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DREW BARNES: Alberta must get a fair deal, or vote on independence

Drew Barnes writes that it’s long past due to implement the firewall letter and demand a new constitutional arrangement with Ottawa. And if Ottawa is unwilling, let Albertans vote on independence.

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On January 27th, 2001, a group of prominent Albertans submitted the now famous Alberta Agenda – better known as the ‘Firewall Letter’ – to the National Post with a clear call-to-action. I’ve been re-reading their work, and was struck by this quote. 

“Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan…Collect our own revenue from personal income tax. Resume provincial responsibility for health-care policy. If Ottawa objects to provincial policy, fight in the courts…Each province should raise it own revenue for health…It is imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta”. 

Now, almost 20 years later, and we find ourselves expressing the same dreams, frustrations, and debating these same steps. Albertans’ culture is that of taking action and getting things done, of fulfilling dreams and hopes, not sitting on them for almost 20 years. 

I was humbled by, and proud of, the hundreds of Albertans who went to the microphone, reached out, or emailed the Fair Deal Panel to help our government understand the depths of the frustration and powerlessness felt by Albertans. We heard excellent ideas from every region and every political perspective, and the quality of the debate strengthened my faith in our province and our people. But at the heart of it, we heard an overwhelming desire for change and the need for consequences.

We heard Albertans want equalization stopped or reformed. We heard that the firewall items from 20 years ago need to be implemented, that meaningful democratic and public spending reform needs to occur, for actual free trade, and a constitutionally guaranteed resource movement. 

Eighty per cent spoke passionately about the need for a fair deal with Ottawa and our Canadian partners. Twenty per cent of speakers felt the Canadian partnership was beyond repair. Significantly, many more are on the cusp – if we cannot reach agreement and make confederation work, it is the last time we try. Stunning numbers put forth that timelines and deadlines needed to be sent to Ottawa. Also prevalent was the number of those who also said that if Ottawa did not respond with a fair deal for Alberta, then a referendum on Alberta’s future within confederation must be held. If Prime Minister Trudeau ignores our efforts to make Canada work, then he accepts the consequences. 

Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP’s failed alliance with Prime Minister Trudeau has been a catastrophic failure. $650 billion transferred out of Alberta to Ottawa since 1961. Alberta is almost $100 billion in debt. An ineffective, punitive, wealth redistributing carbon tax. As well as biased, misguided, targeted federal laws that discriminate against our industries.

These policies continue to hurt Alberta families, business and communities daily and directly, leaving them powerless.  Many Albertans spoke at the Fair Deal Panel and mentioned how they haven’t found work, are paid much less, have a child or parent suffering from the effects of reduced opportunities and employment, or have put their entire RRSP’s back into their business to keep their employees working. Many Albertans have lost hope for the future. Albertans are resilient and optimistic. To hear the despair and pessimism is alarming, on so many levels.

Let us be clear. The NDP recent call for a motion to “Reject Alberta Separatism” is wrong. It is wrong because Albertans have shown for over a hundred years that we are exceptional. We are capable risk takers, builders and a willingness to do what it takes to achieve our goals. Albertans are compassionate family and community members, and we have built a province that has led in opportunity, growth and wealth creation for Alberta and Canada. We want to make Canada work, but we recognize that we need a willing partner across the table.

It was time 20 years ago to take action, to develop a new deal with Ottawa and assert Alberta’s autonomy, strength and ability to lead. With conservative premiers in many of the provincial capitals, the best time to act is now. Alberta needs to lead the way and push for a stronger constitutional framework, one that will lead to stronger provinces and ultimately a stronger Canada.

Let’s get busy. Let’s start with, engaging Albertans­­- to draw out all their thoughts and ideas. Through building “Alberta First” government programs, agencies and opportunities. Then we need to put Ottawa on a notice that we are insisting on a fair deal now, including guaranteed resource movement, free trade and constitutional reform.

Finally, most important, we have to make Ottawa understand there will be consequences if a fair deal is withheld. A provincial referendum on Alberta’s future. Soon. Not 20 more years.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

Opinion

McALLISTER: Nenshi’s regional board is at war with rural development

Bruce McAllister writes that a radical move by the Calgary Regional Metropolitan Board will kill development in huge areas surrounding the city. And the province is letting it happen.

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With the stroke of a pen arbitrary drawn across a map, many thousands of acres of rural lands surrounding Calgary are about to be sterilized of their economic potential. Land that owners intend to develop – creating thousands of jobs – has been rendered useless.

We used to take pride in the ‘Alberta advantage’. The record shows that when we let good people use their land, they return the favour with growth, jobs, and wealth that build our schools and hospitals. Alberta’s innovation has done even more. It has produced enough wealth to share with those provinces with more limited opportunities. But it seems this is coming to an end.

The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) has been plodding along since Rachel Notley created it to impose a growth plan for the entire region that is highly prescriptive and anti-competitive. The central planners in urban municipal think-tanks and lobby groups in Calgary and Edmonton think they can build Alberta from behind a one-way-mirror at a focus group. They’ve had their chance, and they’ve failed.

