Alberta and its energy sector languish under a Trudeau Liberal government. An upstart populist rival nibbles on the right of the Conservatives. Feelings of injustice and alienation fuel a Western independence movement. It seems a lot like the 1980s, and that gives Canadians all the more reason to listen to someone who navigated those waters. In his new book, “Do Something!” Preston Manning speaks to those issues while encouraging Canadians to get into the process.
“I feel that democracy is in trouble,” Manning told a Regina crowd of 100, the third gathering of his seven-city book tour. “The voter turnout is declining, and the number of people that just express just a lack of confidence in the institutions and in the parties and candidates.”
Manning’s book includes 365 ways that Canadians can make a difference. The conservative patriarch is 77 now, but has his mind on those younger. Whereas Conservative parties won one-third of elections in the 20th Century, he wants them to win two-thirds of the 21St Century ballots.
The task of reaching youth for conservatism starts with getting them interested in democracy. “If you tell it as a story that started 26 centuries ago in Ancient Greece…rather than as a sort of political science doctrine, I think you’ll get a lot further with the younger people,” Manning says.
Manning says millennials reject the left-right spectrum, which leaves politicos searching for some other axis they might identify with, such as direct democracy vs elite rule.
A thoughtful Manning wonders why millennials working at Starbucks get 15 hours of training, but lawmakers get zero. Even a sausage maker gets more training than MPs.
“Making laws is a little bit like making sausage,” he paraphrased Otto von Bismarck. “You probably don’t want to know everything that’s in there.”
As for right-wing political recipes, Manning believes they do need to change from time to time. He mentioned the efforts of Reform, the Alliance, and then the merger with the Progressive Conservatives as federal examples, with the Saskatchewan Party being a provincial example.
“You don’t want to do these realignments everyday, but every 10, 15 years if you can, look at the structure to know if we’ve got to change direction in order to be more relevant.”
Manning knows it’s tempting for the political establishment to look down on new populist parties. He says Trump and Brexit are examples enough to show why they ignore populism at their peril.
“The worst possible reaction is to ignore what they’re doing and saying or to be contemptuous, that it’s a bunch of ignorant people that don’t know what’s good for them, they’re probably people chasing after some charismatic leader, little leader with no more than glib.”
Manning says the Western independence movement is rooted in legitimate concerns.
“The basic root of it is that the West is treated unfairly in the federation, treated unfairly in the constitution, it’s unfairly represented in the federal power in the House of Commons – particularly in the Senate, and in the federal civil service. It’s unfairly represented with respect to Equalization and federal transfers and the joint provincial programs. It’s unfairly treated with its inability to get unobstructed transportation corridors to the Atlantic and the Pacific.”
Manning – whose father Ernest was Alberta’s longest-serving premier – is on Jason Kenney’s Fair Deal Panel. Manning says those concerned with Western alienation must determine what fairness looks like. From there, the broadest coalition should be pulled together to push towards those specific reforms.
As for independence, Manning believes “much more work has to be done by the people that are advocating secession to make it a credible option.” He believes that an independent Alberta and Saskatchewan would have much less clout than a united independent West. Besides that, a constitution needs to be proposed so people know exactly what this new country would be.
Although Manning welcomes political realignments, he wishes that conservatives worked less in silos and reached to like-minded organizations and think tanks and even between provincial and federal levels.
Preston is maintaining the Manning Foundation, but has released its networking conference to embrace a new identity and name. He believes conservatives would be much stronger if they networked even more.
“Right now there’s seven – nominally at least – conservative provincial governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick is hanging by a thread, and on a good day the CAQ in Québec, and PEI. If put the door knocking capacity, the fundraising capacity, the memberships of those partners together with the federal party you have the strongest political force in the country. It’s three and a half times the size of the federal Liberal party – if it acted as an army. But if everyone acts as a platoon, then we don’t have that strength.”
The Manning “Do Something!” tour will be in Edmonton Friday February 28, Victoria on Saturday February 29, and Monday March 2 in Vancouver.
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.
Search for a Western Anthem: “All Hell for a Basement” (Heaven in Alberta)
You must hear this song to understand why it speaks to so many Albertans on a visceral level
The Western Standard put out a call for our readers to help us pick the unofficial anthem for Alberta (or more broadly, Buffalo or Western Canada). We asked you to submit songs that would inspire us during hard times, would speak to our distinct Western culture, and would be good for crowds to sing together. You didn’t disappoint.
