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MORGAN: The new kid on the Alberta political block is off to a good start

The UCP is vulnerable on its right flank and the WIP is already taking up that slack.

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While they haven’t even officially formed as a party yet, the Wildrose Independence Party (WIP) has already moved into a solid third place on the Alberta political landscape. In a poll of 1,100 Albertans commissioned by the Western Standard, the nascent WIP was the electoral choice of 10 per cent of Albertans. That is a significant base for a brand new party to start with.

When I got involved with the Alberta Alliance Party in 2004, we tended to poll at around 4 percent, if pollsters asked about us at all. By 2012, we had merged to form the Wildrose and became the official opposition. By 2019, the final incarnation of the party was folded into the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta to create the UCP, which of course forms the government today. It took multiple elections, mergers, and compromises, but that little party holding 4 percent support ended up leaving a very major mark on Alberta’s history. It would be foolhardy to dismiss the WIP, which is currently supported by 10 per cent before they even have a leader.

While pretty much every premier in Canada has been enjoying a surge in support numbers over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jason Kenney has been slumping in the polls. Kenney’s response to the pandemic has been solid for the most part and in line with other provinces. The drop in support for the UCP isn’t directly related to the pandemic.

It’s hardly a revelation that Albertans have been feeling economically abused and vulnerable within confederation. We are milked of our revenues by Ottawa when times are good, and are treated as confederation’s red-headed stepchild when times are bad. Our energy sector is under constant attack from ideologues in Ottawa and we are called selfish rednecks when we dare speak up about it. Albertans are sick of it and want to see some action to protect our province from further federal incursions. This is where Kenney’s UCP falls short.

The Wildrose Independence Party is little more than a concept at this time. There is no leader and there are no policies. It is rather inherent in the WIP name though that the interests of Alberta will be paramount in the party’s priorities. The term “independence” is clear in its intention of distancing Alberta from Ottawa, yet ambiguous in just how far that distance may be. This creates a broad tent to gather those who are fed up with the status quo in confederation, whether these are outright sovereigntists or folks who want to seek more autonomy within confederation. It creates a sizeable and motivated support base with a common cause to bind them.

Jason Kenney and the UCP have always talked a great game when it comes to standing up to Ottawa, but with a year in power behind them, they have appeared so far to be all talk. With the refusal to even release the “Fair Deal” panel report, it begins to look like the exercise of the panel and its tour was simply to provide lip service to Albertans in hopes of quelling their discontent. Kenney very vocally promised to make citizen’s initiated referendum legislation a top priority in this legislative session, and his promise vanished within days. Albertans are losing faith in the UCP’s will and ability to stand up for them against an increasingly hostile federal government. The WIP is already eating a good part of the UCP’s lunch. If the new party gets a good leader, they will be a formidable player on the provincial scene in the coming years.

Momentum is everything and right now, an unfounded party with no leader is holding it. NDP support remains flatlined, and the Alberta Party’s ongoing campaign of standing for nothing is garnering it the support such a stance deserves. The UCP is vulnerable on its right flank and the WIP is already taking up that slack. The WIP is clear in what it stands for and Albertans are seeking confident clarity and leadership on the issue of standing up to Ottawa.

Polls are indeed snapshots in time and there are countless variables to take into account when trying to predict the political future. There can be no doubt though that the Wildrose 2.0 is coming out of the gates fast and gaining steam already though. If the UCP doesn’t find a way to stop bleeding support to the WIP, this new party could evolve into a true gamechanger in the next provincial election.

Cory Morgan and a columnist for the Western Standard and a business owner in Priddis, Alberta.

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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