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JOHNSTON: UCP grassroots at odds with teachers and their own MLAs on school choice

Support for a school voucher system among UCP members should establish a keystone policy in the upcoming Choice in Education Act – but it won’t, not without a fight.

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United Conservative Party members voted Saturday in favour of adopting a school voucher system as official party policy at their convention in Calgary. Policy 15 – which passed narrowly by 307 votes in favour and 267 votes against – reads that “The United Conservative Party believes that the Government of Alberta should: a) ensure equitable per-student funding in accordance with school choice – public, separate, charter, home, or private, and b) implement an education ‘voucher system’ that will provide for equal per-student funding regardless of their school choice, free from caveats or conditions.”

Delegates at the UCP convention on Saturday Nov. 30. Photo by Derek Fildebrandt, Western Standard

Support for a school voucher system among UCP members should establish a keystone policy within the upcoming Choice in Education Act – but not if Alberta’s Education Minister gets her way. The legislation expected to be introduced by the UCP government in the spring session of the legislature is currently open to submissions as part of a public engagement process.

But in an interview with the Toronto Star, UCP Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in response to the policy vote that her education reform plan “does not include a voucher system.” The UCP government will continue to seek public input until December 6 on the Choice in Education Act – but appears to have already firmly rejected a meaningful policy debated and adopted by its own members.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is opposed to the school voucher policy as well and issued its own talking points prior to the UCP convention:

• Alberta’s public education is universally available to all Albertans.
• Alberta’s public education system maintains a high level of accountability.
• The only way policy 15 could be cost-neutral is if public education is further diminished to pay for the programs aimed at the small, self-selected elite.

The ATA added that vouchers would create “boutique education.”

Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), an Alberta-based non-profit organization advocating for “an excellent, quality-oriented, choice-driven education system which recognizes parental authority”, released a research report in October in partnership with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) in support of choice in education. Highlights from the report are that:

• Taxpayer costs per student enrolled in independent schools ($5,404) and home education ($1,671) are substantially lower than in government schools ($10,801);
• The existence of government funding for independent schools and home education has saved taxpayers $1.9 billion over eight years, which is greater than the money needed for all requested capital projects by the four largest Alberta government school divisions over the next three years; and,
• Enrolment numbers between 2010/11 and 2017/18 show that growth was slowest in public-government schools when compared to all other education options analyzed, meaning families are increasingly seeking alternatives to public-government schools.

The Choice in Education Act will likely face opposition from the ATA, with or without the inclusion of a school voucher system, and increase hostility between Kenney’s UCP government and powerful public sector unions.

In a Western Standard interview on the eve of the UCP convention, Franco Terrazzano, Alberta Director for the CTF, said union protests “won’t sit well with Albertans who gave Kenney a clear mandate to balance the books.”

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Opinion

NAVARRO-GENIE: Want to help Harry and Meghan? Leave them be.

No matter what we think, they are entitled to personal autonomy and they alone must be responsible for the array of consequences their decisions bring.

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Personal autonomy and the exercise of individual conscience are cornerstones of western civilization. We expect mature individuals to accept that personal autonomy includes embracing the consequences of independent decisions. We have entrenched these values in the canon, from Magna Carta (1215) to Canada’s Constitution Act (1982). So, when Harry and Meghan, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they no longer wish to have official royal duties, our generous inclination is to support their desire for greater autonomy. 

Plenty of ink is being dedicated to the former Sussexes, but little has focused on an important consequence of their decision:  they have renounced their public duty. 

Dropping the bombshell publicly before advising Her Majesty the Queen showed an absence of good judgement, the main standard of public duty. In addition to being the family matriarch and their grandmother, the queen is also the reigning monarch and head of state. Any of these roles individually commands dutiful respect.

The crass action has public implications beyond the disrespect to our Monarch, and the most immediate for Canadians is our prime minister announcing his willingness to have Canadians pay for Harry and Meghan’s steep personal security costs, should they decide to settle in Canada.  

Prior to the invitation, came rash speculation backed by a flash opinion survey asking whether there is support for Harry to become our governor general. 

Both ideas are senselessness raised on stilts. 

The governorship general idea is tone deaf to the couple’s wishes. They have rejected public duties, wishing to be autonomous. How disrespectful is it to offer someone what they have just rejected? Do you stubbornly offer dog meat to someone wanting to be vegan?