We received many great anthem ideas: some familiar classics, some newer hits, and many excellent rarer songs which I had never heard before. Many are strong contenders, and some a little off mark. I have been sifting through reader e-mails and social media comments, and narrowed it down to the best handful of songs. We will not be able to cover all of them, but over the next few weeks we will be selecting some of the best suggestions and explaining why we think they would make a great pick to become the unofficial anthem of the West.
As expected, one of the top submissions was “All Hell for a Basement”, also known as “Heaven in Alberta”, by Big Sugar. Originally released in 2001, the song features thrashing drums and electric guitars. For some listeners, this original version evokes the feeling of driving an F350 to a rig site, across the empty prairie landscape before the sun comes up.
In my opinion, the unofficial acoustic version does the most compelling job of capturing the song’s emotions. Like all anthems, you can’t just read the lyrics. You must hear this song to understand why it speaks to so many of our people on a visceral level.
The title “All Hell for a Basement” sounds odd at first. The phrase actually comes from a quote by Rudyard Kipling, the novelist and poet famous for The Jungle Book. Upon visiting Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1907, Kipling was impressed by the region’s massive quantities of underground natural gas. He remarked, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”
Gordie Johnson wrote this song when he was the front man for the Big Sugar. Johnson was born in Winnipeg and grew up in Ontario before his family moved back west to Medicine Hat.
The song is simultaneously tragic and hopeful. The opening line, “I am a working man, but I ain’t worked for a while,” captures a reality that requires no explanation for our readers. The writer feels discarded “Like some old tin can, from the bottom of the pile.” As the song understands, unemployment is not only a crisis of material means, but also of identity and meaning. So many of us derive much of our sense of self-worth from our work and from the ability to feed our families.
But there is hope in this song as well. The lyrics to the chorus are as follows:
“I have lost my way / But I hear tell / Of Heaven in Alberta / Where they’ve got all hell for a basement.”
There’s no question why this song was requested by so many of our readers. Alberta used to be a beacon of hope that attracted hard-working people from struggling economies far and wide. Many working men who had lost their way came here to find it. Of course, this song and its underlying drive hails from a time when Alberta’s economic engine was not under direct assault by Ottawa.
So yes, let’s acknowledge the tragedy that this song captures for us in the West: unemployment, loss of purpose, and the feeling of being discarded “like some old tin can” by those in power who no longer have a use for us. But let’s also take this anthem as a reminder of the hope that we in Alberta once provided for a hopeless people. Let’s reawaken that sense of hope within ourselves, and begin to take the necessary steps to get on the right path toward prosperity. Start with yourself as an individual by reclaiming who you truly are: not “some old tin can” to be discarded by the Laurentians, but a “working man” whose skills and work ethic are still valued by us here in the West.
So how does this song stack up as an anthem, based on the three main criteria we established? First, does it inspire us? Yes, in its call to face the tragedy of unemployment and reclaim one’s self-worth as a working man, this checks out. Second, does it speak to our unique culture, heritage, and experiences? Yes, at least to some aspects of our experiences (oil & gas: check). Third, is it good for crowds to sing at public events? That’s where I think this song may fall short of anthem material. The lyrics are simply not designed for that. With lyrics like “My words are like a rope / that’s wrapped around my throat,” people might see only the tragic side, and not the redemption part of the story.
Based on the reader responses, this song will no doubt make the top 10 list. Can I see it being the song that Westerners sing with their hands over their hearts at a hockey game? Personally, I don’t think so. The lyrics are applicable to the working man, but what about school children in their weekly assembly? An anthem needs to have wider appeal, in my opinion. But what do you think?
My verdict: Great song, but I’m not sure if we have found our anthem yet.
The search continues!
Do you have your own idea for the unofficial anthem of Alberta? It’s not too late. Leave a comment below, on social media, or send us an e-mail, and we will consider featuring your anthem idea in another column. Email your submissions for an Alberta, Buffalo, or Western anthem to email@example.com
James Forbes is the Western Heritage Columnist for the Western Standard
Working from home with dysfunctional ‘co-workers’
Need to put a smile on your face amid nothing but bad, worse, and awful news? Read on.
A North Carolina mom started working from home and decided to ask Twitter for ‘co-worker’ stories.
For the accountants and bookkeepers:
For the upwardly mobile:
For the artistically inclined:
When to call human resources:
And some things stay the same..
Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter
with Western Standard
Two Alberta businesses – different challenges in a pandemic
“Whatever has happened elsewhere is what we’re barreling towards,” Jacobs said.
