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WAGNER: Alberta exceptionalism and a distinct political culture

Alberta culture may not be as obviously distinctive as Quebec’s, but it is unique in Canada for several strong reasons.

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There are a number of factors that provide evidence for Alberta being “a culturally distinct region”, as the Buffalo Declaration puts it. This distinctiveness is not as obvious as that of Quebec – which has its own language, culture, and even law (i.e., the civil code rather than the common law). Alberta broadly shares the language, culture and legal system of the broader Anglosphere, but it is nevertheless unique within Canada.

Alberta’s political culture differs to some degree from the rest of Canada. Alberta has long had a reputation for political conservatism, and its historical voting record has overwhelmingly favoured parties on the right. At the provincial level, the Social Credit Party and then Progressive Conservative Party held power from 1935-2015. The United Conservative Party picked up this torch again in 2019. With the exception of the brief NDP interregnum, left-leaning politicians had to take power within the governing conservative parties, as Allison Redford did from 2011 to 2014. Federally, right-leaning parties (Social Credit, Progressive Conservative, Reform, Canadian Alliance, and Conservative) have held the overwhelming majority of seats over that same period. 

Even the 2015 provincial election which resulted, sadly, in an NDP government, saw the combined vote of the two main right-leaning parties at about 52 per cent verses 40.6 per cent for the socialists. In the 2012 election, the combined PC-Wildrose vote totalled nearly 80 per cent. Only the temporary collapse of the Wildrose following the mass floor crossing in December of 2014 made an NDP government possible.  

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and PC Leader Jason Kenney announce an agreement to merge into the new UCP

How can Alberta’s unique political culture be explained? In my view, the best single explanation is offered by political scientist Clark Banack in his book, God’s Province: Evangelical Christianity, Political Thought, and Conservatism in Alberta, which was published in 2016 by McGill-Queen’s University Press. This book surveys Alberta’s political history and notes that evangelical Christian leaders have played a leading role in the province’s politics.

Christian leadership of this sort goes back to the early days of the farmers movement. The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) was founded as a lobby group in 1909 but subsequently decided to run candidates for election. It won the provincial elections of 1921, 1926 and 1930, but after losing the 1935 election it withdrew from electoral politics. The UFA lingers on selling gasoline and farm tractors today. 

From 1916 until 1931, the president of the UFA was Henry Wise Wood, and was the Alberta farmers movement’s most respected and influential leader. Wood had a much more conservative perspective than most other agrarian leaders in the West, many of whom were influenced by socialism to one degree or another. 

Wood believed that an ideal society could only be realized by the voluntary cooperation of godly citizens. Since socialism is based on government coercion rather than voluntary association, it could not lead to the best form of society. 

The agrarian movement in Saskatchewan was dominated by leftist thinking that favoured government action and socialism. Alberta had many farmers movement leaders who shared that perspective. But Wood actively fought against socialist solutions and – because of his popularity among Alberta farmers – he prevailed.

According to Banack, Wood’s efforts to derail support for socialism among Alberta’s farmers had a long-term impact on Alberta’s politics: “Wood rejected both the secular intellectual solutions of Marx and the Christian-based social gospel calls for socialism and placed the onus squarely on the individual to bring about the perfect democratic and economic system. In doing so, Wood helped to steer early Alberta society in a decidedly anti-socialistic and more individualistic direction by harnessing the Prairie-wide utopian and co-operative hopes of Alberta agrarians to a stern emphasis on individual responsibility.”

Thus, the origin of Alberta’s generally anti-socialistic perspective goes back at least 100 years to the leadership of Henry Wise Wood. 

Around the time that the UFA’s political efforts were falling apart, William “Bible Bill” Aberhart of Calgary was starting the Alberta Social Credit Party. Aberhart was a public school principal who was best known as a popular Christian radio broadcaster with a huge listening audience in the province. When the Great Depression caused widespread hardship and despair, Aberhart began to use his radio program to promote social credit economics as the solution.

