With a traditionally rebellious nature and a disinclination to support the status-quo, why is it that Alberta has such a long history of dynastic party rule? The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta held power for 44 years despite swinging numerous times deeply into the progressive end of the pool and ignoring the conservative base. Many felt that the PCs had lost their way during Ralph Klein’s last term, yet it still took a decade before a conservative alternative really began to gain any steam.
A big factor in what has kept reigning parties in power is that we have new parties constantly springing up on the landscape like daisies.
I was working on creating an alternative to the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta back in 1998 when I was on the executive of the then conservative-minded Alberta Party. I then founded the Alberta Independence Party and led it into the 2001 general election. I then got involved with the Alberta Alliance Party which later merged with Wildrose Party to become the Wildrose Alliance, which only then finally began to truly challenge the PC government by the 2012 general election. A long and winding road from fringe to viability to say the least.
During those years, parties came and went and all were fighting with each other to claim dominance in what was a pretty limited pool of alternative-right party supporters. The PC Party never had to worry about us as we dedicated all our time to battling with each other while giving the actual party in power a pass.
The turning point in Alberta came in 2007 when Premier Stelmach released his “Fair Share” royalty review and proposed a large rcash grab from Alberta’s energy sector. At that time the Alberta Alliance Party and the breakaway Wildrose Party were fighting each other tooth and nail. We had a government induced crisis looming over our energy sector and the alternative parties were too busy lobbing bombs at each other to do anything about it.
Some of the main financial backers for the alternative parties took the main players aside and laid it on the line for them. They essentially said: “Merge or we won’t give a nickle to either of you!”
Money is like oxygen for political parties, particularly nascent ones. We had to get our crap together and we had to do it in a hurry.
We quarantined the presidents of each party as they both had fought the merger with all they had, and hammered out an agreement in principle. Members gladly embraced the new entity when given the chance to vote on it and the movement finally had some real numbers and momentum under the Wildrose Alliance banner.
A number of other key events took place in coming years including a key by-election win, Danielle Smith’s leadership, and some floor crossings which really helped the party explode onto the political scene. None of those things would have happened if the Wildrose and Alberta Alliance parties had not merged.
Today the Freedom Conservative Party and Wexit announced that they had reached an agreement in principle and that their members would be able to vote at the end of June to form a merged entity entitled the “Wildrose Independence Party”. While currently still a long way from being a party which can threaten Jason Kenney’s UCP on the electoral front, this could indeed a turning point for the independence movement which leads to electoral viability.
Support for an unabashedly pro-Alberta if not outright independence minded government is at a high unseen since the early 1980s when Pierre Trudeau decimated Alberta with his National Energy Program. With Jason Kenney unwilling to even endorse the Buffalo Declaration, he is appearing to be unwilling to take on Ottawa and is leaving his flank open for an independence party to fill the void. We are in tumultuous times, and as Alberta tries to climb towards economic recovery, we can be sure that clashes with Ottawa will ensue. We will need strong, uncompromising leadership standing up for Alberta and nothing will help foster such an attitude from government more effectively than having a growing independence party waiting in the wings.
Stubborn, narrow minded people often dominate the boards of political parties. It is hard for pragmatic members to see progress when party leaders and executives remained mired in personal agendas and hang themselves up on points of pride. It was no small accomplishment for the FCP and Wexit to hammer out an agreement in principle. It means some key players swallowed some pride and chose to look at the bigger picture. The presence of that sort of forward-thinking leadership bodes well for the new entity in the future.
A larger, better-funded, and better-organized entity should be able to dominate the alternative-right party scene. They can and should invite the remaining alternative right parties to get on the bandwagon. If the other parties won’t play ball, the Wildrose Independence Party will be able to afford to ignore them. Members and donors join parties that are showing momentum and the Wildrose Independence Party will be the only right-of-center one displaying that.
