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Two Alberta businesses – different challenges in a pandemic

“Whatever has happened elsewhere is what we’re barreling towards,” Jacobs said.

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Bryan Orr, a drilling engineer in Alberta, is employed with NBC Technologies, who subcontracts with larger operators such as Tamarack Valley.

“I love drilling but it’s about to fall off a cliff,” Orr said. “The oil price coupled with challenges relating to chemicals and materials from China…”

During the drilling process, water, or a mud mixture, is pumped down through the bit. Barite, one of the chemicals used in that process, as well as chemicals used to make cement, come from China. Orr says the supply is getting low.

There’s also other materials such as pipe which is also becoming more scarce. Piping used both in the drilling process so the rock doesn’t collapse itself and pipe that is used to transport product. Orr said some of the storage companies are setting to close and that’s going to cause a problem.

“Reasons for Canada running a fraction of the rigs of the US aren’t geologically driven but based on pipeline access and other regulatory issues that are solvable by a supportive federal government.”

But Orr says there are further difficulties with the changes enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to working remotely.

“Unique challenges with the pandemic lie with decision-makers – getting rapid approvals can be difficult.”

In a business that has been about face-to-face meeting and relationship building, the idea that all work can continue via email isn’t as welcome to those used to running the show in person.

Even with those challenges, however, Orr said he is still optimistic.

One positive of the rapid changes in oil that have been happening is that these issues also help drive efficiencies. Orr says the cost of drilling wells has gone down substantially in Canada – comparatively – to the U.S.

“We’ve been lucky (at Tamarack and NBC Technologies) because we had a huge success last year that’s been driving a lot of production this year. Even though it’s a reduction in drilling, we were able to prove that we could reduce our footprint with three-mile Tamarack wells that allow us greater access.”

The new drilling process is nominated for a Collaborative Trendsetter award at the Global Petroleum Show.

Orr admits the majority of his work, while reliant on a customer-base, isn’t reliant on in-person transactions. Others – who are reliant on the physical presence of consumerism – are facing additional challenges that aren’t just based on the point of sale.

Jonathan Jacobs owns a Fort Lanes, a bowling and virtual golf business in Fort Saskatchewan. He purchased the business after he was laid off from his job in the oil patch in 2015. Jacobs could see that times were changing for his trade and he and his wife decided to invest in a local business.

Jacobs says the family wasn’t likely to get rich but they made a living. He had enough business to hire some employees and, all in all, had a successful small business.

“We had a ‘soft’ year (in 2019),” he said. “We looked at 2020 and said ‘it’ll be fine as long as nothing goes wrong’.”

The small entertainment business Jacobs runs still has employees but a lot less customers.

“I underestimated (the impact of COVID-19) until right now,” he said. “As of last Wednesday, there was no reason to believe this was coming.”

“This” is mass cancellation of classes and people being told to self-isolate. What bothers him most is the apparent mixed messaging.

“The government response has been rapid fire and all over the map. It’s hard to get your feet under you,” he said. “And that’s just week one – what happens in week two?”

Jacobs said people are being told to stay home but the government is also saying businesses can remain open. He said it doesn’t help him to stay open if there’s no customers. It’s something he’s also hearing that from other business owners in the area.

“We (local business owners) talk every day right now,” he said. “I can’t work from home – I can’t deliver bowling pins to your house to play there.”

His alley hosts leagues for all ages and special Olympics training. Jacobs said they cut the league play but his alley won’t hold 250 people so he stayed open. Now the government is saying no more than 50 people should gather but they’re also saying people need to adapt to a ‘new normal’ that is based on social distancing.

Special Olympics is on hold until April 13, Jacobs said. but public health messaging is saying things will be on hold for “months”.

Jacobs said he’s getting a better idea of what to expect from watching what’s going on in other provinces – like Quebec – who just asked bars and restaurants to close.

“Whatever happened there is what we’re barreling towards,” he said.

He said he wished that business owners had better communication from the leadership in terms of what to expect. Jacobs said he realizes this is unprecedented but feels like a more coordinated effort to communicate, especially when so many businesses are reliant on customers being physically present, would have been beneficial for him – especially when it comes to planning.

“There were 29 cases when we implemented the social distancing. What are the parameters for ending this?” He asked. “Not knowing is the worst. I have employees. Is it going to continue until May? June? At least then I’d know it’s not April.”

“They have issues managers making a quarter of a million dollars per year – why don’t they manage some real issues?”

Jacobs said he’s hoping the communication will get better, particularly in terms of how “this ends”.

“What will they be looking for to ease the restrictions?” He asked. “How will we know if we should hold on or close up?”

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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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