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GUEST: Inside the Wetsuwet’en Power Struggle

The Office of the Wetsuwet’en, upon whom media attention is focussed, is a quarter-century-old green quango sustained by governments and philanthropies.

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Athabascan-speaking indigenous peoples of B.C.’s central interior were once called “Carriers.” The name survives in: Carrier Chilcotin Tribal Council and Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. B.C.’s 8,000 Carriers populate a dozen bands. Distinctions among Carriers, and between Carriers and their neighbors, turn on differences in dialects that few actually speak. Several Carrier bands now self-identify as “Wetsuwet’en.” 

Carriers contacted Europeans in 1793 and soon plied the fur trade. Between 1871 and 1895 Ottawa assigned them reservations. Employment in railway crews and logging camps dates to this era.

Wetsuwet’en First Nation (pop. 257) is one of three bands arising from the recent breakup of the Omenica Band. The other two are: Nee-Tah-Buhn (pop. 130) and Skin Tyee (pop. 164). 

Coastal GasLink began consulting effected aboriginals in 2012. They held 15,000 consultations and awarded a third of the pipeline’s preparatory jobs to aboriginals.

Coastal GasLink inked agreements with 20 First Nations including the abovementioned: Wetsuwet’en, Wislet, Skin Tyee and Nee-Tah-Buhn bands. Also signing were Wetsuwet’en bands in the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council:  Stellat’en, Ts’il Kaz Koh, Nadleh Whuten and Saik’uz. The sole unsigned Wetsuwet’en band, Hagwilget Village, is far from GasLink’s route. All Wetsuwet’en bands along Coastal GasLink’s route have consented. 

Wislet First Nation alone will receive $55 million over the life of the project; plus, jobs and training. In a 2018 secret ballot, two-thirds of Wislet voters supported Coastal GasLink’s offer.

The Office of the Wetsuwet’en (“OW”) is the unelected, media-anointed representative of the Wetsuwet’en. By admission, the Smithers-headquartered OW is: “not an Indian Band or a tribal council.”

(The five bands with which OW claims affiliation receive combined annual revenues of $25 million; mostly from Ottawa. Combined on-reserve populations total 1,250. Their 3,000 off-reserve members live in Smithers, Prince Rupert, Prince George and Vancouver. Many were born in these centres.

In 1992, Ottawa hatched the B.C. Treaty Commission and Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy. The former funds B.C. aboriginal participation in treaty negotiations.

The Wetsuwet’en Treaty Office Society emerged in 1994 to access Commission funds. Since then, they’ve rung-up a $15 million debt. They receive annual loans and contributions totalling around $400,000. Money goes to honoraria for Hereditary Chiefs, administration, overhead, etc.  

The Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy (AFS) is a Fisheries and Oceans Canada initiative. A.F.S. disburses $35 million annually to 125 groups. Aboriginals are paid to: monitor wildlife; enforce conservation regulations, and manage traditional fisheries.

In 1995, the Office of Wetsuwet’en Chiefs landed a $105,000 AFS cheque. In 1996, they netted: a $500,000 A.F.S. cheque; a $100,000 “green plan” cheque; and $89,000 in salmon sales. (Salmon sales thereafter disappear from the books.) 

The Office of Wetsuwet’en Chiefs was an unregistered society managing the Wetsuwet’en Treaty Office Society. The two entities merged in 2000, into the Office of the Wetsuwet’en. 

O.W. parlayed A.F.S. and Commission stipends into several counselling, cultural and enviro-assessment programs. Their $4 million in annual revenues goes mostly to salaries, administration, and honoraria for Hereditary Chiefs. OW employs 30 full-time staff.

O.W.’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department employs 3 full-time, and 20 seasonal workers. Department boss Walter Joseph got the gig in 1996 and never left. Walt’s an “adopted” Wetsuwet’en.

