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WAGNER: How early American immigration shaped Alberta’s cultural distinctiveness

The large numbers of American immigrants in the province’s early decades, as well as during the post-war oil rush, helps to explain why Alberta is a culturally distinct region within Canada.

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The question of whether Alberta is a culturally distinct region has been raised recently by the authors of the Buffalo Declaration, and by others in the past. Over the years, a number of scholars have written about this issue, attempting to explain how and why Alberta differs politically and culturally from the other provinces. 

For the most part, these scholars do not approve of Alberta’s uniqueness, since a common theme in their work is the influence of religious and political conservativism on the province. 

What is it about Alberta that makes it different? One answer would be the people that originally settled here.

That is to say, a key influence on the culture of any newly settled community – such as Alberta – is immigration. Early in its history, the province’s identity was shaped by the cultures of the early settlers who founded it. With this in mind, it is significant that Alberta welcomed a particularly large number of American immigrants, much more so than other provinces.

Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, has probably written more about the political effect of American immigration on Alberta than anyone. Wiseman specializes in the study of “political culture.” He has carefully studied the political cultures of Canada’s various regions and provinces, and he has highlighted the impact of American immigration on Alberta, especially during its formative years. 

The effect of American immigration according to Wiseman, has been substantial. As he writes in his 2007 book In Search of Canadian Political Culture, “In 1911, American-born Albertans (22 per cent of the population) outnumbered the British-born, Ontario-born, and European-born. Almost certainly, this was the largest concentration of Americans in any jurisdiction outside the US.” 

He adds that, “Americans and their ideas helped shape provincial politics because they settled in the politically determinative rural areas. Their influence was particularly pronounced in the south.”

After the discovery of oil in 1947, more Americans came north to help in the development of the province’s petroleum industry. According to Wiseman, “Between 1955 and 1970, nine of the fifteen presidents of Calgary’s exclusive and influential Petroleum Club were Americans. In no other province were Americans so prominent as captains of industry.”

Besides the over-sized influence on the oil industry, something similar occurred in the realm of religion. Wiseman writes that, “Alberta has been the province most receptive to Christian evangelicalism. As early as 1908, the Calgary Daily Herald reported that American and central Canadian ‘evangelists seem to have a grip on the city.’”

To a certain degree, this religious influence has carried over into politics because “Alberta resembles the US” in that “evangelical Christians have played leading political roles there.” 

Wiseman points out that the connection between religion and politics is not just a phenomenon of the distant past, either: “That conservative religious influence lingers in Alberta can be seen in the federal party leaders recently produced by the province: Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Stephen Harper are all evangelical Christians.”

Wiseman is not alone in emphasizing the crucial role of immigration patterns on the province. In 1990, historians Howard and Tamara Palmer published a one-volume history of Alberta entitled Alberta: A New History. Among other things, the Palmers wanted to explain Alberta’s conservative political culture, and like Wiseman, they root their explanation in immigration. However, their analysis differs somewhat from his because they suggest that, besides the Americans, certain Europeans also contributed to the right-leaning orientation of Alberta’s political environment.

As a general point, the Palmers argue that the post-World War Two wave of immigration that flowed into the province, “contributed to the rightward shift in Alberta’s political culture.” In particular, they write that the political perspectives of eastern and central European immigrants escaping communism, “were among the many factors that helped to shift Alberta’s political culture to the right during the 1950s and 1960s.”

But movement in the conservative direction didn’t come just from eastern Europeans. Besides that group, there were also, “British immigrants fleeing socialism, conservative rural Dutch Calvinist immigrants, and the small-business oriented Germans, Austrians, and Scandinavians, who were usually leery of government regulation.”

Like Wiseman, however, the Palmers also note the disproportionate influence of Americans in the post-war period. Although their numbers were not large, a considerable number were prominent oilmen and, “Like their counterparts in the United States, they often held strong right-wing views.”

It should not be surprising that the culture of early settlers – and even the arrival of later immigrants – can have a profound impact on the culture of any society. The fact that Quebec was originally settled by people from France affects Canadian culture and politics every day.

