The federal Conservative leadership race has a massive vacuum as Peter Mackay moves down an open and easy road to the Tory crown. With Rona Ambrose and Brad Wall out, there is no big Westerner in the race. With Pierre Polievre out, there is no big conservative or libertarian in the race. Unless Erin O-Toole can reinvent himself as the standard bearer of both, the top job will be Mackay’s by default.
For a party with its core in the West and on the right, it’s more than a bit curious that there isn’t a major candidate from either. In this wide-open field, Michelle Rempel-Garner has a rare opportunity.
In the 2017 race, Rempel-Garner (then just Rempel) sat it out not just as a potential candidate, but refused to even endorse anyone. Since then, she has fashioned herself into a unique and adventagous position.
She has staked out clearly and unambiguously that she supports gay rights and has zero interest in re-litigating issues that even most social conservatives have moved past. But she has not pushed herself into social-justice warrior, social progressive territory. She has been a champion of gun rights, a more rational immigration policy, and most notably, the West.
Rempel-Garner has the opportunity to put herself forward as the libertarian candidate à la Maxime Bernier (who would be in pole position to win if he were still in the party). Like Bernier, she has the ability to be an open champion of gay rights without falling into the trap of condescendingly lecturing everyone with more traditional views.
That said, if this is her plan, she isn’t off to a great start.
Richard Décarie emerged from the wilderness in Quebec to proclaim on national television that being gay was a “choice,” and that “LGTBQ is a Liberal term.” Nobody outside of this man’s village had ever heard his name before, but he successfully managed to grab headlines with his best caveman impression.
Rempel-Garner rightfully came out against him, but went too far in calling for the party to ban him from even running as a candidate. As repugnant as his views might be to even many reasonable social conservatives, barring him from running is an authoritarian approach to a man best dealt with at the ballot box. A more democratic and libertarian approach would have been to declare that she will wipe the floor with him as a canidate. He likely wouldn’t exceed much more than one per cent of the vote in any case.
But this was all in one of Rempel-Garner’s famous Twitter rants, which are surprisingly unrehearsed and genuine. One can hold out hope that calling to ban him from running was more akin to one of Trump’s impulsive tweets than deliberately thought-out policy.
The gay rights quagmire aside, Rempel-Garner has built strong bridges with the firearms community. While most Canadians don’t own guns, Canada still has one of the most heavily armed civilian populations in the world, and they are overwhelmingly CPC and PPC voters.
Rempel-Garner would be well advised to take up the mantel of Bernier and run with a clear and principled platform on immigration reform, Western alienation, and scrapping supply management.
Bernier came within a hair of winning the 2017 leadership race, and earned nearly 300,000 votes nationally, despite fears of “vote splitting”. Voters in a general election do not translate one-for-one into voters in an internal party leadership race, but PPC voters were an unconventionally ideological electorate willing to risk the “vote-splitting” boogieman based on policy principles. With the PPC now in limbo after the election, a candidate serious about appealing to them could bring many into (and back into) the fold.
While Bernier did remarkably well in the West, he had a glass ceiling on account of being an accented Quebecer. Bernier became the first francophone since Sir Wilfred Laurier to win Alberta in a major electoral contest, but that glass ceiling stymied his ability to run up the score in compensation for his weaknesses elsewhere.
Rempel-Garner doesn’t face this. As the only notable Westerner in the race, she would have home field advantage from Victoria to Winnipeg. Bernier’s leadership campaign was the only one to champion Equalization reform with a direct eye to winning over Westerners. While that was seen as radical at the time, it is probably the bare minimum that many Westerners will demand from leadership candidates this time – if the race is competitive.
It’s difficult to name anyone elected in Ottawa right now who has spoken more passionately and openly about the Prairie fire of discontentment with federalism right now. With an ear close to the ground in her Calgary constituency, she knows that it will take more than politicians donning “I love Canadian Oil & Gas” sweatshirts to make Westerners feel at home in their own country right now.
