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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

FILDEBRANDT: The leadership race about nothing

Fildebrandt writes that in contrast to the 2017 leadership race, the 2020 vote has little to do with real policy differences.

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The 2020 Tory leadership race has shaped up to be a boring, pale reflection of the exciting contest that marked the party’s 2017 race.

In 2017, 14 candidates fought it out for the Conservative brass ring. The contenders – for the most part – represented different factions, and featured a battle between people with substantive policy differences.

Maxime Bernier the anti-establishment libertarian. Michael Chong the Green Tory. Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux the social conservatives. Kellie Leitch the Red Tory cum populist-nationalist. Lisa Raitt the socially progressive Red.

Kevin O’Leary ran less on policy, than the force of his considerable personality before bowing out.

Erin O’Toole and Andrew Scheer also ran light on policy, trying to position themselves as the centre-ish goldilocks candidates for down-ballot support. In Scheer’s case, his only noted policy was his fanatical defence of the supply-management dairy cartel.

The race was fought with a healthy number of debates held in almost every major region of the country, and the large number of candidates forced the contenders to stand out from the pack.

Contrast the 2017 race with the 2020 race, and the reflection is not flattering for the party.

By necessity, COVID-19 has nixed most of the debates and put a hard dampener on campaign tour events, but the virus cannot be blamed for most of the problems.

While packed stages with 14 candidates and large crowds are off the table, a camera pointed at four candidates on the stage were possible. The party held just a single one of these. True North News tried to hold a second, but it was effectively scuttled when Peter MacKay pulled out at the 11th hour. The result is that CPC members have hardly had any chance to see these candidates face off outside of duelling Facebook memes and news releases. This has added to the otherwise small contrast in ideas and styles between the two front runners, Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole.

And while the two “second-tier” candidates – Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan – have been a bit more policy heavy – they have received little attention from the media, and have little chance of an upset.

MacKay and O’Toole are the only two candidates with any realistic chance of winning, and the contrast between the two men is mostly rhetorical. Both support renamed carbon taxes on industry, like Alberta’s TIER. Both have not committed to any significant reduction in federal spending to balance the budget within a term in office. Both support the continuation of the supply management dairy cartel. Both will not commit to any specific on Equalization reform, or to reopen the constitution to address Western issues. Both have committed to upholding the status quo on abortion, although O’Toole has not shown the open distain that Peter MacKay has for the “stinking albatross” of social conservatives.

The differences between the two candidates largely boil down to their campaign rhetoric and style. MacKay is openly campaigning as the moderate successor to the Progressive Conservatives. O’Toole campaigned in the middle of the pack in 2017, but he smartly realized that there was no Bernier-style candidate in this race to carry the libertarian or more hardcore conservative banner in this race. As such, he has positioned himself as the “True Blue” choice.

The biggest difference between the two candidates, is largely who is supporting them. MacKay dominates the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, and in the absence of a Western candidate in the race, O’Toole is poised to win it. As with federal elections, the ultimate decision will boil down to Ontario.

Undoubtedly, federal Wexit activists are pining for a MacKay win. With very little support between Winnipeg and Vancouver, he will be easier to portray as an Eastern establishment politician with little regard for the West. While O’Toole’s Western policies may be similar to MacKay’s, he at least has allies in the neighbourhood.

O’Toole’s abstinence from attacking social conservatives will likely serve him well on down-ballot support. As Sloan and Lewis likely drop off in the first and second rounds, the smart money is on their next choices going disproportionately to O’Toole.

Lewis in particular has stepped out of obscurity in this race and will be well positioned for a front bench role if she manages to win a seat in the next election. Sloan may be doomed to suffer the fate of Brad Trost; thanked for his second-choice support, but shuffled off to the back benches, and potentially out of a nomination.

Candidates almost always run to the centre after capturing their party’s leadership or nomination. It’s the natural pull of political gravity, but on August 21st, CPC members are voting more for a brand, than a set of principles.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com

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Opinion

LETTER: No social conservatives for next Tory leader

A reader says that Peter MacKay should be the next Tory leader because he is a social progressive.

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Outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer recently stated his belief that the PM can be “socially conservative” and that only the Trudeau Liberals “demonize such views”.

Wrong Mr Scheer, as a card carrying member of your party, I can tell you for a fact that we lost the last election precisely because you would not publicly support both existing abortion rights and LGBT equality. I am already convinced that the Trudeau Liberals will win the next election too, because all of your would be successors have stated that as PM, they would allow their backbencher MPs to bring forth anti-abortion legislation, although both MacKay and O’Toole have stated that they would not personally support such motions when they come up for a vote in Parliament.

