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FORBES: The search for Alberta’s unofficial anthem

We need an anthem that will point us toward brighter days and motivate us to press on.

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It’s time for an Alberta anthem. If you believe Alberta is ready to become its own sovereign state, or if we are simply a “culturally distinct region” of Canada as the Buffalo Declaration proclaims, a proper anthem can inspire us to rally together, to take pride in our accomplishments, to stand up for our interests, and to overcome our challenges.

Since the 1970s, Quebec has had its own unofficial anthem. “Gens du Pays” was written by the Quebec nationalist Gilles Vigneault, and it has become a rallying cry at sovereigntist events for nearly half a century. The song’s lyrics are not profound. The chorus translates roughly in English as “People of my country, your turn has come to let love speak to you.” Yet the simplicity is part of what makes it work. An anthem is most effective when it speaks to people on an emotional level, and yet it is accessible enough for the crowd to join in at a moment’s notice.

What could serve as an unofficial anthem here in Alberta? Or more broadly, what is the anthem of Buffalo, or Western Canada? Where we draw the line on that question will narrow or broaden the scope considerably.

That is where you come in, dear readers. We at the editorial team of the Western Standard are on a quest to find an unofficial anthem that could rival “Gens du Pays.” And we want you to help us find the perfect one.

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta (Source: WikiCommons, Tobias Alt)

Leave your comments below this article, or on social media, and over the next few weeks we will examine the best suggestions. We hope this series will inspire a positive public conversation about Western identity and nationality. If we really are a “culturally distinct region” – and we certainly are – we can expect to discover many different songs, stories, and works of art that speaks uniquely to us.

What should we look for in a good unofficial anthem? The rules are not rigid, but here are a few guidelines to get you started.

  1. It should inspire us: There are many challenges ahead for the West. We need an anthem that will point us toward brighter days and motivate us to press on.
  2. It should speak to our unique culture, heritage, and experiences: Think of what defines Alberta or Buffalo to you, and find a song that captures that definition. It does not have to specifically name our cities or landmarks or industries or history, but it should be relatable to the average Western Canadian and should reflect an image of who we are.
  3. It should be good for crowds to sing at public events: The song should be simple enough that everyone can easily memorize the lyrics and sing it all together. And since young and old alike will need to learn and love this song, it should probably have clean language (maybe a radio edit would work for the right song, if necessary).

So there are a few ways this could go. Don’t be afraid to consider old Western Canadian pop hits. There are a lot of strong contenders, but it is not easy to find the right song that checks all the boxes mentioned above. Perhaps we will find our gem among some of the classic ballads, like Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds” (1963)? Perhaps some will be drawn toward newer country hits like Paul Brandt’s “Alberta Bound” (2004)? Each have their strengths and weaknesses. We will examine these options and more over the coming weeks.

It is also possible that we need our own Gilles Vigneault, a talented new artist who loves Alberta and can write an original anthem. Maybe that person is out there somewhere, waiting for their moment to shine.

(Source: WikiCommons)

Whatever song we choose, we have to think of how it will inspire Westerners for generations to come. Imagine a packed hockey arena, Oilers and Flames fans alike, standing with our hats over our hearts. Imagine children at a school assembly standing before our flag. And imagine a large community barbecue, young and old raising a glass in celebration. Now imagine all of them singing this national anthem that you help us to find.

That is our mission. Let the search begin.

Email your submissions for an Alberta, Buffalo, or Western anthem to anthemsearch@westernstandardonline.com

James Forbes is the Western Heritage Columnist for the Western Standard

James Forbes is a columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in History and writes about the history of politics, culture, and religion in Canada. (Twitter: @TartanTie)

Features

Sask PC Party struggles to claw back onto the scene

The Western Standard profiles the Sask PC’s in their attempt to make a comeback.

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Saskatchewan is headed to the polls October 26, 2020. Western Standard Saskatchewan correspondent Lee Harding will examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats each party faces in this election campaign. Our second in the series looks at the Saskatchewan NDP which has been the official opposition for the last 13 years.

READ: Saskatchewan Party Analysis
READ: Saskatchewan NDP Analysis
READ: Buffalo Party Analysis

Background: Grant Devine led the Progressive Conservatives to majority governments from 1982 to 1991. Bill Boyd led the party after Devine, but was one of four PC MLAs who joined with four Liberal MLAs to form the Saskatchewan Party in 1997. The PCs have run minimal campaigns since and not won any seats. Leader Ken Grey finished third in the Regina Northeast by-election in 2018.

