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LEADERSHIP PROFILE: Rick Peterson wants to be the new Mad Max

Without a major candidate from the West or a standard bearer of the right, there is an opening that did not exist for him last time.

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Western Standard Editorial Board

Edmonton native Rick Peterson wants the top Tory job when Conservative Party of Canada members select a new leader in Toronto on June 27, 2020. The last time the Tory faithful met in Toronto to select a leader, Peter came in an underwhelming 12th place out of a field of 14 candidates. It hardly puts him in pole position as the heir apparent, but in his meeting with the Western Standard Editorial Board, he made the case that he is the outsider candidate that came come up the centre-right.

Central to his plan is to be recognized by CPC members as the outsider candidate, champion of the true-blue right, and heir – curiously enough – to Maxime Bernier’s 2017 insurgency campaign. Asked who he would have voted for as his second choice in 2017, Peterson told the WS, “Maxime Bernier. Absolutely.”

It’s a rather impolitic statement for someone seeking the leadership of a party that is still nominally led by Andrew Scheer, who narrowly bested the now rogue Bernier. But it’s probably the truth, and potentially good politics. While Bernier may be persona non grata among Tory partisans, he came within a hair of winning in 2017, and only a minority of those supporters defected to the upstart People’s Party. Peterson thinks he is the man to win this cohort over in the face of what he considers a field of liberal-leaning, establishment candidates.

2017 Conservative Leadership Debate (source: CBC)

To do this, Peterson is cribbing some of Bernier’s signature policies; most notably, scrapping Canada’s Soviet-style supply management regime. Supply management may now be a litmus test policy of conservatives and libertarians willing to stand on principle, versus the milquetoast variety; but if Peterson’s campaign manages to gain traction, it will attract more than just supporters. As it demonstrated in 2017, the supply management lobby has established itself as a well organized and powerful force in stopping any candidate that breaks with the orthodoxy.

Peterson is less strident in following the Mad Max playbook on other issues though, like Equalization and allowing MPs to raise controversial issues like abortion.

To date, Peterson is the only candidate (that we are as yet aware) to raise Equalization, but he won’t be putting forward any concrete proposals for its reform or abolition. Peterson says that the party “didn’t get it done under Harper”, echoing the sentiment of many Westerners that expected a Western prime minister to address such a key Western issue. He says that it would be a top issue under his leadership, but shies away from any proposal about what to do with it. It’s not much, but to date it’s more than the other candidates have put forward.

Prospective leadership candidate Richard Décarie earned the scorn of his party several weeks ago when he stated that being gay was a choice, and that “LGBTQ is a Liberal term.” While few had ever heard of the man until his appearance on national television, a debate has raged ever since as to if he should be barred from running. Peterson says that if he was on the committee charged with green lighting leadership candidates, that he would give Décarie the red.

However intolerant Décarie’s remarks may have been, advocating for disqualifying him from letting the members decide for themselves at the ballot box is a bit top-down and old school for an outsider candidate.

Peterson does go against the grain in supporting the original Reform Act proposed by former fellow leadership candidate, Michael Chong. Chong’s bill would have handed significantly more power back to MPs. Not surprisingly, the leaders of all parties at the time demanded that it be significantly watered down so as to preserve their own powers over caucus.

But support for greater independence of MPs clashes with his stand on what they might do with it. Like Bernier, Peterson is pro-choice and supports gay rights, but parts ways on what dissenting MPs can do. Asked about what he would do about MPs under his leadership bringing forward private members bills dealing with abortion, Peterson told the WS: “It would tell me that they are looking forward to a long career on the backbench of the opposition.” A not-so-subtle sign that MPs that break the party line on social issues will face a prolonged stay in the doghouse, but not much of a departure from caucus policy under Scheer and Harper, both of whom were personally pro-life.

Asked if he would march in gay pride parades, Peterson told the WS that he already has, but made less of an issue out of it than his competitors have. For him, the debate around LGTBQ issues is a thing of the past. His own campaign manager, Lorne Mayencourt is a leader in Vancouver’s gay community. “I don’t make a big deal about it, because it’s not a big deal.”

Opening the door to discussing Equalization should earn Peterson some credibility in the West, but he isn’t willing to go down the foreboding road of constitutional reform. Peterson wants provinces to have the right to elect their own Senators, but every prime minister since Sir John A. MacDonald has promised to appoint better Senators. In the post-Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords era, Peterson isn’t alone in having constitutional PTSD.