O.W.’s Natural Resources Department employs 4 full-timers. Hereditary Chief John Ridsdale is spokesman. Mike Ridsdale does enviro-assessments. David Dewit (B.Sc. Biol.) specializes in “sensitive ecosystem preservation.” David Belford – a non-aboriginal who’s been moiling aboriginal grants since 1975 – specializes in media relations and negotiating “engagement agreements”, whereby hapless resource companies bankroll OW’s enviro-assessments.

O.W.’s records contain line items regarding “Coastal GasLink Project Assessment” ($154,000 in 2014; $111,000 in 2015 and $114,000 in 2016). This money apparently came from Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency; although a 2016 issue of Wetsuwet’en Voice references a $30 million provincial LNG Environmental Stewardship Fund.

O.W.’s Resource Department’s land-sharing/enviro-agreements yield a few hundred grand annually. O.W. logging made a $1 million a year in 2012-13 before devolving into a smaller but steady payout from Canfor. 

The 2016 Financial Statement mentions a “title assertion case” against Canfor on behalf of Hagwilget Village. That band ran up a $293,000 debt to O.W. but a $330,000 Canfor cheque cleared this. 

O.W. documents detail grants from enviro-funders. The Pacific Salmon Foundation has given cheques in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. The Driftwood Foundation gave them $9,500 for “clan meetings.” The Bulkley Valley Research Centre donated over $100,000. During 2014-16, Tides Canada awarded $130,000 for clan meetings and “IT support”. 

O.W. boasts “structural allegiances” with: the US enviro-grantmaker Moore Foundation, the Skeena Fisheries Commission, and the Skeenawild Conservation Trust (an E.N.G.O. connected to major foundations). John Ridsdale is a Skeenawild Trustee.

O.W.’s Mission:

“Based on the priorities of the Board of Directors, staff must negotiate program funding through various federal and provincial governments and foundations. This situation creates added responsibility for management to ensure that programs meet goals to illustrate success and generate support for continued funding.”

O.W. does Big Green’s bidding whist shaking down resource companies and the workers (often indigenous) that stand to benefit. 

O.W. documents are saturated with eco-propaganda. Hereditary Chief Henry Alfred intones: 

“We need to clean up the environment and ecosystem by ending the use of herbicides and pesticides.”  

O.W.’s website sports anti-pipeline articles dating to 2006. An October 2018 media release crows about O.W.’s longstanding opposition to all pipelines. O.W. led aboriginal opposition to Northern Gateway, which the Trudeau government killed in 2016. A December 2018 release affirms their programmatic opposition to Coastal GasLink.

Another pillar of O.W.’s Mission is: “ensure a governance model based on our hereditary system.” They declare:

“Our office is governed by Wetsuwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.” Not the democratically elected band council representing the Wetsuwet’en people.

Hereditary Chiefs aren’t strictly hereditary. Chief Alphonse Gagnon appears to be white. 

Moreover, in 2015, after three female Hereditary Chiefs endorsed Coastal Gaslink, the O.W. gang stripped them of their chiefdoms. (The women contest this usurpation.) The title of “Chief Woos” was taken from Darlene Glaim and given to Frank Alec, who became spokesman for the eco-activist Gitdumden clan. 

In 2019, to mitigate this patriarchal purge O.W. elevated Freda Huson and Molly Wickham to “Wing-Chiefs.” Huson is the hyper-activist co-founder of the Unistoten Camp. The telegenic, university-educated OW staffer, Wickham, isn’t Wetsuwet’en. 

In 2009, O.W. issued an imperious Protocol requiring resource companies in their self-declared 22,000 sq. k. domain to submit all plans to OW for approval. Also in 2009, O.W. held five weekend retreats; one for each “clan.” Each retreat attracted a dozen adults who were lectured by Ridsdale and Belford on eco-activist tactics. One retreat conjured the “Unistoten” – allegedly a “house” within the Big Frog clan.    

The Unistoten are no ancient order. They are a plausibly deniable, direct action, astro-turf front group. The Unistoten Camp blockade, the main manifestation of opposition to Coastal GasLink, has been joined by the Gitdumden Camp. Many camp activists are non-aboriginal, professional protestors.

