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NAVARRO-GENIE: Trudeau’s failed power grab an attack on democracy

Government without limitations is very rarely good government. The lack of limitations always opens greater avenues for abusing power.

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The Trudeau government’s effort to transfer power temporarily from the House of Commons to the Office of the Finance Minister was an unconstitutional attempt to bypass the will of Canadians as expressed in the 2019 election. By stopping them, the opposition parties have done great service to the country.

The effort is puzzling because no such move is contemplated in the Emergencies Act. The Act was designed to transfer enormous ability to the federal sphere, including powers from exclusive provincial jurisdictions, for renewable periods of 90 days. But no previous Parliament considering emergencies had contemplated what Prime Minister Trudeau wanted: to relieve the House of Commons of one of its most significant constitutional features, and for along period of time.  

Why would the House of Commons delegate to the finance minister the most important power it holds for a period that is seven times longer than the time the Emergencies Act contemplates for the transferring of lesser powers? 

The 90-day requirement in the Act is a deliberate limitation on government power, placed in the understanding that power can be abused, and concentrated power can be abused the more. 

Let’s ask what about the present situation is so radically unusual to warrant the deviation? What is so different about this government that Canadians should trust them seven times more than they have contemplated to trust previous governments with emergency powers in the past? 

The wish to augment its influence was not about taxes and spending. This was about removing constitutional restrictions and a government wishing to free itself from limitations that voters recently placed on it. 

To limit government power and to protect our individual liberties and property, our constitutional traditions place the power to spend and tax in the House of Commons. The lion’s share of the obligations to limit power and protect citizens falls on the shoulders of the House of Commons as a check on the executive power. 

Emanating from the same tradition – and going as far back as Magna Carta in 1215 – governments may not appropriate the fruits of their citizen’s labour – of which taxing is one manifestation – without their consent. In our parliamentary democracy, only the House of Commons may grant such consent. What the Trudeau government wanted to do is not contemplated in the Emergencies Act because it is unconstitutional.  

Nor can the consent to tax be farmed out. In Eurig Estate (1998), the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the principle that taxation must originate in the House of Commons and cannot constitutionally be delegated to any one government officer or department. 

The full consent of the House of Commons to tax and spend is so crucial a piece in our constitutional tradition that losing the confidence of the House may trigger the demise of a government (and therefore an election). 

And here is the core of the matter. 

We have a minority government, intending to shield itself from the cornerstone principle of responsible government by dispensing with the confidence of the House, circumventing the oversight of Parliament for 21 months.

But why? Not many will believe that Justin Trudeau stealthily intended to start paving a road for Canada to become a banana republic.

The move simply sought to take advantage of a crisis to gain self-serving political convenience. It would have insulated the minority government from all possibility of losing a vote on a money bill for the subsequent 21 months, turning a minority government into an invincible super minority. In fact, Trudeau’s minority government would be even more powerful than the majority government he led before that.  

It would have entirely freed the Liberal government from the annoyance of opposition, allowing them to govern in minority without having to satisfy the House on financial matters, and without having to make the compromises that are typical of regular politics.  

The opposition parties (less the Bloc which rolled over) deserve good credit here. Government without limitations is very rarely good government. The lack of limitations always opens greater avenues for abusing power. And this government has already been repeatedly reluctant to follow rules and respect the law.

Last fall – with scant representation from Western Canada, and second place in the popular vote – Canadians sent the Trudeau Liberals back to Parliament to form a minority government, thus placing greater limitations on their power than before.  

This week, we saw an attempt to shake lose from the inconvenience of that electoral outcome. What we witnessed was a bold attempt at usurping popular power. 

Marco Navarro-Génie is a columnist for the Western Standard, the President of the Haultain Research Institute and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Marco Navarro-Génie is a Columnist for the Western Standard, President of the Haultain Research Institute, and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Opinion

WAGNER: How early American immigration shaped Alberta’s cultural distinctiveness

The large numbers of American immigrants in the province’s early decades, as well as during the post-war oil rush, helps to explain why Alberta is a culturally distinct region within Canada.

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The question of whether Alberta is a culturally distinct region has been raised recently by the authors of the Buffalo Declaration, and by others in the past. Over the years, a number of scholars have written about this issue, attempting to explain how and why Alberta differs politically and culturally from the other provinces. 

