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ANDRUS: We need a Referendum on Equalization, and we need it now.

The latest news about the Teck Frontier Project makes an Equalization referendum more urgent. We simply cannot wait until late 2021.

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The decision by Teck to withdraw their application for their Frontier Project is devastating, and will likely have implications that are more far reaching than we can imagine now.

The mounting tension between the federal and Alberta governments has reached a fever pitch, and we are now entering of a full-scale national unity crisis.

While Alberta’s economic downturn has lasted years, the pressure has been building dramatically since last October.

First, Husky Energy laid off hundreds of workers the morning after the federal election, shortly followed by Encana announcing that it was packing up and moved to Denver.

Then, just as TransMountain construction finally got under way, it was announced that the pipeline is now way over budget – costing taxpayers billion of dollars and reigniting fears it won’t ever get built.

In the middle of all this, the Teck Frontier Project returned to the news.

Teck is a project that spent almost 10 years getting the approval of everyone you could imagine – First Nations, government regulators, independent panels, etc – everyone except the federal cabinet.

In a five-page letter to Justin Trudeau in early February, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told the federal government to approve the Teck Frontier oilsands mine to avoid “roiling Western alienation rising to a boiling point.”

In an instant, disaffected Albertans – already fraught with frustration – looked to the Teck mine for salvation.

Teck’s decision to withdrawal its application represents nothing short of a total defeat for Alberta, and sends a clear message to investors: Alberta is closed for business.

Inaction is not an option.

Federal-provincial relations must be amended immediately, or Alberta’s economy could collapse.

The time has come to force open the Constitution, by whatever means necessary.

Alberta needs a legitimate platform on which to plead its case to the rest of the country.

As the Buffalo Declaration outlined last week, “constitutional change must happen within Confederation or a referendum on Alberta’s independence is an inevitability.”

In particular, three key constitutional changes were outlined – the exact same three constitutional proposals that we at Project Confederation began advocating for with the release of our “New Alberta Agenda” in October.

First, balanced representation in Parliament is the key to achieving equality in the federation. This includes our medieval Senate.

Second, reaffirming and clarifying the free-trade provisions of the Constitution that guarantee free movement of goods, services, and infrastructure such as railroads and pipelines, is an absolute necessity when it comes to national unity.

Third, and perhaps most urgent, is the question of Equalization.

Why should Alberta, a province being crushed by the thumb of a possibly deliberately indecisive government in Ottawa, be contributing over $20-billion a year to the rest of the country when all we get in return are rail blockades, layoffs, and project cancellations?

Premier Kenney campaigned on holding a referendum to abolish Equalization, and has recently indicated that could take place in conjunction with Alberta’s municipal elections in October 2021.

But this latest news about the Teck Frontier Project makes an Equalization referendum more urgent. We simply cannot wait that long. 

Manifestos aren’t going to be enough to save us.

We need a referendum on equalization, and we need it now.

Josh Andrus is a columnist with the Western Standard and the Executive Director of Project Confederation.

Opinion

GRAFTON: Another flighty Liberal bailout, as Trudeau prepares to spend non-existent COVID-19 bucks on failing airlines

Ken Grafton writes that Trudeau is planning a massive bailout of Air Canada, owned mostly by wealthy foreign trusts.

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In the words of Virgin Air founder Richard Branson, “If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”

Now it seems, after months of being non-committal on the issue of airline bailouts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is about to charge up the Canadian Taxpayer Mastercard again – not a paltry Branson $1 billion though, but a whopping Liberal $7 billion, if carriers and unions have anything to say about it.

Branson was warning that airlines are expensive and often lose money – and Branson should know. Virgin Atlantic applied for bankruptcy protection in New York on August 4th. They are attempting to negotiate a $1.6 billion rescue plan. Virgin Australia also filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year. 

These are not the best of times. COVID-19 grounded most commercial flights globally in March, resulting in plummeting airline stock prices. Airlines have been losing millions of dollars every week, and billionaire “canary-in-the-mine” investor guru Warren Buffett has sold out his entire $4 billion airline portfolio. Buffett said, “Investors have poured their money into airlines … for 100 years with terrible results. … It’s been a death trap for investors.”

Airline failures however, predate COVID-19. Airline bankruptcies since 1980 include TWA, US Airways, United, Air Canada (in 2003), Delta, American and many others.

