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NAVARRO-GÉNIE: Sweden’s achievement in protecting its democratic traditions is worth emulating

In maintaining its independence of action based on established scientific evidence instead of fear-motivated models, Sweden has preserved and strengthened the crucial bond of trust between government and its civil community.

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Much ink has been assigned to Sweden for its distinct approach to COVID-19 among Western nations. As more jurisdictions wrestle with lifting economic restrictions, Sweden is both praised and condemned. 

People readily condemn Stefan Löfven’s Social Democrat (Sweden’s NDP equivalent) government for not emulating China and for violating what Swedish academicians called the “lockdown consensus.” For its less restrictive approach in letting the population build natural immunities progressively (the so-called “herd immunity”), the Social Democrats were called callous, irresponsible, and even cruel. 

While life during COVID-19 in Sweden hardly goes on business-as-usual, the country’s borders are not closed. Schools did not close. No draconian confinement orders were issued. Shops, bars and restaurants remained open voluntarily. There is a ban on public gatherings for more than 50 people, but domestic travel is unrestricted. 

Government-issued guidelines recommend keeping physical distance, self-isolate when returning from abroad, work from home when possible, and maintaining hygienic practices. But people’s liberties have not been curtailed by law in the name of safety. What is more, the Swedish health system is far from incapacitated, as many had predicted, and government has gone about its business without the political overreaction found among those in the “lockdown consensus.”

The Swedish approach sought principally to protect the most vulnerable, even if more than half the deaths registered there have occurred in care facilities for the elderly, much like in other countries implementing full lockdowns, including Canada. There will need to be a serious reckoning about how we warehouse the elderly. 

Conversely, those praising the Swedish strategy argue that even though Sweden’s death rate is higher than those among its Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden’s results are consistent with the European average and are lower than in many similar countries with hard lockdowns.

Expressed in deaths per million inhabitants as of May 10, Sweden’s 322 compare favourably to Belgium’s 751; Spain’s 527; Italy’s 508; UK’s 472 and France’s 408. Canada’s, for reference, is 132. 

In percentages of infected: Sweden has 12.3 percent deaths; Netherlands and Hungary, 12.8; Italy, 14; United Kingdom, 14.5; France, 15; Belgium 16.3. Canada’s is 7.2. 

The expected superior performance of the Swedish economy to locked-down states has not materialised. Government statistics and expert watchers note that Sweden’s economy is suffering as much as other European states. Similarly, projections for the aftermath put Sweden’s economy contracting at comparable rates than locked down countries with equivalent numbers of bankruptcies, job losses, damage to markets and supply chains. 

For all the praises and condemnations Sweden receives, it is too early for final evaluations in either direction. But it’s clear Sweden’s results so far are not the dark disaster many predicted, nor have they yielded the substantive economic fruits some expected. Though unlikely, things might get worse for Sweden. But as immunity builds among its general population, possible second and third waves of infection in other countries favour Sweden.

The Swedish achievement – with great respect to the dead and suffering – may not protect more lives and save more jobs. Rather, the Swedish achievement in the face of international panic and internal moral pressures lies in remaining fiercely true to their political traditions and democratic institutions. 

In maintaining its independence of action based on established scientific evidence instead of fear-motivated models, Sweden has preserved and strengthened the crucial bond of trust between government and its civil community. In time, it may become its most important achievement in this pandemic.  

The government and governors trust the Swedish people. Swedes in turn trusted their government and governors to protect them without succumbing to the temptation to run their lives and trample their traditions of liberty, without undermining their own legal foundations, without intimidating police actions, without outrageous fines handed to people already hurting with no work, without state threats depriving oxygen to free expression, without curtailing the freedom to earn a living and care for one’s loved ones, without the crass settling of scores against industries out of favour with the partisan policy of an ultra-ideological government, without the abusive attempt at grabbing powers well beyond all existing emergency legislation, without giving individual government officials the use of unchecked power that under less panicked circumstances no one even would entrust to whole legislatures. 

Maintaining and preserving that trust so vital to healthy liberal democratic institutions is a unique blessing a people can give itself, specially in times of crisis.  

Canadians in Ottawa and in every province, public servants and the elected alike, ought to take note. 

Marco Navarro-Génie is a columnist for the Western Standard, the President of the Haultain Research Institute and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Marco Navarro-Génie is a Columnist for the Western Standard, President of the Haultain Research Institute, and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public 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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