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HARDING: Saskatchewan is still struggling to overcome 70 years of socialism

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has a vision: a province with 1.4 million people by 2030. It’s a worthy goal, and certainly achievable. The sad part is, it could have—and should have, happened a long time ago. The province grew like a weed from the start, and was already Canada’s third most populous province in 1911. But that growth flattened like its prairie landscape from the 1930s until early in the 21st Century. Socialism strangled Saskatchewan in the cradle, and the prosperity it exiled to Alberta only adds to the proof.

Both provinces had every reason to grow, blessed with a large land mass, abundant resources, and good farm land. The pioneers who settled Alberta and Saskatchewan were inherently entrepreneurial. The only handout the government gave them was a quarter-section of land. The rest was up to them. Faith, family, and a strong work ethic were combined with co-operation and interdependence. It was the winning combination necessary to survive, and later, to thrive. 

In 1920, Regina became the first Canadian city to have a licensed airport. As the decade ended, it even had a General Motors plant. Saskatchewan took the Western lead, with Alberta taking a similar course until the 1930s. At that point, Saskatchewan took the path less travelled – and that made all the unfortunate difference.

Fourteen years after the Winnipeg General Strike, Marxism staked its ground in Saskatchewan’s capital. In 1933, the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) penned the Regina Manifesto. It read,

The principle regulating production, distribution and exchange will be the supplying of human needs and not the making of profits.

We aim to replace the present capitalist system, with its inherent injustice and inhumanity, by a social order from which the domination and exploitation of one class by another will be eliminated, in which economic planning will supersede unregulated private enterprise and competition, and in which genuine democratic self-government, based upon economic equality will be possible.

The CCF radicals didn’t catch on at first. Tommy Douglas failed to get a provincial seat when he ran for the party in 1934. Decades later, he reminisced about early campaign stops at country schools. 

“We encouraged questions, and people asked us if it was true we were going to take their farms, like the Soviets in Russia, and did we believe in God.” 

One year after losing the provincial election, voters made Douglas a CCF federal Member of Parliament. 

That same year of 1935, the Regina riot took place. Spurred by the Communist-affiliated Relief Camp Workers’ Union, hundreds of men left those camps and assembled in Vancouver to demand more from the government. Led by Communist Arthur “Slim” Evans, they decided to take their grievances to Ottawa. They rode east on boxcars. After they spent two weeks in Regina, the police decided to crack down. When the Mounties tried to arrest the ringleaders on July 1, a riot ensued. The police opened fire, injuring hundreds.

The CCF continued to gain momentum. Douglas resigned his federal seat in 1944 to run provincially again. This time, he was elected premier, a position he would hold for 17 years. He was also the first leader of an explicitly socialist government in North America.

“People thought the world was coming to an end,” Douglas said, “that this was the beginning of a Communist revolution and we were going to wreck the province, ruin the finances, repudiate all our debts. Imperial Oil were doing some small amount of drilling in Saskatchewan. They just picked up their drilling rigs and went home.”

Awhile later, Imperial Oil offered $20 million a year (two-thirds of the Saskatchewan budget) for an oil monopoly in the province. Douglas recalled, “I remember what I said to Imperial Oil: ‘Get lost’.”

Tommy Douglas and Thérèse Casgrain (Source: Wiki Commons)

Saskatchewan’s loss was Alberta’s gain. Imperial Oil was determined to strike oil in Wild Rose Country no matter what. They spent millions of dollars in 133 desperate and unsuccessful attempts. Finally, they decided if nothing was found in another half-dozen attempts, they’d just stop trying.

Then, early in 1947, Vern Hunter made a find near Leduc, Alberta that looked promising. Imperial Oil asked him to set a date for a well to be dug. “The crew and I were experts at abandoning wells but we didn’t know much about completing them. I named February 13 and started praying,” Hunter said. Five hundred people watched as the well brought up oil.