In short, the idea of social credit economics was to replace credit issued by private banks with credit issued by the government. In this way – it was believed – the financial system could be orchestrated for the benefit of all citizens rather than for rich bankers. Unsurprisingly, government control of credit, as well as certain other aspects of Social Credit, appeared socialistic to some people. Indeed, the Social Credit Party was not obviously conservative in its earliest years, but a more clearly conservative perspective emerged later.

When the Alberta Social Credit Party won the 1935 provincial election (ousting the UFA which had by then abandoned Wood’s anti-socialism), Aberhart became premier. He remained premier until he died in 1943. Throughout his term as premier he continued preaching the gospel on his radio broadcast.

After Aberhart’s death, his chief lieutenant Ernest Manning became Alberta’s premier and head of Aberhart’s radio ministry. Manning – like Aberhart before him – continued the vital work of radio evangelism throughout his tenure as premier. 

The Social Credit Party under Manning was decidedly opposed to socialism and this reinforced the free enterprise spirit of the province. According to Banack, “working from a distinctly religious position that guided their thinking about politics, Aberhart and especially Manning did much to guide Alberta on an anti-collectivist trajectory that is largely unique among Canadian provinces.”

Manning retired as premier in 1968 after serving one of the longest premierships in Canadian history. Five years later, Ted Byfield founded a weekly news magazine called the St. John’s Edmonton Report that would evolve into Alberta Report, the spiritual predecessor to today’s Western Standard. Although he was not a political leader as such (or even an evangelical, for that matter), Byfield became one of the most influential Alberta opinion leaders during the latter part of the 20th Century. His magazine, which was published in one form or another until 2003, had a distinctly conservative and generally Christian perspective. 

Due to its popularity and large circulation, the Alberta Report had a substantial impact on Alberta society and politics. Referring to the days before the internet, Ted Morton – the University of Calgary political scientist and former provincial finance minister – is quoted by Banack as saying, “Alberta Report was our Internet, it was our website, Facebook and Twitter…in those early years [of conservative activism], almost all roads passed through Alberta Report.”

Stephen Harper and Preston Manning in the Reform Party era (source: Vancouver Sun)

Besides his work with the Alberta Report, Ted Byfield played a key role in the creation of the Reform Party of Canada in 1987. However, Preston Manning (the son of former Premier Ernest Manning) was the first and only leader of the party. Like his father, Preston was an evangelical Christian and his religious views influenced his political views.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, governments at both the provincial and federal levels were accumulating massive deficits. Preston Manning correctly argued that high, deficit-fuelled spending was unsustainable and would lead the country into financial disaster.

The Reform Party elected 52 MPs in the 1993 federal election, and later became the official opposition after electing 60 MPs in the federal election of 1997. Although it never formed the government, the Reform Party’s arguments for reduced government spending were so sensible that even the Liberal government of the time brought federal finances under control. It’s unlikely that would have happened without the Reform Party’s strong showing in the 1993 and 1997 elections.

Summarizing the overall conservative influence on Alberta’s political history, Banack writes, “It is quite significant to note that a certain religious interpretation has undergirded this populist, pro-market sentiment from Wood, through the thought of Aberhart and Ernest Manning, and into the thinking of Preston Manning in contemporary Alberta.”

Alberta has rightly been seen as having a generally more conservative political culture than the other provinces. Clark Banack’s book does an excellent job of explaining why this has been the case historically. The most significant factor in his view, is the strong influence of conservative Christian political and opinion leaders. 

There is much more to Alberta than conservative political and religious influences, of course. But God’s Province provides an excellent introduction to the political and religious factors that have contributed to Alberta’s status as “a culturally distinct region.”

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.’

Opinion

WAGNER: Are Westerners really Canadians?

Many Westerners have a strong regional identity and therefore feel a closer bond with the West than with Canada as a whole.