The airline business model is problematic in a number of respects. First and foremost, it lacks scalability. This means that cost growth increases linearly with revenue growth, thereby making it very expensive for an airline to grow. A new A380 will set you back approximately $437 million USD. It costs about $83,000 for a fill-up at the pump, and a new set of 22 tires is a jaw-dropping $121,000

As Buffett explained to Berkshire shareholders in 2007, “The worst sort of business is one that grows rapidly, requires significant capital to engender the growth, and then earns little or no money. Think airlines. Here a durable competitive advantage has proven elusive ever since the days of the Wright Brothers. Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down.” 

But, as history records, Orville made a safe landing that day in 1903.

Another problem with airlines is a sensitive dependence upon price competition. The reality is that if one airline decides to cut fares, for whatever reason(s), competitors have little choice but to follow. This can have disastrous impact financially.

Air Canada is Canada’s largest carrier. Privatized in 1989, its’ history includes layoffs, restructuring, mergers, previous bankruptcy and government bailouts. In May, Air Canada threatened to lay off 50-60 per cent of it’s 38,000 employees, saying that it is losing $20 million per day as a result of COVID-19. It is projecting a 75 per cent reduction in flight capacity during Q4 compared to 2019, and reported Q3 revenue of C$757 million, down 86 per cent from a year earlier, with an operating loss of $785 million CAD.

It has since been taking advantage of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program.

Now, as a result of COVID-19, Air Canada wants another bailout from the taxpayer.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said, “To protect Canadians, the Government of Canada is developing a package of assistance to Canadian airlines, airports and the aerospace sector. As part of this package, we are ready to establish a process with major airlines regarding financial assistance which could include loans and potentially other support to secure important results for Canadians.”

But who exactly are taxpayers going to be bailing out?

The top 10 Air Canada shareholders are all investment management funds. Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc., Fidelity (Canada) Asset Management ULC, Fidelity Management & Research Co. LLC, EdgePoint Investment Group Inc., US Global Investors Inc., RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Causeway Capital Management LLC, Mackenzie Financial Corp., APG Asset Management NV, and CI Investments, Inc.. 

The irony of Canadian taxpayers ponying up $7 billion to bailout wealthy global investment funds would be amusing if it weren’t true. 

Perhaps Trudeau will broker a loan from Air Canada’s shareholders. They can afford it.

The likelihood of you getting an operating line of credit from your local bank because you had lost 90 per cent of your income and were billions in the red? Zero to none.

According to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc the government is “very much discussing” the possibility of nationalizing the airlines, as Germany has done.

If the argument for deregulation and privatization is increased efficiency and cost benefit, then it follows that private sector enterprise must be prepared to bear the cost of failure. Trudeau is burdening Canadians with crippling debt as a result of COVID-19. The wealthy investment funds that own Air Canada should be prepared to do the same.

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

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Opinion

McCOLL: The Cowtown Kremlin moves to stop Farkas

McColl writes that the Calgary City Council’s proposed rule against Farkas campaigning is better suited to Russia than to Alberta.

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Normally, one must go to Russia to find this kind of candidate suppression. This week, Calgary City Hall earned its nickname: the Cowtown Kremlin.

As reported by the Western Standard’s Dave Naylor, council will debate a motion that could require sitting councillors to seek permission from other councillors in order to attend or host events in each other’s wards, something that any candidate running for mayor would obviously need to do. This was rightly highlighted as a deliberate attempt to hinder Councillor Farkas’ ongoing mayoral campaign to replace Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Mayor Nenshi by contrast, would not face any similar restrictions should he run for re-election.

Councillor Farkas’ himself raised this issue at committee on Tuesday.

“This policy unfairly targets sitting Councillors running for mayor. It also unfairly targets civil debate, as well as the rights of private individuals to associate with others… Running for mayor necessitates a city-wide campaign where each of these events could be outside your ward. Keeping each Councillor apprised of a busy, everchanging campaign schedule is unreasonable and it’s ultimately unnecessary to prevent citizens from being confused about who represents them.”

The council committee voted 6-4 against the motion, but it will still go before the full city council on December 14.

Similar rules were passed in 2016 for the 2017 election. In an interview with the Western Standard, Councillor Farkas argued against the 2017 policy. “Council clearly overstepped their bounds in 2017, It’s good that they’ll likely not repeat the same mistake for this election.”

It’s worth noting that the 2017 rules were temporary guidelines specific to the period of ward redistricting, as explained in council on September 26, 2016 by then Ethics Advisor Professor Alice Woolley.

“This speaks to a councillor in a community that they do not currently represent, but that they will be seaking to represent in the next election and it says that particular activity is treated as campaigning. And the reason for that is because of the particular dangers and concerns that exist as a result of ward boundary changes.”