Edmonton and Calgary doubled their population in a short time. Dan Claypool worked at Leduc #1 in the early years. 

“You couldn’t get a hotel room … roughnecks were living in granaries, and even the energy regulators from the government had no place to live. So Imperial Oil lent them a skid shack. It was crazy, trucks were coming and going day and night on the highway. It was the greatest economic event to ever happen in Canada. It was really a boom.”

By then it was impossible for any entrepreneur in Saskatchewan to boom – the government owned everything. Tommy Douglas told the House of Commons in 1943, “We believe there should be government ownership of monopolistic enterprises.” When he became premier, he made that happen. When he opened the legislature on October 19, 1944, he introduced 76 pieces of legislation that put the government’s fingers on everything. It brought in mandatory health insurance, a provincial bus company, SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskWater, SaskEnergy, regulations galore, and the highest taxes in Canada.

“We told people,” Douglas said, “if you’re going to build schools or hospitals or roads, you’re going to pay for it. Now!”

In 1951, Douglas told the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, “The inescapable fact is that when we build a society based on greed, selfishness, and ruthless competition, the fruits we can expect to reap are economic insecurity at home and international discord abroad.” 

The CCF brought economic security all right – a constant, stifling government presence everyone could count on to bring mediocrity – or worse. Even a government-run shoe factory and woolen mill in Moose Jaw went broke. And the army of civil servants hired for this massive socialist experiment became better paid than the taxpaying residents.

Douglas declared in 1960 that laissez-faire capitalism had ended in Saskatchewan, just as the Regina Manifesto had envisioned. The Berlin Wall was built a year later, and Saskatchewan would have needed a similar structure to keep its own. 

“Our best export is our people,” residents came to say. Others joked, “Will the last person to leave please turn out the light?”

Canada’s breadbasket – which had 921,000 people in 1931 – still had just 968,000 in 2006. Meanwhile, Alberta grew from 731,000 people to nearly 4.4 million today. Saskatchewan ex-pat oil executives in Edmonton and Calgary jokingly called their former province, “the old country.” Proof of the Saskatchewan diaspora was made evident by fans wearing green at Roughrider games in every city. Some still left in the homeland, drove with novelty license plates which read, “Soviet Saskatchewan Smothered in Socialism,” complete with a hammer and sickle.

Then, less than fifteen years ago, the socialist chokehold lost its grip. 

In December 2006, public opinion polls showed over 50 per cent support for Brad Wall’s right-leaning Saskatchewan Party. Investors realized that a more business-friendly government was imminent and started investing their money. By the time Wall’s Sask Party ended sixteen years of NDP government in November of 2007, the boom was already underway. The average price of a home in Regina rose from 131,000 in 2006 to 228,000 in 2008—a telltale sign that the province had escaped a cocoon it had been stuck in for far too long.

Saskatchewan has grown substantially during the Sask Party era, and now boasts 1.17 million people. Moe’s ambitious goal of 1.4 million people by 2030 seems ambitious but well within reason, especially if the province can meet its other target: 600,000 barrels of daily oil production. Of course, Alberta is already there. It drills nearly eight times as much crude oil as Saskatchewan, above and beyond its oil sands.

Had Saskatchewan never embraced socialism, would Alberta have ever become what it is today? Would it have had two NHL teams, and a long line of Stanley Cup winners? Or would those teams have been based in Saskatoon and Regina instead?

If Saskatchewan’s pain was Alberta’s gain, what’s left for the lesser of two provinces? Potentially quite a bit. While it may be true that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, Saskatchewan seems to have undergone a permanent change in its attitude and political stance. Residents can only hope that Victorian novelist George Eliot was right: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Affairs Columnist for the Western Standard. He is also a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and is the former Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Opinion

GRAFTON: Trudeau’s ‘reset’ may not be so great

“An uneasy sense of foreboding lies over Parliament Hill during these dark days of COVID. It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”

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What are the Liberals up to? Has Canada’s government gone rogue? 