Although Alberta was not founded by Americans in the way that Quebec was settled by the French, Americans constituted a disproportionate number of early settlers – and later pioneers of the oil industry. Their cultural and political influence helped to make Alberta different from the other provinces to some degree. In other words, the large numbers of American immigrants in the province’s early decades, as well as during the post-war oil rush, helps to explain why Alberta is a culturally distinct region within Canada.

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.’

Michael Wagner is a 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: Where Canada went wrong – the legacy of Pierre Trudeau

“For over a century, Canada was a great and noble country, justly earning a deep patriotic attachment from Westerners. That was the country that so many in the West still remember and love. But alas, those days are over.”

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The Maverick Party (formerly Wexit Canada) features the following statement on its website: “We love Canada too. But the system is broken.” It may seem strange that a political party ostensibly created to advocate Western Canadian independence openly proclaims its love for the country which it seeks to leave. However, many Westerners who favour independence do so reluctantly, and would rather have Canada fixed than create a new country. This is reflected in the party’s mission statement priorities: “(a) constitutional change, or (b) the creation of an independent nation.” Fixing Canada is the first option, however unlikely. 

It is understandable that Westerners would feel an attachment for Canada. After all, it has been one of the freest and most prosperous countries in history. Many millions of people desire to move here from other parts of the world because – let’s face it – Canada is better than the vast majority of other countries. If this wasn’t the case, people would be flooding out of Canada rather than flooding in.

However, Canada has been changing in recent decades, and not for the better. Although Westerners’ legitimate grievances against Central Canada go back over a century, they have become much more acute since the 1960s. 

There was a time when Canadian patriotism was the sensible position for Westerners. But things have changed. From the time of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau onwards, confederation has increasingly been detrimental – and sometimes outright hostile – toward the West. Although Canada was once great, it has changed so much that the creation of a new country in Western Canada is needed.

An excellent source for information about Canada’s decline in the latter part of the twentieth century is the 1994 book, Derailed: The Betrayal of the National Dream by historian David Bercuson and political scientist Barry Cooper, both professors at the University of Calgary. In this book, they explain the original purpose of confederation, and how that purpose became subverted after the Second World War, especially under the administration of Pierre Trudeau.

Bercuson and Cooper point out that the original colonies confederated in 1867 primarily for economic reasons. By uniting, they could create a national government with the resources to build a country that would generate greater economic prosperity than each of the smaller units could do on their own. As Bercuson and Cooper explain, “Only when the national government was able to marshal effectively the resources of the nation and to direct westward expansion, settlement, railway construction, and industrial development would the real aim of Confederation be achieved – namely, prosperity as a British Dominion. As long as that happened, the New Nationality would hold together out of self-interest and the mutual support of disparate groups in the common enterprise of what we now call nation building.”

It was not intended that the new country would lead to a common identity that all Canadians could share. What kind of national identity could the English-speaking Protestants of Ontario and the French-speaking Catholics of Quebec have in common? They already had their own cultural identities, so they could only be united in one country on the basis of economic and political interests. As Bercuson and Cooper explain: “There would be no national myths to tie the disparate peoples of Canada together, other than the myths and ties of commerce. The role of the new national state that had been created to foster the new nationality was to promote economic growth and national development. The Fathers of Confederation well knew that the state could never have any other role.”

This was the predominant view of federal leaders until the 1950s, and it did not begin to change until Prime Minister John Diefenbaker came to power. He saw Canada as more than an economic alliance, but was unable to make much of a difference. 

After Diefenbaker, however, Prime Minister Lester Pearson began to take the country in a new direction. Pearson’s government wanted to establish what being a Canadian really meant. As Bercuson and Cooper write: “the new Canadian character itself was going to be created in the image of the thinkers and doers that Pearson had collected around him. So, for example, Canada was going to be bilingual and bicultural whether or not it made sense of Canadian reality, whether or not the nation could afford it, whether or not it actually drew Canadians together. They would do so by making bilingualism and biculturalism part of the national creed and, by lifting it above politics, turn it into an expression of our collective public virtue.”

