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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: Don’t make the tent too big – the independence movement must be conservative

Michael Wagner writes that there is little point in pursuing Western independence if the new country looks like the old.

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In recent years some people have argued that the Western independence movement should encompass people from the entire political spectrum. Support for independence, they argue, is not a specifically conservative or right-wing phenomenon. To generate enough political support to achieve Alberta’s independence, people of all sorts of ideological positions will be needed.

For example, early in 2018, one well-meaning independence activist posted a message on Facebook stating, “We all need to remember that you don’t have to be a conservative to be a separatist. We will need people from all sides in this.”

Similarly, in a conversation at a meeting, one person seriously suggested to me that independence supporters could bring Millennials on board by telling them that the money Alberta saved from cancelling transfer payments to Canada would be used to offer free university tuition and free dental care for all Albertans. This is essentially the Bernie Sanders appeal – support Alberta independence so that you will get “free” stuff from the government. 

If that’s the direction the independence movement were to take, it would become empty and meaningless. Proposing an even greater role for government – that is, even more socialism – as the antidote to Eastern Canadian “progressive” liberalism, entirely defeats the purpose of a free West. If socialistic policies are acceptable, then Canada is already suitable and getting better every year. An Alberta version of Bernie Sanders is not an improvement on Justin Trudeau. In attempting to widen their appeal to the left, support for independence would likely shed far more fertile and dedicated support on the right.

Instead of offering socialistic goodies or opting for flimsy policies in an appeal to people from across the political spectrum, the independence movement should be clearly grounded in small-c conservative thinking that values free enterprise, private property, the family, respect for first peoples, and the historic virtues of Western civilization. That is, after all, Alberta’s heritage.

An independent Western Canada must protect property rights, and the protection of property rights will not appeal broadly to the left. An independent Western Canada must allow for the genuine freedoms that modern “progressives” too often to despise. Progressives often view conservative viewpoints and traditional Christian perspectives as “hate” that should be banned. An independent West that embraced such progressivism would be no better than the existing Canadian federation, and might even become worse.

When the Alberta independence movement first appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no doubt that it was a right-of-centre phenomenon. In the early 1980s, the Western Canada Concept Party of Alberta – the Alberta WCC – produced a four-page document entitled, “Our Statement of Principles.” It contained 24 points. The first point was, “We believe in responsibility and self-reliance.” The second was, “We believe in private enterprise.” Thirdly, it declared, “We believe in smaller government.” 

The fifth point stated, “We believe in the right to own property.” The explanatory paragraph for this point was as follows: “The power of the state to occupy, seize or expropriate private property is a violation of personal freedom. Any limitation of the freedom of the individual to own what he or she acquires, reduces the freedom and prosperity of the whole society.”

Many of the initial points in the statement focus on individual freedom and entrepreneurship, whereas the subsequent points tend to focus more on the specific role of government.

The twelfth point is noteworthy: “The strength of the family is the strength of the nation.” The explanatory paragraph for this point states: “Healthy, close-nit, nurturing families assure the future of a society by molding responsible, self-reliant, hard-working citizens. Healthy families transmit healthy values – which strengthen the community and the nation.”

The Alberta WCC Statement of Principles cannot be understood as anything other than a small-c conservative document, and it provides a shining example of the kinds of principles any future independence organization or party should embrace. The pioneers of the Western independence movement had this right.

The goals of the independence movement are self-determination and greater freedom for the West, and these goals only make sense from a conservative or libertarian perspective. Therefore, watering down principles in order to appeal for wider support from the political centre or left would ultimately defeat the purpose of the independence movement. Achieving an independent West that favoured political preferences resembling Toronto and Montreal would be an empty victory not worth the fight.

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

GRAFTON: Canada’s corruption rating falling under Trudeau Liberals

Guest columnist Ken Grafton writes that under Trudeau, Canada’s high rating on corruption is falling fast.