Professor Woolley clarified repeatedly, “This is not a policy, this is not a rule, this is simply a guideline for what I would consider good practice” calling it a “playbook for civil relations at a time of difficulty” and emphasizing: “At this point in time while the ward boundaries are in flux, I don’t think this rule would be appropriate in the same way after that time.”

Flash back to the present and current Ethics Advisor Professor Emily Laidlaw told Councillor Farkas that yes, a councillor could deny permission to attend a private function in an outside ward, but that she can’t see why that would happen if a person’s been invited.

Call me a jaded political junky, but I can imagine plenty of private events – hosted by federal or provincial Conservatives – within constituencies that overlap with wards of left-wing city councillors. Councillor Farkas is a former President of the Calgary-Elbow Wildrose Constituency Association and was a leader in the early days of merging the Alberta PC and Wildrose parties into the current governing United Conservatives. Should Councillor Evan Wooley have the power to block Farkas from attending a private event hosted by conservatives in Calgary-Elbow, or Jeff Davison block him from events in Western Calgary?

Trying to turn a temporary ethics guideline designed for ward redistricting into a rule to censor Farkas’ mayoral campaign is plainly undemocratic. Reviving it as a simple guideline opens the door for future meritless ethics complaints. Neither should be acceptable in a democracy.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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Opinion

WAGNER: Where Canada went wrong – the legacy of Pierre Trudeau

“For over a century, Canada was a great and noble country, justly earning a deep patriotic attachment from Westerners. That was the country that so many in the West still remember and love. But alas, those days are over.”

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The Maverick Party (formerly Wexit Canada) features the following statement on its website: “We love Canada too. But the system is broken.” It may seem strange that a political party ostensibly created to advocate Western Canadian independence openly proclaims its love for the country which it seeks to leave. However, many Westerners who favour independence do so reluctantly, and would rather have Canada fixed than create a new country. This is reflected in the party’s mission statement priorities: “(a) constitutional change, or (b) the creation of an independent nation.” Fixing Canada is the first option, however unlikely. 

It is understandable that Westerners would feel an attachment for Canada. After all, it has been one of the freest and most prosperous countries in history. Many millions of people desire to move here from other parts of the world because – let’s face it – Canada is better than the vast majority of other countries. If this wasn’t the case, people would be flooding out of Canada rather than flooding in.

However, Canada has been changing in recent decades, and not for the better. Although Westerners’ legitimate grievances against Central Canada go back over a century, they have become much more acute since the 1960s. 

There was a time when Canadian patriotism was the sensible position for Westerners. But things have changed. From the time of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau onwards, confederation has increasingly been detrimental – and sometimes outright hostile – toward the West. Although Canada was once great, it has changed so much that the creation of a new country in Western Canada is needed.

An excellent source for information about Canada’s decline in the latter part of the twentieth century is the 1994 book, Derailed: The Betrayal of the National Dream by historian David Bercuson and political scientist Barry Cooper, both professors at the University of Calgary. In this book, they explain the original purpose of confederation, and how that purpose became subverted after the Second World War, especially under the administration of Pierre Trudeau.

Bercuson and Cooper point out that the original colonies confederated in 1867 primarily for economic reasons. By uniting, they could create a national government with the resources to build a country that would generate greater economic prosperity than each of the smaller units could do on their own. As Bercuson and Cooper explain, “Only when the national government was able to marshal effectively the resources of the nation and to direct westward expansion, settlement, railway construction, and industrial development would the real aim of Confederation be achieved – namely, prosperity as a British Dominion. As long as that happened, the New Nationality would hold together out of self-interest and the mutual support of disparate groups in the common enterprise of what we now call nation building.”

It was not intended that the new country would lead to a common identity that all Canadians could share. What kind of national identity could the English-speaking Protestants of Ontario and the French-speaking Catholics of Quebec have in common? They already had their own cultural identities, so they could only be united in one country on the basis of economic and political interests. As Bercuson and Cooper explain: “There would be no national myths to tie the disparate peoples of Canada together, other than the myths and ties of commerce. The role of the new national state that had been created to foster the new nationality was to promote economic growth and national development. The Fathers of Confederation well knew that the state could never have any other role.”

This was the predominant view of federal leaders until the 1950s, and it did not begin to change until Prime Minister John Diefenbaker came to power. He saw Canada as more than an economic alliance, but was unable to make much of a difference. 

After Diefenbaker, however, Prime Minister Lester Pearson began to take the country in a new direction. Pearson’s government wanted to establish what being a Canadian really meant. As Bercuson and Cooper write: “the new Canadian character itself was going to be created in the image of the thinkers and doers that Pearson had collected around him. So, for example, Canada was going to be bilingual and bicultural whether or not it made sense of Canadian reality, whether or not the nation could afford it, whether or not it actually drew Canadians together. They would do so by making bilingualism and biculturalism part of the national creed and, by lifting it above politics, turn it into an expression of our collective public virtue.”

