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MCALLISTER: Alberta’s Red Tape Reduction Ministry isn’t living up to the hype

It’s time to scrap the Calgary Regional Municipal Board.

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Alberta has sailed right into the perfect storm of economic instability; and there probably isn’t a forecaster anywhere who could have predicted this bruising set of circumstances. Covid-19 arrived like a Muhammad Ali haymaker on top of the gut punch we already received with crashing oil prices. 

The result has been devastating with thousands of jobs lost, thousands more on the brink of losing it all, and countless businesses clinging to survival.

And the last thing we need as a province is to contribute to our demise with bad policy that stunt economic growth. But this is exactly what is happening in the Calgary region, and it’s perplexing given the province established a red-tape ministry to address this very thing. 

Whatever happened to Alberta’s highly touted and much celebrated Ministry of Red Tape Reduction? Remember when Premier Kenney announced there would be a ministry devoted to cutting the bureaucratic nebula of regulation? It was a winner on the campaign trail, and how could it not be? In a province full of creative thinking entrepreneurs, getting government out of our way is music to our ears. Next to cutting taxes, cutting red tape is a sure-fire way to fire up conservative minded Albertans and gain their support.

This year, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) gave Alberta a B- grade for red tape reduction. This is the second lowest score in Canada, scraping the bottom ahead of only Newfoundland. Even the big-spending federal Liberal government scored better. 

In fairness to the UCP, this is the highest score Alberta has received in years. It is a noted improvement, but it looks like there is still a long way to go.

There remains some obvious low hanging fruit that needs to be picked, and fast because it is turning rotten.

Why is the province allowing the job killing, unelected fourth layer of government known as the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) to chug along, chasing investment dollars out of Alberta? Investment is finding greener pastures in jurisdictions where over-regulation and nimbyism is being rolled back.

Case in point is Western Securities, who announced the scrapping of a planned three billion dollar investment, citing the untenable headwinds of the CMRB. They saw no point in pushing ahead with a project that would be vetoed by anti-competitive protectionists. Why throw more money at a project that could be killed by urban-centric politicians that don’t approve of what they see growing beyond Calgary’s boundary? There are more large projects about to pull the ripcord. This is disappointing. Alberta desperately needs fewer restrictions on job creators.

The Ministry of Red Tape Reduction led by Grant Hunter, was given a mandate to cut anything that unessesarily got in the way of job creation and the economy. If it exists just because it always has, get rid of it.

We don’t need a focus group or a special cabinet committee to take action on a board like this. It is pushing jobs out of Alberta for greener, more friendly economic pastures. It’s time to scap the CMRB. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and his central planning bureaucrats won’t like it, but raise your hand if you think putting Calgary City Hall in charge of the entire region is a good idea. (I didn’t think so)  

This government celebrates its economic recovery plan by touting the creation of government jobs through infrastructure projects. That helps, but government jobs are not the savior. If the government really wants to help, it will eliminate any policy that weakens investor confidence and stifles free enterprise.   

If we created a Ministry of Red Tape Reduction, it should be working overtime to fulfill its mandate. And if government ministers in any department catch even a glimpse of red tape, they should have 24 hour access to the machinery needed to cut it out. If we took the same bold approach to the job-killing red tape virus as we did with Covid-19, we would create a thriving province once again. It takes courage and every minister should be making that call. Municipal Affairs Minister Madu has a simple decision to make regarding the CMRB; eliminate it and restore investor confidence.  

It makes you wonder, what would Ralph do? Former Premier Ralph Klein announced his intentions, and then, whether popular or not, went ahead and followed through for the good of the province. It seemed he carried a red-tape chain saw and took a run at anything that choked out the Alberta Advantage. 

And for the record, Ralph got rid of these very same central planning, anti-investment, competition killing boards back in the ’90s. Today’s political leaders would be wise to follow Ralph’s lead. We created the red-tape ministry, so put it to work. 

Bruce McAllister is a columnist for the Western Standard, Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview

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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