All of the candidates are likely to come out guns blazing as pro-energy and pro-pipeline, but Peterson hopes that his credibility on the file will stand out from the rest. After losing the 2017 leadership race, Peterson started the ‘Suits and Boots’ campaign, touring the country in support of the energy industry and pipeline construction.

Like Scheer, Peterson opposes a carbon tax on consumers, but supports one for heavy industry along the lines of the Alberta UCP’s model. Like Scheer and Kenney, he doesn’t call this a “carbon tax”, but a “price on carbon emissions”. And like Scheer and Kenney, calls the Liberal”price on carbon emissions,” a “carbon tax”. It’s hardly strident opposition to all carbon taxes, but it’s become par for the course within Canada’s mainstream conservative parties.

While 2017 saw a large, wide-open field of candidates for the top job, 2020 is likely to see only a handful. The party brass have imposed a massive $300,000 entry fee, and a requirement for 3,000 signatures from party members in 30 different constituencies, across seven different provinces. It’s a high financial and organizational bar that only Peter Mackay has as yet managed to meet. Peterson says that the party’s executive did so intentionally to limit the race to insider, establishment candidates.

Last time around, Peterson scored 12th of 14, and just 0.65 per cent of the vote on the first ballot. His chances are a long shot, but without a major candidate from the West or a standard bearer of the right, there is an opening that did not exist for him last time.

Right now, the race is Peter Mackay’s to lose. Unless another big candidate makes a surprise entry, or Peterson and the other candidates can catch fire, there isn’t much to watch.

Western Standard Editorial Board

Opinion

ROYER: Eastern Canada was born of Imperial Loyalty. The West of Frontier Freedom.

It is difficult for those in the heartland to comprehend that there is an alternative; one that might actually be fairer and that it is firmly planted “out West”, in the hinterland.

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The Teck oilsands mine decision and the related “rescue package” for Alberta are emblematic of the gulf in thinking between East and West. Alberta doesn’t want handouts and dependency; it wants investment, jobs and opportunity. The federal government – rooted in colonial thinking – believes that it can buy peace and compliance by offering trinkets.

History tells the story of this gulf in thinking.

Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were colonies loyal to the top-down imperial system. In 1780, the United Empire Loyalists fled the American Revolution with its crazy ideas of freedom, democracy and individual rights and came to Upper Canada, reinforcing subservient loyalty. Similarly, the mostly French inhabitants of Lower Canada would rather stay subjects of the British Empire than govern themselves as a U.S. state.

American expansionism threatened to encircle the Canadas. In the great land grab of the mid 1800’s, it became clear that if you settle it, you own it. Mexico lost one-third of its territory (Texas to California) because it allowed Americans to settle in its lands. Americans were also drifting north. 

The Canadas decided to populate the prairies to stop the Americans.

However, there were not enough loyal British subjects to fill these vast lands. It was opened up to continental Europeans. They had no connection to the crown or the imperial power structure. Indeed, the opposite was true. They were fleeing the tyranny of Europe. They sought freedom, democracy and self-initiative as described coincidently in American recruiting.

The West became a colony of a colony. But its foundation was a desire for freedom, democracy and self-initiative. This is contrary to colonial loyalty in Upper and Lower Canada.

The Canadas were slow in relinquishing the colonial mindset. An Act of the British Parliament in 1931 finally cut the apron strings (Westminster Act). Australia held its independence referendum in 1902.   

When Canada did exert independence, its constitution of 1982 (with no pesky referendum) did more to cement the power of English Ontario and French Quebec than to create equality for all citizens. 

Over the years the Prime Minister’s Office assumed virtually all of the powers of the crown. Canada centralized and consolidated power (an imperial theme) even while Britain devolved it.

Canada’s Equalization Program is an economic cornerstone of colonial thinking. Central Canada takes 70 per cent of the wealth transfer. Canada is the only modern state to take from the hinterland to support the industrial heartland. In most modern countries, the opposite is true.

In the U.S. all states were admitted to the union with full and equal rights. Not so in colonial Canada. The prairies fought to gain control of their resources through the Progressive Party in 1925. The equality fight continues today.

The Sir John A. MacDonald’s National Policy was an instrument of economic colonialism, as was Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program. Today’s Teck oilsands mine decision is as well.

The historic legacy is that the West wants to be part of a representative democracy that supports freedom, democracy, self-initiative and the equality of all citizens. New arrivals take on that same thinking. Some of the most adamant supporters of the Western spirit have arrived from Eastern Canada. 

Understanding is possible. But a quirk of colonial thinking is that it ranks people by colonial value. It is difficult for those in the heartland to comprehend that there is an alternative; one that might actually be fairer and that it is firmly planted “out West”, in the hinterland.

