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QUESNEL: A Reformed Senate is Needed to Keep Alberta in Canada

There is no silver bullet to repairing the fabric of Canada’s union, but creating a democratic and regionally representative Senate is a critical ingredient if it is to be saved.

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John Hamilton Gray was a Father of Confederation from Prince Edward Island.  He served as chairman of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, which laid the groundwork for the British North America Act. In supporting federal union and opposing its critics, Gray asked: 

“Is it necessary that we should go into this Confederation with our hearts and minds filled with suspicions? Is it a foregone conclusion with us that all the other provinces will unite to do injustice to one particular section of our common country?” 

Gray went on to declare that these suspicions could not be held by “liberal and enlightened men.”

But with all due respect to Gray, he was not living in Canada in 2020 under the present Liberal government. He did not know Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet who don’t care about jobs in the West, or the long-term health of its energy sector. Gray was speaking from his time and place where good was more plentiful than it is now. 

Canada is in trouble when one region seeks to undermine another region. 

People from the Prairie provinces have reasonable reasons to harbor suspicions. The Liberal government is funding a B.C. group opposed to the Trans Mountain expansion project. An Ontario Liberal MP is using his office to promote an electronic petition aiming to stop the Teck oilsands mine. Finally, the Bloc Quebecois has tabled a motion to kill the Teck mine

If Gray was alive today, he would see how one region of this country is seeking to do clear harm to another one. 

During the confederation negotiations, many framers saw an appointed Senate as a check against such action. The Senate was designed to assure regional equality, especially for regions prejudiced by the rep-by-pop formula of the House of Commons. 

The original distribution of Senate seats involved the four colonies that joined confederation at the outset, and obviously did not include later B.C. and the Prairie provinces. Thus, the four Atlantic provinces, with seven per cent of Canada’s population, have 30 senators. The four Western provinces, with more than 30 per cent of the population, have 24 senators. Alberta alone has twice the population of the four Atlantic provinces, but barely more than half the senators of New Brunswick. 

Sir John A. Macdonald spoke of an active Senate possessing independent power and ability to affect legislation. He argued: 

“There would be no use of an upper house if it did not exercise, when it thought proper, the right of opposing or amending or postponing the legislation of the lower house.” 

“It must be an independent house, having a free action of its own, for it is only valuable as being a regulating body, calmly considering the legislation initiated by the popular branch and preventing any hasty or ill-considered legislation.”

Bills C-69, C-48 and C-242 could easily be added to the list of “hasty or ill-considered legislation.” 

Individual senators played a prominent role in speaking out against legislation counter to the West’s economic interests. 

Independent (and elected) Alberta Senator Doug Black introduced S-245, a bill declaring the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in the national interest. The Senate – through Western members – played a significant role in introducing amendments to Bill C-69, a bill seen by the energy sector as introducing onerous requirements to major projects by adding nebulous criteria to approve future projects. Western Senators – including independent ones – were very vocal in opposing Bill C-48, the oil tanker moratorium bill. Although the Senate committee studying the bill came out opposing the bill – calling it discriminatory – the full Senate voted to pass it, albeit narrowly. Still, many Liberal-aligned Senators (including nominal “independents”) toed the government line.

The only bill that senators were also able to successfully kill was Bill C-242, legislation designed to harmonize laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (U.N.D.R.I.P.). Significant concern was raised over the flaws of the bill, including the lack of a working definition of the right to “free, prior, and informed consent” that appears in U.N.D.R.I.P. itself. This lack of definition concerned senators enough that they allowed the bill to be defeated. 

If the Senate saw its role differently, perhaps Bill C-69 and C-48 would have also been dead in the water. An emboldened Senate focused solely on regional equality could secure a fair deal for the West, or at a minimum act as check against anti-Western legislation. 

Prime Minister Trudeau’s goal of a more non-partisan Senate is positive in theory, but in practice, he has appointed individuals that are ideologically aligned with his liberal agenda, thus explaining why these senators overwhelmingly side with government legislation, even against the interests of their provinces.

The Supreme Court ruled that changing the composition or selection of the Senate would require the consent of the provinces and territories; in short, a verboten constitutional amendment.

However, the Senate can adopt a “gentleman’s agreement” to change their role to one of stronger regional equality. This would involve a joint resolution affirming a suspensive veto. Right now, a gentleman’s agreement is what allows the Senate to delay, but not defeat, legislation.

For the sake of the continuation of the federation, we need political will to reform the Senate into a serious deliberative body that will protect regional equality. An encouraging sign was the announcement of the formation of a Senate caucus to represent regional interests, made up mostly of conservative, Western Senators. 