There are many hurdles for the new party to overcome in the next few years. A leadership race and a new leader will set the tone and direction of the party along with a consistent set of policies and principles. Those things can be minefields which may destroy the new party as well but one step at a time here.
Another thing a newly merged entity will have to deal with is toxic members within their ranks who will never get over the merger, even if members overwhelmingly supported it. It took years before a number of party executive members in the Wildrose Party stopped self-identifying as being either “Alliance or Wildrose” people. The merger really couldn’t be considered complete until that stopped and it took the purging of some folks in order to make that happen. Internal division kills new parties more than any external factor ever could.
The potential merger of Wexit and the Freedom Conservative Party has not been making national headlines but then, neither did the merger of the Wildrose and Alberta Alliance parties. They have gained resources, energy and momentum now with this critical step. Let’s hope that a large majority of members turn out and vote in favor of this merger. Our government is in terrible need of a voice of conscience coming from the right, and the Wildrose Independence Party may very well provide that if they keep this attitude of pragmatic growth initiatives going.
Cory Morgan is a columnist for the Western Standard
WAGNER: The hopeless task of reforming Canada
Considering all of the attempts to reform confederation over the last four decades, what other option is there?
Many Albertans and other Westerners are justifiably angry about how the West is mistreated within Canada. The federal government has been deliberately thwarting the development of the West’s energy resources, thereby suppressing economic growth and prosperity. The Liberals plan to maintain this ruinous course in their effort to fight climate change.
Despite this – and the West’s constitutionally entrenched second class status in the constitution – most Westerners are still patriotic Canadians and want the country to work. They’re willing to give Canada another chance and try to improve the country to rectify the injustices against the them. Constitutional reform is often suggested as a way to achieve this goal.
From an abstract perspective, it is very reasonable to want to try to fix Canada before giving up on it altogether. Historically, Canada has accomplished many great things and offered freedom and a superior way of life to millions of people. Who wouldn’t want to save that?
But from an historical perspective, there is a problem with trying to reform Canada: in the post 1992 (Charlottetown Accord) era, there has been a multi-partisan consensus that constitutional reform is verboten, for fear of offending Quebec. Those who have tried to break this consensus have been ignored or written off. If these people haven’t been able to achieve the kinds of changes necessary to get a fair deal for the West, what makes others think they could achieve them now?
To state this point most bluntly: if Preston Manning and the Reform Party of Canada were unable to make the kinds of changes Western Canada needs, then it can’t be done.
The Reform Party was the West’s best chance of getting a better deal within Canada. Many of the region’s best citizens were involved. Thousands of well-meaning Westerners put all kinds of time and money into getting the party off the ground and sustaining it for a decade. It was the dominant federal party in Alberta and most of the West until it folded into the Conservative Party of Canada. There is nothing like it in Western politics today, and even if all of the groups calling for constitutional reform were amalgamated, their efforts would look miniscule beside the old Reform Party.
Many readers of the Western Standard likely recall the Reform Party fondly. They know that the initial impetus for the party was rectifying the subordinate place of the West within confederation.
In his introduction to Act of Faith, a book published in 1991 to chronicle the initial rise of the Reform Party, Ted Byfield describes the historical injustices done to the West, making a new party necessary. As he points out, during the Liberal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, it increasingly “began to look as though Canada was a mere con game, being played out by Ontario and Quebec at the expense of the West.”
But instead of turning to independence, most Westerners at that time just wanted fairness within Canada. So, with the Reform Party, he writes, “No longer would the West talk about ‘getting out of Canada.’ Instead the slogan became, ‘The West Wants In,’ a phrase coined by Alberta Report columnist Ralph Hedlin. It means that the West wants constitutional changes that will enable it to play a more equal role in Canadian affairs, notably a Triple-E Senate.”
The Reform Party made a tremendous effort, but ultimately got nowhere.
