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FILDEBRANDT: Kenney manages expectations, and sets a relief valve for growing independence support in his party

By offering them the option of a potential referendum without a change of government, Kenney is hoping that he can hold his Tories together the way that the U.K.’s David Cameron did his Tories as the Brexit referendum threatened his own hold on power.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had a remarkably easier time winning over the crowd at his United Conservative Party convention Saturday night than his federal ally Andrew Scheer did Friday. While Scheer pleaded from start to finish with Tories to let him keep his job, Kenney had two entirely different tasks: remind the faithful that his government hasn’t fallen into traps of Tory governments of old, and manage the expectations of his ‘Fair Deal for Alberta’ fight.

Kenney pumped his party’s impressive results from the spring 2019 election. In short: the NDP had no chance, and he smashed them.

Kenney’s bragging was justified and borne out by the results. He spiked the ball when he even bragged about passing Bill 22. Bill 22 is 99 per cent known for firing the Elections Commissioner that until last week was investigating them. It is 0.9 per cent known for moving some pension funds around. It is 0.1 per cent known for legally allowing the United Conservative Party to finally and formally absorb the defunct Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. That part of the legislation was enthusiastically welcomed by delegates, but the reference to the infamous bill by name was greeted by an ovation that was less enthusiastic than most other applause lines.

Kenney directly addressed members that might be upset by his not living up to the “Grassroots Guarantee” entirely. At the party’s convention last year, he famous said that after members passed a controversial bill on parental rights that he would not include it in the platform and government policy because “he holds the pen” on the platform.

Similarly, his Education Minister rushed to microphones today to assure the press that the UCP government would not – repeat not – implement the grassroots policy passed that morning in support of a free-market voucher education system. The NDP had made a boogieman of the policy for weeks leading up the convention and orders had been given to attempt kill it on the floor. With the policy narrowly passed by members, Kenney must have felt that the political pain with the public and the NDP was worth whatever pain he would face with the base.

Kenney didn’t directly apologize for it to members, but he said that most of the party’s grassroots policies were included in the election platform.

“But I think 93 per cent is pretty good proof that we are listening to our grassroots volunteers, and that we’re on the right track!”

It’s difficult to say if the parental rights activists in the room were pacified, but most members appeared to accept it as good enough.

Much more dangerous for Kenney and his government than quibbling over the “Grassroots Guarantee,” is managing expectations over his fight with Ottawa. This column has earlier cataloged that the premier has quietly dropped most of his conditions that Ottawa must meet to avoid Alberta holding a referendum on Equalization. Tellingly, Kenney focused much less of his speech on demanding an overhaul on Equalization, then on demanding what he calls an “Equalization rebate” from Ottawa, to the tune of a one-time payment of $1.75 billion.

With TMX likely to get built and a decent chance of Trudeau giving into an extra transfer, there’s a good bet that Kenney is managing expectations so that he can declare victory and attempt to calm down Albertans ready to consider independence. Without any end in sight to a fight with Ottawa that included the repeal of two anti-pipeline bills, repeal of the federal carbon tax, wholesale change of Equalization, and the building of both TMX and Energy East, Kenney has needed an offramp that doesn’t lead to a brick wall for his federalist-reform agenda.

There was a curious moment towards the end of Kenney’s speech when he seemed to detour from his regular tempo to remind his members of a commitment he made several weeks ago at a Manning Centre Conference that received next to no coverage by the mainstream press at the time.

“We will strengthen our democratic reform agenda by introducing a Citizen’s Initiative Act that will allow Albertans to petition for a referendum to be held on matters of widespread public concern. This will give Albertans the power to hold this and future governments to account if we do not keep our commitment to stand up for Alberta.”

Citizen’s initiative legislation is a mainstay of prairie conservative platforms, but this promise comes at the very time when it could be wielded to ends beyond that previously imagined. Kenney is well aware that if he fails to blunt anger at Ottawa by securing a better deal, that a large portion of his party could decamp to the independence cause.

In the morning’s policy sessions, party members roared in approval for a speaker that joked about changing the party’s name to the “United Conservative Party of the Republic of Alberta.”

By offering them the option of a potential referendum without a change of government, Kenney is hoping that he can hold his Tories together the way that the U.K.’s David Cameron did his Tories as the Brexit referendum threatened his own hold on power.

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

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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