The few thousand people who might rightly claim Wetsuwet’en heritage are demonstrably, overwhelmingly supportive of Coastal Gaslink.

The Office of the Wetsuwet’en, upon whom media attention is focussed, is a quarter-century-old green quango sustained by governments and philanthropies. 

O.W. “Hereditary Chiefs” represent only themselves and their ill-intentioned funders.

Guest column by William Kay. The contents of this article are the property and responsibility of William Kay’s and not the Western Standard. 

Features

ANALYSIS: Saskatchewan Party’s strengths & weaknesses

The Western Standard breaks down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing the Saskatchewan Party.

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Saskatchewan is headed to the polls October 26, 2020. In the first in a series, our Saskatchewan correspondent Lee Harding will examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats each party faces in this election campaign. Our first in the series looks at the Saskatchewan Party which has governed Saskatchewan for the last 13 years.

Background:

The Saskatchewan Party was formed in 1997 when four Progressive Conservative and four Liberal MLAs left their respective parties to form a new entity. Two elections by with former Reform MP Elwin Hermanson at the helm failed bring the party to government. Brad Wall won majority governments in 2007, 2011, and 2016 before handing over the reins to Scott Moe in January of 2018.

Strengths:

The Sask Party has overwhelming reasons to win. The party has enjoyed over 50 per cent support in opinion polls since July of 2018. The high rate of population growth since 2007 continued until the pandemic hit. The province of 1.18 million people has had just 1900 cases and 24 deaths from COVID-19, despite restrictions that were less onerous than most provinces. The provincial deficit of $2.1 billion is perhaps forgivable, given the circumstances, which include a government in Ottawa that remains largely hostile to the oil and gas sector. 

Scott Moe is no slouch. Although this will be his first election as Sask Party leader, the 46-year-old has more experience and savvy than his counterparts in other parties. He won his riding of Rosthern-Shelbrook quite handily in 2011 and 2016 and has held various cabinet posts. In 2018, he beat out five other competitors in a fiercely-contested party leadership battle. And, for the past year, he has chaired the Council of the Federation meeting with his fellow premiers. Polling by Angus Reid showed that 59 per cent of Saskatchewan residents approved of his performance, placing him fifth nationally.

The Sask Party team remains intact even though seven incumbent MLAs are not seeking re-election. Columnist Murray Mandryk noted the party’s “solid cabinet base” of veterans with governing experience.

Weaknesses:

“I’m not Brad,” Moe told the Leader-Post in a recent interview, to which the NDP said, “we strongly agree.” An NDP press release also noted Moe’s comment that “Boring might be just not too bad,” and that his vision for the future was “managing events that we’ve been presented with.” 

An urban female university graduate is the only demographic coin flip in the province. An August 31 EKOS Politics pollshowed the Sask Party had its smallest margins of preference over the NDP with university-aged voters (9 percent) and those in Regina (12 percent) and Saskatoon (13 percent). The margin was also smaller for women (23 points) than men (42). 

Cracks in the Sask Party armour began to appear before Wall left, and some have emerged since.

In 2017, longtime MLA Bill Boyd was flagged by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner over land dealings related to the Global Transportation Hub, Regina’s inland train terminal. The NDP actually led in two public opinion polls over the matter.

In 2019, Moe reached an agreement with the federal government to shut down most coal-fired power plants by 2030, an unpopular move in Sask Party ridings where jobs will be lost.

In May, the Moe government closed 12 rural emergency wards as a contingency measure for COVID-19 and even built field hospitals in June in what seemed a misguided effort to many.

Moe had a mini-WE scandal of his own. The premier has known the Kielbergers for years and took his wife to visit the Kenya compound last winter, all at his own expense. The province cancelled a $260,000 contract that would have put a WE Charity initiative in schools.