We are never going to beat the Trudeau Liberals in this day and age, especially in the large cities & suburbs, until we finally make peace as a political party with existing abortion rights and LGBT equality.

MacKay may be marginally better than the rest of the pack in this sense. 

Frank Sweet
Brandon, Manitoba 

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Opinion

GRAFTON: Trudeau cannot lead a nation that he doesn’t believe in

“Distrust in government, a disproportional electoral system, mass immigration, and other factors are poised to meet at the polls next election in a perfect storm of disunity.”

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In November 2015, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave an interview to the New York Times. It was an historic interview, during which the Prime Minister signaled his disdain for Canada as a nation with any kind of unique cultural identity. He said that Canada has no core identity, and that it is “becoming a new kind of country, not defined by our history or European national origins, but by a pan-cultural heritage”. He went on to say that he sees Canada as the “first post-national state”. 

Almost six million Canadians – mostly east of Manitoba – supported his vision at the polls in 2019.

The critical take-away here is the clear statement of a “post-national” goal. Post-nationalism involves the global replacement of national identities and nation-states with multicultural supranational entities such as NATO, the UN, the EU, and multi-national corporations.

Disunity now threatens Confederation.

DART poll conducted on February 24th shows that an alarming sixty-nine percent of Canadians believe “Canada is broken”. Eighty-two percent of Canadians believe that politicians represent their own partisan interests rather than those of Canada. 

The Electoral Map resembles a cancerous MRI scan, vividly coloured tumours highlighting patches of tribal discontent from coast to coast. 

poll conducted for the Western Standard in May found that between 45 and 48 of Albertans back independence, depending on how the question was put. Soon after, Wexit Alberta and the Freedom Conservatives merged to form the Wildrose Independence Party, also with a credible leader in the original Wildrose’s first leader, Paul Hinman. 

The Bloc Quebecoise holds 32 seats in the House of Commons, giving it the balance of power on national legislation. 

What led to this great divide?

We could attribute it to a lack of national leadership, however blaming it all on Trudeau would be too easy. There are other causal and contributing factors.

One is the electoral system. The “plurality system”, also known as “first-past-the-post”, is responsible for the 2019 re-election of the Trudeau government, with only a third of the popular vote. More Canadians voted for Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives. This marginalized the West – which had voted solidly Conservative – and contributed immediately to the formation of the Wexit Party federally, the Wildrose Independence Party in Alberta, and the Buffalo Party in Saskatchewan. Trudeau had campaigned in 2015 on a platform promising electoral reform, but abandoned his promise after taking office. Of course, had he followed through with electoral reform, he would have lost to Scheer in 2019 and we would have a Conservative government in Ottawa, or at the very least, a Conservative plurality of seats. 

The reality of the first-past-the-post system is that Ontario (121 ridings) and Quebec (78 ridings) can  determine who wins an election. With 338 ridings across the country, a plurality of 199 seats invalidates the other eight provinces and three territories (with only 139 seats combined). The electoral system therefore sows disunity.

Another causal factor may be found in demographics. A 2019 poll conducted for CBC showed that while indigenous voters were abandoning the Liberals, immigrants overwhelmingly support Trudeau and the Liberals. According to the poll, “Forty-five per cent of new Canadians polled say they voted for the Liberals in 2015 and 39 per cent say they currently intend to vote for the party in 2019.” Under the Trudeau government, immigration levels have soared to record high levels, with the 2022 annual target set at 361,000 (comparable to adding a city the size of say London or Halifax every year). Using the CBC numbers, that represents an influx of 141,000 to 162,000 new Liberal voters annually to Canada. 

The 2011 National Household Survey revealed that most immigrants (86 per cent) are from non-European countries, and that 20 per cent of the population (6.8 million) were born outside of Canada. Almost all (95 per cent) move to Ontario, BC, Quebec, and Alberta; most (91 per cent) in large cities, and most of these in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Unfamiliar with Castor canadensis, new immigrants are a large voting block inhomogeneous with national voting trends. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver voted Liberal in 2019. Forty-five of fifty ridings in the GTA alone elected Liberal members. For comparison, there are only thirty-four ridings in all of Alberta. This trend will continue to marginalize the West.

Contributing to national disunity is an erosion of trust in the democratic process. Globally, voters are disengaging from mainstream politics and polarizing toward niche parties serving special-interests (Bloc Quebecoise, Green Party, and Wexit

Distrust in government, a disproportional electoral system, mass immigration, and other factors are poised to meet at the polls next election in a perfect storm of disunity.

 It may be a tipping point for Canada’s future.  

Canadians awoke on the morning of October 22nd, 2019 to a crisis of disunity. The prime minister cannot recognize a national crisis if he does not recognize the nation. 

Ken Grafton is a freelance columnist

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