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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

NAYLOR: My CTrain ride from Hell

The series of disturbing incidents began after I left the downtown Western Standard office and jumped onto a southbound LRT train about 2:10 p.m.

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Alberta health officials often say people should be taking extra precautions because they don’t know how a large percentage of COVID-19 cases are being transmitted in the community.

Well, after my CTrain ride from hell on Wednesday, I know one place they can start.

The series of disturbing incidents began after I left the downtown Western Standard office and jumped onto a southbound LRT train about 2:10 p.m. MST.

Unfortunately, there was a gentleman – and I use that term loosely – who had been on the platform yelling obscenities at the top of his voice.

I’m not sure what his anger was directed at, but he was obviously under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Quite possibly both.

I watched with unease as the man also boarded my train. He sat down momentarily, then got up and continued with his loud verbal diatribe.

All without wearing a mask.

Current Calgary bylaws say you must have a mask on while taking transit.

Fortunately, the screamer got off a couple of stops later and was last seen stumbling and trying how to figure out how to open the door to get into the downtown Bay.

But the ride from hell was just beginning.

Taking his place in the seat across from me was a young woman in her early 20s, wearing jeans with no knees in them and running shoes with no laces. If I had to guess, I would say she was from the city’s vulnerable population.

And she was visibly quite ill.

For the first few stops she was content with brushing her hair and shaking it all over the place.

Then the coughing began. And she couldn’t stop. It sounded like a very bad chest or lung infection. Her repeated coughs sounded almost guttural.

And she wasn’t wearing a mask.

The eyes of the man sitting next to her literally widened in terror. He tried to slide down the seat as far away as he could. But there really was no escape.

I saw all my already-reduced Christmas plans going “poof.”

Apparently tired out from her coughing fits, the woman then laid out on her portion of the seat, using her knapsack as a pillow. But she couldn’t sleep because of the continuing coughs wracking her.

The easiest option would have been to get up and move. But the car was crowded and I’m not sure there were seats available.

The other question I asked myself was why myself, or the gentleman next to her, didn’t confront either of these people, asking them to put on their masks?

The only answer I could come up with was that I didn’t want to aggravate someone who was already under the significant influence of booze and/or drugs. We’ve all seen the violent actions which this can provoke.

The ride from Hell was completed by another man in the carriage who was obviously developmentally delayed.

He just walked from end to end of the car. He would get to the end, stare out a window momentarily, turn around and walk back again. He ended up passing in front of me every 15 seconds, all the time muttering under his breath.

And not wearing a mask.

I finally escaped at the Canyon Meadows station, gulping in the crisp, fresh air. I thought to myself that if I didn’t catch coronavirus on that trip, I wouldn’t catch it anywhere.

I don’t claim to know what the solution to this problem is. We can’t have Transit staff on every train to make sure the rules are followed in an enviornment that is clearly ripe for infections.

But in my many rides downtown since the start of fall, I haven’t seen a single visit by a peace officer. They must be preparing to raid small family Christmas gatherings.

If health officials want an answer to where the community transmission is coming from, they might want to start with Calgary’s CTrain.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
TWITTER: Twitter.com/nobby7694

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Opinion

MORGAN: Kenney may have been politically incorrect, but he was right about infections in some communities

“Premier Kenney may have been somewhat insensitive in how he said it, but he didn’t say anything untrue when he spoke to the issue of the outbreak in the South Asian community.”

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stepped in it. He dared to address the exploding infection rates of COVID-19 within Calgary’s South Asian community and of course, is now being called a racist, with demands for an apology. Caught between libertarian-minded Albertans resisting lockdowns and statists demanding ever-more paternalistic restrictions, the blows are coming at the premier from all sides.

Kenney’s opponents smell blood, and they would love nothing more than to try to tie Kenney’s policies to racism, as they try with anything mildly conservative. Unfortunately, this political reaction and opportunism may increase the infection risks in vulnerable communities as public figures fear to address them frankly.

We need to be blunt about the numbers. Infection rates in Calgary’s South Asian community are rising at triple the rate of other communities. Shouting down and deriding leaders for daring to address this issue as being racist is absurd, and damaging. How can we find out why the infection rates are rising so quickly in these communities, and how can we bring those rates in line if we can’t openly talk about it?

I spoke with Calgary cardiologist Dr. Anmol Kapoor about this sticky issue.

Dr. Kapoor created an initiative called “Dilwalk” which was modelled to bring awareness to some of the health consequences that can come with South Asian dining. While Indian food is indeed fantastic, like so many things it can be harmful for people if not consumed in moderation. With food being so tightly tied to our cultural fabrics, it takes an approach with sensitivity and understanding in order to communicate to the South Asian community on these concerns. Dr. Kapoor has worked hard to bridge that gap.

“Premier Kenney could have used different words.” said Dr. Kapoor, referring to the now-infamous radio interview. The South Asian community is proud, but can be sensitive. Things need to be presented in a “culturally appropriate” manner.

I asked Dr. Kapoor why case counts were so disproportionately high in Calgary’s Northeast district where a large portion of the city’s South Asian community live. He explained that there are a number of cultural factors at play.

Many people in the South Asian community live in multi-generational households for both cultural and economic reasons. Because of this, it can be difficult for any member of a family unit to isolate within their own household, even if they feel they may have been infected. It is difficult to find personal space and this makes family transmission difficult to avoid.

There is a language barrier for many new Canadians from the South Asian community. While Dr. Hinshaw has been communicating regularly and in detail on how we can work to get the pandemic under control, there is a lag in communications getting down to people who may need to get the messaging in a different language. More efforts should to be made to get resources to the community in different languages and in a timely manner. If it takes weeks for messaging to get out, the impact of the messaging is often lost.

