.”

Smith decided to run as an independent candidate in Victoria-Swan Lake to publicize his call for an inquiry into the gender transitioning of minors and reinforce parental rights.

“Part of this comes out of the fact that I’ve had trouble getting a platform and being heard. The media won’t address anything or any of my concerns even though I’ve got all of this controversy swirling around me. You’d think that they’d be interested, but they do their best to ignore me.”

On October 27, Smith was slapped with a 30-day ban from Facebook for posts he made in May where he called someone “a rainbow clown.” He says his ban from Twitter is permanent because he refuses to call transgenders by their preferred pronoun.

“But to me a man is not a woman. I cannot be a woman. That is true. You want me to surrender that, but I can’t surrender that…because the moment we start surrendering [one] truth, how many others will fall behind it?”

He was disappointed that the chamber of commerce would not allow Smith and a Communist candidate to participate in the local candidates’ debate.

“Jenn Smith shows up and Rob Fleming, he’s probably scared of him,” said Laura Lynn Thompson, the former People’s Party federal candidate now running for the Christian Heritage Party in Smith’s home riding of Abbotsford South.

“Rob Fleming can’t argue one little bit against Jenn Smith. Rob Fleming doesn’t have the skill to argue Jenn Smith’s amazing knowledge about transitioning minors and what they’re doing to kids in foster care in BC, and how there’s a doctor in British Columbia [Wallace Wong] actually bragging about transitioning 500 foster kids.”

“Like that guy needs to be hauled into jail, never mind that the MSM is silent about it, nobody talks about it. Well one way we get to talk is we get to go in the paper.”

Despite the backlash, Smith says his campaign has been successful at his primary goal – to raise awareness. Victoria newspapers have publicized Smith’s comments in local election coverage. Covid-19 did not stop Smith and his volunteers from getting to voters directly at the doors.

“For the most part, the reactions have actually been surprisingly strong. And for me to get positive reactions at the door in what is a leftist stronghold is hopeful,” Smith said.

“This is a message to other people who are frustrated that their issues are not being addressed by society in a meaningful way. Well, take that next step and get involved in the democratic process and run as a candidate because it frees up all kinds of opportunities for you.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

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Sask PC Party struggles to claw back onto the scene

The Western Standard profiles the Sask PC’s in their attempt to make a comeback.

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Saskatchewan is headed to the polls October 26, 2020. Western Standard Saskatchewan correspondent Lee Harding will examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats each party faces in this election campaign. Our second in the series looks at the Saskatchewan NDP which has been the official opposition for the last 13 years.

READ: Saskatchewan Party Analysis
READ: Saskatchewan NDP Analysis
READ: Buffalo Party Analysis

Background: Grant Devine led the Progressive Conservatives to majority governments from 1982 to 1991. Bill Boyd led the party after Devine, but was one of four PC MLAs who joined with four Liberal MLAs to form the Saskatchewan Party in 1997. The PCs have run minimal campaigns since and not won any seats. Leader Ken Grey finished third in the Regina Northeast by-election in 2018.

Strengths: Ken Gray took over the party in 2018 and has made a concerted effort to bring the party out of dormancy. In the last election, the party ran in 18 ridings and finished third in 10 of them. This time around, the party is running 31 candidates and the Liberals are only running 3. Unlike the other parties without MLAs, the PC’s have more than a million dollars in their account. That’s enough to wage a respectable provincial campaign and target resources to winnable ridings.

Weaknesses:  The PC brand was badly tarnished by leading the province to the brink of bankruptcy, then by an expenses scandal that encompassed many MLAs. By now however, the surprise voters may find as PC candidates knock on the doors is that the party still exists. It has not run a serious campaign since the Sask Party was formed and only earned 1.3 per cent of the provincial vote in 2016.

Many of the PC candidates are political rookies, and more than one-third of them will fight in areas with relatively new EDAs. That suggests a weak and inexperienced volunteer base. The party brands itself as “true conservative” and hopes to outflank the Sask Party on the right. A perusal of the PC candidates shows many are pro-life people of faith. Although Saskatchewan still has a social conservative streak – especially in rural areas – it’s hard to see that translating into a large base of support. What little room there is to the right of the Sask Party will also be contested by the Buffalo Party. Candidates who run in Regina and Saskatoon may face backlash from right-leaning voters who don’t want to see the boogieman of “vote-splitting”. 