This meant that by 1967 the role of the federal government had changed significantly: “Henceforth that role was not simply to administer, but to create and shape and mould a national character and, above all, to pursue collective public virtue.” Canada would henceforth be on a different path.

It was in this environment in which Pierre Trudeau entered politics and became prime minister in 1968. Even more than his predecessor, Trudeau wanted to substantially change the country of which he had become leader. 

According to Bercuson and Cooper, there were two major components of Trudeau’s agenda: “First, he would make Canada the kind of place where Quebecers would feel at home anywhere. And second, he would make Canada, including the now comfortable and well-adjusted Quebecers, a just society. His tool would be the state.”

The bottom line of Trudeau’s major policy initiatives and pursuit of a “just society” all had one thing in common: “increased intervention by the state in the operation of the economy and in the daily lives of ordinary citizens.”

Trudeau came to power facing a major challenge from the growth of Quebec nationalism. Within a few years he was also faced with an energy crisis due to the rapid rise of oil prices resulting from war in the Middle East. After his come-back re-election victory of 1980, he decided to aggressively tackle both issues. 

Bercuson and Cooper outline Trudeau’s goals as follows: “The logic was clear but never could be admitted: if Alberta’s energy revenues could be appropriated by Ottawa, and then redirected by it, the economy would hum; if the constitution could be changed, Quebec would be happy to remain in Canada. Even if it proved impossible to change the constitution, the ‘redirection’ of energy revenues as regional equalization payments held the promise of making Bourassa’s profitable federalism attractive.” The idea of “profitable federalism” was that Quebec should remain in Canada (rather than separate) because of the financial rewards it would receive.

Trudeau pushed through his constitutional changes but they did not satisfy Quebec. Nevertheless, those changes — and especially the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — fundamentally altered Canada (for the worse, in my view). As federal Justice Minister John Crosbie said to a parliamentary committee in 1985: “The public does not realize that we already have had a revolution in Canadian society. The adoption of a charter was a revolution. It has changed the whole power structure of Canadian society.” This assertion would be confirmed by future judicial decisions.

Besides his constitutional initiative, Trudeau unveiled his infamous National Energy Program (NEP). It was predicated on the belief that Alberta was benefiting too much from high oil prices. Why should a pipsqueak province like Alberta profit at the expense of Ontario and Quebec? 

As Bercuson and Cooper explain, in the view of Trudeau and the Liberals, “it was not ‘fair’ that Alberta should collect so much revenue. The ultimate cause of this unfairness was the irrationality of nature in putting oil in Alberta in the first place. Surely it was now up to the rationality of EMR [Department of Energy, Mines and Resources] to set things right. More to the point, it was self-evident that Alberta could not be expected to use its new financial power in the interests of Canada. What made it self-evident was the undisputable fact that Albertans had shown their complete irresponsibility, not to say irrationality, by refusing to elect a single Liberal to the House of Commons.”

The NEP severely damaged Alberta’s oil and gas industry. It was later repealed by the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. However, Mulroney’s government itself favoured Central Canada over the West. Both the federal Liberal and federal Progressive Conservative parties prioritized policies that benefited Central Canada because they needed to win large numbers of seats in Ontario and Quebec to form the government. Therefore, the West required its own party, and Preston Manning’s Reform Party filled that need.

Despite the Reform Party’s best efforts, however, the West is still expendable to the Liberal Party and taken for granted by the Conservative Party. Again, a new Western party is needed to represent the West’s interests in the House of Commons. The Maverick Party’s prioritizing of “constitutional change” is understandable but somewhat naïve. A number of Western initiatives have been launched to reform the country over the last 40 years, and all have failed. Not an inch of progress has been made. This means that it’s time for the Maverick Party’s Plan B: “the creation of an independent nation.”