However much Harry might know about Canada, the highest political office in the land should be reserved to someone who has the fortitude to perform his public duty –a standard also applicable to the present occupant at Rideau Hall, one might fairly say.  

The principal issue is that Harry and his wife are not interested in, or have the resilience for, performing public duties. Putting aside the question of ability, consider his judgement and disposition. Despite being raised in a royal household, prepared for a life of service and duty, Harry demonstrated anemic judgement in handling his exit from duty. 

However generously we wish to look at his exit, Harry reneged on duties he was trained to perform and unwisely embarrassed his people and his country, his grandmother and his monarch. 

And there is the rub!  We now want the former Duke of Sussex to come to perform in Canada for Canadians, in the stead of his queen and grandmother, greater duties with more consequence than those he rejected in the United Kingdom?

What kind of affront would this be to Her Majesty for Canada even to submit Harry as Canada’s choice for GG? (Let’s not forget the queen has the last word on who represents her personally). And if Harry and wife wish to demonstrate autonomy, how many shades of hypocrisy could we spot on Harry embracing Canadian public duties having rejected lesser duties at home? 

What is more, are there assurances that the former Sussexes would perform and stick with Canadian duties for the same Sovereign they rejected? Would Harry be more diligent and loyal in performing duty to strangers in a strange land than in his own country of birth?  

Provided they satisfy our immigration laws and regulations, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex are welcome to come and stay in Canada, in accordance with their stated wishes.  But in keeping with their wishes, they ought not be treated as royalty. That’s how we can help!

They have not asked for financial help with their security costs. Absent any state duties, they are not Canada’s responsibility.  Offering to pay for them condescendingly insults their wish for autonomy as much as does offering them public duty they rejected. 

So let’s leave them be! If the former Duke and Duchess want to evade their royal kin in the United Kingdom, we can be for, against or neutral. No matter what we think, they are entitled to personal autonomy and they alone must be responsible for the array of consequences their decisions bring. 

Let us not push on them to receive monetary aid we claim we cannot afford for veteran Canadians, who have loyally and bravely performed their duties to queen and country. 

Marco Navarro-Génie is a Columnist for the Western Standard, the president of Haultain Research Institute and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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Opinion

LITTLEJOHN: A provincial Alberta is landlocked. A national Alberta not so much.

Albertans need to decide if they want to be a landlocked province without the ability to do much about it, or a nation with the leverage to reach our potential.

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Opponents of Alberta independence believe that they have a trump-card in convincing Albertans to remain a subject of the federation: it would be landlocked.

On the surface of it, they have a point. It doesn’t require a cartographer to look at a map to realize that an independent West without BC would lack a coastline.

The argument goes that without direct coastal access, a vengeful rump-Canada would have a veto over all of Alberta’s affairs, and energy exports in particular. As difficult as it is to deal with other provinces now, it would be virtually impossible if Albertans were foreigners without recourse to the courts. This side claims that British Columbia’s leverage would grow, along with their ability kibosh pipelines.

Unlike rich landlocked nations like as Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg – whose commodities can be transported without pipelines – Alberta’s economy would tank, rendered subject to the whims of our neighbors. This is a major reason why many Albertans believe that their standard of living would suffer as an independent state.

Premier Jason Kenney shares this view.

“Landlocking ourselves through separation is not a solution. The green-left has been leading a campaign to landlock our energy. Why would we give them what they want?”

Kenney and the federalists ignore the elephant in the room: Alberta is already landlocked. 

After the passage of bills C-69 and C-48, it is highly unlikely that any private investors will bother to even attempt to build a new interprovincial pipeline. The Trans Mountain Expansion appears likely to proceed, but it is hardly a ‘future’ pipeline, given that it has been pumping oil since 1953. 

As a province, Alberta is bound by the constitution to respect the federal government’s powers over interprovincial trade. From milk, to beer, to oil, Ottawa has proven itself highly reticent to exercise these powers against offenders, giving an effective veto to politicians in Quebec and British Columbia. Even without a formal veto, these politicians have successfully intimidated potential investors with their pernicious rhetoric and threats of endless lawfare.

Alberta may eventually win long, dragged out fights in the courts, but the victory is a pyrrhic one. 

Without the ability to inflict real damage on other jurisdictions blocking its right to trade freely, Alberta is bringing a spoon to a gunfight. 

