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Opinion

QUESNEL: Northern B.C. Should Leverage the Buffalo Declaration

Alternatively, rocking the political boat with talk of redrawing provincial boundaries could be enough to finally awaken the British Columbia government to the seriousness of northern alienation in their province.

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Talks about Western independence and the release of the well-timed Buffalo Declaration should be leveraged by marginalized northern regions in the West to place their issues front and centre in the national conversation.

Within the wider discourse of Western alienation exists the reality of northern alienation that has existed for quite a while without finding an appropriate vehicle. For example, northern British Columbia has long felt marginalized within British Columbia politics and ignored by provincial politicians. After all, only about seven percent of B.C.’s population resides in the northern half. 

The province tends to prioritize the southern half of the province when it makes large infrastructure investments. Despite automation and changing technologies, the northern B.C. economy is still largely dominated by resource industries. Forestry, mining, and the energy sector still serve as a backbone for the rural northern economy, despite economic diversification efforts on the part of northern rural municipalities.

In terms of economic structure and attitude, northern B.C. residents are more like northern Albertans. People in Kitimat feel alienated from the latte-drinking urbanites in B.C.’s capital city of Victoria. Granted, however, that the  B.C. Premier has stood up for major projects that would benefit the north, such as the Coastal GasLink project. However, this doesn’t change a basic alienation that the north feels from the core of political power in the province. 

A similar situation has occurred in northwestern Ontario where large communities such as Kenora have felt ongoing neglect from a distant and unresponsive government in Queen’s Park and have seriously discussed joining Manitoba. Many felt that on issues such as the forest economy and on healthcare, Ontario seriously neglected them. At one point, a disgruntled community in southwestern Manitoba wanted to join Saskatchewan. 

This might be the perfect time for northern British Columbians to raise the stakes in the discussion by raising the “S” word. The real possibility of separation might be what the out-of-touch B.C. provincial government needs to prioritize northern concerns. 

In November of last year, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released a major policy paper that discussed redrawing the provincial boundaries of Alberta and Saskatchewan to provide tidewater access to both provinces. 

Residents of Northern B.C. – both from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities – should consider and perhaps leverage such proposals, such as joining Alberta. First Nations in northern British Columba might have more success in forwarding their issues of self-government and nation-to-nation dialogue, especially with the focus on reconciliation.  

If residents of northern B.C. entertained the possibility of joining Alberta, Alberta would need to extend an offer to northern British Columbia residents explaining the benefits of joining Alberta. Northern B.C. would need to inform the Alberta government of the problems they are facing which propelled them to leave British Columbia. Alberta could then address those problems and offer residents of Northern B.C. a better deal. 

During the Quebec secession crisis, there were some Quebec Indigenous leaders who did not reject the sovereigntist cause completely, instead, asking the leaders of the Quebec sovereignty movement what they would offer them. Being pragmatic, they realized that if they could not stop or fight the secession vote, they would settle for a better deal from a sovereign Quebec government than the one they had with a united Canada. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in northern B.C. should adopt a similar attitude and posture. 

A very attractive element of northern B.C. joining Alberta would be the promise of permanent coastal access for Alberta’s energy sector, which would greatly benefit many communities and First Nations of northern B.C. 

Alternatively, rocking the political boat with talk of redrawing provincial boundaries could be enough to finally awaken the British Columbia government to the seriousness of northern alienation in their province. This could finally force the province to adopt a serious plan for the north, that includes investment in necessary infrastructure.  

Mayors in northern B.C. communities should be able to get the premier on the phone and receive attention on pressing matters. Industries such as forestry, mining, and energy should receive as much attention as issues that concern Metro Vancouver and among suburbanites in the Lower Mainland. 

Raising the spectre of redrawn borders might just be enough to force the province to deal with its Northern Alienation problems.

Joseph Quesnel the Indigenous Issues Columnist for the Western Standard. He is a Metis policy analyst and commentator who writes on Indigenous issues as well as energy and resource development policy.

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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