For the most part, these scholars do not approve of Alberta’s uniqueness, since a common theme in their work is the influence of religious and political conservativism on the province. 

What is it about Alberta that makes it different? One answer would be the people that originally settled here.

That is to say, a key influence on the culture of any newly settled community – such as Alberta – is immigration. Early in its history, the province’s identity was shaped by the cultures of the early settlers who founded it. With this in mind, it is significant that Alberta welcomed a particularly large number of American immigrants, much more so than other provinces.

Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, has probably written more about the political effect of American immigration on Alberta than anyone. Wiseman specializes in the study of “political culture.” He has carefully studied the political cultures of Canada’s various regions and provinces, and he has highlighted the impact of American immigration on Alberta, especially during its formative years. 

The effect of American immigration according to Wiseman, has been substantial. As he writes in his 2007 book In Search of Canadian Political Culture, “In 1911, American-born Albertans (22 per cent of the population) outnumbered the British-born, Ontario-born, and European-born. Almost certainly, this was the largest concentration of Americans in any jurisdiction outside the US.” 

He adds that, “Americans and their ideas helped shape provincial politics because they settled in the politically determinative rural areas. Their influence was particularly pronounced in the south.”

After the discovery of oil in 1947, more Americans came north to help in the development of the province’s petroleum industry. According to Wiseman, “Between 1955 and 1970, nine of the fifteen presidents of Calgary’s exclusive and influential Petroleum Club were Americans. In no other province were Americans so prominent as captains of industry.”

Besides the over-sized influence on the oil industry, something similar occurred in the realm of religion. Wiseman writes that, “Alberta has been the province most receptive to Christian evangelicalism. As early as 1908, the Calgary Daily Herald reported that American and central Canadian ‘evangelists seem to have a grip on the city.’”

To a certain degree, this religious influence has carried over into politics because “Alberta resembles the US” in that “evangelical Christians have played leading political roles there.” 

Wiseman points out that the connection between religion and politics is not just a phenomenon of the distant past, either: “That conservative religious influence lingers in Alberta can be seen in the federal party leaders recently produced by the province: Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Stephen Harper are all evangelical Christians.”

Wiseman is not alone in emphasizing the crucial role of immigration patterns on the province. In 1990, historians Howard and Tamara Palmer published a one-volume history of Alberta entitled Alberta: A New History. Among other things, the Palmers wanted to explain Alberta’s conservative political culture, and like Wiseman, they root their explanation in immigration. However, their analysis differs somewhat from his because they suggest that, besides the Americans, certain Europeans also contributed to the right-leaning orientation of Alberta’s political environment.

As a general point, the Palmers argue that the post-World War Two wave of immigration that flowed into the province, “contributed to the rightward shift in Alberta’s political culture.” In particular, they write that the political perspectives of eastern and central European immigrants escaping communism, “were among the many factors that helped to shift Alberta’s political culture to the right during the 1950s and 1960s.”

But movement in the conservative direction didn’t come just from eastern Europeans. Besides that group, there were also, “British immigrants fleeing socialism, conservative rural Dutch Calvinist immigrants, and the small-business oriented Germans, Austrians, and Scandinavians, who were usually leery of government regulation.”

Like Wiseman, however, the Palmers also note the disproportionate influence of Americans in the post-war period. Although their numbers were not large, a considerable number were prominent oilmen and, “Like their counterparts in the United States, they often held strong right-wing views.”

It should not be surprising that the culture of early settlers – and even the arrival of later immigrants – can have a profound impact on the culture of any society. The fact that Quebec was originally settled by people from France affects Canadian culture and politics every day.

Although Alberta was not founded by Americans in the way that Quebec was settled by the French, Americans constituted a disproportionate number of early settlers – and later pioneers of the oil industry. Their cultural and political influence helped to make Alberta different from the other provinces to some degree. In other words, the large numbers of American immigrants in the province’s early decades, as well as during the post-war oil rush, helps to explain why Alberta is a culturally distinct region within Canada.

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

MORGAN: Alberta’s independence movement is here to stay

Things are different this time. Support for Alberta independence is no longer relegated to the fringe. It is a growing movement which is only a charismatic leader away from exploding.

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Western alienation within Canada has been around for generations. Our unequal system of confederation forces the federal powers that be to cater to Central and Eastern Canadian interests at the expense of outlying regions who tend to be treated patronizingly as simply being revenue-generating colonies. That ongoing alienation has led to several surges in support for Alberta independence over the decades. Those independence movements tend to fade almost as quickly as they rise as Albertans grudgingly settled down and accepted whatever the federal incursion du jour may be.