In an ideal world, a truly conservative federal government would be elected, allowing Alberta to develop its energy resources and export them through numerous pipelines and oil tankers along the BC coast. The limitations of so-called “progressive” policies could be overcome, and Canada would emerge as the freest and most prosperous country in the world. But this is just a pipe dream; the only realistic path to this kind of freedom and prosperity is an independent Western Canada, or at least an independent Alberta. 

For over a century, Canada was a great and noble country, justly earning a deep patriotic attachment from Westerners. That was the country that so many in the West still remember and love. But alas, those days are over. Since the time of Pierre Trudeau, this has been a different country. Now, a new political path forward is needed. The time has come for an independent Western Canada.

Michael Wagner is a 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

JAMES-FROM: Governments owe citizens a better explanation on lockdowns

“If it is possible to adopt compassionate and balanced measures to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity naturally or through vaccination.”

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Media coverage of the Great Barrington Declaration has been almost non-existent in Alberta’s mainstream media. This is an utter travesty; a blemish on our Fourth Estate. The Declaration is an important public health document offering a compassionate and balanced alternative strategy for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Quite simply, the public needs to know about it.

On October 4, 2020, professors Sunetra Gupta, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff authored and signed the Declaration in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. These professors (from Oxford, Stanford, and Yale respectively) are accomplished scientists from prestigious institutions who have expertise in public health and epidemiology.  Since then, the public has been able to read and sign the Declaration online. There are now nearly 50,000 medical and public health scientists and practitioners and over 600,000 concerned citizens who have added their signatures.

Acknowledging that COVID-19 presents a significant threat, the authors of the Declaration point out: 

“We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.”

Indeed, data from Alberta bears this out. The average age for a COVID-19 fatality is 82 years, and to date, no one under 20 years old has died. The goal of any compassionate response to COVID-19 must be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity, whether naturally or through vaccination. Armed with these simple facts, how should we accomplish our goal?

The authors favour an approach different from extremists. Albertans are being inundated with pleas for all manner of lockdown, while those who are opposed to these measures are construed as misanthropes who want nothing at all to be done to protect the vulnerable. These are false alternatives, and neither are tenable responses for neither is capable of meeting the goal of minimizing both mortality and social harms. 

“Focused Protection” is what the Declaration’s authors ask us to consider. This consists of two things: first, those minimally at risk should go about their lives, should they choose to do so, in order to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, and second, those at highest risk should be offered rigorous protection tailored to suit local and individual needs.

This strategy, according to the authors, will both minimize fatalities and ameliorate the devastating public health consequences of lockdowns.

It’s difficult to believe at this point in the pandemic, but there are still those who refuse to acknowledge that lockdowns result in social harms rivalling those of COVID-19. Lockdowns result in deaths from despair due to economic ruin and social isolation, as well as untreated health issues like cancercardiovascular disease and the like. They also serve to increase spousal and child abusefamily breakdownsubstance abusesuicide and depression. And be warned, lower educational outcomes and poverty could affect our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

Alberta released a response to the Declaration on October 28, but instead of the thoughtful and fulsome analysis that we deserve, the response greatly misconstrued the Declaration and attacked a strawman. It is an interesting exercise to read the two documents side by side to parse the arguments. The response is inadequate, to say the least.

The response says that “herd immunity” is the “stated goal” of the Declaration. This is false. The stated goal is to balance the risks and benefits of all COVID-19 policies against the risks and benefits of other health concerns until we reach the inevitable end of the pandemic, which will come when we reach herd immunity naturally or through vaccination. Herd immunity is not a goal.

Later, the response mischaracterizes the Declaration as a “herd immunity plan.” But nowhere does the Declaration claim that herd immunity is a “plan.” Rather, it’s a biological result incidental to some portion of the population’s exposure to a pathogen. It’s a product, an outcome.

The response is replete with many other similar errors, which leads me to believe that focused protection has yet to be seriously considered by the Alberta government.

If it is possible to adopt compassionate and balanced measures to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity naturally or through vaccination. Albertans deserve that. If it is not possible, we deserve a far more rigorous analysis from our public officials explaining why we can’t implement it here.