But real change in the Senate inevitably means reopening the constitution, something that every national politician has been loath to do since the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords of Brian Mulroney. Since then, there has been an unofficial cross-party rule that the constitution is off-limits, but this political consensus only cements the place of the West as a second-tier region. In the name of repairing national-unity, it’s time to break the consensus. 

A new Canadian Senate should first and foremost, rebalance its provincial and regional representation. One option is the American and Australian model, where each state has an equal number of senators, regardless of population. 

More suited to Canada however might be Germany’s upper house, the Bundesrat (federal council). Rather than be appointed by the federal government (as in Canada) or directly elected (as in the U.S. and Australia), they are delegates of the länder (state) governments. The number of seats each state receives is based on “degressive proportionality.” That is, that smaller provinces receive more seats than their population would otherwise grant, but not an equal share. This would solve Ontario and Quebec’s objection to having equal Senate representation as Prince Edward Island. 

A reformed Senate may also include representation for First Nations. In New Zealand, its Maori indigenous people have their own seats in parliament, serving as a kind of quasi constituency. Including First Nation seats alongside provinces could be an important component of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. 

Alberta is the only federation in the democratic world without a democratic upper house to represent the regions, and the only country in the world where smaller areas can have much greater representation that larger regions. 

There is no silver bullet to repairing the fabric of Canada’s union, but creating a democratic and regionally representative Senate is a critical ingredient if it is to be saved. 

Joseph Quesnel is the Indigenous Issues Columnist for the Western Standard

Joseph Quesnel the Indigenous Issues Columnist for the Western Standard. He is a Metis policy analyst and commentator who writes on Indigenous issues as well as energy and resource development policy.

Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: As much as the Liberals want them to be, most Canadians aren’t racists

That’s the thing about “progressive” accusations of racism. ‘Many Canadians are racist, but surely not me and my bougie Montreal friends’.

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You really can get burned at the stake for anything now. The smallest controversy. The most microcopic micro-offence. The Twitter-mob descends with pitchforks and torches, and you’re finished. 

Former Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day is but the latest public figure to be ritually sacrificed at the altar of political correctness, which evolves in its scope and sanity daily. Day had the gall to suggest on the CBC’s flagship program Power and Politics, that most Canadians aren’t racist. 

“Yes, there’s a few idiot racists hanging around, but Canada is not a racist country and most Canadians are not racist. And our system, that always needs to be improved, is not systemically racist.”

This was enough for him to be frogmarched into forced resignation from his commentator role at the CBC, and from sitting on several big corporate boards, like Telus. 

The unwoke among us see in that statement an opinion that is largely supported by the facts, but is difficult to prove. Issues like bigotry are a matter of the heart, and not always subject to the census takers at Statistics Canada. 

But the wokies saw no such reasonable conclusion, or even that it was a matter of subjective opinion that cannot be proven or disproven one way or another. They saw – in their parlance – an act of racist “verbal violence”. While rioting and looting constitute peaceful protest, words constitute violence in the increasingly dystopian worldview of the race baiters. 

To conclude that most Canadians – a people world renounced for our peaceful tolerance – are not racist, is to conclude that their mission of social engineering is chasing an enemy that has already been vanquished. It is to take away from them the boogieman with which we are lectured by our betters. 

To quote the great African-American libertarian thinker, Thomas Sowell: “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support – kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as “racists.”

Racism does exist; mostly outside of advanced Western democracies. And where it does harbour a home here, is it almost universally unwelcome and stigmatized, but all too often, politicized. 

Democratic presumptive nominee for U.S. President, Joe Biden let slip his Covid mask when he revealed his disdain for any race-traitor African American that would ever consider voting Republican. 

“Well I tell you what; if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

While racists surely do lurk in the darker corners of the United States, their numbers and influence are greatly exaggerated for political and partisan ends. So long as African-Americans are told by Democratic Party bosses that large numbers of Republicans – and Americans – are racists, the hope is that they will ignore the desperate plight of their communities run by Democrats for generations. 

A similar story is told by Liberals to our poorest First Nations communities here in Canada. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken the opportunity for race-baiting to try and distract public opinion from his own record as a serial black-face enthusiast.

“There is systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of colour, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”

This is to say that most or many Canadians, are racist. 

That’s the thing about “progressive” accusations of racism. ‘Many Canadians are racist, but surely not me and my bougie Montreal friends’. The racists are, out there. “Out there”, as in the country, and as in the West. 

Stockwell Day is a mild-mannered, rather middle-of-the-road conservative. He’s no “burn-it-down” libertarian like yours truly, and especially no retrograde racist. His statement, bland and milquetoast, is in 2020 not only controversial, but a hanging offence. 

