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FILDEBRANDT: It’s time to release Alberta’s Fair Deal report

Alberta may have voted overwhelmingly Conservative federally and provincially with the hope of pushing Ottawa back, but federal control is stronger now than at any point in living memory.

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COVID-19 dominates all right now. Politically, there’s no room for anything else. Outside of Alberta, most opposition parties have holstered their guns for fear of being seen to be scoring points during a crisis. Governments have tried to grab even more power, as the federal Liberals attempted (but failed) to effectively suspend parliament for two years, and the Alberta Tories passed the slightly less extreme Bill 10.

In times of crisis, conformity and obedience are expected. In Ottawa, the Trudeau government is considering an extraordinary bill to combat “misinformation” on the internet. The thin line between misinformation and dissenting information could easily be lost by governments that have been pining for greater regulation of online speech for decades.

The federal and Alberta governments – both already running massive, long-term deficits – have plunged into a borrowing program that is likely to dwarf even the Second World War.

A speaker takes the microphone at the Alberta Fair Deal Panel hearings in Calgary.

As in wartime, all facets of society and the individual are forcefully subsumed to the will of the state during an emergency. As in wartime, discussion of anything else besides the crisis at hand is considered superfluous, distracting, and even dangerous.

It’s not just the small stuff that has fallen off the political radar; it’s the potentially monumental as well.

The big potential bright spot in Alberta – Premier Kenney’s “Fair Deal Panel” – is on ice. Those pining for Alberta to do something beyond complaining to Ottawa are probably getting impatient, but delaying the panel’s report might be smart politics. Releasing the report now might be viewed as everything else non-COVID related is: an unnecessary political distraction; or even worse, subversive treason.

Since the day the panel was commissioned, the Alberta NDP has painted it as an exercise in treason for wanting even the most modest reforms to Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa. As people in large numbers suspend their skepticism and defer to authority during a crisis, any attempt to loosen the federal grip on Alberta would likely have less support at the moment.

However unfortunate the timing may be, the many Albertans that voted UCP to confront Ottawa must be getting impatient. It has now been a full year since the last election, and far from lessening federal control over Alberta, Ottawa’s grip has only tightened. To date, the only response has been words.

Since the last Alberta election, Ottawa has refused to back down on the carbon tax, and Alberta agreed to keep it in place for industry. Ottawa strangled the Teck Frontier oilsands mine to death, and Alberta said it was unhappy about that. Ottawa has continued with the same Equalization formula, and even the federal Conservatives (less the renegade Buffalo MPs) have said nothing.

Alberta may have voted overwhelmingly Conservative federally and provincially with the hope of pushing Ottawa back, but federal control is stronger now than at any point in living memory.

Delay in releasing the Fair Deal Panel’s report may have rational political reasons, but it is forcing those on the fence between reform and sovereignty to wait even longer. Already, many fear that the panel’s report will contain a lot of tough talk and only a few tokenistic action items.

It’s impossible to say how long the COVID-bunker mentality will last, but if it lasts much longer, democracies will have to begin addressing the other issues (that is, everything else) that is being forgotten.

Alberta’s recently passed budget was based on fantasy oil projections that nobody believes will be even close to accurate. The province urgently needs an entirely new budget with a radically new fiscal framework. Even the less oil-dependent federal budget is shot through, as unemployment reaches levels last seen during the Great Depression.

While massive numbers of Canadians are out of work or on reduced hours, the vast majority of MPs and MLAs (3/4ths of which work very little to begin with) are collecting a full salary while sitting at home recording inspirational Facebook videos. Unless these politicians are expected to begin working as usual again, their reduced hours should also come with reduced pay.

Some will groan that now is not the time for debating a new relationship between their province and the federal government, but the majority of those never wanted to debate it in the first place. If our elected MPs and MLAs are capable of running the country and province from home, then surely citizens with a lot more time on their hands are capable of reading the report and debating it online.

If the government expects that the lockdown will last more than a few weeks (which it will), then it should release the report now. If the report contains anything substantive, it will take time to prepare the legislation, and even longer to organize referendums to ratify its recommendations.

The lockdown has already lasted a month and a half, and could last much longer. It’s time that our leaders started addressing issues beyond COVID.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher & CEO of the Western Standard
dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter: @dfildebrandt

Opinion

WAGNER: How Pierre Trudeau created the Alberta independence movement, and his son made it mainstream

Michael Wagner writes that before 1980, independence was a tiny fringe movement. In 2020, it is approaching a majority of Albertans.