Opportunities

This is Moe’s chance to fully emerge from Brad Wall’s shadow and put his fingerprints on the direction of the party. His main opponent is Saskatoon MLA Ryan Meili, a doctor who was elected for the first time in a 2018 by-election. None of the remaining parties have a leader who has ever been elected or led their party into an election. Four NDP incumbents are retiring; three of them in Saskatoon and Warren McCall in Regina, making it a little easier for a Sask Party contender to steal a seat.

Threats

The Sask Party will face more opposition from the right than it has in any election since 1999. The Progressive Conservatives have tried to rejuvenate under new leader in Ken Grey. The Buffalo Party has also emerged to capture the post-Trudeau Wexit sentiment. These parties could play spoiler in a few ridings, or keep Moe on his toes from an angle not represented in years.

Conclusion

A majority government of at least 46 seats seems certain for Moe. Anything less than a majority government would be enough to trigger a leadership review. However, unless the premier makes a major mistake, that is unlikely to happen.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

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Features

Unconditional: The Japanese Surrender in World War II

Clayton Trutor reviews “Unconditional”, dealing with the American/Allied politics in how to deal with Japan after the war.

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Book Review:
Oxford University Press. 288 pages. $27.95.
Marc Gallachio

As the Allied Powers approached victory in World War II, the foremost questions on their leaders’ minds centered on the particulars of the postwar settlement. These questions included the nature of surrender by the Axis powers, how would governments in these countries be constructed, and who would oversee their creation. This litany of concerns persisted well after the conclusion of hostilities. It was a source of intrigue both on the international front as well as inside the beltway in Washington. In Unconditional, Marc Gallachio describes in detail the intense debates within Washington’s corridors of power on how the United States ought to end its war with Japan. 

Unconditional is a particularly timely account, published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II—the response to this milestone anniversary has been decidedly muted in both the United States and Canada. It is also timely considering the shifting winds of foreign policy in Washington. The traditions of liberal internationalism (as embodied in this book by Truman and his allies) and conservative anti-interventionism (as embodied by his political opponents) have once again become the standard positions of the Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively. Gallachio, quite clearly, aligns himself with the interventionist tradition of Woodrow Wilson, which, at least until Election Day, will be the consensus view of foreign affairs among American progressives.  

Gallachio focuses on the final two years of the war in the Pacific, tracing a path from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s promise at the January 1943 Casablanca Conference to bring about the unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers to Japan’s final surrender on the decks of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.  In this briskly-paced narrative, the author delves both into the debates within the White House as well as those on the editorial pages of the nation’s newspapers.  

Conservatives within Truman’s administration, in Congress, and in the American press corps discouraged the new president from occupying Japan, removing the Emperor from power, or dismantling his Empire. In Truman’s cabinet, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, a veteran of several Republican administrations, argued that the preservation of the emperor and a semblance of empire would serve as a stabilizing force in Japanese society. Moreover, he argued that the acceptance of a conditional surrender would enable the remains of the Japanese Empire to serve America’s interests as a counter to the Soviet Union’s suddenly aggressive pursuit of territory in the far-east.       

New Dealers within the administration helped shape Truman’s approach to winning the peace with Japan. Then-assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson and U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall persuaded Truman to push for an unconditional Japanese surrender, which would serve as the starting point for full-on nation-building in the former empire. The author is clearly sympathetic to Truman’s decision. While empathizing with the gravity of the new president’s decisions to drop the atomic bombs, Gallachio endorses Truman’s choice to seek unconditional surrender, which kickstarted a process that remade Japan into a democratic county and durable American ally. Gallachio has little time for historians of the anti-interventionist left which arose in response to the Vietnam War, particularly those who have in retrospect called into question the wisdom of Truman’s approach to finishing off Japan. He even calls out Oliver Stone for having the gall in The Untold History of the United States (2012) to invoke Herbert Hoover’s assertion in May 1945 that Japan was ready to negotiate a settlement to the war, dismissing the former president as a mere “Roosevelt hater.” 