Rempel-Garner has built considerable public profile and would be an instant big name, but a run as a conventional establishment Tory would most likely be fruitless. The race already has those. In the absence of a candidate able to energize the conservative, libertarian and Western wings of the party, Mackay will waltz to an easy victory.
Only Rempel-Garner knows what’s in her heart. If it aligns with the leadership vacuum, she should run. And she just might win.
Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp.
JAY HILL: Lend Wexit your vote
Guest columnist Jay Hill writers about the need for independence, and taking a chance on Wexit.
Ask any Westerner and they can likely recite from memory a long list of grievances of how Central Canada has misunderstood and mistreated the West. And continues to do so. Some are historical dating back decades, some much more recent.
Many folks – like myself – have reached the breaking point. The realization that no matter who we elect to govern us, nothing much will change in this regard.
‘The system’ is rigged against us and we must break the cycle that sees all federal governments -regardless of party – focus on appeasing voters in Central Canada to the detriment of the West.
So, we all know why we’re frustrated and even angry, but what is it that convinces some of us there can be a brighter future that Central Canada continues to deny us?
I believe it is because it is not only logical, but it’s the belief we can do, and be, so much better. And it is deep within each of us. New immigrants have come here to the West for decades, from lands around the globe, regardless of their race, creed or gender identity. They’ve been made welcome and with those who preceded them, have worked hard to build a future for themselves and their families. Not because there was a guarantee life would be better here, but because they dreamed of a better life and never gave up on working hard to ensure it.
I believe that dream is still very much alive and well in the hearts of each of us here in the West. It is part of what makes us distinct, even unique, from the majority in Central and Eastern Canada. We are different. It is time to reject the status quo, unconditional federalism that has shackled our economy and forced unfair laws upon us.
Even with all the logical, common sense arguments for breaking free of this abusive relationship with the East, are you still reluctant to “hitch your wagon (reputation) to our team?” “What if it’s taken over by a bunch of ya-hoos and self destructs like so many independence movements before,” you may well ask. Believe me, the eight of us on the current Wexit Board share your concern, but that will not deter us from working as hard as we can to ensure that fate does not befall Wexit.
If seeking independence from the ROC (Rest of Canada) is still a bridge too far for you, then I respectfully ask that you consider lending us your vote… just once. Take a chance for just one election. Let’s see what can happen if we send some MPs to Ottawa that will only vote for legislation if it’s good for the West.
Not MPs who must constantly weigh their support, or opposition, based upon whether it may enhance or harm their party’s chances in Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa.
We cannot, must not, keep repeating what we’ve done in the past expecting a different result… that’s the definition of insanity. Just imagine if the early Reform MPs of 1993 – myself included – had been demanding “The West Wants Out” rather than “In”, how much further we would have progressed towards independence over the past twenty-seven years.
I believe in the succeed against all odds, hard working, entrepreneurial pioneer culture that built the West. Pioneers carved out their futures, and ours, with their bare hands. Like others, I worked alongside my father and brothers clearing and breaking raw land to become a field of golden wheat. That’s right, my generation… not people 400 years ago. Westerners know first hand how to overcome adversity, we’re just tired of trying to overcome it from our own federal governments and so many folks east of Manitoba.
If this describes some of your own thoughts and feelings please consider joining us in working for the brighter future we all know is possible.
Jay Hill is the Interim Leader of the Wexit Canada Party
STRANKMAN: Do our politicians represent their constituents, or their parties?
Rick Strankman writes from his experience being whipped to vote as party bosses told him to.
Last winter, at an agricultural estate planning course, a speaker commented, “Many large problems occur after the death of a significant farm family leader. This results from ‘unspoken expectations’ from other family members”.
Similarly, many elected officials have little to no understanding that their constituents have similar, ‘unspoken expectations’ that might not be voiced out loud.
