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WAGNER: Anti-Albertaism comes from Eastern anti-Americanism

In both Ontario and Quebec, the ideal of Canadian identity includes a particular negative conception of the United States.

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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.”

An advertisement run by the Bloc Quebecois in Le Journal De Quebec in 2006.

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.’

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

MORGAN: Alberta needs less talk, and more action from Kenney

“Premier Kenney needs to pick a lane and to stick to it with authority.”

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Support for the United Conservative Party under Premier Kenney’s leadership has collapsed. Exclusive polling for the Western Standard has the UCP languishing at an abysmal 26 percent support while the NDP is at 41 percent while the new and still leaderless Wildrose Independence Party has climbed to 9 percent province-wide. This trend is nothing less than catastrophic for the UCP and they will need to make some major changes if they hope to be re-elected in 2023.

With nearly two years in power now, it is tough to point to any concrete changes or policies from the Kenney government. While Jason Kenney talked a great game at campaign time, we have seen little follow-through. Where is the promised democratic reform through citizen’s initiated referenda and recall legislation? Where is the fiscal conservatism and moves to get the budget under control? When will the government act on even one of the Fair Deal panel recommendations?

While Premier Jason Kenney continues to try to be everything to everybody, he is losing support on all fronts. The NDP-left will never learn to love the UCP, yet Kenney remains reticent to take on the government unions which are opposing all efforts at fiscal reform or efficiencies. Kenney has talked tough with unions, but won’t act. It’s time to take a stand and start cutting spending, not just haircuts. We are running out of money and taxpayers are running out of patience. It won’t become any easier for waiting.

On the democratic reform front, Kenney needs to implement the promised referenda and recall legislation. It has been nearly two years and this doesn’t need to be studied any longer. We know what we need and we know what we voted for. Give it to us already.

On the Western alienation front, Kenney has been at his most disappointing. This again has been clearly indicated in the recent polling commissioned by the Western Standard. Support for independence is exploding to new records in Alberta. While the UCP was not elected with a mandate to pursue independence, they were elected as a party expected to stand up to Ottawa. It is time that they did it.

Ottawa has more control over Alberta today than when Jason Kenney came to office. Tough talk is clearly not working.

No more panels. No more “expert” studies. No more kicking the can down the road. Albertans want some leadership and they want somebody to protect Alberta’s interests from an increasingly hostile federal government.

We have made it clear that we want a provincial pension plan. I doubt that I will see it implemented before I am old enough to collect it, and I am only 49 years old.

Why more study on whether or not we want a provincial police force? We know we want it. Now start working on what it will take to create it. What did we get? The province commissioned yet another study.

Where is the Alberta Chief Firearms Officer we were told we would get? How hard is it to appoint somebody? Instead, we got an Alberta Firearms Advisory Committee. More talk.

We are getting a referendum on equalization at least, but Kenney has made clear that there will be no ‘or else’ consequences if Ottawa and the other provinces fail to make reforms.

We are living in tough times. Citizens want to see leadership and that means seeing leaders making tough, definitive decisions. Wishy washy approaches to issues aren’t acceptable.

Premier Kenney needs to pick a lane and to stick to it with authority. If you oppose lockdowns, don’t impose them. If you support lockdowns, do it unapologetically and do it in full. Trying to appease both sides only alienates both sides.

Talk is cheap and we are tired of hearing it. If the current government can’t discover how and where they want to actually act on things, they will be replaced in the next election, and I fear for what that replacement may be.

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

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Opinion

OUELLETTE & SHAW: Freedom of expression is under attack in Canada

“While Canada is a relatively free country, the pandemic has exacerbated our pre-existing shortcomings in terms of freedom of expression.”

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Our freedom of expression is under attack. In recent years, there’s been a significant trend toward censorship in the media, in academia, and among the general population. The controversy at the University of Ottawa over the use of the N-word is one example among others. Why do we need to worry about this trend? For one thing, an attack on our freedom of expression is also an attack on our standard of living.

The virtues of freedom of expression are widely recognized: It improves the quality of our democratic institutions, facilitates the exchange of ideas, and leads to sounder, more transparent public policies.

But aside from these benefits, there is also a strong link between freedom of expression and economic growth. This is confirmed by the economic literature and by many academic papers from different researchers at Stanford UniversityDartmouth College, and the University of California, Berkeley, who all arrive at the same conclusion: The exchange of ideas stimulates innovation, and innovation is one of the main engines of economic growth and rising living standards.

Encouraging the exchange of ideas and the protection of freedom of expression is therefore intuitively beneficial, and this is confirmed by the scientific literature. But concretely, what would the average Canadian stand to gain if our governments put in place public policies encouraging greater freedom of expression?

According to our calculations and our econometric model, individual Canadians would be an average of $2,522 richer each year. Obviously, this amount wouldn’t be deposited directly into one’s bank account, but rather, a gradual increase in our living standards would result from the effects of more freedom of expression.

In the sample of 132 countries used in our study, Canada is among the top 15 per cent in terms of freedom of expression. But while it is true that we live in a relatively free society, taking this good ranking for granted would be a mistake.

Indeed, governments have a lot of room to grow when it comes to improving freedom of expression, especially if we compare ourselves to Norway, the top country in the ranking. There, it is standard practice for politicians to make constant efforts, encouraged by citizens, to better protect freedom of expression.