Opportunities: A recent Angus Reid poll showed that many voters want an alternative to the two main parties and a stronger opposition. That said, most of these want something in between the NDP and Sask Party, not to the right of them both. As well, out of decided voters, only 7 per cent were voting for a party besides the two leading parties, leaving a very small slice to be split between the Greens, PC’s, and Buffalo Party. Even so, the PCs will likely get the most votes they’ve had in 25 years.

Ken Grey has a shot at placing second in Regina Walsh Acres. Previous Sask Party MLA Warren Steinley vacated the riding when he became a federal Conservative MP. Sportscaster Derek Meyers will represent the Sask Party, while Kelly Hardy will run for the NDP in what will be the first election for each. The wildcard is independent candidate Sandra Morin, a former Minister of Culture, Youth, and Recreation who won the seat in 2003 and 2007 but lost to Steinley in 2011. Morin won the nomination for the NDP but leader Ryan Meili refused to endorse her candidacy in August of 2020 following a “confidential vetting process.” Grey’s riding is one of 24 where the PCs have a candidate and the Buffalo Party does not. 

John Goohsen in Cypress Hills and Rose Buscholl in Humboldt will represent the PCs for the second time, but both will face opponents in the Buffalo Party. Goohsen finished third with 5 per cent of the Cypress Hills vote in 2016, while Buscholl finished fifth in Saskatoon University that year with 1.5 per cent of the vote. Frank Serfas will run in Moosemin, but in 2016 he led the Western Independence Party and got 23 votes in Last Mountain-Touchwood. Tony Ollenberger, candidate for Saskatoon-Fairview, was a founding member and president of the Alberta First Party and ran as their candidate in 2001.

Threats: If the PCs finish behind the Buffalo Party in the eight ridings where they face each other, the latter will gain momentum and become the favoured home for disillusioned Sask Party voters. Grey needs to have a strong showing in his riding upon which to build. If he finishes with just 142 votes (2.8 per cent) as he did in the 2018 Regina Northeast By-election, this party will continue in the political wilderness.

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Features

How Trudeau bought the media

Through a long process of regulation, licensing, and cash handouts, Trudeau has managed to bring nearly the entire Canadian media under government supervision.

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The overwhelming bulk of Canada’s media is bought, and paid for, by the federal government. In particular, by the Liberal Party which has extended generous taxpayer subsidies to outlets that comply with its diktats. 

In its 2019 budget, the federal government rolled out nearly $600 million in subsidies for select media outlets that obtain the federal government’s approval. The latest $600 million cheque is meant to fill a blind spot in exerting government influence over the Canadian print and online media. 

This was a ‘blind spot’, because most of the rest of the Canadian media is already on the take. 

Magazines receive large subsidies to defray the costs of printing, and mailing. Massive “regulatory subsidies” give a cornered market to the government’s favoured broadcasters, and make entry by competitors (like the late Sun News Network) virtually impossible. 

The elephant of government media control is obviously the CBC, with an annual bill to taxpayers well in excess of $1 billion.

By handing nearly $600 million directly to select newspapers, the government isn’t doing anything new. It’s just extending the control that it had over other mediums, to traditional mainstream newspapers. 

To dole out the cash, the Liberals created a handpicked panel, giving the bailout an appearance of distance from direct partisan intervention. Unsurprisingly, the panel was stacked with Liberal allies, some quite openly so

In August, Winnipeg Free Press Publisher and Liberal media panelist Bob Cox, awarded himself a large grant from the $50 million Local Journalism Initiative. He cut himself the cheque to hire two new reporters, including a “climate change correspondent”. What that reporter does all day is anybody’s guess, but that “reporter” owes his or her own job directly to the Liberal government. Can we expect that person to do anything but toe the party line? For all intents and purposes, this person is an employee of the federal government. And not a reporter. 

Even those not directly hired with a large grant in the print business will owe a large portion of their take-home pay to the federal government. The Journalism Labour Credit allows the orwellianly-named “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” to apply for a 25 per cent refundable tax credit, with a cap of $13,750 per employee. 

This puts even credible and reputable reporters, columnists, editors, and publishers in a massive conflict of interest. 