Bryan Orr, a drilling engineer in Alberta, is employed with NBC Technologies, who subcontracts with larger operators such as Tamarack Valley.
“I love drilling but it’s about to fall off a cliff,” Orr said. “The oil price coupled with challenges relating to chemicals and materials from China…”
During the drilling process, water, or a mud mixture, is pumped down through the bit. Barite, one of the chemicals used in that process, as well as chemicals used to make cement, come from China. Orr says the supply is getting low.
There’s also other materials such as pipe which is also becoming more scarce. Piping used both in the drilling process so the rock doesn’t collapse itself and pipe that is used to transport product. Orr said some of the storage companies are setting to close and that’s going to cause a problem.
“Reasons for Canada running a fraction of the rigs of the US aren’t geologically driven but based on pipeline access and other regulatory issues that are solvable by a supportive federal government.”
But Orr says there are further difficulties with the changes enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to working remotely.
“Unique challenges with the pandemic lie with decision-makers – getting rapid approvals can be difficult.”
In a business that has been about face-to-face meeting and relationship building, the idea that all work can continue via email isn’t as welcome to those used to running the show in person.
Even with those challenges, however, Orr said he is still optimistic.
One positive of the rapid changes in oil that have been happening is that these issues also help drive efficiencies. Orr says the cost of drilling wells has gone down substantially in Canada – comparatively – to the U.S.
“We’ve been lucky (at Tamarack and NBC Technologies) because we had a huge success last year that’s been driving a lot of production this year. Even though it’s a reduction in drilling, we were able to prove that we could reduce our footprint with three-mile Tamarack wells that allow us greater access.”
The new drilling process is nominated for a Collaborative Trendsetter award at the Global Petroleum Show.
Orr admits the majority of his work, while reliant on a customer-base, isn’t reliant on in-person transactions. Others – who are reliant on the physical presence of consumerism – are facing additional challenges that aren’t just based on the point of sale.
Jonathan Jacobs owns a Fort Lanes, a bowling and virtual golf business in Fort Saskatchewan. He purchased the business after he was laid off from his job in the oil patch in 2015. Jacobs could see that times were changing for his trade and he and his wife decided to invest in a local business.
Jacobs says the family wasn’t likely to get rich but they made a living. He had enough business to hire some employees and, all in all, had a successful small business.
“We had a ‘soft’ year (in 2019),” he said. “We looked at 2020 and said ‘it’ll be fine as long as nothing goes wrong’.”
The small entertainment business Jacobs runs still has employees but a lot less customers.
“I underestimated (the impact of COVID-19) until right now,” he said. “As of last Wednesday, there was no reason to believe this was coming.”
“This” is mass cancellation of classes and people being told to self-isolate. What bothers him most is the apparent mixed messaging.
“The government response has been rapid fire and all over the map. It’s hard to get your feet under you,” he said. “And that’s just week one – what happens in week two?”
Jacobs said people are being told to stay home but the government is also saying businesses can remain open. He said it doesn’t help him to stay open if there’s no customers. It’s something he’s also hearing that from other business owners in the area.
“We (local business owners) talk every day right now,” he said. “I can’t work from home – I can’t deliver bowling pins to your house to play there.”
His alley hosts leagues for all ages and special Olympics training. Jacobs said they cut the league play but his alley won’t hold 250 people so he stayed open. Now the government is saying no more than 50 people should gather but they’re also saying people need to adapt to a ‘new normal’ that is based on social distancing.
Special Olympics is on hold until April 13, Jacobs said. but public health messaging is saying things will be on hold for “months”.
Jacobs said he’s getting a better idea of what to expect from watching what’s going on in other provinces – like Quebec – who just asked bars and restaurants to close.
“Whatever happened there is what we’re barreling towards,” he said.
He said he wished that business owners had better communication from the leadership in terms of what to expect. Jacobs said he realizes this is unprecedented but feels like a more coordinated effort to communicate, especially when so many businesses are reliant on customers being physically present, would have been beneficial for him – especially when it comes to planning.
“There were 29 cases when we implemented the social distancing. What are the parameters for ending this?” He asked. “Not knowing is the worst. I have employees. Is it going to continue until May? June? At least then I’d know it’s not April.”
“They have issues managers making a quarter of a million dollars per year – why don’t they manage some real issues?”
Jacobs said he’s hoping the communication will get better, particularly in terms of how “this ends”.
“What will they be looking for to ease the restrictions?” He asked. “How will we know if we should hold on or close up?”
Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter
with Western Standard
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