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Notwithstanding five investigations by the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the potential of an RCMP investigation into possible criminal activity in connection with the Lavalin-Gate scandal, the ethically-challenged Trudeau government was re-elected last October. Despite holding the distinction of being the first prime minister to be found guilty of violating federal conflict of interest rules and then doubling-down with a second violation, a surprising 5,911,588 Canadian voters felt that Justin Trudeau should continue as the head of government for another four years.

In addition to the two key centres of Toronto and Montreal, large swaths of the Maritimes, Yukon and Northwest Territories cast their votes for a government wreaking of corruption. Astounding to many – especially in view of the fact that SNC-Lavalin had a history of bribery, was again up on bribery charges following an RCMP investigation into its actions in Libya with terrorist sponsor Muammar Gaddafi, and had been found guilty of illegal campaign contributions to the Liberal Party in 2016 – Lavalin-Gate didn’t appear to be an issue for Liberal voters at the polls.

Now the prime minister is being investigated yet again by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in connection with the WE Charity scandal. Conservative Shadow Minister for Ethics MP Michael Barret addressed an open letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki on July 10th, calling for a criminal investigation into the matter. 

While the Trudeau government may be awash in corruption, it doesn’t appear to be a concern to most Canadians. A July 27th poll by Angus Reid showed that only 16 per cent of Canadians choose ethics and corruption as one of their top three issues facing the country, and 56 per cent believe that WE-Gate will have little impact on Trudeau’s government.  

Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) is a non-governmental organization that monitors government corruption globally. It publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), rating 180 countries by perceived levels of public sector corruption, and defines government corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” The CPI is the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, rating countries on a scale of 100 (very clean) to 0 (bring cash). The 2018 CPI rates Denmark at the top of the list, with a score of 88; and the lawless war-torn state of Somalia at the bottom, with a score of 10. The US falls in 22nd place, with a score of 71 (down from a pre-Trump placing in 2015 at 16th, with a CPI of 76). Canada scored high in 2018 with a CPI of 81, placing a very respectable 9th out of 180. 

That number fell to 77 in 2019, moving Canada off the Top 10 List to number 12. As Transparency Canada explains, “Last year, issues surrounding corruption came to the forefront in Canada and grabbed international headlines that let the world know that our modest, polite country had nefarious dealings.” Lavalin-Gate was a major factor in the downgrade, raising concern from the OECD Working Group on Bribery in a March 2019 warning statement.

In addition to providing data to corporate compliance officers, TI is a reference point for leaders and journalists around the world. The Economist has stated “No country can ignore its reputation for corruption. That means that no country can ignore Transparency International.” 

It’s no surprise perhaps that Denmark and Germany enjoy the highest credit ratings possible, while lawless Somalia is at the bottom with a CPI of 180th. Although there are other considerations involved, many of the factors that determine a country’s CPI also affect credit ratings. The same factors can determine where a corporation chooses to locate or otherwise invest, contribute to wealth inequality (OECD), affect immigration patterns (with the least corrupt countries generally offering the best prospects for new immigrants), and impact tourism (as corruption and public safety are often linked). 

There are many arguments against corruption, and many reasons to embrace ethics and transparency. The UN has stated “Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability.” A 2016 OECD report “Putting An End To Corruption” sums up the threat to democracy. 

“Corruption undermines sustainable economic, political and social development, for developing, emerging and developed economies alike. Corruption endangers private sector productivity…hinders public sector productivity…and is a threat to inclusive growth by undermining the opportunities to participate equally in social, economic and political life and impacting the distribution of income and well-being. Corruption also erodes trust in government and public institutions, rendering reform more difficult.” 

This should be required reading on Parliament Hill.

According to TI, the Corruption Perceptions Index is a composite index, a combination of different international surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputable institutions. The index draws on 13 surveys from independent institutions specialising in governance and business climate analysis covering expert assessments and views of businesspeople.