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A fundamental change occurred in Alberta in 1980. On February 18 of that year, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals defeated Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives, restoring Trudeau to the office of prime minister. Consequently, on October 28 – a day that will live in infamy – the National Energy Program (NEP) was unleashed as a blatant attack on Alberta and its oil industry. These historical events generated a credibility for Alberta’s independence movement that had never before existed. After 1980, support for independence was no longer a tiny fringe phenomenon.

Until the fateful events of 1980, polling data measuring support for Alberta independence were generally in the low single digits. This can be seen in the early polls on sovereigntist sentiment that were reported in a 1979 article by political scientists David Elton and Roger Gibbins entitled, “Western Alienation and Political Culture,” in the book The Canadian Political Process. As Elton and Gibbins noted, a 1969 provincial poll found that only 5 per cent of “respondents expressed interest in even discussing the merits of separation.” Five years later, a 1974 survey conducted in Calgary found less than 4 per cent “expressed even the most cautious support for separatism.” And in a 1977 survey commissioned by the Calgary Herald, only 2.7 per cent said yes to the question, “Would you like Alberta to separate?” 

Clearly – at least as far as polling data suggests – support for independence was disappointingly low before 1980. 

But then Canada experienced the second-coming of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – who can rightly be called the father of the Alberta independence movement because his policies gave the movement its original credibility and momentum. 

The effect of Trudeau’s aggressive anti-Alberta posture was immediate. Data from a number of post-NEP polls are presented in an article entitled, “Separatism and Quasi-Separatism in Alberta” by sociologist Edward Bell in the Fall 2007 issue of Prairie Forum. On November 1, 1980 (shortly after the NEP was announced), the Calgary Herald reported on a poll indicating that 23 per cent of Albertans were in favour of Western Canadian independence. A subsequent study – undertaken in Edmonton from February to April 1981 – found that “about one in four respondents either supported Alberta independence or were willing to give their provincial government a mandate to negotiate it.” 

Surprisingly, in a March 1981 poll conducted by the Canada West Foundation, 49 per cent of Albertans agreed with the statement: “Western Canadians get so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” That question did not measure outright commitment to independence as such, but it does seem rather high. Nevertheless, it is not inconsistent with some later polling. 

Sociologist Trevor Harrison, in his 1995 book, Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, reports on a 1992 poll with a question very similar to the one from the Canada West Foundation. Harrison writes, a “poll of 710 Westerners conducted by Environics Research in March 1992 found that 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the question: ‘Western Canada gets so few benefits from Confederation the region might as well be on its own.’” At that time, of course, Brian Mulroney was prime minister, and like Pierre Trudeau, he catered to Central Canada at the expense of the West. In fact, Mulroney’s policies led to the rise of the Reform Party.

Edward Bell adds one more poll result to fill things out. In 2005, a poll found 35.6 per cent of Westerners agreed with the statement: “Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country.” 

More recently, on August 1, 2014, Insights West released a poll of Albertans that found, “Only 23 per cent of residents believe the province would be better off as its own country.” “Only” 23 per cent? Actually, 23 percent is rather high, especially considering that Stephen Harper – an Albertan – was prime minister at the time.

Two years later, on July 28, 2016, Insights West released another poll noting that “23 per cent of Albertans say the province would be better off as its own country.” The percentage remained the same as before, but the harmful effects of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s anti-Alberta policies were not yet fully realized. Things have since changed.

On May 25 of this year, in a poll conducted for the Western Standard, “45 per cent of decided Albertans surveyed said that they would defiantly vote yes or were leaning yes if there was a referendum on Alberta’s independence.” That is to say, support for independence is likely higher in 2020 than at any previous time. The more moderate position of supporting independence if proposals for constitutional reform were first rejected by Ottawa, was just shy of a majority at 48 per cent. 

The point is this: before 1980, polls showed support for Alberta independence to be in the low single digits. After 1980, polls show support in the double digits, usually a quarter of the population or more. This suggests that a fundamental change occurred in 1980 as a result of Pierre Trudeau. Before Trudeau, Albertans really weren’t interested in thinking about independence – but he made it respectable and credible. Support for independence never seems to have returned to the low single digit range. 

Support for Alberta independence is not going away. It is not a passing fad. Under the current Liberal government – with its agenda of phasing out Alberta’s key industry – the independence movement will likely continue to grow. The question is whether a leader will emerge to articulate the Alberta cause and gather Alberta patriots into a coherent and effective political body.

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

SELICK: The Two Sides to the Vaccine Safety Debate

Karen Selick takes on the politicians trying to use government to force vaccinations.

