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FILDEBRANDT: Leadership vote on Scheer would have been a sham anyway

With a shambolic process of removing the leaders, it’s no wonder that they are forced out through messier, less formal means.

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That didn’t take long. Andrew Scheer – pledging days earlier to fight to the bitter end to stay on as federal Conservative Leader – fell on his sword Wednesday morning. Just two weeks ago, Scheer pleaded with Alberta Tories that loyalty to the party meant loyalty to him personally.

Conservatives organizing to oust Scheer from the top job told me at the time that they expected to have him out before Christmas. I agreed that Scheer had little chance of surviving, but considered their prognostications of a pre-Christmas bloodletting wildly optimistic. For not the first time, I was wrong.

Joining a large contingent of grassroots members and activists calling for his head was a respectable number of insiders who’s careers are mostly as political operators. Scheer denounced them as elitists, but is himself surrounded by the same kind.

National Post columnist Rex Murphy isn’t wrong in pointing out that these insiders were primarily responsible for Scheer’s ouster, leaking news of his use of party funds to pay for his children’s private school tuition. Murphy is wrong however in bemoaning the fact that Conservative Party members were denied the right to make this decision for themselves at a scheduled leadership review vote in April.

Normally one of the most (if not the most) sober-minded writers on Canadian politics, Murphy takes it as a given that this vote would be conducted with any democratic norms that we would expect in a regular election. This is not the case.

Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Yves-François Blanchet

Leadership review votes are themselves undemocratic. In most parties, they are only even held if a leader fails to win government in the preceding election. In essence, this means that winning an election removes even the pretence that a party’s members should have any say whatsoever in who their leader is. Effectively, party leaders are elected for life, so long as they can deliver power. If we applied this version of inner-party democracy in our intra-party democracy, a prime minster that wins power would never have to face another election again. Because he won. We scoff at this idea for intra-party elections, but accept it as gospel for inner-party elections.

In the United States’ primary system, even sitting presidents that win elections are not guaranteed their party’s nomination and leadership for the next go-around. They are forced to face their party’s supporters in a primary election, every single time.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson crushed Republican challenger Barry Goldwater 61 per cent to 39 per cent; but just four years later he retired the Oval Office without a fight because he knew that he could not win his party’s nomination again in the face of opposition over the Vietnam War. In Canada’s parties, a sitting prime minister not automatically continuing as leader as long as he or she pleases is unthinkable.

In cases where leaders fail to win power and are forced to endure the nuisance of a leadership review vote, they are a sham in any case. Anyone who has observed them with a critical eye knows that they are anything but democratic.

Typically, members are herded into a large hall to listen to a lineup of loyalists preceding the actual leader, extolling the virtues of his or her continuing in the job. After this, members captive in the hall listen to a long and rousing speech from the leader, often with the caucus forced to stand nearby as an implicit signal of support from them. Few MPs or MLAs would dare not do so for fear of retribution. To the leader’s speech there is no rebuttal from those in opposition. There is no “question and answer” period to grill the leader off script. Party members are handed swag and signs with the leader’s name, which most will wear and wave out of peer pressure.

Once the show of unity is over, members are sent straight off to cast their ballots, without time for consideration or debate. It is little different than voters being sent to cast their ballot on the prime minister minutes after he gives a speech to a captive audience, with no debate or chance for rebuttal from his opponents. Inner-party leadership reviews resemble Venezuelan elections more than Canadian ones.

If after all this careful stage management, the members still decide that it is time for the boss to go, it’s difficult to trust the results. Inner-party democracy is not overseen by non-partisan outside officials like general elections. It is run entirely by party insiders, sometimes with agendas. Local MP or MLA nominations are notoriously corrupt.

In its 2017 leadership vote, the Conservative Party insiders oversaw the ballot counting, and inexplicably destroyed the records even before the results were announced. In a race that saw Andrew Scheer edge out Maxime Bernier by less than 1 per cent of the vote on the final ballot. If there was dirty play or not, it was a disturbing move that undermines the election’s credibility. In general elections, ballots are kept in safe sealed boxes for months afterward in close races so that recounts can be conducted and the integrity of the process kept above reproach. No such protections exist in the Conservative Party, or most parties.

This all combines to make the leadership review process a sham. In the history of Canada’s major political parties, there has only ever been a single case of a sitting leader of a political party actually losing a leadership review vote; Thomas Mulcair. Unofficially, John Diefenbaker is in that club as well, so let’s be charitable and call it two.

