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Opinion

MORGAN: Alberta’s independence parties will unite, or fade away

Time is being wasted & a window of opportunity is closing as individuals choose to jealously protect their little political fiefdoms rather than considering compromise to build a broader movement.

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As the raucous fall session of the Alberta legislature came to a close, the term most often used to describe it was ‘polarized’. Kenney’s United Conservative Party government rammed through Bill 22 in only three days with a flair of arrogance usually reserved for parties that have been governing for years. Meanwhile, Rachel Notley sounded outright unhinged as she declared Kenney to be “The most corrupt and anti-democratic premier in the history of the country.”

What else can one expect when there are only two parties with seats and they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum?

It is a shame that the Alberta Party and the Freedom Conservative Party got shut out in the last provincial election. Conservative minded Albertans did not want to take any chances when voting to remove the accidental NDP government and coalesced around the UCP. Left-leaning Albertans abandoned the Liberals and the Alberta Party in a desperate hope that they could somehow keep the UCP from forming government. We ended up with a true two-party legislature which leads to a black and white discussion of all issues while grey is lost in the mix.

Nothing keeps a government honest and humble more effectively than a strong and diverse opposition holding them to account.

We have a number of registered political parties languishing in the political hinterland in Alberta, particularly independence-minded, right-leaning parties. We would all be better served they manage to set aside their minor differences and merged into a single, effective entity.

On the independence-minded right we have the Freedom Conservative Party (FCP), the Alberta Independence Party (AIP), and the Alberta Advantage Party (AAP). The Alberta Advantage Party is invisible with only a handful of members and the Alberta Independence Party is an organizational basket case. The Freedom Conservative Party is seatless but is the best placed to form a credible conservative alternative right now.

The movement making the most noise right now is “Wexit”. While they are collecting many names and holding some well-attended rallies, they have no partisan organizational structure to be seen at this point. Wexit is pursuing registration as a provincial party but this will take months and as far as can be seen, they are a single issue entity without the chops to go beyond where they are. They need depth to become a player on the political scene effectively.

Just last week the Freedom Conservative Party put out a release with a plan to reach out to the other parties and pull them together into a single entity. With two of the three parties being leaderless right now, this is a good time to do this.

Wexit founder Peter Downing immediately rejected the overture from the FCP as he felt that “They are just too timid. “

Downing also made it clear that he will never accept anything that doesn’t bear the catchphrase name “Wexit” and feels that he somehow has an internationally recognized brand in it.

Ironically the independence movement needs unity. Merging parties and groups is easier said than done, but it is essential if the movement wants to grow.

I remember the challenges all too well when I was on the Alberta Alliance executive committee and we negotiated a merger with the Wildrose Association. We fought for months trying to merge until we removed Randy Thorsteinson and Rob James from the negotiations. With the removal of just two intransigent people, we found ourselves able to come up with a merger agreement between the parties within a week. We then managed to take our little party from having one seat in the legislature into becoming the official opposition within a few years. Egos have to be set aside and concessions need to be made. That means identifying and sidelining those who are fighting unity efforts for their own personal, ego-driven reasons.

Peter Downing is choosing the name of his group as the hill to die on in order to keep from merging independence groups and parties. Of all hills to die on, this is the smallest possible.

“Wexit” is a catchphrase lifted from the larger, more established “Brexit” movement. Downing appears to forget however that there was no “Brexit” party when “Brexit” won the referendum. The partisan entity promoting Brexit was the UK Independence Party and the main lobbying entity was called “People’s Pledge”. If Downing does indeed want to mimic the path which led to Brexit’s success in a referendum, he should not be seeking to have “Wexit” as the front and center name of the party pursuing it. He should have “Wexit” as a strong and aggressive pressure group trying to win hearts and minds.

There is a large and growing undercurrent of independence-minded sentiment in Alberta right now. People are eagerly looking for a rational party to lead Alberta on the path to independence. With a good plan and a solid foundation, an independence-minded party could soon break into the political landscape.

It has to be remembered that this path will be one of years, if not decades. Rallies are fun but when push comes to shove, one needs a formal ground organization through a party if lasting change is to be achieved.

Precious time is being wasted and a window of opportunity is closing as individuals choose to jealously protect their little political fiefdoms rather than considering compromise to build a broader movement.

The Freedom Conservative Party isn’t proposing to simply absorb the other parties and movements, but has openly invited them to merge into a new, united party. Oddly enough, the Tories quietly slipped legislation into Bill 22 which now makes party mergers legal and easy in Alberta.