Derek James-From is a freelance columnist and constitutional lawyer

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Opinion

ALBERS: There’s a difference between Quebec’s separatist, and Alberta’s independence movements

“It is not Canada’s culture that many Albertans and Westerns seeks distance from. It is its policies.”

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With the rise of Alberta’s independence movement and the cunningly conceived “Fair Deal” panel to “explore” what it is Albertans want, inevitable comparisons have arisen between Alberta and Quebec.

And, to be fair, there is much we have learned from Quebec. For example, what sorts of jurisdictional authority we should assert as a province and over what kinds of areas. Like them or hate them, Quebec at least is one of the few provinces that understands what it controls and demands that it maintains that control. 

But beyond that lessons in jurisdiction, the similarities end there.

The very concept of Canada is vacant without its twin founders. Like Romulus and Remus of Roman myth, the English and the French, Upper and Lower Canada, Ontario, and Quebec are at the heart of what we understand to be Canada. Like twins wrestling together in the womb, the character of the country was profoundly impacted by those two cultures and political entities. Whether they care to admit it or not, they have rubbed off on each other and there is more than grudging mutual respect. 

In fact, even a cursory review of Canadian political origins reveals that once they overcame their animosity toward each other, Ontario and Quebec have shaped confederation into something that would benefit them and retain a lock on power. Certainly, the maritime provinces received concessions (good ones at that) and British Columbia as well, but all through those negotiations, you can see the tag-team effort between our two founding provinces in the manner in which they ensured that political and economic power would always rest in the center. 

That is why when the undercurrent of separatist sentiment bubbled to the surface in the middle of the last century in Quebec, it could actually be labeled as separatist. 

Quebec’s exit from confederation would have ripped away half of the Canadian identity. It would have been a separation, similar to a divorce of two parents in a family with eight other children. 

This is not so with Alberta and the rest of the West. When in the late 19th century, when Ottawa (that is, Ontario and Quebec) was lobbying London to grant them take over control over the West from the various companies that had been mandated to settle it, it caused a great deal of unease with the people who were already living in those regions. And with good reason; there were interesting lessons still fresh in everyone’s minds from the manner in which the federal government had “welcomed” Manitoba into confederation. It had occurred to the people in these parts that Ottawa did not seem quite as accommodating as London.

As it turns out, they were right, as was evidenced in the heavy-handed manner in which Ottawa dealt with the citizens of Manitoba, culminating in the brutal put-down of the Northwest Rebellion.

Canada was not at all shy about declaring the West a vast region over which it was their duty as imperial subjects to exploit. That the people who lived out here might not yet see themselves as Canadians in the same light never occurred to the ruling elite in Ottawa. Never mind that Alberta and Saskatchewan were really provinces in name only with a scant few of the same powers as the other provinces in confederation. Never mind that whether it was the Wheat Board, dairy cartel, or simply control of our own provincial resources, Ottawa employed many levers of repressive economic exploitation and ensured that the game was always stacked in their favor.

We knew this in 1905, we knew this in the 1980s when the rallying cry was ‘the West wants in’, and we know it now with the rise of a much more organized Alberta independence movement. 

Notice I say “independence”, and not “separatist”. We would have to be treated as equal partners, contributors, and benefactors of confederation to actually be considered separatists. Likewise, Quebec’s movement is fueled by ethnicity, language, culture, and sometimes race, where Alberta’s is driven by a desire for economic and political self-determination. 

It is not Canada’s culture that many Albertans and Westerns seeks distance from. It is its policies. It is time to leave an abusive system of structured and ingrained exploitation of our region and its industries. Time to leave a system that uses its population base to impose burdensome policies, taxation, and debt upon us. It is time to leave a ‘nanny state’ culture that simply does not reflect the values of a majority of Albertans. 

The Americans declared independence over taxes on tea and stamps, and had to fight the most powerful empire in the world with self-armed farm boys. 

Albertans are in a position to leave an equally distant, but even more exploitive relationship peacefully, and in friendship. The only thing holding us back is our will to act. 

James Albers is a guest columnist for the Western Standard

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