Do we really believe that only twice in the history of Canada and its ten provinces have party members wanted to replace their leader? The question is wildly rhetorical.

Without any formal mechanism for removing sitting prime ministers and premiers in most parties, and a shambolic process of removing the leaders of opposition parties, it’s no wonder that all of them that leave unwillingly, are forced out through messier, less formal means. This doesn’t make it right, but there is little other choice for party members that want new management.

There’s a simpler and much more democratic solution to this; take a page from the US primary system and require all leaders, MPs and MLAs to go through automatic, neutrally managed nominations before every election, win or lose.

Members wanting change and leaders wanting to face members directly would both be better served by it.

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

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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Opinion

GRAFTON: Canada’s corruption rating falling under Trudeau Liberals

Guest columnist Ken Grafton writes that under Trudeau, Canada’s high rating on corruption is falling fast.

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Notwithstanding five investigations by the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the potential of an RCMP investigation into possible criminal activity in connection with the Lavalin-Gate scandal, the ethically-challenged Trudeau government was re-elected last October. Despite holding the distinction of being the first prime minister to be found guilty of violating federal conflict of interest rules and then doubling-down with a second violation, a surprising 5,911,588 Canadian voters felt that Justin Trudeau should continue as the head of government for another four years.

In addition to the two key centres of Toronto and Montreal, large swaths of the Maritimes, Yukon and Northwest Territories cast their votes for a government wreaking of corruption. Astounding to many – especially in view of the fact that SNC-Lavalin had a history of bribery, was again up on bribery charges following an RCMP investigation into its actions in Libya with terrorist sponsor Muammar Gaddafi, and had been found guilty of illegal campaign contributions to the Liberal Party in 2016 – Lavalin-Gate didn’t appear to be an issue for Liberal voters at the polls.

Now the prime minister is being investigated yet again by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in connection with the WE Charity scandal. Conservative Shadow Minister for Ethics MP Michael Barret addressed an open letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki on July 10th, calling for a criminal investigation into the matter. 

While the Trudeau government may be awash in corruption, it doesn’t appear to be a concern to most Canadians. A July 27th poll by Angus Reid showed that only 16 per cent of Canadians choose ethics and corruption as one of their top three issues facing the country, and 56 per cent believe that WE-Gate will have little impact on Trudeau’s government.  

Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) is a non-governmental organization that monitors government corruption globally. It publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), rating 180 countries by perceived levels of public sector corruption, and defines government corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” The CPI is the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, rating countries on a scale of 100 (very clean) to 0 (bring cash). The 2018 CPI rates Denmark at the top of the list, with a score of 88; and the lawless war-torn state of Somalia at the bottom, with a score of 10. The US falls in 22nd place, with a score of 71 (down from a pre-Trump placing in 2015 at 16th, with a CPI of 76). Canada scored high in 2018 with a CPI of 81, placing a very respectable 9th out of 180. 

That number fell to 77 in 2019, moving Canada off the Top 10 List to number 12. As Transparency Canada explains, “Last year, issues surrounding corruption came to the forefront in Canada and grabbed international headlines that let the world know that our modest, polite country had nefarious dealings.” Lavalin-Gate was a major factor in the downgrade, raising concern from the OECD Working Group on Bribery in a March 2019 warning statement.

In addition to providing data to corporate compliance officers, TI is a reference point for leaders and journalists around the world. The Economist has stated “No country can ignore its reputation for corruption. That means that no country can ignore Transparency International.” 

It’s no surprise perhaps that Denmark and Germany enjoy the highest credit ratings possible, while lawless Somalia is at the bottom with a CPI of 180th. Although there are other considerations involved, many of the factors that determine a country’s CPI also affect credit ratings. The same factors can determine where a corporation chooses to locate or otherwise invest, contribute to wealth inequality (OECD), affect immigration patterns (with the least corrupt countries generally offering the best prospects for new immigrants), and impact tourism (as corruption and public safety are often linked). 

There are many arguments against corruption, and many reasons to embrace ethics and transparency. The UN has stated “Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability.” A 2016 OECD report “Putting An End To Corruption” sums up the threat to democracy. 