In an age where differences are supposed to be celebrated, why is it so difficult to overcome colonial stratification and even consider that we in the west think fundamentally differently? 

Randy Royer is a Columnist for the Western Standard and the author of “Alberta Doesn’t Fit”

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Opinion

LETTER-WAGNER: Alberta is culturally distinct, but not so much for the reasons offered in the Buffalo Declaration.

The existence of the independence movement rises and falls like the stock market, depending on external factors. If, however, support for independence could be rooted in Alberta’s distinctiveness, then the movement could have staying power.

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RE: The Buffalo Declaration

I was very pleased to read that four Conservative MPs had produced the Buffalo Declaration. It’s an important and articulate expression of the frustration many Albertans feel right now.

I was especially pleased that it contained a section entitled “Alberta is a culturally distinct region, but this has not been recognized.” In my view, one of the weaknesses of the Alberta independence movement is that it focuses almost exclusively on economic matters. This focus means that the movement rises and falls based on federal government policies. When those policies harm Alberta, support for independence rises; when those policies benefit Alberta, support for independence collapses. The existence of the independence movement rises and falls like the stock market, depending on external factors.

If, however, support for independence could be rooted in Alberta’s distinctiveness, then the movement could have staying power. Of course, economics will likely always be the main factor driving support for independence, but adding an element of cultural uniqueness would at least give it a foundation that doesn’t waver based on external factors.

Premier Kenney is certainly correct when he recently said, “A country is more than a balance sheet.” Although he was speaking of Canada, the same applies where Alberta is concerned. That is, there should be more to our Alberta patriotism than a desire for financial prosperity (important as that is). Hence, an emphasis on Alberta’s unique identity should form the basis of our Alberta patriotism.

That said, the Buffalo Declaration’s section on Alberta as a “culturally distinct region” is very disappointing. Some of it even seems to argue contrary to its intent. Saying, as it does, that “the percentage of Ontarians and Albertans of European descent are roughly the same,” does not point to uniqueness but to similarity. The fact that Alberta is populated by descendants of First Nations peoples and European settlers doesn’t seem particularly unique to Alberta, nor the fact that many Albertans have rural roots and want to be good stewards of our land.

There is much stronger evidence for Alberta’s uniqueness, but the Declaration inadvertently misses it. Perhaps this is a symptom of our society’s general historical amnesia. Providing a comprehensive account of Alberta’s uniqueness would take considerable space and effort, so here I will just suggest a glimpse.

During the 1950s, the University of Toronto Press produced a ten-volume series of books entitled “Social Credit in Alberta: Its Background and Development.” Included in the series were books such as Democracy in Alberta by C. B. Macpherson (a Marxist interpretation of the success of Social Credit in Alberta), Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada by J. R. Mallory (an analysis of the conflict between Alberta’s Social Credit government and the federal government), and Sect, Cult, and Church in Alberta by W. E. Mann (an explanation of Alberta’s religious uniqueness that contributed to the success of Social Credit).

The purpose of all these books was to explain to the world why Alberta was so different from the rest of Canada. Different, as in unique. Academics in Eastern Canada thought Alberta was a weird place and they wanted to understand why. As these books explain, the Alberta Social Credit Party was not just another political party. It was an expression of Alberta as a “culturally distinct region.” What other province had three consecutive fundamentalist Christian premiers?

More could be added, but this is already too long. I hope it makes a point.

Yes, Alberta is culturally distinct, but not so much for the reasons offered in the Buffalo Declaration.

Michael Wagner is the author of Alberta: Separatism Then and Now

Letters to the Editor of the Western Standard are posted under this account. Letters do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of the Western Standard or its columnists.

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Buffalo MPs draw a line in the sand with Ottawa

It’s a far fetch for the Liberal prime minister to take up the call of the Buffalo Declaration, but what of the Conservatives? What if they don’t?

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At 5,922 words and 22 pages, the Buffalo Declaration is a bit of a read, but for any Alberta or Saskatchewan patriot, it’s a page-turner. Four Alberta Conservative MPs: Michelle Rempel-Garner, Blake Richards, Glen Motz, and Arnold Viersen, broke with the routine bland talking points that infect most politicians and penned the most bold statement Parliament has seen since the Bloc Quebecois was formed in 1991.

The Buffalo MPs laid out in considerable detail the long history of Ottawa’s colonial approach to the West, and to the Prairie provinces in particular. It reads as one-part history lesson, one-part manifesto. The language is serious, and bold, and, shockingly for something written by politicians, actually says something.