As a country, Alberta would have its hands untied, with the ability to retaliate in kind. Trade wars are almost always harmful, but the real threat of one is necessary. As Lawrence Solomon points out, “If Alberta were independent, its newfound bargaining power would certainly cause the Rest of Canada to capitulate, and speed to completion any and all pipelines Alberta needed to either ocean.”

An independent Alberta would indeed rely on imports and exports crossing foreign borders, but not without hugely expanded leverage. Threats of cutting Alberta off are hollow for the simple reason that Alberta would have an even greater ability to cut British Columbia off from the rest of Canada, and vice-versa. 

If B.C. attempted to landlock an independent Alberta, she would quickly find herself a modern East Prussia, cut off from access to the mother country. All the trucks, trains and planes carrying Eastern commodities to and from B.C. ports, and Toronto-Vancouver flights, would be forced to route either through the United States, or the Arctic.

The vast majority of Alberta’s energy trade is north-south. While it would hurt, Alberta could survive even a total embargo from a rump Ontario-Quebec state.

By contrast, the vast majority of British Columbia’s trade is with the rest of Canada. Those keen to point out that Alberta has no costal access on the map, should also note that standing between British Columbia and Ontario, is Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. A trade war would cut B.C. off from the Rest of Canada, and the Rest of Canada off from the Pacific. 

B.C. would have little incentive to turn off Alberta’s pipelines, knowing that Alberta could shut down the roads, railways and airways that keep B.C. alive. 

A war of tariffs and tolls would hurt everyone, but not equally. Alberta would be injured, but British Columbia risks being decimated. More realistically, British Columbia and the federal government would opt for a genuine free-trade agreement with Alberta than a devastating trade war. 

A vengeful rump-Canada might wish to wound Alberta, but doing so would punish British Columbia, and potentially drive it into the hands – oddly enough – of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Out of mutual self-interest, it’s most likely Canada would negotiate. 

Canadian provinces hardly have free trade as it is. Just as it is easier for sovereign nations in Europe to trade with each other than for Canadian provinces, a Canada-West trade agreement might actually free our economy to a greater extent than it is right now. 

Alberta would almost certainly obtain better access to the American market than as an appendage of Ottawa. As an independent nation, Alberta could negotiate for its interests alone, instead of horse trading to protect Ontario steel and Quebec dairy. Alberta has no need for protectionist side-deals, and could negotiate the most radically open free-trade deal it wanted. If successful, the remaining leverage of B.C. and Ottawa to landlock Alberta evaporates. 

Alberta is already landlocked. Albertans need to decide if they want to be a landlocked province without the ability to do much about it, or a nation with the leverage to reach our potential. 

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FORBES: Tories will be tempted to sacrifice the West to win Toronto

If Wexit continues to grow, the federal Tories have chosen the worst possible time to pivot their attention to Toronto.

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Canada’s federal Tories are looking for a new direction for the 2020s. The party brass has announced that they will select a new leader on June 27 at a convention in Toronto. Yes, the Toronto where the Tories also selected their last leader. The decision to keep the convention in Toronto is symbolic of the party’s desire to “broaden the tent” by appealing to the vote-rich urban centres. They obviously need to do this, but if they are not careful, the party risks further alienating the West and undoing whatever little inroads they could ever hope to make.

First, let’s look at how we got to this point. Now that outgoing party leader Andrew Scheer has been thrown to the wolves, many among the party faithful seem to be clamouring for a major change in direction. Playing it safe was the old strategy that got Scheer to the leadership back in 2017, as the candidate preferred by the party’s establishment. After a decade of power under Stephen Harper, the party had hoped to repeat their success by choosing a “Harper with a smile.” Even Scheer’s federal election campaign looked like a re-run from the Harper years, offering voters a few micro tax credits and hoping that the latest bout of Liberal scandals would allow them to sail through to Ottawa. It was an uninspiring strategy, perhaps, but it had worked before.

Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer campaigning in Toronto in October 2019 (Source: WikiCommons)

With the failure to topple a scandal-ridden Trudeau in the 2019 election, however, some of the party’s leading voices are not interested in business as usual. Many seem to envision this leadership race as part of a broader transformation, with calls for more foundational change in party policy, branding, and strategy. Conservative commentator and former Harper staffer Andrew MacDougall, for example,wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that the party needs a “root-and-branch reform” to overcome its reputation for being too “traditional” and “old.”