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What is a Canadian? One answer would be, any person with Canadian citizenship. That is probably a sufficient answer for most people. On that basis, almost every Western Canadian qualifies as a real Canadian. 

But what if the question – “What is a Canadian?” – was asked, instead, about the country’s national identity? Do Westerners qualify as Canadians under the criteria of Canadian national identity? The answer to this question is more problematic.

A nation’s identity refers to the way in which its citizens see themselves as being distinct from citizens of other countries. In his book about America’s national identity entitled “Who Are We?”, the late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote, “Identity is an individual’s or a group’s sense of self. It is a product of self-consciousness, that I or we possess distinct qualities as an entity that differentiates me from you and us from them.” He adds that, “Identities are imagined selves: they are what we think we are and what we want to be.” 

Identity, in other words, is how we think of ourselves in relation to others.

It should not just be assumed that since Westerners live in a geographical part of Canada that they automatically embrace Canada’s national identity, or national myths. Instead, this matter requires careful analysis. The person who has done the most thinking on this question is political scientist Barry Cooper of the University of Calgary. As it turns out, he believes that the political identity of Westerners is different from that of Eastern Canadians. In his view, what is commonly referred to as “Canadian identity” is actually a concept that is primarily derived from – and relevant for – southern Ontario.

In 1984, Cooper wrote a groundbreaking academic article addressing this issue – “Western Political Consciousness” – that was published in the book “Political Thought in Canada” edited by Stephen Brooks. In my opinion, this article should be required reading for all serious students of Canadian politics.

To understand the question of national identity, it is essential to look at Canadian history. The first major wave of English-speaking settlement into Canada consisted of colonists who had supported British imperial authority in the American War of Independence. These colonials wanted to continue to live under British rule and therefore migrated to southern Ontario (formerly Upper Canada) and the Maritimes. They were known as “Loyalists.”

A generation later, these same people and their children had to defend themselves against American incursions during the War of 1812. Because of their conflicts with and hostility towards the United States, the Loyalists of southern Ontario developed what Cooper calls a “garrison mentality”, whereby they saw themselves as a beleaguered community, constantly on guard. This concept of the garrison became their “imaginative reality,” or how they understood their community in relation to the rest of the world.

The experience of these early residents of Ontario, first as refugees from hostile Americans, then as defenders of their land against American invasion, explains the origin and prevalence of anti-American sentiment in Canada. 

Due to the demographic and political preeminence of southern Ontario within Canada, its own identity became the basis for Canadian national identity. As Cooper writes, “Canada, the imaginative reality centred in the Loyalist heartland, became Canada the political reality.” In other words, “there is indeed a Canadian identity, but it is restricted to the Loyalist heartland.”

However, the garrison mentality of southern Ontario did not take hold in the West. The people of the western provinces had different historical experiences than those of southern Ontario and therefore developed a different imaginative reality: “Western regional identity, to the extent that it is distinct from ‘Canadian’ identity, refers to distinct experiences expressed by way of distinct symbols and themes.”

The stories of the West are different from those of Ontario, and that is important according to Cooper: “Stories, including the systematic stories we call history, reveal meanings, local and particular ones first of all, and through them general and universal ones. History, too, is a source of identity; historical literature also shows who we are and where is here because it recounts what was done and said.”

Consequently, since the West does not see itself as a transplanted Ontario garrison, it is not imaginatively part of Canada. That is, because the historical experiences of Westerners were so different from those of southern Ontario, Westerners don’t share with Ontarians the same understanding of what it means to be Canadian.

This has implications for the idea of national unity. As Cooper puts it, “national unity is a symbol expressing ‘Canadian’ identity, the identity of the Loyalist heartland.” That is to say, it’s not truly “national” at all. Instead, it largely involves advancing the regional interest of a certain part of Canada (i.e. Ontario) under the guise of what’s best for all of Canada.