The fact is that fighting for a better deal for the West within Canada has been going on, in one form or another, for decades. Besides the Reform Party, there were various other advocates for Senate reform at least since the early 1980s. Especially noteworthy is Bert Brown and his Canadian Committee for a Triple-E Senate.
Despite such great efforts, their goal was never achieved.
These people should be applauded for their efforts. It makes perfect sense to advocate reform before proposing more drastic solutions. But they worked hard, did their very best, and central Canada offered them what Central Canada will always offer discontented Westerners – nothing.
Does anyone really think that a new Western political movement can be organized that could equal the Reform Party, let alone improve on its achievements? Because that – at minimum – is what it’s going to take to accomplish the kinds of changes necessary for the West to get a fair deal.
In sum, over the years there have been plenty of proposals and attempts to improve the situation of the West within Canada. They have all failed for the same reason – central Canada is not interested. Central Canada is satisfied with the status quo and knows that the West is powerless to do anything about it.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” I am reminded of this statement when I hear calls for a new deal for the West within Canada. Again, such calls are completely reasonable and should be heeded by the Laurentian elite, but hat’s not going to happen. We’ve seen this movie before many times, and the ending is always the same.
What then, is the answer? Albertans and Saskatchewanians should be thinking about the independence option. Some of us have already concluded that’s the route to go. According to a recent poll, 45 to 48 per cent of Albertans already are.
For others, it will be very difficult to reach the same conclusion because of their love for Canada – and that’s understandable. But considering all of the attempts to reform confederation over the last four decades, what other option is there? Central Canada is not going to accept constitutional reforms giving more power to the West. Whatever our attachment to Canada, the failure of reform leaves pursuit of independence as the only remaining viable alternative to the status quo.
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.’
CLEMENT: Alberta’s new vape laws will discourage smokers from making the switch
For every vape pod not purchased, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes were purchased instead.
Alberta’s new vaping regulations are a huge step backwards for harm reduction, and ultimately public health. This week, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that Alberta – in an attempt to curb youth vaping – will move to regulate vaping in the same manner as cigarettes, which includes age restrictions, restrictions on where consumers can vape, where advertising can be displayed, and possibly a ban on flavours.
It should be clearly said that vaping products are harm reduction tools for adult smokers, and that curbing youth access is a noble and worthy cause. That said, beyond the age restriction, Alberta’s approach to vaping is bad public policy.
First off, the provincial government has now shown that it is incapable of regulating based on the risk associated with a product. We know from credible public health agencies like Public Health England that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. Because of that, vaping should be regulated in a different manner, one that recognizes the continuum of risk. Regulating vaping like smoking is problematic because it sends the wrong signal to adult smokers, primarily that vaping and smoking are of equivalent harm. By sending this false message to consumers, it can be expected that fewer smokers will make the switch to vaping, which is a net negative for public health, society at large, and more importantly, adults who are trying to quit cigarettes or consume nicotine in a less harmful way.
Take in store displays for example. In Alberta, cigarettes are purchased (mostly) at convenience stores where they are behind a screen so that products cannot be seen. Unfortunately, Alberta’s new regulations apply that same restriction to vaping products. Allowing for modest forms of in-store display will help prompt and inform adult smokers that reduced risk products exist, and will increase the likelihood of them making the switch. In order to encourage smokers to make the switch they have to know that these products exist, and the best way for them to acquire that information is at the point of sale where they traditionally purchase cigarettes. By placing all vaping products out of view, they will largely be out of mind for the 15.8 per cent of Albertans who currently smoke.
The same goes for the prospect of a flavour ban, which Alberta is now paving the way for with its new regulations. A ban on flavours, while done under the banner of curbing youth access and use, would hurt adult ex-smokers the most. Harm reduction research on the usage patterns of adult vapers – who were former smokers – shows that the availability of flavours is a significant factor in their decision to switch from smoking to vaping. In evaluating the purchases of over 20,000 American adults who vape, researchers concluded that prohibiting non-tobacco flavoured vapes would significantly discourage smokers from switching.