The murder of George Floyd may be been racially motivated, or it may have been the case of a power-tripping cop high on his own authority. We do not yet know, and are unlikely to know until there is a trial. Either probable reason for Floyd’s murder – once we have the facts – will be cause for serious introspection and correction. 

But even if Floyd’s murder was racially motivated, it is not evidence that Americans at large are racists. And even if Americans at large are racists, it is not evidence that Canadians at large are racists. And even if someone’s worldview leads one to conclude that most Canadians are in fact racists, is it no longer permissible in polite society to disagree, and take exception to the national slander? 

The outrage mob on Twitter demanding Day’s head are beyond reason. But the CBC and Telus, and the Conservatives that stood by silently as yet another of their own was ritually scarified, should hang their heads in shame. Their moral silence or shunning makes them just as guilty.

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

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Opinion

WAGNER: The hopeless task of reforming Canada

Considering all of the attempts to reform confederation over the last four decades, what other option is there?

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Many Albertans and other Westerners are justifiably angry about how the West is mistreated within Canada. The federal government has been deliberately thwarting the development of the West’s energy resources, thereby suppressing economic growth and prosperity. The Liberals plan to maintain this ruinous course in their effort to fight climate change. 

Despite this – and the West’s constitutionally entrenched second class status in the constitution – most Westerners are still patriotic Canadians and want the country to work. They’re willing to give Canada another chance and try to improve the country to rectify the injustices against the them. Constitutional reform is often suggested as a way to achieve this goal.

From an abstract perspective, it is very reasonable to want to try to fix Canada before giving up on it altogether. Historically, Canada has accomplished many great things and offered freedom and a superior way of life to millions of people. Who wouldn’t want to save that?

But from an historical perspective, there is a problem with trying to reform Canada: in the post 1992 (Charlottetown Accord) era, there has been a multi-partisan consensus that constitutional reform is verboten, for fear of offending Quebec. Those who have tried to break this consensus have been ignored or written off. If these people haven’t been able to achieve the kinds of changes necessary to get a fair deal for the West, what makes others think they could achieve them now?

To state this point most bluntly: if Preston Manning and the Reform Party of Canada were unable to make the kinds of changes Western Canada needs, then it can’t be done. 

The Reform Party was the West’s best chance of getting a better deal within Canada. Many of the region’s best citizens were involved. Thousands of well-meaning Westerners put all kinds of time and money into getting the party off the ground and sustaining it for a decade. It was the dominant federal party in Alberta and most of the West until it folded into the Conservative Party of Canada. There is nothing like it in Western politics today, and even if all of the groups calling for constitutional reform were amalgamated, their efforts would look miniscule beside the old Reform Party.

Many readers of the Western Standard likely recall the Reform Party fondly. They know that the initial impetus for the party was rectifying the subordinate place of the West within confederation.

In his introduction to Act of Faith, a book published in 1991 to chronicle the initial rise of the Reform Party, Ted Byfield describes the historical injustices done to the West, making a new party necessary. As he points out, during the Liberal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, it increasingly “began to look as though Canada was a mere con game, being played out by Ontario and Quebec at the expense of the West.” 

But instead of turning to independence, most Westerners at that time just wanted fairness within Canada. So, with the Reform Party, he writes, “No longer would the West talk about ‘getting out of Canada.’ Instead the slogan became, ‘The West Wants In,’ a phrase coined by Alberta Report columnist Ralph Hedlin. It means that the West wants constitutional changes that will enable it to play a more equal role in Canadian affairs, notably a Triple-E Senate.”

The Reform Party made a tremendous effort, but ultimately got nowhere.  

The fact is that fighting for a better deal for the West within Canada has been going on, in one form or another, for decades. Besides the Reform Party, there were various other advocates for Senate reform at least since the early 1980s. Especially noteworthy is Bert Brown and his Canadian Committee for a Triple-E Senate.

Despite such great efforts, their goal was never achieved.

These people should be applauded for their efforts. It makes perfect sense to advocate reform before proposing more drastic solutions. But they worked hard, did their very best, and central Canada offered them what Central Canada will always offer discontented Westerners – nothing. 

Does anyone really think that a new Western political movement can be organized that could equal the Reform Party, let alone improve on its achievements? Because that – at minimum – is what it’s going to take to accomplish the kinds of changes necessary for the West to get a fair deal. 

In sum, over the years there have been plenty of proposals and attempts to improve the situation of the West within Canada. They have all failed for the same reason – central Canada is not interested. Central Canada is satisfied with the status quo and knows that the West is powerless to do anything about it. 

Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” I am reminded of this statement when I hear calls for a new deal for the West within Canada. Again, such calls are completely reasonable and should be heeded by the Laurentian elite, but hat’s not going to happen. We’ve seen this movie before many times, and the ending is always the same.

What then, is the answer? Albertans and Saskatchewanians should be thinking about the independence option. Some of us have already concluded that’s the route to go. According to a recent poll, 45 to 48 per cent of Albertans already are. 

For others, it will be very difficult to reach the same conclusion because of their love for Canada – and that’s understandable. But considering all of the attempts to reform confederation over the last four decades, what other option is there? Central Canada is not going to accept constitutional reforms giving more power to the West. Whatever our attachment to Canada, the failure of reform leaves pursuit of independence as the only remaining viable alternative to the status quo.

Michael Wagner is 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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Opinion

CLEMENT: Alberta’s new vape laws will discourage smokers from making the switch

For every vape pod not purchased, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes were purchased instead.

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Alberta’s new vaping regulations are a huge step backwards for harm reduction, and ultimately public health. This week, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that Alberta – in an attempt to curb youth vaping – will move to regulate vaping in the same manner as cigarettes, which includes age restrictions, restrictions on where consumers can vape, where advertising can be displayed, and possibly a ban on flavours.

It should be clearly said that vaping products are harm reduction tools for adult smokers, and that curbing youth access is a noble and worthy cause. That said, beyond the age restriction, Alberta’s approach to vaping is bad public policy.

First off, the provincial government has now shown that it is incapable of regulating based on the risk associated with a product. We know from credible public health agencies like Public Health England that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. Because of that, vaping should be regulated in a different manner, one that recognizes the continuum of risk. Regulating vaping like smoking is problematic because it sends the wrong signal to adult smokers, primarily that vaping and smoking are of equivalent harm. By sending this false message to consumers, it can be expected that fewer smokers will make the switch to vaping, which is a net negative for public health, society at large, and more importantly, adults who are trying to quit cigarettes or consume nicotine in a less harmful way.

Take in store displays for example. In Alberta, cigarettes are purchased (mostly) at convenience stores where they are behind a screen so that products cannot be seen. Unfortunately, Alberta’s new regulations apply that same restriction to vaping products. Allowing for modest forms of in-store display will help prompt and inform adult smokers that reduced risk products exist, and will increase the likelihood of them making the switch. In order to encourage smokers to make the switch they have to know that these products exist, and the best way for them to acquire that information is at the point of sale where they traditionally purchase cigarettes. By placing all vaping products out of view, they will largely be out of mind for the 15.8 per cent of Albertans who currently smoke.

The same goes for the prospect of a flavour ban, which Alberta is now paving the way for with its new regulations. A ban on flavours, while done under the banner of curbing youth access and use, would hurt adult ex-smokers the most. Harm reduction research on the usage patterns of adult vapers – who were former smokers – shows that the availability of flavours is a significant factor in their decision to switch from smoking to vaping. In evaluating the purchases of over 20,000 American adults who vape, researchers concluded that prohibiting non-tobacco flavoured vapes would significantly discourage smokers from switching.

While these arguments may seem like hypotheticals to some, figures from the UK have shown us in real time, the impact a harm reduction approach has on smoking cessation. The United Kingdom is arguably the leader in embracing vaping as a harm reduction tool and as a means to steer adults away from smoking. So much so that over1.5 million people in the UK have completely switched from smoking to vaping. In addition to that, 1.3 million people in the UK used vaping as a means to quit smoking, and no longer vape or smoke. Because of the UK’s harm reduction approach, 2.8 million British have switched away from cigarettes, or quit altogether.

These regulations are further compounded by Alberta’s misguided 20 per cent vape tax, which further discourages smokers from switching. Supporters of the tax will argue that an increase in the price of vape devices will reduce the amount of people who vape. This is true, however it also has the consequence of increasing the amount of people who smoke cigarettes.  Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, evaluating 35,000 retailers, showed that every 10 per cent increase in vaping price resulted in a 11 per cent increase in cigarette purchases. In terms of product sales, this means that for every vape pod not purchased, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes were purchased instead. This is exactly the opposite of what public health officials should be encouraging via public policy.

While youth vaping is a problem – and one that needs to be addressed – it is important that the government doesn’t sacrifice adult smokers trying to switch or quit in the process. Regulating vaping like cigarettes ultimately means that more Albertans will continue to smoke, which certainly isn’t anything worth celebrating.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager of the Consumer Choice Center

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