Gallachio, who won the prestigious Bancroft History Prize in 2018 for co-authoring Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945, is the perfect author for this account of the defeat of the Japanese Empire and its aftermath. He navigates the web of military and diplomatic maneuvering in this densely-packed historical moment with great know-how. Gallachio has a genuine knack for turning the secrets of the archives into a story.  

Unconditional also offers a window into the making of Canada’s postwar foreign policy.  Canada’s own nation-building, peacekeeping, and internationalist impulses are in large part a product of the historical moment described in Gallachio’s book. The decisions by the Liberal governments of Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent to ally strongly with the United States and play an active role in global affairs reflects their shared vision with Truman and his allies. Through active participation in pro-democracy international institutions, both America and Canada’s leadership class sought to bring to stability to the emerging Cold War world. It also makes more striking in retrospect the nerve shown by the subsequent Diefenbaker government in asserting Canadian sovereignty and independence from the United States in its foreign relations.

Clayton Trutor holds a PhD in US History from Boston College and teaches at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He’d love to hear from you on Twitter: @ClaytonTrutor

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Features

Cabinet Sizes: Which provinces & parties have the biggest?

Germany has a cabinet the size of Manitoba’s, and the United States’ is smaller than those in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Alberta.

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When it comes to cabinet size, biggest doesn’t always equal better. Truth be told, it appears to have little to do with public policy outcomes, and mostly to do with pure politics.

The Western Standard has compiled the cabinet sizes of all 10 Canadian provinces, the current Trudeau federal government, the previous Harper and Martin governments, and several other comparable countries.

The smallest cabinet in Canada – by several orders of magnitude – is Prince Edward Island. With Just 157,000 residents, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Islanders have fewer cabinet members than the City of Calgary has councillors: just 10. Because PEI’s population makes it such an outlier, we have excluded it from the provincial averages when comparing across Canada. This isn’t a dig at our green-gabled friends, but a compliment.

Small government ≠ small cabinets

First off, lets disabuse ourselves of any notation that “Conservative” governments – ostensibly believing in small government – practice small cabinets. Quite the opposite in fact.

The average provincial cabinet in Canada (less PEI) has 21 members sitting in it, driven by the two largest provinces, Ontario (28) and Quebec (27). This puts “conservative” governments exactly on the average, at 21, or 22 if we include the ill-defined Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).

Liberals by contrast, have markedly smaller cabinets at 16 member. However this is due in large part to the only two nominally “Liberal” governments in Canada residing in relatively small Nova Scotia and Newfoundland (and Labrador).

Technically, the NDP score the largest average cabinet size at 24. But with just one provincial government, and located in populous BC, this is a difficult indicator to use as any kind of broad trend.

And again, technically the Conservatives have both the largest cabinet in Ontario (28), and the smallest in Prince Edward Island (10).

A more useful comparison than among parties is among regions and comparable populations.

Among the four largest provinces, cabinets average 26 members, putting Alberta and B.C. slightly below Ontario and Quebec. By that comparison, the “conservative” large provinces (including Quebec’s CAQ), score at the top, while the B.C.’s NDP comes in below at 24.

Among the mid-sized provinces (everything smaller than Alberta and larger than PEI), the cabinets average 17 members. In this club, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia all come in above, while Newfoundland is the outlier at just 14.

Federal cabinets

Conservatives also tend to score large cabinet numbers at the federal level as well, compared across administrations.

Justin Trudeau’s federal cabinet has a massive 36 members. What they all do, is anybody’s guess. But while Conservatives regularly define the Trudeau government as bloated, the last Harper cabinet totalled an eye-watering 39 members. While it was short-lived, Paul Martin’s final cabinet was – by Canadian standards – a trim 26 bodies.

But this is less about party, and more about a strange Canadian tradition. Canada’s cabinets – regardless of party – are traditionally out of all proportion compared internationally.