Many Westerners have a strong regional identity and therefore feel a closer bond with the West than with Canada as a whole. This is fundamental to Western imaginative reality. Cooper explains as follows: “Regional identity is at the heart of Western political consciousness. For many Westerners, as for many francophone Quebecers, the significant public realm is not Canada, but the region or province. Canada for them is, first and perhaps last, a legal structure that performs certain administrative functions. It is not first of all a collective political reality, nor an important source of meaning or pride, save under exceptional circumstances. In contrast, the region, the West, carries a constant and positive emotional valence: it is here and us.”

Of course, not all Westerners identify more closely with the West than with Canada as a whole – but many of us do. For us, Cooper’s analysis explains something that we have sensed but were previously unable to clearly understand and articulate. That is, the idea of Canadian identity presented to us expresses a different understanding of the country than the one we actually experience ourselves. 

Westerners have long felt left out of important political and economic decisions in Canada. Historically, many federal policies were enacted at the expense of the West – with the National Energy Program being the quintessential example. But according to Cooper’s analysis, Westerners have also been left out of the common meaning of Canadian identity. Looked at from this perspective – that is, the perspective of national identity – it is not too much to ask, are Westerners really Canadians?

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.’

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Deplatforming is mob censorship

Any government that tries to censor them, is a tyranny. And individual that tries to de-platform them, is a tyrant in the making.

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The following text is the opening statement by Western Standard Publisher Derek Fildebrandt in a debate on “deplatforming” as a means of fighting hate. Video of the debate is available HERE.

The question before us today is a relevant and important one: “Is deplatforming a useful tool to eradicate hate?”

Unsurprisingly to those of you who know me, my answer, is a “hard no.” 

To start, let’s try to define “deplatforming.”

“Deplatforming”, is the private-sector counterpart to public-sector censorship. While “censorship” is the state inserting itself as the arbiter of what is permissible to say, and who is permissible to say it, “deplatforming” is by-and-large, private actors taking up the role of arbiter. 

While Canada’s press is by-and-large free, it is still subject to censorship around certain sensitive subjects. One of the more notorious examples was the attempt by the Alberta and Canadian Human Rights Commissions to censor the Western Standard from publishing the Danish cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammad in 2006. 

One of the Danish “Muhammad cartoons” that triggered riots in 2006.

While these same self-professed “human rights commissions” never batted an eye at art, or writing critical of Christianity in displays like the famous “Piss Christ”, they were only too eager to make a series of cartoons illegal for print. 

No doubt, the cartoons were offensive to some. But that was the point. These cartoons had triggered grown men around the planet to start rioting and killing people. Free men and free women had a right to know what all the fuss was about; and while most of the Canadian media cowered, the staff at the Western Standard did their duty as a part of a free press. 

As the bad press around the issue was building a groundswell of support at the time to abolish the Human Rights Commissions themselves, the government capitulated its own case in court (rather than face a Charter challenge). Since that time, governments have been more careful about applying its ham-fisted censorship legislation on major press outlets.

But since 2006, the lead role of arbiter has passed from the public-sector, to the private-sector; which brings us to “deplatforming”. 

However more prominent deplatforming is now, it is not new, and while it is primarily employed by the political left today, it has historically been used just as frequently by the old political right. 

In 2003, the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the US invasion of Iraq. At that time, public support favoured war, and being a semi-country band, their fans were disproportionately in rural and southern areas of the US that tended to favour war. 

Many pro-war Republicans set about deplatforming them. They were labelled unpatriotic, and therefore unworthy of listening to. 

But rather than individuals decide not to buy their CDs or turn them off when they came on the air, many pro-war activists tried to get them off the air. It wasn’t good enough that they didn’t want to listen to what the Dixie Chicks had to say. They wanted to make sure that others didn’t listen to what this group had to say. 