“They [Albertans] will be equal or they will seek independence.”

If this wasn’t intended to make the collective heads of the Laurentian consensus’ spin, it still had the effect. The Toronto Star ran an unsympathetic story quoting Mount Royal University professor Lori Williams, who said it was “sort of wing-nutty”, and “reflects a failure to understand” the constitution of the country.”

“This isn’t inviting, it’s not persuasive, it’s demanding, it’s entitled.”

That’s to be expected. Less predictable was Brad Wall quickly coming out with his support.

“You and your colleagues deserve credit for this Michelle. There needs to be national attention to and action on the abiding unfairness in the confederation toward Alberta, Saskatchewan and the west in general.”

The former Saskatchewan premier is a member of a group calling itself the “Buffalo Project”.

Rempel-Garner has been touted by many as the only possible contender left standing for the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership that could challenge Peter MacKay. Her drawing of the line in the sand not just with the Liberals – but with the Laurentian federalist establishment – appears to have closed that door. She and three other signatories instead decided to put their careers on the line to try and force the current leadership contestants to see things their way.

“Any leadership contestant for the Conservative Party of Canada who seeks the support of Albertans should be prepared to address this declaration.”

“We are open to engage in bilateral meetings with any interested party to seek a productive resolution to this situation.”

That sound you hear is Peter Mackay and Erin O’Toole running down the halls of Centre Block to their offices to seek their endorsement. If they are willing to meet the bar they have set or not, is another matter.

The declaration lays out 12 “structural solutions” and 5 “policy solutions”, few of which Eastern establishment politicians are likely to be thrilled about.

Three of the structural solutions are largely symbolic, recognizing that Alberta is not yet an equal partner in Confederation, and recognizing “Alberta – or Buffalo – as a culturally distinct region within Confederation.”

The final symbolic solution would be a bit much for Justin Trudeau to swallow:

“Acknowledge, in the House of Commons, the devastation the National Energy Program caused to the people of Alberta.”

Justin Trudeau might be adept at apologizing for the actions of dead men hundreds of years ago, but apologizing for the devestation wreaked by his father could be more difficult.

Constitutional change might be verboten for Ottawa’s political class, but the Buffalo MPs demand it happen as a necessary condition for keeping Alberta in the federation.

They want Parliament rebalanced, ideally through Senate reform. There are several models to choose from, but Eastern Canada likes the deck stacked just the way it is. In the meantime, they want Trudeau to only appoint Alberta senators elected by its people. Even that easy ask might not pass muster with the Chief of all the Canadas.

They want Equalization abolished, or significantly overhauled. There are many good reasons for the have-not provinces to welcome Equalization changes, but none of which they are likely to accept.

They demand that Canada’s free-trade provisions in the Constitution be “entrenched and clarified”. That sounds easy on the surface, but the robber-baron premiers putting up roadblocks to trade are happy with the status quo.

Alluding to the Sword of Damocles hanging over the Teck oilsands mine, they want to entrench control over resource projects as the sole domain of the provinces. This should be easy for other provinces to accept, but the climate apocalyptics won’t easily relinquish their most blunt instrument with which to bludgeon Alberta’s energy industry.

After the big, structural changes, they list a page of easier, policy changes. The first is a six-part set of legislative changes mostly concerning the energy sector, including the repel of bills C-69 and C-48, approving the Teck Frontier oilsands mine, and building a national energy corridor.

If Parliament and Canada’s premiers took these demands seriously and passed them into reality, Alberta (and Saskatchewan) could probably live with Confederation. There would be quarrels with ups and downs, but no longer would the very existence of the Praire’s economic livelihood be put at stake every time the government changes in Ottawa. Federalists in the Rest of Canada would do the national union they love justice by taking up the challenge of the Buffalo Declaration.

But they probably won’t. Even friendly premiers in the East will wish to keep the constitution box closed, for fear of the ghosts of Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords escaping. It all hinges on Quebec; as usual.

Speaking to the Western Standard’s Dave Naylor, Rempel Garner said: “I sit three seats down from the leader of the Bloc, who speaks only on issues of concern to Quebec.” It seems his daily venom towards Alberta has grated on her.

And while the Bloc’s daily attacks on Alberta and the Teck oilsands project goes on, Justin Trudeau can be seen across the aisle, often nodding in approval.

It’s a far fetch for the Liberal prime minister to take up the call of the Buffalo Declaration, but what of the Conservatives? What if they don’t?

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President & CEO of Wildrose Media Corp.

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