Cabinet size across countries (source: Western Standard, Derek Fildebrandt)

U.S. President Donald Trump manages his country – with 10 times Canada’s population – with just 21 cabinet members. Put another way, The United States of America functions with a smaller cabinet than Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta.

U.S. Presidents – unlike Canadian prime ministers and premiers- cannot simply conjure up new ministerial portfolios on a whim. New cabinet departments in the U.S. require the express consent of both houses of Congress, and so are much more stable in their number. Additionally, U.S. cabinet members are not drawn from the House of Representatives, and so there is less of a need to pay debts, placate factions, or satisfy troublemakers.

But even when compared with other similar parliamentary systems, Canada’s cabinets are bloated. The U.K. – with a population twice Canada’s – has a cabinet of 22 (or 26 depending on how it is counted). Germany – with two and a half times Canada’s population – has just 16 members of the cabinet. In Germany’s case, their government is made up of a grand coalition of three parties (centrists, moderate socialists, and Bavarian conservatives), which would create the political conditions for a larger cabinet to keep all sides happy. Even with such a larger population, a coalition government, and a parliamentary system, it’s cabinet is less than half that of Canada’s. Put another way, the most powerful nation in Europe makes do with a cabinet the size of Manitoba’s.

Bringing it back

The most remarkable conclusion to be gleaned from comparing Canada’s federal and provincial cabinets is their incredible size when compared with others outside of Canada. This goes back to the very foundations of confederation as Sir John A. MacDonald built his first cabinet.

When criticized for the weak composition of his front bench, he famously quipped, “Give me better wood, and I will make you a better cabinet.”

But MacDonald likely didn’t mean this. His cabinet – and all since – have had political necessity – not competence – as their primary determinant. In the political patchwork that was the early Dominion, MacDonald built his cabinet almost entirely based on ethnic, religious, and geographic considerations. A few spots for Upper Canada loyalist WASPs. A few spots for French Catholics. A little English-Catholic here, and little Irish-Catholic there. And don’t forget the regional kingpins.

Cabinet’s in Canada may look different today, but they are built the same way. Despite having a clear male-majority Liberal Caucus after being elected in 2015, Justin Trudeau appointed half of his cabinet to be women. When asked why, he did not say it was because the women in his caucus were proportionately more competent than his men. He said only, “Because it’s 2015.”

Liberals might read this as meaning that because it’s 2015, women should have equal representation as men. Conservatives mostly read into it that it was because the prime minister is an avowed feminist. More historically attuned critics would see it as the natural evolution of Canada’s hyper-demography focused cabinets.

Progressives regularly argue that Canada’s parliament should be a near-perfect demographic representation of Canada at-larger. That is, 50 per cent women, X per cent of Religion A, Y per cent of Race B. Ect.

While parties of all stripes manipulate nominations to achieve some level of artificial diversity, ultimately voters decide who goes to parliament, at least outside of safe seats. This leaves it to party leaders to fashion the demographically representative focus groups that we call cabinets.

The growing diversity of Canada has required prime ministers and premiers to concoct an ever greater list of ministerial portfolios to meet the demand of demographic mirroring. This often happens by splitting large ministries with clear mandates into much smaller ministries, often with little real power.

The political necessity of demographic mirroring also exists in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and most of the democratic world, but Canadian leaders make it an obsession.

In Alberta’s case, the social policy ministries could easily be folded into a single role. Instead, we have ministers for: Community and Social Services, Seniors and Housing, Children’s Services, Indigenous Relations, Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women, Mental Health & Addictions.

Less extreme, but still relevant, is the Minister of Natural Gas, despite already having a Minister of Energy, or the positions of Red Tape Reduction, Jobs, Economy and Innovation, when there is already a Minister of Finance.

The list is even longer at the federal level, but you probably get the point.

In short, cabinets in Ottawa and in the provinces have little to do with party, a bit to do with population, nothing to do with parliamentary system, and everything to do with the political necessity of demographic mirroring.

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

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