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FILDEBRANDT: Will the Wildrose Independence Party upset the federalist duopoly in Alberta?

With polls showing north of 40 per cent support for independence in Alberta, it’s a wonder that the constellation of small parties supporting it haven’t found the common sense to come together sooner.

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It sure took them long enough, but they appear to have done it. The main political players in Alberta’s nascent independence movement have holstered their guns to come together and fight Ottawa rather than each other.

Nine months in the making, the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta (FCP) and Wexit Alberta signed a deal to put a lengthy unification agreement to their members in a referendum scheduled for June 29. If that happens, the memberships of both parties will come together under the new name Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta (WIP).

Full disclosure, as the former leader of the FCP, I was consulted in the agreement, so I am not watching as a pure outside observer, but mostly.

The pending merger has the potential to upset the boring applecart of Alberta politics. Potential.

Under the Wildrose redeaux banner, there could be a good many Albertans less than happy with the United Conservative Party (UCP), which swallowed up the Wildrose in 2017. When that happened, independence was little more than a cranky fringe, with most Albertans pinning their hopes on Equalization reform and getting a better deal from Ottawa. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney understood this well, and made Equalization and a fight with Ottawa his calling card from the UCP leadership race, straight through to the general election a year ago.

Since then, not much has happened to improve Alberta’s situation. Justin Trudeau was re-elected on a platform of fighting “oil-barons“. The Bloc Quebecois dominated its province on a platform to lay a Carthaginian waste to the West. And the massive Teck Frontier oilsands mine was killed by Ottawa’s clear intention to not allow it to move forward.

Premier Kenney struck the Fair Deal Panel with a strong start, but after six months, it has delayed its report, and signs are coming that it will not live up to its promise. And even if its recommendations turn out to be strong, it’s highly unlikely that Ottawa will concede any real reforms on its part.

The strongest move to date came from four rogue Conservative MPs in issuing the Buffalo Declaration, which was laughed off by Eastern politicians and media. Even Andrew Scheer and Kenney wouldn’t back it, with its message of “equality or independence”.

With polls showing north of 40 per cent support for independence in Alberta, it’s a wonder that the constellation of small parties supporting it haven’t found the common sense to come together sooner. The FCP-Wexit talks have been on-again-off-again for nine-months. The thirst-quenchingly named Independence Party of Alberta (IPA)’s public statements made clear that it was not interested in potentially unifying with other sovereigntist parties.

In early December, Western Standard columnist Cory Morgan wrote that “Alberta’s independence parties will unite, or they will fade away.” Two of the three independence-supporting parties appear to have gotten the message. They either will come together to attempt a run into relevancy, or they will go on like the dozens of other bridge-club parties that exist in Alberta. Morgan – who founded the original Alberta Independence Party and was a part of the merger that created the original Wildrose Alliance – knows what he’s talking about.

The Tories are likely to attempt to ignore the upstart party for the time being, as they did with Wildrose 1.0 from 2009 until 2012. If that doesn’t work, they will most certainly turn toward the prospect of “vote-splitting”. It’s a powerful boogieman for many voters, but it only works if the challenger is proposing to “split” votes on the same issues and policies as the defender.

In the WIP’s case, it is likely to be conservative-libertarian in its outlook, but it front-window policy agenda is independence. Neither the UCP or NDP are offering anything like it. In essence, the WIP will likely serve crispier fries than the UCP, but while the Tories main dish is fries, the WIP’s main dish is beef.

The Wildrose Independence Party has a strong name brand to work with, if it can successfully establish itself as the successor of Wildrose’s Beta version. If they can manage to corral the existing supporters of independence behind it and grow the movement into the credible mainstream, they have a chance. That chance will depend on several factors.

They will need to attract a credible leader. Someone with media savvy, capable of raising money, organizationally strong, and who is willing to spend hundreds of gruelling hours on the road travelling to every small two-horse town in Alberta.

Their leader won’t necessarily need to be or have ever been elected. Danielle Smith was a non-politician when she won the Wildrose Alliance leadership in October of 2009. While her leadership ultimately ended in the near collapse of the Wildrose, she undeniably played a critical role in moving the upstart merger of the Wildrose Party and Alberta Alliance, into the centre stage of Alberta politics.

The party went from losing the one seat that it had in the 2008 election, to nearly defeating the 39-year-old governing Tory dynasty. It’s a tall order to replicate, but it’s been done more than once in Alberta before.

The WIP will also need to demonstrate political maturity. If it wishes to be a big player, it cannot govern itself the way most small parties in the wilderness do. Those parties spend hours at internal board meetings debating small potatoes, and have few members outside of the board itself. There are roughly a dozen such parties in Alberta today that few have heard of.

In my own experience, we spent days debating the logo design for the FCP. Of course we all thought we were right, but those kinds of things sap energy.

They will need to focus on the big goals and practical work like selling memberships, raising money, and building local constituency associations. They will need to understand that the real work of building a political party from a bridge club into a vehical capable of winning government isn’t done in board meetings, but out on the streets.