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EDITORS NOTE: The Western Standard Editorial Board encourages open debate by its columnists. The column below reflects the views of its author, but not necessarily that of the WS Editorial Board.

This article is about a recent event in Eastern Canada, but it should ring a cautionary bell for all Canadians since we will all soon be facing a similar issue.

New Brunswick’s Education Minister Dominic Cardy is fuming because an amendment to provincial legislation that he championed was recently defeated in a free vote. Had it been successful, the amendment would have made numerous vaccinations mandatory for school children in New Brunswick, removing an exemption that previously existed for students whose parents filed a written objection.  

According to Mr. Cardy, “There are no two sides [to the debate] around the safety of vaccines.” He described opponents of his bill as having given in to “medieval conspiracy theories.” Rhetoric like this is common in the vaccine debate.

However, existing legislation in Ontario indicates that Mr. Cardy and those who make similar statements are profoundly misinformed on this subject. 

In June, 1987, Ontario adopted a law on immunization that’s now section 38 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.  It applies to the vaccines for 13 different diseases, including diphtheria, polio, measles and influenza. It requires doctors, nurses and pharmacists to watch for and report any adverse reactions to the vaccines they administer, including: 

  • Persistent crying or screaming, or anaphylactic shock, within 48 hours of vaccination
  • Shock-like collapse, high fever, or convulsions occurring within 3 days of vaccination
  • Arthritis occurring within 42 days of vaccination
  • Hives, seizures, encephalopathy, brain inflammation or other significant occurrence within 15 days of vaccination
  • Death following any of the symptoms already described. 

The 1987 legislation came about through the efforts of then MPP Jack Pierce, who spoke in the legislature about eight cases of severe vaccine injuries that had recently occurred in his riding of only 30,000 people. It was drafted after extensive consultations with the medical community. It was “doctor-approved” law, in a day when it was still permitted to discuss all sides of the vaccine issue without being ridiculed or silenced.

Patients can and do suffer vaccine injuries of the kind described in Ontario’s legislation far more often than Mr. Cardy seems to be aware of. 

The vaccines used in Canada are the same as those used in the United States, and there’s a little-known database of vaccine injuries available to anyone who cares to look. That’s because the US abolished tort liability against vaccine manufacturers in 1986 through the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Act. Instead of suing vaccine manufacturers, injured persons are now restricted to making a claim against a government-run compensation fund called the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The program reports monthly on the compensation it pays out. 

Since inception, the program has paid out more than $4 billion in compensation to 7,252 individuals suffering vaccine injuries (figures as of May 1, 2020). This is a significant amount of money. Some vaccine injuries are devastating. They can include permanent brain damage. 

These figures underestimate the extent of the damage done by vaccines because the compensation program has a strict time limit for making application. Many parents of vaccine-injured children don’t find out about the compensation fund until after that window of opportunity has shut. 

According to a World Health Organization publication from 2011, there are 19 countries around the world that have recognized the dangers inherent in vaccines by implementing compensation programs for individuals who have been injured by them. Germany was the first to implement such a program in 1961, eight years after the German Supreme Court ruled that people injured by mandatory vaccinations (smallpox, in that case) were entitled to compensation. 

In the 1970s, eight countries recognized the dangers of the “DTP” (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine by adopting compensation programs for the vaccine-injured. These included Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

In 1972, a five-year-old girl in Quebec was vaccinated against measles as part of the province’s large-scale free vaccination program. She developed acute viral encephalitis, resulting in almost total permanent disability. The family sued the Quebec government, and initially obtained a judgment of $385,000. The trial court explicitly found a causal relationship between the vaccine and the child’s encephalitis. The compensation award was eventually overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal on the grounds that Quebec civil law does not recognize no-fault liability. However, even at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1985, “the Attorney General [was] no longer disputing the causal link between the vaccine and the encephalitis.”

As a result of this case, Quebec became the only Canadian province to adopt a vaccine compensation program. Between its inception in 1988 and April 1, 2019 (the latest date for which statistics are available), it had paid compensation to 51 vaccine-injured individuals, in an amount totaling $5,797,000.  

A study was published in 2011 by scientists associated with the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto. It showed that when infants aged 12 months or 18 months were injected with live vaccines (such as the MMR—measles, mumps, rubella vaccine), they were significantly more likely to visit the hospital emergency room within the next twelve days, as compared with the number of visits they would make during a control period that did not follow vaccination.

What additional evidence would it take for Mr. Cardy to recognize that there are indeed two sides to the vaccine safety debate?