While these arguments may seem like hypotheticals to some, figures from the UK have shown us in real time, the impact a harm reduction approach has on smoking cessation. The United Kingdom is arguably the leader in embracing vaping as a harm reduction tool and as a means to steer adults away from smoking. So much so that over1.5 million people in the UK have completely switched from smoking to vaping. In addition to that, 1.3 million people in the UK used vaping as a means to quit smoking, and no longer vape or smoke. Because of the UK’s harm reduction approach, 2.8 million British have switched away from cigarettes, or quit altogether.
These regulations are further compounded by Alberta’s misguided 20 per cent vape tax, which further discourages smokers from switching. Supporters of the tax will argue that an increase in the price of vape devices will reduce the amount of people who vape. This is true, however it also has the consequence of increasing the amount of people who smoke cigarettes. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, evaluating 35,000 retailers, showed that every 10 per cent increase in vaping price resulted in a 11 per cent increase in cigarette purchases. In terms of product sales, this means that for every vape pod not purchased, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes were purchased instead. This is exactly the opposite of what public health officials should be encouraging via public policy.
While youth vaping is a problem – and one that needs to be addressed – it is important that the government doesn’t sacrifice adult smokers trying to switch or quit in the process. Regulating vaping like cigarettes ultimately means that more Albertans will continue to smoke, which certainly isn’t anything worth celebrating.
David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager of the Consumer Choice Center
RICK STRANKMAN: It’s time to break the cycle in Alberta
Albertans will soon have an opportunity to figure out what kind of a future we want: a dependent one, or a free one.
For the past decade, Alberta’s leadership have chosen their battles on our behalf very poorly. In that time, Alberta’s lot in Canada has not improved. On the contrary, their neglect has only exacerbated an already unfair and intolerable situation.
Albertans have been led by what can only be described as “leadercentric” organizations that inevitably become top down. It’s time to break that cycle. The power to determine the path we take resides with Albertans. We must take the bull by the horns or we’ll just get more of what comes out the other end.
For decades, Equalization payments in Canada continued without change to the detriment of all Albertans; and now that Albertans could use a hand up – not a hand out – Ottawa has essentially turned its back on us. If we haven’t figured out yet that we need to look after ourselves and start putting our needs ahead of Ottawa’s, we never will.
The proposed Energy East pipeline would have benefitted every Canadian, but rather than a mutual buy-in from Eastern Canada, we have encountered legislated and, at times, illegal road blocks when trying to move our Canadian revenue-generating energy east.
The reality is that due to the unprecedented events that have taken place around the world recently, a financial storm is blowing that Alberta will not be sheltered from. It’s important that we batten down the hatches and properly prepare ourselves to take control of our future.
It’s time for some accountability and soul searching. We have the power to not let ourselves be put in the position we’ve been in for decades. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Alberta is not only a place where I carve out a living from the land; it’s my home. It’s a place where generations of our families have spent our entire lives; a place that’s being unfairly stolen from us along with many of our freedoms.
There are two ways to look at the current situation: it can be the excuse we all use to blame our misfortunes on, or we can look at this as an easily justifiable reason to correct our trajectory before we fly vertically into the ground.
Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Ford created a corporation that has been an industrial leader for over a century. Henry Ford along with the Ford Motor Corporation encountered many failures along the way. In spite of these failures, they took the lessons learned and moved into the future with a keen eye on the ditches of failure.
Older readers will recall the old bumper sticker we used to see that read, “Please God, give me one more oil boom. I promise not to piss it all away next time.”
Albertans will soon have an opportunity to figure out what kind of a future we want: a dependent one, or a free one. In the face of all the imminent changes that are about to take place, positive opportunities exist. Let’s take that opportunity and carve the words into the tablets that determine the future, and not continue to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Rick Strankman is the former Wildrose and UCP MLA for Drumheller-Stettler
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