Strengths: Ken Gray took over the party in 2018 and has made a concerted effort to bring the party out of dormancy. In the last election, the party ran in 18 ridings and finished third in 10 of them. This time around, the party is running 31 candidates and the Liberals are only running 3. Unlike the other parties without MLAs, the PC’s have more than a million dollars in their account. That’s enough to wage a respectable provincial campaign and target resources to winnable ridings.

Weaknesses:  The PC brand was badly tarnished by leading the province to the brink of bankruptcy, then by an expenses scandal that encompassed many MLAs. By now however, the surprise voters may find as PC candidates knock on the doors is that the party still exists. It has not run a serious campaign since the Sask Party was formed and only earned 1.3 per cent of the provincial vote in 2016.

Many of the PC candidates are political rookies, and more than one-third of them will fight in areas with relatively new EDAs. That suggests a weak and inexperienced volunteer base. The party brands itself as “true conservative” and hopes to outflank the Sask Party on the right. A perusal of the PC candidates shows many are pro-life people of faith. Although Saskatchewan still has a social conservative streak – especially in rural areas – it’s hard to see that translating into a large base of support. What little room there is to the right of the Sask Party will also be contested by the Buffalo Party. Candidates who run in Regina and Saskatoon may face backlash from right-leaning voters who don’t want to see the boogieman of “vote-splitting”. 

Opportunities: A recent Angus Reid poll showed that many voters want an alternative to the two main parties and a stronger opposition. That said, most of these want something in between the NDP and Sask Party, not to the right of them both. As well, out of decided voters, only 7 per cent were voting for a party besides the two leading parties, leaving a very small slice to be split between the Greens, PC’s, and Buffalo Party. Even so, the PCs will likely get the most votes they’ve had in 25 years.

Ken Grey has a shot at placing second in Regina Walsh Acres. Previous Sask Party MLA Warren Steinley vacated the riding when he became a federal Conservative MP. Sportscaster Derek Meyers will represent the Sask Party, while Kelly Hardy will run for the NDP in what will be the first election for each. The wildcard is independent candidate Sandra Morin, a former Minister of Culture, Youth, and Recreation who won the seat in 2003 and 2007 but lost to Steinley in 2011. Morin won the nomination for the NDP but leader Ryan Meili refused to endorse her candidacy in August of 2020 following a “confidential vetting process.” Grey’s riding is one of 24 where the PCs have a candidate and the Buffalo Party does not. 

John Goohsen in Cypress Hills and Rose Buscholl in Humboldt will represent the PCs for the second time, but both will face opponents in the Buffalo Party. Goohsen finished third with 5 per cent of the Cypress Hills vote in 2016, while Buscholl finished fifth in Saskatoon University that year with 1.5 per cent of the vote. Frank Serfas will run in Moosemin, but in 2016 he led the Western Independence Party and got 23 votes in Last Mountain-Touchwood. Tony Ollenberger, candidate for Saskatoon-Fairview, was a founding member and president of the Alberta First Party and ran as their candidate in 2001.

Threats: If the PCs finish behind the Buffalo Party in the eight ridings where they face each other, the latter will gain momentum and become the favoured home for disillusioned Sask Party voters. Grey needs to have a strong showing in his riding upon which to build. If he finishes with just 142 votes (2.8 per cent) as he did in the 2018 Regina Northeast By-election, this party will continue in the political wilderness.

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Features

How Trudeau bought the media

Through a long process of regulation, licensing, and cash handouts, Trudeau has managed to bring nearly the entire Canadian media under government supervision.

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The overwhelming bulk of Canada’s media is bought, and paid for, by the federal government. In particular, by the Liberal Party which has extended generous taxpayer subsidies to outlets that comply with its diktats. 

In its 2019 budget, the federal government rolled out nearly $600 million in subsidies for select media outlets that obtain the federal government’s approval. The latest $600 million cheque is meant to fill a blind spot in exerting government influence over the Canadian print and online media. 

This was a ‘blind spot’, because most of the rest of the Canadian media is already on the take. 

Magazines receive large subsidies to defray the costs of printing, and mailing. Massive “regulatory subsidies” give a cornered market to the government’s favoured broadcasters, and make entry by competitors (like the late Sun News Network) virtually impossible. 

The elephant of government media control is obviously the CBC, with an annual bill to taxpayers well in excess of $1 billion.

By handing nearly $600 million directly to select newspapers, the government isn’t doing anything new. It’s just extending the control that it had over other mediums, to traditional mainstream newspapers. 