The Liberals have stopped reporting financial expenditures to the Parliamentary Budget Office, stopped answering questions during Question Period and interviews, prorogued Parliament in order to shut down the Finance Committee’s investigation of the WE scandal. They have filibustered the Finance Committee to further obstruct the investigation, heavily redacted WE documents ordered by the Finance Committee, and hacked funding to the Auditor General. An uneasy sense of foreboding lies over Parliament Hill during these dark days of COVID. It’s quite out there. Too quiet.  

What do we know?

First, the Liberals have not produced a budget since March 2019. The Liberal Economic and Fiscal Update presented by then Finance Minister Bill Morneau in July estimated a $343 billion federal deficit for 2020, and over $1 trillion in federal debt – now expected to increase further.

While it would be only fair if taxpayers knew exactly what they were mortgaging their futures for, the Liberals aren’t exactly saying.

According to Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, it has been “much more difficult to get information out of the minister’s office” since Parliament returned with Chrystia Freeland as Minister of Finance.

In addition, the Liberals are underfunding the Office of the Auditor General, who audits government spending for one thing. Conservative MP Michael Cooper accused then Finance Minister Bill Morneau of deliberately defunded the Office of the Auditor General by $11 million because “your government is afraid of being accountable”. As a result of the underfunding, performance audits have been reduced in half. 

What do they have to hide?

A September 3rd opinion piece in the National Post by John Ivison entitled ““Trudeau’s ‘literally frightening’ spending plans has some Liberals, bureaucrats very worried”” should have been a red-flag to Canadians that the Prime Minister is up to no good. Indications are that something big is in the works. 

According to Ivison, a number of Liberal MP’s and senior bureaucrats are concerned over current government plans to increase spending and debt (that is, more than they have already). One unnamed senior public servant described the expensive schedule of social programs coming down as a “structural change in the way government in this country operates.” 

The Prime Minister has made a number of references to an impending “reset”, sometimes reported as “a great reset”. 

Trudeau is referring to his commitment to UN Agenda 2030. In 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted a document referred to as “United Nations Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. 

It states, “This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development… We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.” 

Changes of this scope historically have relied upon some corresponding crisis event. It is a tactic conceived by renowned economist Milton Friedman at the Chicago School of Economics. Known as “Economic Shock Treatment”, or “Shock Therapy”, it predicts that the speed and scope of significant change in times of crisis creates a psychological state in the public that facilitates change acceptance. As Friedman famously observed, “Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” 

The current COVID-19 pandemic is just such a crisis, and the ideas have been haunting Liberal dreams for decades. 

Addressing the UN, Trudeau said, “This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change…Building back better means getting support to the most vulnerable while maintaining our momentum on reaching the 2030 agenda…” 

Whatever the Liberals are planning, they aren’t elaborating, but they are heavy on the alarming buzzwords. Attempts to get answers during question period and interviews have faced a wall of on-message babblespeak. 

Canadians won’t have to wonder much longer however. Freeland has just announced that a “full update” on federal spending will be presented November 30th

Buckle up Canada.

Ken Grafton is freelance columnist for the Western Standard from Aylmer, Quebec.

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Opinion

CARPAY: Kenney’s “not a lockdown” is very much one. And it’s more dangerous than COVID.

John Carpay writes that despite the government’s claim, Alberta is very much in a lockdown that is violating freedoms without just cause.

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It seems that Jason Kenney is taking his government’s communications strategy straight out of George Orwell ’s classic 1984. The government in 1984 uses propaganda as a cornerstone of exploiting people and remaining in power, with slogans like “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength.”

Too harsh?

After declaring a new public health emergency in Alberta this week, Kenney said: “Let me be clear, we are not moving into a lockdown.”