New political parties have popped up never to see the light of day in the mainstream media’s headlines, and it’s too early to tell if the WIP has what it takes. But the key ingredients to do it are all there.

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

Opinion

GEROW: WE scandal shows how government corrupts our charities

“Charity work is an important and meaningful part of human activity; one far too important to leave in the hands of corrupt politicians and useless bureaucrats.”

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On July 23, 2020, federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced an investigation into Justin Trudeau and the decision to have WE Charity administer a $30 million Canada Student Service Grant Program. The red flags which prompted the investigation were the fact that this type of program is within the regular mandate of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). The ESDC is the government bureau where the unemployed go to collect E.I. benefits and employers can hire a temporary foreign worker at a reduced rate.

After scratching just below the surface, it was revealed that Trudeau’s mother and brother had received over a quarter-million dollars from WE Charity. His wife had been involved with WE Charity. Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughters worked for WE Charity and the organization had paid for trips his family had taken to Kenya and Ecuador.

It’s easy to understand why Canadian’s are outraged at the conflict of interest. It appears the Trudeau government took money from taxpayers and intended to launder it into the coffers of family and friends through a non-profit organization. Opposition parties called for a variety of actions. The CPC’s Pierre Pollievre demanded the release of documents. The Bloc Quebecois’ Yves-Francois Blanchet suggested that Trudeau should step down. The culpability of the Prime Minister and his inner circle is apparent, but the opposition fails to address the real problem. That is, that the government and their preferred tax-exempt organizations having the ability to engage in racketeering. Instead they argue for tougher regulations.

Charity is the reciprocal love of one’s fellow man manifest in the giving of alms to the poor, ill or helpless. To give voluntarily, to sacrifice your time or property for the good of mankind, is foundational in religious and spiritual thought. It is an act of civilized, empathetic kindness and community. Regulations which limit the ability of charity to function on a large scale have made most non-profit organizations in Canada an extension of Ottawa’s social bureaucracy. There is nothing honourable in filling out government grant applications. 

In its attempts to preserve those aspects which are most dear to the idea of charitable giving, the federal government has instead built a web of red tape and restrictions that limit supply by creating artificial barriers to entry. This in turn creates monopoly privilege for organizations like WE Charity who are close to political power. Just the same as in corporate monopolies, non-profit monopolies create higher profits for its stakeholders. 

In extreme cases we see entitled families grabbing tax dollars that would otherwise be used on local community initiatives and using them to backstop speaking engagements for the irrelevant aging mother of a prime minister plagued with scandal. The calls for stronger regulation on charities are misguided. More regulations on these organizations only further monopoly privilege and collusion with Ottawa. The only regulation needed for true charity is that it is free from political influence.

Why was the Canada Service Grant Program not administered by Employment and Social Development Canada?

On July 16, Rachel Wernick, the senior assistant deputy minister at ESDC testified to a parliamentary committee that WE Charity had been selected to administer the program because of the charities connections to youth and their ability to administer the program on a scale and with speed which the ESDC could not. Part of which is true. Private charities are much more efficient at delivering these types of initiatives than bureaucratic agencies, although it seems obvious that WE Charity was chosen for different reasons.

The question still has deeper meaning and further reaching implications than that which have been obscured through a myriad of partisan talking points. The answer is if a $30 million program is itself not a valid use of that departments regular mandate, then it should not be administered at all, or if that mandate is better left in the responsibility of private charities, then Employment and Social Development Canada should cease to exist. 

Charity work is an important and meaningful part of human activity; one far too important to leave in the hands of corrupt politicians and useless bureaucrats.

Darcy Gerow is a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

DAVIS: After Trudeau’s throne speech, the West must fight back with more than words

“Shaking our fists, going to court, and promises of greater autonomy someday, are no longer enough.”

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It’s really no surprise that the Liberal throne Speech was more of the same rhetoric they’ve been regurgitating for the last five years. It’s really just more of the same tired march toward his idea of liberal-socialism: with gun grabs, censorship, and condescending emergency orders during the pandemic. 

If anything was surprising, it was his lacklustre reiteration of the throne speech with no added value to speak of. Sure, it was delivered in his same breathy tones, but for a guy who likes to ham it up, it was decidedly bland.  

What we saw in the throne speech and his remarks in the House the next day was an open disregard for the plight of the West and the growing tinderbox of alienation here. It’s hard to tell at this point if Justin Trudeau is just that blissfully unaware, or is being willfully ignorant.

As the pundits were busy reporting on a “Liberal re-set” that wasn’t – forgetting the scandals which made this entire farce necessary – the opposition and provinces weighed in on what they heard.

Conservatives won’t support the government. The NDP are being obtuse, and the Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet sounded like an extortionist as he insisted that the government has one week to hand over more healthcare money, or else.  

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney sounded more like a spurned lover than a premier ready to go to the mat for his province. I say this not because of how he said things, but because of what he did and didn’t say.