I raise the case of the Dixie Chicks, because today’s modern campus censorship crusaders must understand that whatever they may feel about a particular politician, speaker, or singer, this is a knife that can cut both ways. 

Surely, there are many individuals that hold views repugnant to us as individuals. And to that, there is only one legitimate action that free peoples can undertake in a free society: change the channel. 

Today’s campuses are riddled with students and professors that feel some – or many – messages and speakers are just too dangerous to be heard. That if people hear these people out, they will be transformed into goose-stepping storm troopers bent on wanton racial and homophobic murder. 

Supporters of deplatforming say that shutting speech down only applies when someone “crosses the line.” 

But where do they draw the line? Are any of them qualified – intellectually or morally – to draw that line? 

The de-platformers draw little distinction between a genuinely hateful character like David Duke, and someone who merely happens to hold controversial opinions, like Jordan Peterson. 

For my own part, deplatformmers attempted to pull a fire-alarm while I gave a speech on a campus about three years ago. The controversial, hate-filled message I was giving? That those on the right should not be afraid of the de-platformers, and should never stoop to using petty deplatforming against those we disagree with. 

Our concept of deplatforming now extends to the online world. Controversial personalities are now routinely “deplatformed” or “demonetized” to stop them from perusing a meaningful career. In some cases, this can be justified, but not only any grounds that they are “hateful” or “offensive”. Privately owned, online platforms are private property, and just as you have the right to tell a trespasser to get off your lawn, owners of private online platforms have the right to tell people to “get off my server”. 

This is complicated for major social media and monetary platforms however. When the CEOs of these tech giants are hauled before Congress, it is clear that legislators require them to bend to their political will, or else face direct regulation. In conflates the private with the public, and makes deplatforming by Facebook and Twitter an act of indirect censorship by government. 

For example, YouTube has bent to the will of governments around the world and blocked nearly all Covid-19 related material that contradicts the statements of the World Health Organization. This is a case of deplatforming silencing not just voices deemed “hateful” or “offensive”, but just dissenting and contradictory. 

This should serve as a present and dangerous example of what happens when states, major corporate entities, or individuals, decide to make themselves the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes legitimate speech. 

Some things are offensive. Some things hurt our feelings. The grown-up reaction to this is to change the channel, or challenge those we disagree with. 

This is doubly-so for those with genuinely hateful views. If a speaker is invited from the Westboro Baptist Church or the Iranian regime, shutting them down not only violates the right of people to hear them, but gives them and their hateful message credence. Potential listeners might rightfully ask themselves: “If this speaker is so wrong, why would anyone attempt to stop them from speaking?” 

Most open forums – like the one we are having here today – have an opportunity for questions and answers. Those who disagree with the speaker, can challenge them, and shine a spotlight on the inconsistencies that make up most hateful views. 

When then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007, he was asked about his regime’s record of murdering gays and lesbians. His response that Iran “had no homosexuals”, elicited roars of laughter from the crowd. 

Ahmadinejad – allowed to speak freely – made a fool of himself and the worldview which he represented. This was a textbook case of allowing the marketplace of ideas to determine which ideas should sink, and which ideas should swim. 

All ideas: the thoughtful, the vapid – the liberal, the hateful – the innocuous, the provocative – all deserve to be heard if they can meet only two criterion: someone wants to speak, and someone wants to listen. 

Any government that tries to censor them, is a tyranny. And individual that tries to de-platform them, is a tyrant in the making. 

Free speech is not meant to protect the expression of the uncontroversial, bland, prevailing orthodox opinions of the majority, but to protect the expression of the controversial and offensive opinions of the minority, or more importantly, the individual. 

Only weak ideas and weak men require censorship to defend them from challengers. 

In a free society, you have only two recourses to speech you disagree with: don’t listen, or challenge it. 

Let me conclude by quoting then Western Standard Publisher Ezra Levant in his interrogation with the Human Rights Commission in 2008:

“I reserve maximum freedom, to be maximally offensive, and hurt feelings as I want.”

