There is a sense in which Albertans are different from other Canadians. This has been recognized by many scholars and other commentators over the years. One of the factors that some have indicated distinguishes Albertans is a similarity to Americans that other Canadians don’t share. This factor certainly would not apply to every individual Albertan, but it has been noted in a general sense. Being like Americans is, of course, considered to be a really bad thing by many Canadians, especially those on the left.
Political scientist Richard Avramenko of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has written about the identification of Albertans with Americans and its implications. His 2013 his article, “Of Homesteaders and Orangemen: An Archeology of Western Canadian Political Identity” was published in the book, Hunting and Weaving: Empiricism and Political Philosophy. That book – edited by Thomas Heilke and John von Heyking – was produced in honour of Barry Cooper of the University of Calgary – the foremost theorist of Western Canadian identity, and an internationally-renowned political philosopher.
In his article, Avramenko analyzes the federal election campaign that ran from November 29, 2005 through to January 23, 2006. During that campaign, certain attitudes about Alberta and Albertans were on clear display from two major political parties. Both the Liberal Party and Bloc Québécois played on fears that Albertans were bad guys, just like the Americans.
For example, in the midst of the campaign, infamous abortionist Henry Morgentaler was brought out to publicly declare the Conservative Party to be a threat to abortion rights. As Avramenko explains, “The Conservative Party, of course, was led by an Albertan, Stephen Harper. Abortion was not even an issue in the election, but the meaning is clear: Not only do these Albertans dwell on a lower moral plane, they are like Americans.”
More disturbing was the rhetoric of Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc Québécois. According to Avramenko, “pointing to the West, and Alberta in particular, as the enemy is de rigueur for Quebecers.” During the 2005-2006 election campaign, the West was “symbolized in Duceppe’s ads in Quebec by a cowboy hat over the word ‘Calgary.’ Albertans, Quebecers are being told, are outsiders, and, with their interest in oil, they are decidedly Texan Americans.”
The Liberals, of course, couldn’t resist their natural anti-Alberta posture. Avramenko writes that, “then-Prime Minister Paul Martin invoked the anti-Alberta rhetoric during the campaign, suggesting the Alberta-led Conservatives had plans to create ‘two-tier healthcare,’ which everybody knows is code for ‘American.’ Anti-Albertanism, not surprisingly, is predicated on the same identity-giving premise the Loyalists and Orangemen brought to Upper Canada: anti-Americanism. Americans, after all, are gun-toting, money-grubbing, selfish, religious nuts, are they not? Just like those Albertans.”
Avramenko points out that the identification between America and Alberta has some plausible support. It is commonly known that individual rights and personal liberty were major themes in the American War of Independence. He sees some of those same philosophical emphases in Alberta. Accordingly, after America became independent it was left with “a tradition strongly imbued with liberty associated with self-reliance, personal responsibility, and rugged individualism. In this sense, Alberta is like America. The immigrants who arrived on the prairie were the tired, the poor, the wretched, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In fact, many early immigrants to Alberta, were in fact Americans.
Avramenko concludes his article by noting that what is known as “Canadian identity” is largely based on the experiences of Central Canada, especially the narrative of the French-English conflict. As he writes, “The effort to construct a national identity based on problems descending from this conflict is inappropriate for the West. Albertans have an identity – an identity that might very well be symbolized by a cowboy hat. It is not an identity and tradition needing to be invented, nor one for which apology is needed.”
Avramenko is not alone in making a connection between America and Alberta. Barry Cooper (mentioned above) also refers to the phenomenon in his 2009 book, It’s the Regime, Stupid!: A Report from the Cowboy West on Why Stephen Harper Matters. In particular, Cooper critically analyses the views expressed by Doreen Barrie, who also teaches political science at the University of Calgary. Explaining Barrie’s perspective, he notes that, “As a symbol, ‘America’ and ‘Americans’ loom large in what is wrong with Alberta and especially with Calgary, ‘the most American city in Canada’s most American province.’”
Cooper provides more details of Barrie’s description of the province’s image in this way: “Compared to the ‘pan-Canadian political culture’ Alberta supplies a negative stereotype, ‘as unsophisticated cowboys, as right-wing rednecks who care little about their fellow Canadians.’ They are social conservatives, homophobic, and against both abortion and ‘gun control.’”
As Cooper explains further, Barrie believes that Albertans need to change in order to become proper Canadians. This was amply illustrated when Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran the front-page headline, “Alberta steps into the present” after the Progressive Conservatives elected Alison Redford as their leader and premier in 2011.