To dole out the cash, the Liberals created a handpicked panel, giving the bailout an appearance of distance from direct partisan intervention. Unsurprisingly, the panel was stacked with Liberal allies, some quite openly so

In August, Winnipeg Free Press Publisher and Liberal media panelist Bob Cox, awarded himself a large grant from the $50 million Local Journalism Initiative. He cut himself the cheque to hire two new reporters, including a “climate change correspondent”. What that reporter does all day is anybody’s guess, but that “reporter” owes his or her own job directly to the Liberal government. Can we expect that person to do anything but toe the party line? For all intents and purposes, this person is an employee of the federal government. And not a reporter. 

Even those not directly hired with a large grant in the print business will owe a large portion of their take-home pay to the federal government. The Journalism Labour Credit allows the orwellianly-named “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” to apply for a 25 per cent refundable tax credit, with a cap of $13,750 per employee. 

This puts even credible and reputable reporters, columnists, editors, and publishers in a massive conflict of interest. 

Press Freedom Chart (credit: Western Standard)

MacLeans and iPolitics columnist Stephen Maher wrote in June 2019 that since everyone else is getting bailout out, why not the media?  

“The public policy argument for some kind of measure to shore up public interest journalism is clear as day. For good or ill, the federal government has long been in the bailout business. Taxpayers spent $3.5 billion bailing out automakers.” 

The auto bailout was actually $17 billion, but he has a point. In crony capitalism, every rent-seeking business needs to get their hands in the pie or risk paying the bill for it. But he is wrong on the necessity of. 

“Federal governments routinely act to protect important parts of the economy. When an industry is important enough to our society, Ottawa is forced to act. Banks. Farms. Airlines. Airplane manufacturers. Oil companies. Every significant sector is subsidized or bailed out in one way or another. Few industries are as important to our society as the news media, but so far the government has done nothing but consult.”

The Liberals cut a $595 million cheque soon after, but I can’t recall an oilfield bailout. 

The media is important. Without it, the only voices would be the official government line, and Karen on Twitter. But at what cost are we willing to keep the legacy corporate media afloat? 

“Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells argue that if the government starts to pay our bills, we will inevitably start to suck up to governments, or at least to government,” said Maher. “I’m not so sure…An awful lot of our media is already subsidized, either directly by government, like news magazines, or through CRTC-mandated cable fees and industry funds, like TV news.”

Again, Maher is correct in that most of the other mediums of media are propped up by the government. His case that all of these other mediums are objective, fair and non-partisan is a bit flimsier. 

Most of the media miss the point in boiling media objectivity down to a matter of partisanship. Whether a media outlet is Conservative, Liberal, or NDP is only semi-relevant. Where a media comes down on issues, policy, and ideology, is much more so. 

Liberal media outlets like the Toronto Star were glowing of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government when it enacted ideologically liberal, interventionist policies like the auto bailout. Their only criticism was that it wasn’t enough. Similarly, conservative media outlets praised the Chretien Liberal government in the 1990s when it slashed spending to slay the deficit, as conservatives wanted. 

Where a media outlet stands on the issues is a lot more important than where it stands on partisanship. 

When every major media outlet in Canada is directly on the government take, this cannot help but to influence their coverage toward issues. Can the National Post credibly make the case against the next Bombardier bailout if it is receiving an annual, guaranteed bailout of its own? 

And are the media organizations that are already receiving government-backing (like CBC, CTV and Global) immune from the influence of being on government support? Name one of them that is even mildly conservative or libertarian. 

When Stephen Harper cut the CBC’s $1 billion budget by 5 per cent, the network launched a holy war against him. When Justin Trudeau promised a massive increase to their budget, they hailed him as the Second Coming (which, in a sense, he was). 

There is a small but growing list of upstart alternative media entering the market. Most will not qualify for government funding, likely by design. The Liberals tied themselves into pretzels to prevent Ezra Levant’s Rebel News from qualifying. This was a bad idea for several reasons. 

First, if Rebel News did qualify, and did accept the money, it would have blown its reputation as an outsider media outfit, righteously blasting the mainstream media for its complacency. In all probability, Rebel Newswould have refused the money if it was available for that reason. Much the same as the Western Standard

Second, by creating a regulatory rat’s nest to exclude Rebel Media, they made it much more difficult for other up-and-coming alternative media sources to compete with the big, dying, legacy media sources. By advantaging the media outlets whose business models are failing them, the government gives them a massive competitive edge over their new challengers in the market. 

The Liberals tweaked this a bit by giving themselves an even greater latitude in selecting which favoured media outlets qualify, by creating a government media licensing program. Only “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” get in on the good times. 

In addition to creating artificial advantages for some media sources over others, they have also gone down the dark, authoritarian road of deciding who is a “real journalist”, and who is not. 