He then proceeded to make all indoor social gatherings illegal; impose fines of $1,000 or more on people gathering “socially” outside of their homes (including weddings and funerals) in numbers larger than 10; limit religious gatherings to one-third capacity while requiring masks and prohibiting singing; shut down all banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoria, community centres, children’s play centres and indoor playgrounds, and all team and individual sports; place onerous and profit-killing restrictions on restaurants, pubs, bars, and lounges; harm retail establishments by reducing them to a fraction of the capacity needed for profitability; limit museums, galleries, libraries, movie theatres, indoor entertainment centres and indoor fitness centres to 20 per cent capacity; severely damage “personal services” businesses providing haircare, esthetics, wellness services, professional services, taxi and rideshare, hotels/motels, and private lessons; and keep grade 7-12 children away from school for six weeks (November 30 through to January 11).

This, maintains Premier Kenney, is not a “lockdown.”

Our caring and compassionate premier magnanimously acknowledges that these severe restrictions on our Charter freedoms to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship will be “disruptive to businesses and to all Albertans.”

Not a lockdown; just “balanced” measures that are a bit “disruptive.”

Not that our premier would know what it’s like to have to take care of children at home when you are used to them attending school from 9:00 to 3:00. Not that our Premier’s own public sector salary will in any way be impacted by his own measures. Not that he would ever need to survive on only $2,000 per month in government benefits while shouldering the responsibility of supporting a family and paying for rent or a mortgage.

Premier Kenney wants to “thank all Albertans in advance for [our] understanding and what [we] have done personally” to “stop the spike and protect each other.”

Premier Kenney ignores Alberta Health Services (AHS) data which does not justify or support the daily fearmongering perpetrated by him and by Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw.

As of Tuesday, November 24 there were fewer than 500 COVID-19 deaths in Alberta since March, in the context of more than 27,000 Albertans who die each year: more than 2,000 per month and more than 500 each and every week. Of course, the 492 COVID-19 deaths are troubling, but so are the other 26,500 deaths from cancer, drug overdoses, cancelled surgeries, suicides, lack of access to health care, and other causes of death. Many of these 26,500 deaths are caused directly by the government’s lockdown measures, like cancelling 22,000 medically necessary surgeries and delaying thousands of vitally important CT scans and MRIs to diagnose cancer.

Only 348 COVID-19 patients are currently in hospital according to AHS, leaving more than 8,100 hospital beds available for more COVID-19 patients, and for patients suffering from the various conditions that cause 98 per cent of deaths in Alberta. COVID-19 patients are occupying 4 per cent of Alberta’s hospital beds, which is pretty close to the 2 per cent of deaths in Alberta that result from COVID-19. Why and how is this a crisis that justifies the lockdowns we have been suffering under – to various degrees – since March?

Is it Jason Kenney’s goal that our 8,500 hospital beds remain empty? If yes, why bother spending more than $7,500 per person on health care each year? Is the health care system here to serve citizens? Or are citizens supposed to refrain from using it, as though we wish to avoid troubling our masters? Overcrowding, bed shortages and delayed surgeries have been serious problems for many years, long before COVID-19 arrived. Why is it a crisis when COVID-19 patients occupy 4 per cent of available hospital beds? Is this percentage actually higher than when flu patients enter hospital each winter, of which we are told there are “zero” this year?

What applies to hospital beds also applies to ICU capacity. AHS tell us that COVID-19 patients are using 66 ICU spaces, which is 5 per cent of the 1,300 total ICU capacity. And we are to accept the destruction of businesses, livelihoods and mental health because of some danger of the health care system being “overrun”?

With COVID-19 patients occupying 4 per cent of hospital beds and using 5 per cent of ICU capacity, there is obviously no danger of our health care system being overrun. We are now hearing in November the same misinformation that Jason Kenney and Deena Hinshaw told us in March and April.