The foundation for an immediate partisan entity is sitting in front of us all and inviting others to join it. They are registered and they have experienced organizers and members drawn from both the Wildrose and old independence movement. They are willing to hold a founding convention where new policies and a constitution can be adopted along with a brand new board. This is an ideal blank slate that can be used to get the independence movement truly running. Why put in the work to form a whole new political party which will only split resources and muddies the waters further?

The Freedom Conservative Party also proposes holding a leadership race. There would be nothing stopping a leadership candidate from campaigning on changing the name of the party. Attachment to a silly name is hardly a solid reason to dismiss unity. It seems more like a self-serving excuse to avoid it.

Three-and-a-half years will go by quickly. It would be really nice if a well-organized party was coming up the right flank of the UCP to keep them on the straight and narrow. The time to organize such a party is right now, but nothing will kill it faster than petty infighting and egos.

The groups need to work together and that means that folks in leadership roles need to get on the unity train or be pushed aside.

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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Opinion

WAGNER: Don’t make the tent too big – the independence movement must be conservative

Michael Wagner writes that there is little point in pursuing Western independence if the new country looks like the old.

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In recent years some people have argued that the Western independence movement should encompass people from the entire political spectrum. Support for independence, they argue, is not a specifically conservative or right-wing phenomenon. To generate enough political support to achieve Alberta’s independence, people of all sorts of ideological positions will be needed.

For example, early in 2018, one well-meaning independence activist posted a message on Facebook stating, “We all need to remember that you don’t have to be a conservative to be a separatist. We will need people from all sides in this.”

Similarly, in a conversation at a meeting, one person seriously suggested to me that independence supporters could bring Millennials on board by telling them that the money Alberta saved from cancelling transfer payments to Canada would be used to offer free university tuition and free dental care for all Albertans. This is essentially the Bernie Sanders appeal – support Alberta independence so that you will get “free” stuff from the government. 

If that’s the direction the independence movement were to take, it would become empty and meaningless. Proposing an even greater role for government – that is, even more socialism – as the antidote to Eastern Canadian “progressive” liberalism, entirely defeats the purpose of a free West. If socialistic policies are acceptable, then Canada is already suitable and getting better every year. An Alberta version of Bernie Sanders is not an improvement on Justin Trudeau. In attempting to widen their appeal to the left, support for independence would likely shed far more fertile and dedicated support on the right.

Instead of offering socialistic goodies or opting for flimsy policies in an appeal to people from across the political spectrum, the independence movement should be clearly grounded in small-c conservative thinking that values free enterprise, private property, the family, respect for first peoples, and the historic virtues of Western civilization. That is, after all, Alberta’s heritage.

An independent Western Canada must protect property rights, and the protection of property rights will not appeal broadly to the left. An independent Western Canada must allow for the genuine freedoms that modern “progressives” too often to despise. Progressives often view conservative viewpoints and traditional Christian perspectives as “hate” that should be banned. An independent West that embraced such progressivism would be no better than the existing Canadian federation, and might even become worse.

When the Alberta independence movement first appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no doubt that it was a right-of-centre phenomenon. In the early 1980s, the Western Canada Concept Party of Alberta – the Alberta WCC – produced a four-page document entitled, “Our Statement of Principles.” It contained 24 points. The first point was, “We believe in responsibility and self-reliance.” The second was, “We believe in private enterprise.” Thirdly, it declared, “We believe in smaller government.” 

The fifth point stated, “We believe in the right to own property.” The explanatory paragraph for this point was as follows: “The power of the state to occupy, seize or expropriate private property is a violation of personal freedom. Any limitation of the freedom of the individual to own what he or she acquires, reduces the freedom and prosperity of the whole society.”

Many of the initial points in the statement focus on individual freedom and entrepreneurship, whereas the subsequent points tend to focus more on the specific role of government.

The twelfth point is noteworthy: “The strength of the family is the strength of the nation.” The explanatory paragraph for this point states: “Healthy, close-nit, nurturing families assure the future of a society by molding responsible, self-reliant, hard-working citizens. Healthy families transmit healthy values – which strengthen the community and the nation.”

The Alberta WCC Statement of Principles cannot be understood as anything other than a small-c conservative document, and it provides a shining example of the kinds of principles any future independence organization or party should embrace. The pioneers of the Western independence movement had this right.

The goals of the independence movement are self-determination and greater freedom for the West, and these goals only make sense from a conservative or libertarian perspective. Therefore, watering down principles in order to appeal for wider support from the political centre or left would ultimately defeat the purpose of the independence movement. Achieving an independent West that favoured political preferences resembling Toronto and Montreal would be an empty victory not worth the fight.

Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’

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