In 2012, as the Wildrose Party charged towards the spring election, one of the key platform promises was electoral recall. For some reason, many of the same people that professed at that time to believe in this form of accountability from elected representatives, have been distracted by the lure of political power. A score of once loud democratic crusaders now “look the other way” as they see unaccountability, patronage, and nepotism in their own ranks. Power – and the lure of power – can do this.
After more than a year in power, this has set in with many in the UCP government, as they develop a blind-spot to the issues that got them there in the first place. It’s unclear if it’s the obstructed view one gets from sitting on the government side of the house in the legislature, or whether it comes from a lack of proper perspective. MLAs serving in opposition will understand the frustration to getting non-answers to often very real questions. This, more than most things, can quickly cure those self-serving blind-spots.
The legislature is an eye-opening experience, particularly for anyone that has never watched question period. The open disdain for democracy that many former and current MLAs have witnessed in the house, is appalling. In my own time, I personally witnessed government ministers loudly heckling when an opposition member requested that they answer a question.
“That’s why they call it ‘question’ period and not ‘answer’ period!’
Many of those same self-congratulating ministers now sit in the NDP opposition benches, wondering why the UCP ministers across from them do much the same.
On more than one occasion, I was warned by acquaintances that “the closer people get to the power, the more they lose their minds.” This is a phenomenon not exclusive to the UCP, NDP, or even Alberta, or Canada. It is a natural process that plagues governments everywhere.
The lack of any meaningful representation and direct accountability is the single largest contributing factor in what seems to be an aura of discontent brewing in the minds of many Albertans right now.
The fear to step out and speak up in opposition to one’s own party is something that I experienced and witnessed over my elected years in the legislature. As an elected representative, it is your moral – and I would argue fiduciary – responsibility to advocate on behalf of the taxpayers that entrust you with their democratic rights, regardless of a political party’s position.
The examples are few and far between, but former federal Liberal MPs, Jody Wilson-Rabould and Jane Philpott, along with Alberta’s own MLA Drew Barnes, showed the gut-wrenching courage it takes to actually represent their constituents first, in the face of party discipline.
A common statement I’ve heard more and more every day is, “it doesn’t matter who you elect, they’re all the same,” which is becoming harder to argue against. Their actions often reflect the conformity that, at times, is in direct conflict with the best interests of the constituents they represent.
One of the leading contributing factors to this is the Sword of Damocles that party leaders hold over their MLAs and MPs local nominations. In the American primary system, rogues like libertarian Ron Paul and socialist Bernie Sanders can still win their local nominations without the blessing of their party’s leaders. In Canada’s party systems, the leaders have the ability to rig nominations – or disqualify candidates outright – that they consider uncompliant.
After the Wildrose was merged into the UCP before the last election, we were routinely whipped by the new party’s leadership in voting against our own consciences, and our constituents’ interests. When the NDP proposed legislation to attack the right of pro-lifers to protest, we were told we were not allowed to speak to, or even vote on the bill. When the NDP introduced regulations to impose effective supply-management over oil production, we were told that we had to support it.
So, what have I learned in the last two decades from my time as an activist, politician and now recovering politician? That peoples’ expectations are simple; they want you to show up with your work boots on, and ready to do battle directly on their behalf.
Now I understand why I was warned about what happens when people get closer to that power.
WAGNER: Alberta isn’t a part of Trudeau’s “post-national state”
Michael Wagner writes that while the Liberal conception of a non-national state might apply in the East, Alberta has a very different idea of what it is.
Shortly after his election as prime minister in 2015, Justin Trudeau told the New York Times, “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,” and that Canada is “the first post-national state.” The Times rightly explained that Justin’s view makes him “an avatar of his father’s vision.” The social engineering of Justin’s father – Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – has been so successful that the historical notion of what it means to be Canadian has been increasingly eviscerated since the 1970s. Together, the Trudeaus have brought the idea of Canadian identity to its knees.
Large numbers of Eastern Canadians vote for that “no core identity” and “post-national state” nonsense. That’s why Trudeau II is prime minister. However, Albertans have a very different perspective than their Eastern countrymen, and this is reflected in a different political identity.
