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QUESNEL: Believe it or not, Alberta needs a strong federal government right now

Westerners need a strong federal government – not a weak one or one vacating its proper roles – to protect their interests.

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Many Albertans have it backwards right now. They don’t need a weaker federal government, but a stronger one that lives up to its constitutional role. 

If the federal government gets serious about asserting its role in ensuring inter-provincial pipelines get built, it may yet convince Western Canadians – primarily on the Prairies – that federal institutions can work for them. 

Westerners need a strong federal government – not a weak one or one vacating its proper roles – to protect their interests. 

This means Ottawa will inevitably come into conflict with some provincial premiers. Federal politicians will have to cash in some political capital chips for the sake of the federation and easing Western alienation, or growing calls for independence. 

But the trade-off is that once the West accepts the federal government’s role in inter-provincial infrastructure, it would have to recognize the federal government’s right to impose a carbon tax. In may have to in any case once the Supreme Court likely rules for Ottawa. That being said, Alberta already tied the carbon tax-for-pipeline deal under Rachel Notley, and it didn’t end well.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (source: Wiki Commons)

When an independent Alberta senator tried to get Bill S-245 passed – a bill declaring Trans Mountain in the national interest and subject to federal jurisdiction – the Liberals killed the bill in the House. They clearly preferred to fight for a few SNC Lavalin jobs, over hundreds of thousands in the Western energy sector.

The election debates were a joke when it came to confronting this central issue of concern to national unity and prosperity. Case in point: When NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said provinces could exercise a veto over national infrastructure. After a backlash, he backed away from that language, but insisted that he would not “impose” a pipeline or any project on any province. But this was precisely the design of confederation in giving a central government power over inter-provincial trade to ensure nationally important infrastructure gets built. At the time: roads, railways and canals. It gave Ottawa the rightful power to overcome local objections and hurdles. 

If Singh was prime minister in 1867, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trent-Severn Waterway would never have been built. 

But the debate moderators and most of the media did not challenge Singh on this faulty. The CBC’s Rosemary Barton and others were too busy asking Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer about his views on same sex marriage from 15 years ago. 

The campaign’s debates seemed to centre around climate change, but largely ignored the role of the energy economy and how this sector can be both an economic and climate change leader. Reporters – particularly from the CBC – built a false dichotomy between supporting the Trans Mountain expansion, and support for the environment. Oddly, they used the federal government’s purchase of the project as evidence the Liberals weren’t serious on the environment. They ignored evidence that Ottawa was forced to purchase the pipeline partly because of its own policies made the project untenable. 

Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Yves-François Blanchet

Although the Conservatives were more robust in their defence of pipeline projects and stressed the federal role in ensuring they get built, during the debates (especially in French) Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was reluctant to assert rightful federal authority. During the first official French language debate, Scheer – in defending his proposal for a national energy corridor – spoke of a “win-win” for Quebec and Canada, as well as Indigenous peoples. But when Singh asked him if he was going to “impose” the project on Quebec, Scheer resumed his vague “win-win” language. 

The Conservatives were working to build onto their seats count in Quebec, and not eager to get into a fight with its premier Francois Legault. Likewise, Scheer joined the other parties (to his left at least) in not getting too aggressive with British Columbia in its objections.

Although many Westerners pinned their hopes on a Scheer government to represent their interests, it should be apparent that a Prime Minister Scheer would have been confronted with the same problems as Trudeau: Premiers in BC and Quebec insisting that they can pick and choose the parts of the constitution that suit them or not. 

Quebec Premier François Legault (source: Wiki Commons)

These short term political calculations are not as important as the national interest and the future of the federation. The timid and non-confrontational approach is not working. When Jason Kenney was elected premier, he made a stirring overture to Quebec on building pipelines, which was promptly rebuffed the next day. Unfortunately for Mr. Legault, it’s not his choice to make. Polls show that most Quebecers prefer getting their energy from the West; not imported from foreign sources. 

Canadians pull together at from time-to-time, but then we quickly fall apart, back into battles between provinces where each jealously guards its little fiefdom. We need Canadians to pull together. Right now, this means Canadians in the East and in British Columbia understanding how Alberta’s inability to get its products to tidewater is affecting its economy and ultimately, the entire country.

We need a federal government right now that stands up to local prejudice. A Wexit will not fix that.

Joseph Quesnel the Indigenous Issues Columnist for the Western Standard. He is a Metis policy analyst and commentator who writes on Indigenous issues as well as energy and resource development policy.

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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