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Opinion

LITTLEJOHN: A fall Stampede? Not under these rules.

The Calgary Stampede decided not to postpone but instead canceled because there was no guarantee that Alberta’s ban on large gatherings or international travel would be lifted by the fall.

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On April 23rd, 2020 the Calgary Stampede was cancelled for the first time in nearly 100 years. The Stampede began in 1912, and from 1923 on it was an annual event. The Stampede has carried on through two world wars, the great depression, and the 2013 flood. 

The Stampede even carried on in 1919 during the Spanish Flu, which killed nearly as many Canadians as died in the First World War. The Spanish Flu – a strain of H1N1 – arrived in Calgary in October 1918 with soldiers returning from the First World War. A second wave swept the city in January 1919 after schools and other public buildings reopened following the Christmas holiday, and it resurfaced again in 1920. Despite all this, the Stampede was held in the summer of 1919 in order to raise community spirit in a period of anguish and discontent. 

Janice Dickin, professor emeritus at the University of Calgary explains why this pandemic is different. 

“We are a very different society. We are unwilling to sacrifice lives and can actually do something about it. In 1918-19, 50 thousand to 70 thousand died, same as we lost in the war. There was little to be done if anyone got sick, no breathing machines. There was not even a microscope capable of seeing viruses, so any attempts at a vaccine were futile. We now can do something and are minded to look after everyone we can. You bet I’d have been at that victory [Stampede] parade. And you bet I’m relieved this year’s Stampede has been cancelled. “

The Stampede in 1919 was a relatively small, local affair. One hundred years later, the 2019 Stampede drew a crowd of nearly 1.3-million people. Many were tourists from outside of Canada. Given the restrictions on international travel – as well as concerns about large crowds – it was inevitable the Stampede would not go ahead in July. Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw stated, “Until we have a vaccine or some other means of ensuring widespread immunity, some of these gatherings are going to be the riskiest kinds of activities to engage in. Especially gatherings that bring together people from all over the country or all over the world.”

This is a large part of the reason the Stampede was cancelled instead of postponed.  Other large, global events such as the Boston Marathon and the Kentucky Derby have been postponed until September. The Calgary Stampede decided not to postpone but instead canceled because there was no guarantee that Alberta’s ban on large gatherings or international travel would be lifted by the fall.  

Calgary Stampede spokeswoman Kristina Barnes said, “With the safety of our community front of mind, and given the ongoing ban on large gatherings in our province, it simply wasn’t possible to plan for a postponement. The intrinsic ties with both the Western Fair circuit and North American Fair circuit, particularly with the midway [complicates matters and] is indicative of the extremely detailed coordination that is required to hold an event like the Stampede, and how our planning is intertwined with other fairs and festivals.”

This is a devastating blow to Calgary already reeling from years of recession and record low energy prices. On average over the past five years, the Stampede has generated $79.2 million in gross revenue. The 2019 Calgary Stampede contributed a $227.4-million boost to Calgary’s economy.

Many Stampede vendors worry about the financial effect. For some, such as Alberta Boot Company, the Stampede month represents half their annual sales.

President and Chairman of the Board of the Calgary Stampede, Dana Peers acknowledged that cancelling Stampede impacts many Calgary businesses including hotels, restaurants, vendors, ride-sharing services, and more. 

It will also be challenging for athletes who invest significant amounts of money in their animals and have training, farrier and veterinarian expenses. Without sponsorships or winnings it will be a difficult time for cowboys.

Charities such as the Rotary Club of Calgary also face a challenge. The Rotary club raises two thirds of their budget through the sale of tickets for the Stampede Rotary Dream Home. Without the stampede it will be a challenge to replace this.

For Calgarians, summer without stampede will be difficult but when you get bucked off, you dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. Hopefully in 2021 Calgary Stampede will do just that. 

Tessa Littlejohn is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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