In October of 2019, support for Alberta independence surged again when Justin Trudeau was re-elected as Canada’s Prime Minister. The Liberal Party’s support was vaporized on the prairies due to years of economic abuse under Trudeau’s anti-fossil fuel agenda. With a terrible campaign which embarrassed the entire nation as Justin Trudeau’s blackface antics made headlines around the world, Westerners felt confident that Trudeau would be sent into electoral oblivion. That confidence was misplaced as Trudeau remained as prime minister albeit with a minority government. Central Canada made it clear that they would still prefer having the Clown Prince Trudeau as a prime minister before they would support even a milquetoast a Western leader like Andrew Scheer.

Usually, post-electoral rage induced support for independence fades within three months or so. It has been seven months since Trudeau’s re-election, and support for Alberta independence has only gotten stronger. We are not looking at a short term expression of ire in Alberta. We are seeing a genuine movement begin to put down roots.

In a poll commissioned by the Western Standard of 1,100 Albertans, it was found that up to 48 per cent of Albertans would consider voting “yes” for Alberta independence in a referendum. This is an unprecedented level of support for independence, and there is no sign that it will be going away.

I have long said and still maintain that Albertans will only support independence when they feel that all other avenues of change have been pursued first. Albertans embraced the concept of the “Fair Deal” panel which toured the province and solicited the views of Albertans on how they could improve Alberta’s lot within confederation. This exercise was designed to quell support for independence. The panel was examining concepts such as a provincial pension plan or a referendum on equalization. These were steps which could have helped ease the traditional inequity within Canada that Alberta endures.

Source: government of Alberta

Albertans found to their ire and exasperation, that Jason Kenney won’t even let them see the report from the “Fair Deal” panel. If the Premier won’t even let Albertans see the conclusions of the panel they put their time and effort (not to mention tax dollars) into, it becomes pretty evident that the Premier won’t have the will and fortitude to pursue any of the conclusions of the panel.

This callow move on the part of the provincial government accelerated the growth in support for outright provincial secession over incremental approaches to provincial independence within confederation. Clearly, initiatives such as the “Fair Deal” panel are simply delay and distract tactics being tossed out in the hope that Albertans would forget about considering outright independence. Instead of easing secessionism within Alberta, the UCP government has inflamed it.

Alberta was already struggling due to low world commodity prices and a pipeline embargo from Ottawa. With the pandemic lockdown decimating the economy, Albertans are worried for their economic future. They feel vulnerable in rebuilding as a hungry and hostile Central Canada always appears poised to pounce and either abscond with the funds from our economic development or shut down our means to develop the economy altogether. With a feeling of having little to lose, Albertans are concluding that they will be best off on their own.

Alberta won’t be voting to leave confederation in the immediate future, but a strong and dedicated base of support for independence has developed. Getting angry at election results produces temporary sovereigntists. The realization that the system is broken is what produces permanent sovereigntists. In this last year, more Albertans realized the futility of pursuing change within a broken system than ever before. Those people want to see nothing less than Alberta independence and they won’t be looking back.

Things are different this time. Support for Alberta independence is no longer relegated to the fringe. It is a growing movement which is only a charismatic leader away from exploding.

Cory Morgan and a columnist for the Western Standard and a business owner in Priddis, Alberta.

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Opinion

WAGNER: Are Westerners really Canadians?

Many Westerners have a strong regional identity and therefore feel a closer bond with the West than with Canada as a whole.

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What is a Canadian? One answer would be, any person with Canadian citizenship. That is probably a sufficient answer for most people. On that basis, almost every Western Canadian qualifies as a real Canadian. 

But what if the question – “What is a Canadian?” – was asked, instead, about the country’s national identity? Do Westerners qualify as Canadians under the criteria of Canadian national identity? The answer to this question is more problematic.

A nation’s identity refers to the way in which its citizens see themselves as being distinct from citizens of other countries. In his book about America’s national identity entitled “Who Are We?”, the late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote, “Identity is an individual’s or a group’s sense of self. It is a product of self-consciousness, that I or we possess distinct qualities as an entity that differentiates me from you and us from them.” He adds that, “Identities are imagined selves: they are what we think we are and what we want to be.” 