“Corruption undermines sustainable economic, political and social development, for developing, emerging and developed economies alike. Corruption endangers private sector productivity…hinders public sector productivity…and is a threat to inclusive growth by undermining the opportunities to participate equally in social, economic and political life and impacting the distribution of income and well-being. Corruption also erodes trust in government and public institutions, rendering reform more difficult.” 

This should be required reading on Parliament Hill.

According to TI, the Corruption Perceptions Index is a composite index, a combination of different international surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputable institutions. The index draws on 13 surveys from independent institutions specialising in governance and business climate analysis covering expert assessments and views of businesspeople.

How will WE-Gate impact upon Canada’s international standing as a relatively corruption-free market environment? 

A glimmer of hope perhaps from Angus Reid. Trudeau’s approval rating has dropped to 44 per cent. Troublingly for Trudeau, this lost approval comes primarily from those who voted Liberal in the last election. Although four-in-five Liberal voters still approve of the prime minister, there has been a drop of nine points in two weeks.

Since the CPI – by definition – is a measurement of perceptions, it follows that the ethics violations by Prime Minister Trudeau must result in damage to Canada’s good standing. 

Look for a further downgrade in Canada’s CPI. Corruption is a slippery slope.

Ken Grafton is a freelance columnist

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Opinion

GEROW: Western Canada needs its own currency

Darcy Gerow writes that currency manipulation from Ottawa is a hidden tax on all Canadians, but robs the West more than others.

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With a united Wildrose Independence Party in Alberta and Jay Hill at the helm of Wexit Canada, the independence conversation has gotten serious. A May 2020 poll conducted for the Western Standard found that 45 to 48 per cent of Albertans supported independence. That’s real close to a 51 per cent tipping point. Though, for a lot of Albertans, independence is only an opportunity to lean into Ottawa for a fair deal on equalization and the constitution.

There is enough support for a fair deal to build a solid footing for Western independence, but that foundation will be useless if this house is framed using the Canadian dollar.

The Canadian dollar is consistently hitting new lows every year when measured against indicators like the consumer price index, which measures the price impacts of inflation caused by the Canadian government’s manipulation of the money supply. 

An independent West (or just Alberta) should reject a foreign government (in this case Ottawa) devaluing its currency. Unlike Quebec sovereigntists – who want to continue using the Canadian dollar – Westerners would be better off with their own currency, a Western dollar which is free of manipulation.

Junior high civics classes have conditioned Canadians to trust the government with the money supply as a noble endeavor, that the marketplace can’t provide a product sound enough to be used as a medium of exchange or a store of value. The federal government took that trust and printed up a trillion dollars in debt for all kinds of corporate welfare programs. Most recently, to give to their buddies in the mainstream media and WE charities, or to conduct the massive Covid-19 vote-buying welfare scheme, and they’ve done it at the expense of impoverishing those who trusted them with what little wealth they had. All while the marketplace has given us a product that is sound enough to be a medium of exchange and a far superior store of value – gold. 

The Canadian Dollar was backed by gold until 1914 when the Finance Act was passed. This allowed the dollar to be artificially devalued to fund the First World War. The dollar reached a new all-time low measured in gold at the end of 2019 from which it will never recover.

A fair deal on equalization, or better yet, the end of equalization is a great thing, but if the West keeps the Canadian dollar, the door to unfair treatment by Ottawa will always be open. The ability to manipulate the money supply is akin to a tax. Instead of confiscating the actual dollars – like they do with equalization – they are confiscating the value of a dollar. They are stealing purchasing power. As Western provinces have historically out-performed Eastern ones when it comes to productivity, a tax on purchasing power disproportionately affects the West.

If Albertans or the entire West succeed in achieving independence, it would be foolish to continue paying the inflation tax to Ottawa. 

While the West does not have the gold to completely back a currency yet, it isn’t necessary to get the ball rolling. The Western dollar can be pegged to the price of gold at a rate similar to the Canadian dollar and legislation will be required to restrict devaluation by Western governments. As Canada continues to devalue the loonie, our share of the Canadian debt – which would presumably follow us into independence – will be wiped out by inflation.

Here in the West, people are dumping dollars and turning to gold. Remember that Western Standard poll? Having a gold backed Western dollar on the table is enough to tip the scales towards independence.

Even for those not convinced that independence is the right course, Westerners should be demanding sound money as part of a fair deal with Ottawa. What’s the point of keeping those equalization dollars if the money itself is worthless?

Darcy Gerow is a columnist for the Western Standard

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