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MCCOLL: An Elected Senate Should Include Electoral Reform

In our early history, Albertans were electoral reform innovators. Let’s recapture that boldness in building a fair deal for all Canadians with a Triple-E Senate.

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In 1984, Alberta farmer Bert Brown plowed four famous words (and a letter) into his field: “Triple-E Senate or Else”. “Elected, equal, and effective”, was the rallying cry for many in the West who believed that a radically reformed Senate would be the key to protecting provinces against an often-hostile federal government. Brown would eventually run for the Reform Party and be elected as a Senator-in-Waiting, but would not enter the red chamber until his appointment by Stephen Harper in 2007.

The fight for Senate reform has continued, and has renewed importance today. Many Western-based groups and political parties in the last three decades pushed for it. The need for fair representation in the upper house is obvious to most Albertans, and Project Confederation includes Senate reform in its “New Alberta Agenda.”

While many groups demand senate reform, most are vague on the details. As the resident electoral reform wonk at the Western Standard, I’d like to propose a specific plan inspired by the proportional representation system Albertans used to elect urban MLAs between 1926 and 1955: The single transferable vote (STV).

Before diving into how to vote for the Senate, it’s important to understand the makeup and ideology behind the Senate. The current framework is based on the idea of dividing the nation into four regions, each with equal representation provided by 24 senators. The regions are Ontario (24), Quebec (24), Western Canada (6 each for British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba), and the Maritimes (10 each for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 4 for Prince Edward Island). When Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada in 1949, the new province was granted 6 senators. The territories gained a single senator each in 1975 – and another for Nunavut in 1999 – bringing the total to 105 today.

Senate seats by province (source: WikiCommons)

A reformed Senate should move from one of arbitrary “equal” regions, to one of equal provinces. In this, each province has 12 senators. With an equal senate, there is no longer a need for small provinces to be overrepresented in the House of Commons, and the rule of having no fewer members of parliament than a province has senators could be repealed. 

Prince Edward Island would be reduced from four MPs down to two, while Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador would each lose a single MP. Alberta would gain three MPs, Ontario would gain two, and B.C. would gain one. 

To make senators responsible to someone besides themselves and the prime minister, senators should be elected during provincial elections, and mandate that senators run as members of provincial political parties. This is partly inspired by how German Länder (state) governments appoint representatives to their upper house after each state election, under their Länder party banners. 

It has been 65 years since the last Alberta STV ballot was cast – although Calgary City Council used a form of STV between 1917 and 1971 – so I doubt there are many readers with firsthand experience marking an STV ballot, save for recent immigrants from Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Using STV to elect senators would involve creating three large electoral districts per province where voters use a ranked ballot to elect four senators under the Droop quota. As there will be multiple winners in each district, the major political parties will run multiple candidates. This empowers voters and eliminates the need to vote strategically – no more “vote splitting” boogieman or “throwing your vote away” – as voters can choose the ranking of individual candidates. To save you some math, to win a seat, a candidate needs 20 per cent of the vote plus 1. 

Thanks to computers and scannable ballots, counting the ranked votes is simple and painless. The first step is to redistribute extra votes from any candidate who received more votes than required to win – 20 per cent plus 1 – to the second-place candidates. Next, we start from the bottom and eliminate the most unpopular candidates – one at a time – while redistributing their votes based on the voters’ ranked preferences until we have four winners. Still confused? A seven minute video on STV can be found here and – for the math keeners – a three minute video on Droop can be found here

It’s more straightforward than defenders of the status quo claim, but it does require voters to pay attention.

The three remaining senators from the territories would be elected using a simple ranked ballot as there would still only be one senator per territory. With 12 senators per province and one per territory, the new Canadian Senate would have 123 equal and elected senators. Knowing they’ll face a hotly contested re-election battle under STV, there’s plenty of motivation to be effective.

In our early history, Albertans were electoral reform innovators. Let’s recapture that boldness in building a fair deal for all Canadians with a Triple-E Senate.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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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