Identity, in other words, is how we think of ourselves in relation to others.

It should not just be assumed that since Westerners live in a geographical part of Canada that they automatically embrace Canada’s national identity, or national myths. Instead, this matter requires careful analysis. The person who has done the most thinking on this question is political scientist Barry Cooper of the University of Calgary. As it turns out, he believes that the political identity of Westerners is different from that of Eastern Canadians. In his view, what is commonly referred to as “Canadian identity” is actually a concept that is primarily derived from – and relevant for – southern Ontario.

In 1984, Cooper wrote a groundbreaking academic article addressing this issue – “Western Political Consciousness” – that was published in the book “Political Thought in Canada” edited by Stephen Brooks. In my opinion, this article should be required reading for all serious students of Canadian politics.

To understand the question of national identity, it is essential to look at Canadian history. The first major wave of English-speaking settlement into Canada consisted of colonists who had supported British imperial authority in the American War of Independence. These colonials wanted to continue to live under British rule and therefore migrated to southern Ontario (formerly Upper Canada) and the Maritimes. They were known as “Loyalists.”

A generation later, these same people and their children had to defend themselves against American incursions during the War of 1812. Because of their conflicts with and hostility towards the United States, the Loyalists of southern Ontario developed what Cooper calls a “garrison mentality”, whereby they saw themselves as a beleaguered community, constantly on guard. This concept of the garrison became their “imaginative reality,” or how they understood their community in relation to the rest of the world.

The experience of these early residents of Ontario, first as refugees from hostile Americans, then as defenders of their land against American invasion, explains the origin and prevalence of anti-American sentiment in Canada. 

Due to the demographic and political preeminence of southern Ontario within Canada, its own identity became the basis for Canadian national identity. As Cooper writes, “Canada, the imaginative reality centred in the Loyalist heartland, became Canada the political reality.” In other words, “there is indeed a Canadian identity, but it is restricted to the Loyalist heartland.”

However, the garrison mentality of southern Ontario did not take hold in the West. The people of the western provinces had different historical experiences than those of southern Ontario and therefore developed a different imaginative reality: “Western regional identity, to the extent that it is distinct from ‘Canadian’ identity, refers to distinct experiences expressed by way of distinct symbols and themes.”

The stories of the West are different from those of Ontario, and that is important according to Cooper: “Stories, including the systematic stories we call history, reveal meanings, local and particular ones first of all, and through them general and universal ones. History, too, is a source of identity; historical literature also shows who we are and where is here because it recounts what was done and said.”

Consequently, since the West does not see itself as a transplanted Ontario garrison, it is not imaginatively part of Canada. That is, because the historical experiences of Westerners were so different from those of southern Ontario, Westerners don’t share with Ontarians the same understanding of what it means to be Canadian.

This has implications for the idea of national unity. As Cooper puts it, “national unity is a symbol expressing ‘Canadian’ identity, the identity of the Loyalist heartland.” That is to say, it’s not truly “national” at all. Instead, it largely involves advancing the regional interest of a certain part of Canada (i.e. Ontario) under the guise of what’s best for all of Canada.

Many Westerners have a strong regional identity and therefore feel a closer bond with the West than with Canada as a whole. This is fundamental to Western imaginative reality. Cooper explains as follows: “Regional identity is at the heart of Western political consciousness. For many Westerners, as for many francophone Quebecers, the significant public realm is not Canada, but the region or province. Canada for them is, first and perhaps last, a legal structure that performs certain administrative functions. It is not first of all a collective political reality, nor an important source of meaning or pride, save under exceptional circumstances. In contrast, the region, the West, carries a constant and positive emotional valence: it is here and us.”

Of course, not all Westerners identify more closely with the West than with Canada as a whole – but many of us do. For us, Cooper’s analysis explains something that we have sensed but were previously unable to clearly understand and articulate. That is, the idea of Canadian identity presented to us expresses a different understanding of the country than the one we actually experience ourselves. 

Westerners have long felt left out of important political and economic decisions in Canada. Historically, many federal policies were enacted at the expense of the West – with the National Energy Program being the quintessential example. But according to Cooper’s analysis, Westerners have also been left out of the common meaning of Canadian identity. Looked at from this perspective – that is, the perspective of national identity – it is not too much to ask, are Westerners really Canadians?

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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