Essentially, Kenney plans to stay his course of angry words and lawfare, suing the federal government over every breach of the constitution. This means uncertain outcomes, and years in court. Years Alberta doesn’t have.  

He spoke of implementing the findings of the Fair Deal Report, but hasn’t taken any concrete actions toward achieving those goals. Appointing the Alberta Firearms Officer is one of his “we’re going to do’s”, but when? He’s devoting $2 million to analysing the viability of a provincial police force instead of investing that money in recruitment and training facilities for the new force now. These uninspiring actions look like flinching under the pressure of a sovereigntist movement that keeps getting federal oxygen fanning the flames of discontent.

In fairness, the United Conservative government has done a good job during the pandemic. As much as some may cry foul at that assertation, the fact remains that we were able to send PPE to other provinces because of Alberta’s preparedness.  

I admire Jason Kenney for going to the airport to verify if reports of a lack of COVID testing were true; they were.  In response to this, he began more thorough checks at the Calgary airport, one of four airports still receiving international flights during the crisis.  

Kenney has also been actively seeking investment and diversification of the Alberta economy.  It should be a personal thorn in his side that immediately after the throne speech, much of his work was undone as investors are back to questioning if they can do business in Canada with the regulatory uncertainty restated by the Liberal government.

It was disappointing to hear Mr. Kenney say that he will continue on, bullishly complaining, going to court, and fighting a game that he cannot win. Time is of the essence and Albertans need him to come up with a plan B fast.  

Asserting provincial autonomy, removing ourselves from as many federal programs as possible is a necessary start regardless of if independence is the end-goal or not.  But independence must be put on the table as a last ditch option regardless of whether Mr. Kenney likes the idea or not. We face an existential threat – survival or disintegration under this federal government, bent on crushing everything Westerners hold dear or essential for survival.

We must begin a strategic plan, create a contingency blueprint, putting the pieces in place so that if it should come to it, Alberta is ready to go its own way. The province must be prepared and ready to implement those plans quickly.  

We could take the example of Quebec’s preparations in 1995, learning from their mistakes and successes. We should be speaking to indigenous leaders, forming alliances early in a fair and equitable fashion. International relationships for both trade and support ought to be pursued now.  

Shaking our fists, going to court, and promises of greater autonomy someday, are no longer enough. Tangible action is required and it’s required now. The United Conservative Party must face these facts and acknowledge that foundational steps are necessary to put Albertans on firmer ground and give us the leverage we need to say no to Ottawa the next time they come with matches and kerosene.  

Gilly Davis is a guest columnist for the Western Standard 

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Opinion

ANDRUS: Kenney prepares to fight “all-out war” from his knees

“A constitutional convention may be the only way to keep the country together. Without one, enflamed regional anger will continue to divide the country and the viability of remaining a single nation will continue to deteriorate.”

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“The only time in the Speech from the Throne that Saskatchewan was essentially mentioned was in the phase out of our energy industry workers.”  

That was Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s response to the massive shift in direction signaled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Throne Speech on Wednesday. His words rang true across the West and the fight for the heart of the energy industry has ramped up yet again.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney described the Throne Speech as a “full-frontal attack” on the constitution.

“There were more policies that invade provincial jurisdiction than I could count,” said Kenney. “Alberta will continue to work with our allies across the country to focus on lives and livelihoods.”

From the reaction of the premiers, it is now clear that national unity hangs in the balance.

The announcement of ambitious legislation guaranteed to be detrimental to the interests of Westerners, pits Moe and Kenney against the full might of a federal government targeting the heart of the energy industry.

The rhetoric both have displayed in recent days highlights the rage bubbling amongst their electorates, already concerned about their futures, but rhetoric is just that.

While both premiers have talked the talk, angry citizens await firm action. In Alberta, Kenney has slow walked his Fair Deal plan to a crawl. Two of his best options – a provincial pension plan and referendum to abolish equalization – have been delayed until next fall at the earliest. Constitutional challenges, while bold in rhetoric, will take years to unwind. Strong letters are just words on a page; empty threats unless backed up with strong action.

More than ever, the need for bold leadership is of vital importance. The constitution is under attack. Western alienation, scoffed at by the Laurentian establishment and Trudeau himself, is on the rise. Further delays will only see that anger redirected at provincial governments and Premiers that are seen to be waffling. Watering down messaging in a time when strong action is needed will further weaken the fabric of national unity.

The next few months will demonstrate clearly that constitutional reform is required to strengthen national unity and provide equal footing for provinces wary of federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. The current constitutional order is designed to favour voter-heavy provinces, with no real defence available to smaller provinces.

A constitutional convention may be the only way to keep the country together. Without one, enflamed regional anger will continue to divide the country and the viability of remaining a single nation will continue to deteriorate.

These reforms are long past due. It’s time to recognize gravity of the situation and act. Words will simply fall on deaf ears.

Josh Andrus is a columnist with the Western Standard and the Executive Director of Project Confederation.

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