This meant that by 1967 the role of the federal government had changed significantly: “Henceforth that role was not simply to administer, but to create and shape and mould a national character and, above all, to pursue collective public virtue.” Canada would henceforth be on a different path.

It was in this environment in which Pierre Trudeau entered politics and became prime minister in 1968. Even more than his predecessor, Trudeau wanted to substantially change the country of which he had become leader. 

According to Bercuson and Cooper, there were two major components of Trudeau’s agenda: “First, he would make Canada the kind of place where Quebecers would feel at home anywhere. And second, he would make Canada, including the now comfortable and well-adjusted Quebecers, a just society. His tool would be the state.”

The bottom line of Trudeau’s major policy initiatives and pursuit of a “just society” all had one thing in common: “increased intervention by the state in the operation of the economy and in the daily lives of ordinary citizens.”

Trudeau came to power facing a major challenge from the growth of Quebec nationalism. Within a few years he was also faced with an energy crisis due to the rapid rise of oil prices resulting from war in the Middle East. After his come-back re-election victory of 1980, he decided to aggressively tackle both issues. 

Bercuson and Cooper outline Trudeau’s goals as follows: “The logic was clear but never could be admitted: if Alberta’s energy revenues could be appropriated by Ottawa, and then redirected by it, the economy would hum; if the constitution could be changed, Quebec would be happy to remain in Canada. Even if it proved impossible to change the constitution, the ‘redirection’ of energy revenues as regional equalization payments held the promise of making Bourassa’s profitable federalism attractive.” The idea of “profitable federalism” was that Quebec should remain in Canada (rather than separate) because of the financial rewards it would receive.

Trudeau pushed through his constitutional changes but they did not satisfy Quebec. Nevertheless, those changes — and especially the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — fundamentally altered Canada (for the worse, in my view). As federal Justice Minister John Crosbie said to a parliamentary committee in 1985: “The public does not realize that we already have had a revolution in Canadian society. The adoption of a charter was a revolution. It has changed the whole power structure of Canadian society.” This assertion would be confirmed by future judicial decisions.

Besides his constitutional initiative, Trudeau unveiled his infamous National Energy Program (NEP). It was predicated on the belief that Alberta was benefiting too much from high oil prices. Why should a pipsqueak province like Alberta profit at the expense of Ontario and Quebec? 

As Bercuson and Cooper explain, in the view of Trudeau and the Liberals, “it was not ‘fair’ that Alberta should collect so much revenue. The ultimate cause of this unfairness was the irrationality of nature in putting oil in Alberta in the first place. Surely it was now up to the rationality of EMR [Department of Energy, Mines and Resources] to set things right. More to the point, it was self-evident that Alberta could not be expected to use its new financial power in the interests of Canada. What made it self-evident was the undisputable fact that Albertans had shown their complete irresponsibility, not to say irrationality, by refusing to elect a single Liberal to the House of Commons.”

The NEP severely damaged Alberta’s oil and gas industry. It was later repealed by the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. However, Mulroney’s government itself favoured Central Canada over the West. Both the federal Liberal and federal Progressive Conservative parties prioritized policies that benefited Central Canada because they needed to win large numbers of seats in Ontario and Quebec to form the government. Therefore, the West required its own party, and Preston Manning’s Reform Party filled that need.

Despite the Reform Party’s best efforts, however, the West is still expendable to the Liberal Party and taken for granted by the Conservative Party. Again, a new Western party is needed to represent the West’s interests in the House of Commons. The Maverick Party’s prioritizing of “constitutional change” is understandable but somewhat naïve. A number of Western initiatives have been launched to reform the country over the last 40 years, and all have failed. Not an inch of progress has been made. This means that it’s time for the Maverick Party’s Plan B: “the creation of an independent nation.”

In an ideal world, a truly conservative federal government would be elected, allowing Alberta to develop its energy resources and export them through numerous pipelines and oil tankers along the BC coast. The limitations of so-called “progressive” policies could be overcome, and Canada would emerge as the freest and most prosperous country in the world. But this is just a pipe dream; the only realistic path to this kind of freedom and prosperity is an independent Western Canada, or at least an independent Alberta. 

For over a century, Canada was a great and noble country, justly earning a deep patriotic attachment from Westerners. That was the country that so many in the West still remember and love. But alas, those days are over. Since the time of Pierre Trudeau, this has been a different country. Now, a new political path forward is needed. The time has come for an independent Western Canada.

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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