How will WE-Gate impact upon Canada’s international standing as a relatively corruption-free market environment? 

A glimmer of hope perhaps from Angus Reid. Trudeau’s approval rating has dropped to 44 per cent. Troublingly for Trudeau, this lost approval comes primarily from those who voted Liberal in the last election. Although four-in-five Liberal voters still approve of the prime minister, there has been a drop of nine points in two weeks.

Since the CPI – by definition – is a measurement of perceptions, it follows that the ethics violations by Prime Minister Trudeau must result in damage to Canada’s good standing. 

Look for a further downgrade in Canada’s CPI. Corruption is a slippery slope.

Ken Grafton is a freelance columnist

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Opinion

GEROW: Western Canada needs its own currency

Darcy Gerow writes that currency manipulation from Ottawa is a hidden tax on all Canadians, but robs the West more than others.

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With a united Wildrose Independence Party in Alberta and Jay Hill at the helm of Wexit Canada, the independence conversation has gotten serious. A May 2020 poll conducted for the Western Standard found that 45 to 48 per cent of Albertans supported independence. That’s real close to a 51 per cent tipping point. Though, for a lot of Albertans, independence is only an opportunity to lean into Ottawa for a fair deal on equalization and the constitution.

There is enough support for a fair deal to build a solid footing for Western independence, but that foundation will be useless if this house is framed using the Canadian dollar.

The Canadian dollar is consistently hitting new lows every year when measured against indicators like the consumer price index, which measures the price impacts of inflation caused by the Canadian government’s manipulation of the money supply. 

An independent West (or just Alberta) should reject a foreign government (in this case Ottawa) devaluing its currency. Unlike Quebec sovereigntists – who want to continue using the Canadian dollar – Westerners would be better off with their own currency, a Western dollar which is free of manipulation.

Junior high civics classes have conditioned Canadians to trust the government with the money supply as a noble endeavor, that the marketplace can’t provide a product sound enough to be used as a medium of exchange or a store of value. The federal government took that trust and printed up a trillion dollars in debt for all kinds of corporate welfare programs. Most recently, to give to their buddies in the mainstream media and WE charities, or to conduct the massive Covid-19 vote-buying welfare scheme, and they’ve done it at the expense of impoverishing those who trusted them with what little wealth they had. All while the marketplace has given us a product that is sound enough to be a medium of exchange and a far superior store of value – gold. 

The Canadian Dollar was backed by gold until 1914 when the Finance Act was passed. This allowed the dollar to be artificially devalued to fund the First World War. The dollar reached a new all-time low measured in gold at the end of 2019 from which it will never recover.

A fair deal on equalization, or better yet, the end of equalization is a great thing, but if the West keeps the Canadian dollar, the door to unfair treatment by Ottawa will always be open. The ability to manipulate the money supply is akin to a tax. Instead of confiscating the actual dollars – like they do with equalization – they are confiscating the value of a dollar. They are stealing purchasing power. As Western provinces have historically out-performed Eastern ones when it comes to productivity, a tax on purchasing power disproportionately affects the West.

If Albertans or the entire West succeed in achieving independence, it would be foolish to continue paying the inflation tax to Ottawa. 

While the West does not have the gold to completely back a currency yet, it isn’t necessary to get the ball rolling. The Western dollar can be pegged to the price of gold at a rate similar to the Canadian dollar and legislation will be required to restrict devaluation by Western governments. As Canada continues to devalue the loonie, our share of the Canadian debt – which would presumably follow us into independence – will be wiped out by inflation.

Here in the West, people are dumping dollars and turning to gold. Remember that Western Standard poll? Having a gold backed Western dollar on the table is enough to tip the scales towards independence.

Even for those not convinced that independence is the right course, Westerners should be demanding sound money as part of a fair deal with Ottawa. What’s the point of keeping those equalization dollars if the money itself is worthless?

Darcy Gerow is a columnist for the Western Standard

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