As mentioned in a previous column, Professor Barry Cooper has argued that a community’s stories form an important part of its identity, and history constitutes a key element of those stories. He wrote, “History, too, is a source of identity; historical literature also shows who we are and where is here because it recounts what was done and said.” The West has its own stories and history, distinct from those of Eastern Canada, and this contributes to the West’s unique regional identity.
Besides Cooper, Alberta has another prominent conservative thinker who reflected on Western identity – Ted Byfield. Byfield, best known as the founder of Alberta Report and its sister publications, also initiated the creation of a 12-volume history set called “Alberta in the 20th Century.” This project was surprisingly successful and the proceeds helped to keep the Report magazines afloat for a time.
However, the success of this popular history series was counterintuitive. Alberta is a small market, and the volumes were rather expensive. Why did they sell so well?
Byfield attributed the success, in part, to the emergence of an Alberta identity. In a January 11, 1999, Alberta Reportcolumn he wrote, “There is gradually developing in Alberta a very powerful provincial identity. Perhaps it’s because we have so often been called ‘redneck’ by the rest of Canada, perhaps because we have so often resisted trends in the rest of Canada, perhaps because we live closer to our frontier origins, perhaps because from our very beginning almost everything we produce must be sold on a world market, not a protected local one. And, finally, perhaps because our national identity has become so confused of late that it’s hard to define what being a Canadian is supposed to mean. There’s little doubt what being an Albertan means, and this has a deepening significance. That, we believe, is one of the chief reasons for the success of the history series.”
Here, years before Justin Trudeau declared that the country had “no core identity,” Byfield had already recognized that “it’s hard to define what being a Canadian is supposed to mean.” At the same time, however, there’s “little doubt what being an Albertan means” – and his Alberta history series was deliberately intended to strengthen that identity as well.
In his foreword to the first volume of the series, The Great West Before 1900, Byfield explained his purpose for producing these books. He began by recounting a discussion he had with a young man from Texas. Byfield asked him why Texas was known as the Lone Star State. The fellow replied that Texas had been an independent republic for about ten years and then had a war with Mexico, which is when the famous Battle of the Alamo occurred. Most interestingly, the Texan had said that’s when “we” had a war with Mexico and then “we” joined the United States. As Byfield explained, “Utterly unconscious of what he was doing, this young man identified himself with events that occurred nearly a century and a half before he was born. It wasn’t what ‘they’ did, it was what ‘we’ did. Whatever happened to Texas then, he was somehow involved in it.”
Albertans and other Canadians don’t often talk that way and Byfield believes that’s because we “do not identify with our own past.” For us, what happened in the past is what “they” did, not what “we” did. Some people see this as a positive because, in their view, we should have a cool and dispassionate approach to the past rather than an enthusiastic commitment to our province (or country) and its accomplishments. Those people are concerned about “the dangers of jingoism and blind tribal loyalty.” As Byfield explained, however, that perspective has led to a form of rootlessness and lack of belonging which is opposite of the mentality of the young Texan noted above.
Byfield wanted his history books to correct the erroneous perspective that effectively divorces us from our own history. As he wrote, “Candidly, we want the Albertans who read them to come away from them saying ‘we’ not ‘they.’”
Byfield believes Alberta’s history is worth learning. And as we study it, “we may find we come away with a certain assurance, a strange sense of common purpose, a feeling of continuity with our past. No longer are we homeless. We know now where we live. We belong.” This is precisely what Cooper meant when he wrote of the importance of history to a community’s identity – it shows us who “we” are.
Justin Trudeau says that Canada no longer has a “core identity.” Well, as Ted Byfield so clearly pointed out, Alberta still has an identity – one that needn’t be lost to progressive dreamers in Ottawa. For those who would like to learn more about it, there’s no better place to start than his “Alberta in the 20th Century” history books.
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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