Media-supported fearmongering about large numbers of “cases” is misleading in the extreme. Aside from the small number of people who actually require hospitalization, 97 per cent of these “cases” concern healthy people experiencing no symptoms, and a small number experiencing symptoms which they can take care of themselves at home. Not my opinion; check the data for yourself.

There is no excuse for Premier Kenney and Deena Hinshaw to ignore AHS data on COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations. There is no excuse for fearmongering about meaningless and irrelevant numbers of “cases” of perfectly healthy people.

If George Orwell were writing his novel in Alberta today, he could have added a fourth slogan to his government’s list of mantras: “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength; There is no lockdown.”

Lawyer John Carpay is a columnist for the Western Standard and President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca).

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Opinion

WAGNER: Kenney needs to follow Moe’s lead in putting someone in charge of provincial autonomy file

Michael Wagner writes that Scott Moe’s appointment of an MLA responsible for the autonomy file should be replicated in Alberta.

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Shortly after an election that saw surprisingly strong support for the new independence-minded Buffalo Party, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe assigned his new legislative secretary the task of exploring how his province could “exercise and strengthen” its powers within Canada. This legislative secretary, MLA Lyle Stewart, explained that “there is more work to do in standing up for Saskatchewan’s interests within Canada.” 

Moe has already joined other premiers in launching a legal challenge to Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax, replaced the federally appointment firearms officer with a provincially appointed one, establishing trade offices in Asia, and is discussing provincial control over immigration. The legislative secretary can focus on how to build on these initiatives. Having an official charged with this responsibility sends a message that Saskatchewan is fed up with the status quo and is serious about considering new measures.

Appointing an MLA responsible for exploring provincial autonomy is a good idea and one that should be emulated by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Last year he appointed the Fair Deal Panel to gather input from Albertans about their views on how to improve the province’s position within Canada. The panel conducted its work and released its report, which many – including one MLA on the panel – saw as being weak. Appointing an MLA dedicated to working on this file would demonstrate that the premier is serious about addressing the ongoing challenges Alberta faces from the federal government and the prime minister’s hostility to the energy industry.

If he really wanted to up his game, Premier Kenney could borrow ideas from a proposal advanced by retired University of Alberta political scientist Leon Craig. In an August 2019 article for C2C Journal entitled, “Alberta Needs A Minister Of Independence Preparation,” Professor Craig recommended creating an entire government department with the responsibility to develop a plan for an independent Alberta. As he explains, “Since declaring independence would involve major changes in how governmental business is done, it is not a step to be taken without having thoroughly thought through the practical difficulties and prepared accordingly. Thus we need a cabinet minister charged with that responsibility – the Minister of Independence Preparation (MIP).”

Needless to say, that would be a bridge too far for Premier Kenney. However, establishing a ministry, or an agency within an existing ministry, to plan and implement the best recommendations of the Fair Deal Panel (as a starting point) would be a meaningful and effective way to demonstrate that Alberta will no longer passively accept the status quo.

This new ministry could be charged with developing blueprints for establishing an Alberta provincial police force, enacting provincial control of tax collection, and creating an Alberta Pension Plan. 

If Trudeau continues to block opportunities for Alberta to develop and export its petroleum products, the ministry could expand its work into developing proposals for an independence referendum and establishing contacts with foreign governments that may be sympathetic to Alberta’s plight. Public information sessions about the process outlined in the Clarity Act could be initiated to create widespread discussions among Albertans about options for the province’s future. 

Of course, whether Premier Kenney was to appoint a legislative secretary for this purpose – or create a ministry – the obvious person for the job would be Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes. Barnes has distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate for Alberta, more so than any other sitting MLA.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that any such position or ministry will be established in the near future. Were he to do so, Premier Kenney could show he is serious about changing Alberta’s relationship with the rest of Canada, fire up his increasingly disenchanted base, put meaningful pressure on Justin Trudeau, and drive the NDP into apoplectic summersaults. That sounds like a winning combination to me.

Michael Wagner is a 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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