Press Freedom Chart (credit: Western Standard)

MacLeans and iPolitics columnist Stephen Maher wrote in June 2019 that since everyone else is getting bailout out, why not the media?  

“The public policy argument for some kind of measure to shore up public interest journalism is clear as day. For good or ill, the federal government has long been in the bailout business. Taxpayers spent $3.5 billion bailing out automakers.” 

The auto bailout was actually $17 billion, but he has a point. In crony capitalism, every rent-seeking business needs to get their hands in the pie or risk paying the bill for it. But he is wrong on the necessity of. 

“Federal governments routinely act to protect important parts of the economy. When an industry is important enough to our society, Ottawa is forced to act. Banks. Farms. Airlines. Airplane manufacturers. Oil companies. Every significant sector is subsidized or bailed out in one way or another. Few industries are as important to our society as the news media, but so far the government has done nothing but consult.”

The Liberals cut a $595 million cheque soon after, but I can’t recall an oilfield bailout. 

The media is important. Without it, the only voices would be the official government line, and Karen on Twitter. But at what cost are we willing to keep the legacy corporate media afloat? 

“Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells argue that if the government starts to pay our bills, we will inevitably start to suck up to governments, or at least to government,” said Maher. “I’m not so sure…An awful lot of our media is already subsidized, either directly by government, like news magazines, or through CRTC-mandated cable fees and industry funds, like TV news.”

Again, Maher is correct in that most of the other mediums of media are propped up by the government. His case that all of these other mediums are objective, fair and non-partisan is a bit flimsier. 

Most of the media miss the point in boiling media objectivity down to a matter of partisanship. Whether a media outlet is Conservative, Liberal, or NDP is only semi-relevant. Where a media comes down on issues, policy, and ideology, is much more so. 

Liberal media outlets like the Toronto Star were glowing of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government when it enacted ideologically liberal, interventionist policies like the auto bailout. Their only criticism was that it wasn’t enough. Similarly, conservative media outlets praised the Chretien Liberal government in the 1990s when it slashed spending to slay the deficit, as conservatives wanted. 

Where a media outlet stands on the issues is a lot more important than where it stands on partisanship. 

When every major media outlet in Canada is directly on the government take, this cannot help but to influence their coverage toward issues. Can the National Post credibly make the case against the next Bombardier bailout if it is receiving an annual, guaranteed bailout of its own? 

And are the media organizations that are already receiving government-backing (like CBC, CTV and Global) immune from the influence of being on government support? Name one of them that is even mildly conservative or libertarian. 

When Stephen Harper cut the CBC’s $1 billion budget by 5 per cent, the network launched a holy war against him. When Justin Trudeau promised a massive increase to their budget, they hailed him as the Second Coming (which, in a sense, he was). 

There is a small but growing list of upstart alternative media entering the market. Most will not qualify for government funding, likely by design. The Liberals tied themselves into pretzels to prevent Ezra Levant’s Rebel News from qualifying. This was a bad idea for several reasons. 

First, if Rebel News did qualify, and did accept the money, it would have blown its reputation as an outsider media outfit, righteously blasting the mainstream media for its complacency. In all probability, Rebel Newswould have refused the money if it was available for that reason. Much the same as the Western Standard

Second, by creating a regulatory rat’s nest to exclude Rebel Media, they made it much more difficult for other up-and-coming alternative media sources to compete with the big, dying, legacy media sources. By advantaging the media outlets whose business models are failing them, the government gives them a massive competitive edge over their new challengers in the market. 

The Liberals tweaked this a bit by giving themselves an even greater latitude in selecting which favoured media outlets qualify, by creating a government media licensing program. Only “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” get in on the good times. 

In addition to creating artificial advantages for some media sources over others, they have also gone down the dark, authoritarian road of deciding who is a “real journalist”, and who is not. 

For our part, the Western Standard will not be registering for a government media license, and we will not be accepting bailout dollars. This puts us at a legally designed, permanent competitive disadvantage with our competitors. But as the publisher and primary owner, I would rather go bankrupt than corrupt ourselves for thirty pieces of silver. 

Trudeau’s media bailout will not save the newspaper business. It will put it in a complacent, comatose state on life support, fearful that if it acts against its master, that the plug could be pulled at any time. 

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com

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