Part of this change involves adopting the same attitude toward the United States as Central Canadians holds: “The ever-elusive ‘national unity’ has been subverted by the friendliness of Albertans toward the United States. The patriotic duty of Albertans is to become as anti-American as Easterners, especially Loyalist Laurentian Canadians, and to do so in the name of national unity.”
In both Ontario and Quebec, the ideal of Canadian identity includes a particular negative conception of the United States. However, the anti-Americanism such an identity requires has never held sway in Alberta, at least not to the degree that it exists in the East. On this point, then, Alberta sticks out like a sore thumb and is excluded from a particular core aspect of “Canadian identity.” Generally speaking, there is a gap between Alberta and central Canada in how they view the United States. This is another cultural feature that distinguishes Alberta from much of the rest of the country.
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.’
McCOLL: Ending Alberta’s paid plasma ban is the right thing to do
Tany Yao’s private members bill would lift the NDP’s ban on people being paid for giving their own blood.
On October 26, UCP MLA Tany Yao’s private member’s bill – Bill 204: The Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act – was debated in the legislature. It is now only one step away from repealing the previous NDP government’s 2017 law that banned private paid plasma clinics.
In an interview with the Western Standard, Tany Yao outlined how this issue has been important to him since he was the opposition health critic in 2017. Back then, Yao said that the law “does more harm than good.”
History has proven him right, as the NDP law made it illegal for pharmaceutical companies to make plasma medicines in Alberta by paying donors like they do in the United States and Saskatchewan. Proposals to build paid plasma clinics and laboratories to manufacture plasma medicines in Alberta were cancelled.
Yao stated that the goal of his bill is to “attract those companies to develop these life saving medications right here in Alberta.” When it came to objections from the NDP, Yao lamented: “I do find it unfortunate that only labour groups are fighting this. Their arguments are from the 1980s and from the tainted blood scandal.” When asked to explain the opposition from public sector unions and Canadian Blood Services (CBS) – even though CBS imports paid plasma products from the United States and has testified that paid plasma products are perfectly safe Yao said, “Labour is trying to protect their monopoly given to them by the NDP. [CBS] admits they cost more versus private companies.”
Over seventy per cent of global plasma comes from paid donors in the United States. It’s a $26 billion (USD) industrythat should grow to $40 billion by 2040. Plasma medicines make up a greater share of US exports than steel or aluminium. This is a high-tech growth industry that saves lives, creates high paying jobs, and could attract billions of dollars in pharmaceutical company investment to Alberta.
During Monday’s debate, UCP MLAs Jackie Lovely, Mark Smith, Devinder Toor, Michaela Glasgo, Ronald Orr, and Richard Gotfried all spoke in support of bill 204. As Yao predicted, NDP MLAs Richard Feehan, Marie Renaud, Lorne Dach, and Shannon Phillips spoke against the bill voicing debunked public safety concerns. NDP MLA Marie Renaud argued that it would be morally wrong to allow low income Albertans to be paid for their blood. She didn’t say how rich you had to be for it to be moral to earn an extra $2000 per year for weekly donations of life saving plasma.
One NDP critique of the bill was that all paid plasma donations made in Alberta would be exported to other countries. If the NDP MLAs had paid attention to Dr. Peter Jaworski’s July testimony to the Standing Committee on Private Bills, they would know that Canadian plasma is exported because CBS refuses to buy it – even when offered lower prices!
“Canadian Plasma Resources was only Health Canada-certified when they first opened… It is only when Canadian Blood Services rejected their offer of all of their plasma in 2016 at $166 per litre, which was 20 per cent less than the price in the United States, that Canadian Plasma Resources sought to get European Medicines Agency approval, which means that they are allowed to sell their plasma within the European market… Canadian Plasma Resources has made two subsequent offers to Canadian Blood Services. In 2018 they offered all of their plasma at $195 a litre for a term of seven years and then most recently in 2019, $220 per litre for a term of 20 years.”
CBS unpaid plasma donation centres cost the taxpayer about $412 dollars per litre. The answer to this problem is clear: first pass Bill 204, then open paid plasma centres in Alberta, and finally shame CBS and Ottawa into ending the irrational policy of importing American paid plasma instead of buying Canadian paid plasma.
Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst
Sask PCs Say “no” to merger with Buffalo Party
With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent.
A recent column in the Western Standard proposed the idea of uniting Saskatchewan’s Buffalo and PC parties. Progressive Conservative candidates and leadership responded quickly with a hard ‘no.’
“Won’t happen Lee,” PC leader Ken Grey posted on Facebook below the article. “We will welcome ex-Buffalo members but merger is a no go. We are a federalist party and from what I see Buffalo wants to broker left and right wing ideologies. We are different parties with different mandates.”