Parents faced with the prospect of mandatory vaccinations for their children are perfectly justified in their concerns. They are not part of a “medieval conspiracy theory”. It is very disturbing that an individual in a position of power such as education minister Cardy is both ignorant of the facts and willing to vilify individuals who are more knowledgeable than he is himself. 

Karen Selick is a Columnist for the Western Standard. She has previously written for the original Western Standard, National Post, Canadian Lawyer Magazine. She is the former Litigation Lawyer of the Canadian Constitution Foundation and is the owner of KeenEyesEditing.ca.

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Opinion

CLEMENT: Banning paid blood donations only forces us to pay for foreign donations

David Clement writes about why the Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act will allow Alberta to stop paying for paid donations from the United States.

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Alberta’s United Conservative Party is proposing a new way to help supply hospitals with much-needed blood plasma therapies, and it would mean letting Albertans receive cash for their donations.

MLA Tany Yao will introduce a bill that would repeal the former government’s Voluntary Blood Donations Act. This would allow for blood plasma donors in Alberta to be compensated for their donations, which the NDP previously made illegal. While this might sound like an obscure policy for most, it is incredibly important that Alberta continues down this path and legalizes compensation for plasma donors.

Blood plasma is a valuable resource used to create medicines that treat burns, help those with immune deficiencies, coagulation disorders and respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, Canada does not collect enough plasma to meet our domestic need for plasma therapies. That’s why for years, we have imported these medicines from the United States. More than 80 per cent of these therapies come from south of the border, where plasma donors are compensated for their donations.

That fact alone makes the NDP’s Voluntary Blood Donations Act a farce, and one worthy of repeal.

Critics of paid plasma argue that compensating donors increases risks and is less safe than voluntary donations. We know that this isn’t true, and can’t be true, because Canada relies on paid plasma donors for their medicines – they just happen to be American instead of Canadian. If compensating donors was really unsafe and risky, we wouldn’t be so comfortable importing these medicines from our American friends. There is also no data to support the claim that paid plasma is risky. There has not been a single instance of viral or bacterial transmission from plasma products since modern processing practices were implemented over 25 years ago. That is exactly why Canadian Blood Services CEO Graham Sher said the following about the existence of a paid plasma sector.

“I certainly need to be very clear that we don’t believe the existence of a paid plasma sector is a safety threat to product or to patients and I don’t think there is data or evidence to support that.”

Critics also posit that compensating donors for their time is exploitation, and that “blood brokers” will be praying on vulnerable citizens. This also doesn’t pass the smell test, because if it were true, critics such as the NDP, Bloodwatch, and their public-sector union partners would be lobbying for a ban on the import of American-made plasma therapies. They aren’t doing that, and haven’t done that, because they know that such a move would be devastating to the patients who rely on these therapies. Compensating donors for their time simply acknowledges the reality that pure altruism isn’t always enough. There is nothing exploitative about informed, medically screened and healthy adults being compensated for their plasma donations to aid the process of making much-needed plasma therapies for patients.

If the UCP succeeds with legalizing paid plasma collection in Alberta, it can be expected that plasma collection will increase in the province, as it has in other jurisdictions. Czechia for example (formerly known as the Czech Republic) legalized compensation and saw donations increase by 700 per cent. Because of that decision, Czechia is now entirely self-sufficient when it comes to blood plasma collection and doesn’t need imports at all. In fact, the only countries who are self-sufficient for plasma collection are the USA, Germany, Austria and Czechia, and they all allow for donors to be compensated. Anti paid plasma organizations like Bloodwatch have long been calling on Canada to become self-sufficient when it comes to plasma collection, but rebuff the obvious solution. It’s a sad fact that they have actively, and successfully, fought the only proven tool to increase domestic supply.

The need for paid plasma becomes even more necessary in these uncertain times. Just this April, President Donald Trump empowered FEMA to prevent the shipment of essential medical goods into Canada as a response to Covid-19. What if Trump banned the export of plasma therapies into Canada? Stranger things have happened. Would our entirely voluntary public system, which accounts for less than 20 per cent of the supply we need, be able to cover the difference? Our country would be struck by severe medical shortages, and the public system wouldn’t be able to cover the gap. To say that this would be devastating for patients would be an understatement.

Luckily there is a way to help avoid that nightmare scenario. Alberta should follow through with its plan to legalize paid plasma, and other provinces should follow suit. Doing so would put patients over politics, and that is something certainly worth celebrating.

David Clement is a columnist for the Western Standard and the North American Affairs Manager of the Consumer Choice Center

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