Many people in the South Asian community work in jobs which can’t be done from home and often involve a lot of public interaction. This puts them at a higher risk of catching and transmitting the virus. Many people in these workplace situations either don’t have supports should they need to take time away from work, or don’t know what supports are available. People need to be reassured that they aren’t risking bankruptcy by self-isolating. It’s not so simple as closing the doors of your business or walking away from work for a couple weeks. Social supports are required and if they already exist, they need to be effectively communicated to people.

The common theme I heard was that communications need to be better and that they need to come from trusted sources. Community leaders should be tapped to help reach out to the impacted zones and get health messaging out there. Compliance with health measures and suggestions will be much higher when the suggestions come from familiar and trusted voices.

Dr. Kapoor expressly offered to take part in just such a role. If any UPC MLAs or AHS members are reading this, just reach out.

The pandemic is a nightmare for all of us in every possible way. It is a battle with multiple fronts which needs actions on the part of government which are clear and unhesitating. Clear communications are key and we can’t hesitate in targeting areas where outbreaks are occurring for fear of political backlash.

Premier Kenney may have been somewhat insensitive in how he said it, but he didn’t say anything untrue when he spoke to the issue of the outbreak in the South Asian community. If we want to knock this thing down, we need to be able to identify and target the hot spots. Along with the many other things the government needs to do, they need cultural ambassadors to help speak to impacted communities on their behalf. We can’t let political correctness put people at risk.

Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

GRAFTON: Another flighty Liberal bailout, as Trudeau prepares to spend non-existent COVID-19 bucks on failing airlines

Ken Grafton writes that Trudeau is planning a massive bailout of Air Canada, owned mostly by wealthy foreign trusts.

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In the words of Virgin Air founder Richard Branson, “If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”

Now it seems, after months of being non-committal on the issue of airline bailouts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is about to charge up the Canadian Taxpayer Mastercard again – not a paltry Branson $1 billion though, but a whopping Liberal $7 billion, if carriers and unions have anything to say about it.

Branson was warning that airlines are expensive and often lose money – and Branson should know. Virgin Atlantic applied for bankruptcy protection in New York on August 4th. They are attempting to negotiate a $1.6 billion rescue plan. Virgin Australia also filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year. 

These are not the best of times. COVID-19 grounded most commercial flights globally in March, resulting in plummeting airline stock prices. Airlines have been losing millions of dollars every week, and billionaire “canary-in-the-mine” investor guru Warren Buffett has sold out his entire $4 billion airline portfolio. Buffett said, “Investors have poured their money into airlines … for 100 years with terrible results. … It’s been a death trap for investors.”

Airline failures however, predate COVID-19. Airline bankruptcies since 1980 include TWA, US Airways, United, Air Canada (in 2003), Delta, American and many others.

The airline business model is problematic in a number of respects. First and foremost, it lacks scalability. This means that cost growth increases linearly with revenue growth, thereby making it very expensive for an airline to grow. A new A380 will set you back approximately $437 million USD. It costs about $83,000 for a fill-up at the pump, and a new set of 22 tires is a jaw-dropping $121,000

As Buffett explained to Berkshire shareholders in 2007, “The worst sort of business is one that grows rapidly, requires significant capital to engender the growth, and then earns little or no money. Think airlines. Here a durable competitive advantage has proven elusive ever since the days of the Wright Brothers. Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down.” 

But, as history records, Orville made a safe landing that day in 1903.

Another problem with airlines is a sensitive dependence upon price competition. The reality is that if one airline decides to cut fares, for whatever reason(s), competitors have little choice but to follow. This can have disastrous impact financially.

Air Canada is Canada’s largest carrier. Privatized in 1989, its’ history includes layoffs, restructuring, mergers, previous bankruptcy and government bailouts. In May, Air Canada threatened to lay off 50-60 per cent of it’s 38,000 employees, saying that it is losing $20 million per day as a result of COVID-19. It is projecting a 75 per cent reduction in flight capacity during Q4 compared to 2019, and reported Q3 revenue of C$757 million, down 86 per cent from a year earlier, with an operating loss of $785 million CAD.

It has since been taking advantage of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program.

Now, as a result of COVID-19, Air Canada wants another bailout from the taxpayer.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said, “To protect Canadians, the Government of Canada is developing a package of assistance to Canadian airlines, airports and the aerospace sector. As part of this package, we are ready to establish a process with major airlines regarding financial assistance which could include loans and potentially other support to secure important results for Canadians.”

But who exactly are taxpayers going to be bailing out?

The top 10 Air Canada shareholders are all investment management funds. Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc., Fidelity (Canada) Asset Management ULC, Fidelity Management & Research Co. LLC, EdgePoint Investment Group Inc., US Global Investors Inc., RBC Global Asset Management Inc., Causeway Capital Management LLC, Mackenzie Financial Corp., APG Asset Management NV, and CI Investments, Inc.. 

The irony of Canadian taxpayers ponying up $7 billion to bailout wealthy global investment funds would be amusing if it weren’t true. 

Perhaps Trudeau will broker a loan from Air Canada’s shareholders. They can afford it.

The likelihood of you getting an operating line of credit from your local bank because you had lost 90 per cent of your income and were billions in the red? Zero to none.

According to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc the government is “very much discussing” the possibility of nationalizing the airlines, as Germany has done.

If the argument for deregulation and privatization is increased efficiency and cost benefit, then it follows that private sector enterprise must be prepared to bear the cost of failure. Trudeau is burdening Canadians with crippling debt as a result of COVID-19. The wealthy investment funds that own Air Canada should be prepared to do the same.

Ken Grafton is freelance columnist for the Western Standard from Aylmer, Quebec

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