Grey cited the Buffalo Party’s approach of reaching out to both left and right policy goals. “That’s distasteful to me,” said Grey, whose party slogan is “True Conservative.”
The Buffalo Party – despite being just a few months old and running in a handful of ridings – finished as Saskatchewan’s third-place party on October 26th. With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent.
Frank Serfas, a founding signatory of the Western Independence Party and its interim leader in 2015, placed third as the PC candidate in Moosemin. He commented on my Facebook post, “Any talk of PCs and Buffalo merging are completely [p]remature and [h]alf [b]aked.”
In an interview, Serfas said that he joined the PCs in 2018 to support Ken Grey’s leadership bid, but also bought a membership in Wexit Saskatchewan (the Buffalo Party’s original name). He said the Buffalo Party lacks the needed foundation to last.
“No constitution, no membership-adopted platform. There is no elected executive, no elected leader,” Serfas said. “I’ve been watching this a long time, since the early 80s. The only time western separatist parties or independence parties had any traction is when their leaders were legitimately elected by the grassroots.”
Serfas said the party initially indicated they would do these things, then gave reasons why it did not. “Covid. Not enough people. Oh, and my favorite one was not enough time,” he said.
“They’re two different parties in two different places, organization wise, leadership wise, stuff like that. Things still need to be settled in both camps before you can even start dialogue.”
Ironically, a PC press release on August 13 already called it a “merger” when former Wexit candidates such as Harry Frank decided to run as PC candidates. “This merger comes after complaints of top down decisions, candidate removals without reason, and dictatorial style leadership within the Buffalo Party.”
The press release quoted Frank saying, “By uniting the right we have a greater chance of being in a position to challenge this liberal leaning SaskParty and pushing for the changes the residents of this province have been needing.”
The two parties share common policy ground in supporting MLA recall, a provincial police force, and a referendum on equalization to trigger a constitutional convention, all welcomed by Serfas.
“They’re willing to explore other avenues of autonomy. That’s a good start. But the thing you have to remember is that the PCs are a party with one foot in the past and one foot trying to reach into the future,” Serfas said.
Serfas said the PC Party trust fund was one example of control by legacy PCs.
“The party leader does not control that. The party executive does not control it. There is a trust executive that is basically made up of PC luminaries of the past, and they control it.”
PC candidate Tony Ollenberger was a founding member of the Alberta First Party and ran as a candidate in 2001. His former party eventually was refounded in 2018 as the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta. The FCP would later merge with Wexit Alberta to form the Wildrose Independence Party.
Ollenberger does not want the Saskatchewan PCs to follow suit.
“Buffalo is a flash in the pan. This is exactly what happened with the Alberta Independence Party in 2001,” Ollenberger said. “When they come onto the scene, and not even as a registered party, immediately the media just jumped all over them because they were just the next great thing. And you know after the election in 2001 they went nowhere.”
Ollenberg said his decades of observing independence movements in both provinces suggests some Buffalo Party members will eventually challenge interim leader Wade Sira’s position of “secession if necessary, but not necessarily secession.”
“He’s going to find someone come along and saying, ‘Well we need to separate now,’ and they’ll factionalize, and then they’ll refractionalize… until there’s six parties that need to get registered,” Ollenberger said.
“I’ve seen this movie before and I’ve seen exactly how it ends,” said Ollenberger. “We’d be shooing ourselves in the foot if we wanted to hitch our wagon to the Buffalo Party because I see the same fate unfolding again.”
Ollenberger, who placed third in Saskatoon Fairview, said the party’s message of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility had a positive response at the doors.
“We certainly need to do more to get our main track on the political radar, get our messaging out there, and make sure that people understand that there is a difference – that when people hear the word ‘Conservative’ they think of us again and not the Sask Party.”
Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard
LETTER: Canada’s electoral system is broken
“There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.”
Another election, producing another fake-majority government most of the people do not want, and conducted a year before it was mandated, by law.
Our system of government is called parliamentary democracy, because the party or coalition with the greatest number of elected Members, will form a majority government while it only represents a minority of the people.
That is very different from the true democratic governments they have in Scandinavian and European countries, where the political power is vested and exercised by the people directly or indirectly through the elected Members of government.
There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.
Canada has a very dysfunctional multi-party system, that continues to erode any semblance of democracy.
UCP moves to cut vehicle insurance costs
McCOLL: Ending Alberta’s paid plasma ban is the right thing to do
Morneau cleared by ethics commissioner in WE expenses scandal
EXCLUSIVE: CN Rail to send emergency propane shipments to Quebec
EXCLUSIVE: Teamsters union could block emergency propane shipment to Quebec
ANDRUS: Trudeau has bet double-or-nothing on Freeland to pacify with West
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