That’s the assumption, but is it true? After all, the party was apparently not too “traditional” for the West, including the major urban centres of Calgary and Edmonton. There are a lot of potential reasons why the Tories failed to connect with voters: Scheer’s lack of name recognition compared with Trudeau’s, an uninspiring platform, etc. The answers will come out in time, starting with John Baird’s expected report. In the meantime, who exactly are they trying to impress with all this talk about a new progressive direction?

The answer is simple: Toronto. Matt Gurney’s comments in the National Post seem to sum up Conservative Party thinking these days:“If the Tories are ever going to form a national government again, they’re going to need to dramatically improve on their performance in and around Toronto (doing better in Quebec would be nice, too).”

On the surface it seems like a sound strategy. After all, every party needs to move beyond their base to achieve nationwide support. And the GTA is the most vote-rich part of the country, with 25 seats in Toronto alone and 30 more in the surrounding 905 region. With this population base, relatively small region of the country controls more seats than Alberta and Saskatchewan combined.

Massive crowd of people gathered for “We the North Day” in downtown Toronto (Source: WikiCommons)

Westerners should be cautious of endorsing a plan for the Tories to suck up to the GTA even more than it currently does.

Firstly, there is a low chance that this Toronto-focused strategy will even work. The current Conservative share of the vote in most Toronto area ridings is as pitiful as the Liberal vote is in most Western Canadian ridings. Do the Tories really think a leader who loves the carbon tax and waves a pride flag will make up for these dismal showings and bridge the gap? That’s like Liberals saying they will win Calgary if they just take a few more selfies at the Stampede. It’s not going to happen.

Even when Harper was able to take many 905 seats in the 2011 election, it had less to do with strategy than with circumstances. The Tories benefitted from a strong NDP collapsing the Liberal vote. Most of those seats went right back to the Liberals as soon as the NDP itself collapsed in the post-Layton period. The CBC’s Eric Grenier explained this dynamic as follows: “When the NDP is struggling, the Liberals have a high likelihood of winning. When the NDP is doing well, the Conservatives tend to have the edge.” The Conservative majority in 2011 was not about fundamentally reforming the party, it was about being at the right place at the right time.

Former NDP leader Jack Layton at a campaign rally in Toronto in 2008 (Source: Matt Jiggins, WikiCommons)

But major changes in the Conservative Party could do something far worse: it could further alienate an already volatile West. Consider how Western conservatives will respond if a Laurentian Red Tory gets elected on a platform designed primarily to appeal to Toronto and Quebec. In the 2017 Tory leadership race, Michael Chong ran on expanding the vote in urban centres by focusing on climate change and promoting immigration. When he declared his support for the carbon tax, however, he was roundly booed in Edmonton. Chong ultimately came in fifth place with 9.14 per cent of the vote. Leadership contenders should take that as a warning that Western Canada’s support must not be taken for granted.

Best case scenario for a Tory Toronto strategy: they swing a few seats in the GTA and disgruntled Westerners hold their nose to vote for an Eastern Tory. This isn’t a given, as many Westerners will begin to look elsewhere to have their voices heard. In the last election the upstart People’s Party (PPC) was only able to pick off 1.6 per cent of the popular vote, but Patrick Cain argued on Global News that even that small vote share may have cost the Conservatives up to six seats. If small-‘c’ conservatives continue to get the impression that the Tories are moving to the left to appease Toronto, that number will grow, negating hard-won growth in the GTA.

Whereas Maxime Bernier’s PPC has so far only made a small splash on the national scene, a Western independence party at the federal level could be a different matter altogether. The PPC has the challenge of spreading its limited resources across all 338 ridings and finding a message that appeals to voters in every part of the country. Consequently, there is no particular region where they have yet achieved a breakthrough.

WEXIT organizers are working to register just such a party at the federal level. If they – or another Western sovereigntist party – can build up a strong regional base like the Reform Party, they have the potential to be a real game changer.

Wexit rally in Calgary (source: Facebook)

Time will tell if Wexit’s rallies and social media following can translate into effective political mobilization. Wexit is as yet a political movement with significant support, but not viewed as a viable political engine. This weekend’s Wexit rally in Edmonton may be a good indication as to whether the movement will continue to gain steam and become a credible political force in the 2020s.

If so, the federal Tories have chosen the worst possible time to pivot their attention to Toronto. If they want to avoid another major rupture on the right, they would be wise to tread carefully in their courtship of the GTA.

Western Canadians have proven time and time again that we are willing to turn on the establishment parties and throw our support behind parties that will stand up for our interests.

The Tories have been warned.

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