For our part, the Western Standard will not be registering for a government media license, and we will not be accepting bailout dollars. This puts us at a legally designed, permanent competitive disadvantage with our competitors. But as the publisher and primary owner, I would rather go bankrupt than corrupt ourselves for thirty pieces of silver. 

Trudeau’s media bailout will not save the newspaper business. It will put it in a complacent, comatose state on life support, fearful that if it acts against its master, that the plug could be pulled at any time. 

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

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Features

ANALYSIS: Sask Buffalo Party’s Opportunities and Weaknesses

The Western Standard breaks down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of Saskatchewan’s new Buffalo Party.

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Background: The Wexit Facebook page exploded after the Justin Trudeau Liberals were re-elected to government on October 19, 2019. Wexit Saskatchewan gathered 3,500 signatures from 12 constituencies and became an official party on March 10, 2020. The party name was changed to the Buffalo Party in June and Wade Sira was named interim leader.

Strengths: Volunteers showed plenty of diligence when they blew away the signature threshold to achieve party status less than five months after the last federal election. That kind of legwork is what it takes to build a party from scratch. Their promotional video featuring Sira is inspiring and surprisingly well-produced.

The party platform reclaims ground abdicated by the Saskatchewan Party such as maintaining three coal-fired power plants slated to close, and taking the PST off of used vehicles and restaurant bills. The party also wants to hold elections for senators, the Lieutenant Governor, and judges. New legislation would facilitate citizen-initiated referendums for legislation or to recall elected official. These ideas generally play well in rural areas. 

The Buffalo Party policy document has also borrowed a policy plank of the NDP by proposing the province exit the New West Partnership and implement a Saskatchewan-first hiring policy for government contracts. 

Weaknesses: Some of the platform ideas are aspirational but impractical in the way confederation currently works. The platform incorporates ideas already considered by Alberta, such as moving the collection of taxes into the province, and opting out of the Canada Pension Plan to replace it with a provincial version. But the ideas make less sense in Saskatchewan than for its western neighbour due to a lower population and weaker demographics. The Buffalo Party wants to replace the Mounties with a provincial police force, but that could potentially cost Saskatchewan the RCMP training centre and museum.

The party has only slated candidate for 14 of 61 ridings, and most have never run in an election before. Although the NDP gained official opposition status with 10 seats in 2016, the Buffalo Party will be very lucky to get one.

Opportunities: The Buffalo Party has the opportunity of being the first of the new wave of sovereigntist parties to have an election on the prairies, breaking ground for its Wildrose counterpart in Alberta, and the Mavericks federally. Electoral success will be harder to find, but the several candidates have a chance at making at least a dent. 

Buffalo Party interim leader Wade Sira is running in the only riding where the Saskatchewan Party incumbent is not returning and there is no Progressive Conservative candidate. In 2016, Nancy Heppner won Martensville-Warman with 79 per cent of the vote, while the NDP’s Jasmine Calix took 17 per cent. Both parties will be represented by new candidates this time.

Cut Knife-Turtleford candidate Richard Nelson has experience running in federal Conservative nomination races and would be successful if he could take second place. In 2016, Larry Doke of the Saskatchewan Party took the riding with nearly 80 per cent of the vote, while the NDP’s Danica Lorer took 958 votes for 13 per cent. Neither will run in this election. The PCs will be represented by Allison Nesdoly, whose husband John ran for the Western Independence Party (WIP) there in 2007, getting just 66 votes. In 2003, Josaiah Rise ran for the WIP, getting 174 votes for 2.7 per cent of the total.

Kindersley candidate Jason Cooper was elected as a school board trustee and served on federal Conservative and Saskatchewan Party boards. When the Sask Party’s Bill Boyd won in 2016, independent candidate Jason Dearborn – a former Sask Party MLA – took second with 18 percent of the vote. The NDP received only 10 per cent of the vote in the 2018 by-election, and just 7 per cent during the 2016 general election.

Estevan candidate Phil Zajac ran as a People’s Party candidate in Souris-Moose Mountain in the last federal election. He finished fourth with 702 votes for 1.69 per cent of the total. He will face Sask Party incumbent MLA Lori Carr and rookies Seth Lendrum of the NDP and Linda Sopp of the PC’s. In 2016, the NDP took 9 per cent of the vote and the PC’s 8.8 per cent.

Threats: The Buffalo Party changed its name to distance itself from more radical elements of the Wexit movement. Although the candidates have been vetted, the provincial campaign has already seen past words and actions haunt Sask Party and NDP candidates. While the Buffalo Party has received relatively little attention by the mainstream media during the election, an embarrassing dig on one of their candidates is a real risk. 

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

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