In contrast, in Canada, and especially in certain provinces like Quebec, the government can arbitrarily decide to subsidize one media outlet rather than another, which can potentially hinder media independence and lead to biased and less reliable information. Not to mention that it is increasingly difficult to obtain information from our governments through requests for access to information, which hampers proper public debate. This situation should alarm us.

In order to improve the country’s performance in terms of freedom of expression, thereby also improving our standard of living, we have three recommendations:

  1. Favour media independence from government by limiting arbitrary subsidies and, in their place, creating a regulatory and fiscal framework favourable to all media;
  2. Encourage Canadian public universities to protect freedom of expression in order to truly allow their researchers, professors, and students to express themselves freely without risk of reprisals;
  3. Increase the information and data available to the population by reducing the need to make requests for access to information, in order to facilitate public debate.

While Canada is a relatively free country, the pandemic has exacerbated our pre-existing shortcomings in terms of freedom of expression. We must not allow the current situation to become the new normal. For the sake of our standard of living and the wealth of our country, we must do more to promote and protect the freedom of expression of all Canadians.

GUEST COLUMN: By Miguel Ouellette, Director of Operations and Economist, and Maria Lily Shaw, Economist, Montreal Economic Institute

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Kenney culls Rehn from the herd, but none of it adds up

“If Rehn was the sacrificial lamb, it raises even bigger question about why his head was on the block, and not the other six.”

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The Great Snowbird Scandal has finally claimed its first real political victim. On Thursday morning, Jason Kenney fired Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn from the UCP Caucus. But none of it adds up.

Rehn – for all his political sin of travelling to Mexico during his own government’s lockdown – was just one of seven snowbird MLAs.

Former Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard was forced to resign from cabinet –a demotion to be sure – but she still remains comfortably in the UCP benches. Jeremy Nixon, Jason Stephan, Tanya Fir, and Tany Yao all still enjoy full membership in the UCP Caucus.

Why is Pat Rehn the only one to be exiled to northwest corner of the legislature – otherwise known as ‘Siberia’?

Publicly at least, Kenney’s statement on the unilateral firing did not mention the Snowbird Scandal at all.

“The most important job of an MLA is to represent his or her constituents,” Kenney wrote in his statement. “It has become clear that Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn has failed to do so. He has made no meaningful effort to work in his constituency, or properly to represent his hard-working constituents.”

“I have repeatedly asked Mr. Rehn to be more present in his constituency. He has ignored calls from me, UCP Caucus leadership, and his constituents to do so.”

So the Snowbird Scandal had nothing to do with it, on paper at least. He was fired because he was an absentee MLA not working very hard, according to Kenney. It’s a curious reasoning that requires some scratching below the surface.

The Slave Lake Town Council issued a scathing letter on January 5 with a laundry list of sins committed by Rehn, including their claim that he doesn’t live in Slave Lake. In fact, they allege that he mostly lives in Texas, something Rehn denies.

While Texas would be a bit far aboard, I have a spoiler for readers: many, many MLAs and MPs do not reside full-time in their constituencies.

Even Jason Kenney himself does not live in his Calgary-Lougheed constituency. In fact, there is pretty strong evidence that he didn’t quite live in Alberta for much of the time that he was a Calgary MP.

It doesn’t really matter, so long as an MP or MLA works hard for their constituents, and earns their support come election day. At the end of the day, constituency boundaries are largely arbitrary lines on a map, drawn up by political appointees.

But for Pat Rehn alone, it appears to have mattered to Kenney.

Kenney official reason given – that he wasn’t working hard or around the constituency – holds no water.

Most backbench MLAs – especially those on the government side of the house – have remarkably little of importance to do. They read cue cards with pre-scripted puffball questions and pablum speeches written by staffers when the legislature is in session. When the legislation is not in session, their biggest job is to show up and be seen kissing babies at their local legion.

Most complaints about Rehn from his constituency is that he wasn’t kissing enough babies. Is that alone really cause to fire an MLA from the caucus?

For those not born yesterday, something clearly doesn’t add up.

So why was Pat Rehn really fired by Kenney?

Western Standard reporters have obtained some interesting documents that appear to cast a new shadow over Rehn. Our reporters will do their due diligence with these documents before we discuss them publicly, but if they are what they appear to be, then this is the real reason that Kenney sacked Rehn.

We can only hope that Kenney did his due diligence with these documents first.

But even if these documents prove the worst possible scenario, Rehn deserves a chance to explain himself fairly.

If the UCP had kept its promise to pass recall legislation, then his constituents could judge for themselves. But, they could also decide to pass judgement on the other six snowbirds.

Was Rehn just a sacrificial lamb for the other six Snowbird MLAs? A Mainstreet Research poll conducted for the Western Standard found 68 per cent of Albertans want Kenney to fire all seven (known) Snowbirds. Alarmingly, 41 per cent even wanted Kenney himself to resign over the matter, including 21 per cent of those who voted UCP last time.

If Rehn was the sacrificial lamb for this scandal, it raises even bigger questions about why his head was on the block, and not the other six.

Perhaps Rehn was a rogue and this was a convenient opportunity to cull him from the herd.

One way or another, we don’t know the whole story. I’d be surprised if we know half of it yet.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard

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