Last week all the warning shots that we have been firing hit the target. The hammer dropped, the shoe fell, the truth was revealed. The CRMB made public the maps they are working on to plan the region, and what they reveal is very telling about what the future holds if the central planners at Calgary City Hall and the CMRB get their way. 

In short, there is a good chance that if you own land in the areas surrounding Calgary, it was just sterilized by this unelected fourth layer of government. They have just dictated from behind closed doors that you will now be severely restricted from building your business and contributing to the economy. You’re out.

The Board’s consultant – an urban planner from San Francisco – included three future development areas for the region, two in Rocky View and one in Foothills County. If you own land in one of those, you have a chance of moving something forward, but there’s a catch.

The CMRB growth plan will take precedent over any other land-use. That means that if a developer wants to amend his current plan and add units or do anything to remain nimble and adjust to the marketplace, they will have to do it according to the CMRB’s plans. 

But the most egregious act of this plan is what happens to lands outside these designated joint planning areas. Effectively, that land is frozen to any business or future development. 

Future development potential will now be restricted to urban locations, period. Their plan is to eliminate the competition. They did not present a better service or product. They just lobbied hard enough to change the master plan. It’s a toxic turn for southern Alberta’s economic future. 

We have been warning for some time that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has been using this Board and his allies from urban municipalities (not coincidentally those who buy their water from Calgary) to stifle growth in competing rural districts. 

If you own land near Calaway Park and you had a good idea for a business to serve families out for some fun on Sunday afternoon, you can forget about it. 

If you had a project on Highway 8 that would provide housing choice in the region, and competition for the marketplace, forget about it. That’s not on the map. But what about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that’s been spent getting projects through the approval process in neighbouring municipalities? It doesn’t matter. The Board has spoken. Well technically, not yet, but it’s about to. These draft plans move forward to the province for approval on March 1st.

Before we hold out hope that the province won’t approve the plan, we have to look at their track record on the CMRB. They have caved to the lobbyists at every turn. They prop up the CMRB when they should be dismantling it. The simple fact is that they need the votes and rural Alberta makes an easy loser in their eyes. 

It’s not like the UCP hasn’t been made aware of this. They appear to have other priorities.  Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, you can understand why they are distracted. But the Minister of Municipal Affairs, or Jobs and Innovation, or Red Tape, or somebody who even remembers what the Alberta advantage is all about had better act before it is too late.

If this land-use plan gets implemented there are thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment that will go with it.

Gone will be the Gardner project and its $3 billion investment along Highway 8. Gone will be the Qualico Elbow View. Gone will be any potential to amend the Glenbow Ranch project along Highway 1A. Anything near Calaway Park: gone. The second phase of The Omni by Genesis and its 4,000 jobs east of Calgary: gone. 

The central planners may think that nothing stands in their way as they begin to mount their master plan in Mayor Nenshi’s office and pour a round of drinks. They know that between a pandemic and a deadline of March 1st, so few eyes will see their plan. They know the development industry and landowners’ lobbying efforts to the province have failed, and they know that while eyes are turned elsewhere their master plan can take effect. They know that the CMRB is stacked in their favour, it was designed that way. But we can sound the alarm. 

What happened to the Premier Jason Kenney’s rallying cry to “make Alberta the best place to do business in North America”?

The UCP, Jason Kenney, and his ministers can stop this madness. The only question is, will they?

Bruce McAllister is a columnist for the Western Standard, Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: O’Toole used the wrong excuse to expel Sloan

“If O’Toole had not defended Sloan in 2020, if O’Toole had not courted his support for down-ballot votes, if O’Toole had supported the move to expel Sloan when he first made his remarks, he might then have a leg of credibility to stand on.”

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On Wednesday afternoon, the federal Conservative Caucus made it official, expelling Derek Sloan into the political wilderness. He will now sit in the southeast corner of the House of Commons beside the Green Party, in Maxime Bernier’s old seat. Virtually at least. 

The party did have cause to boot Sloan. Unfortunately for them, it’s not the one they used in time to save face from the episode devolving into a farce. 

On Monday, O’Toole issued a white hot statement blasting Sloan for receiving a $131 donation to his leadership campaign from a neo-Nazi who sometimes goes by the name Paul Fromm. 

“Derek Sloan’s acceptance of a donation from a well-known white supremacist is far worse than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence.”

Well, that excuse held about as much water as a pasta colander. None of it added up

Very few people in 2021 know who Paul Fromm is. 

Paul Fromm made the donation under the name ‘Frederick P. Fromm’. 

The donation was for $131, and would attract the attention of precisely no one working for Sloan or O’Toole. 

The donation slipped not just by the CFO of the Sloan campaign, but also through the Conservative Party of Canada who took their own 10 per cent cut without question. 

The Conservative Party of Canada issued Fromm with a membership card and allowed him to vote in its 2020 leadership contest. 

Most reasonable people smelled a rat. Clearly, O’Toole wanted Sloan gone, and this was the trumped-up charge he would use to make it happen. 

It’s too bad, because O’Toole and his allies in caucus had cause to expel Sloan without the need for a farcical show trial. 

Sloan has made genuinely extreme statements that allow the Liberals to paint the entire party as intolerant. And they aren’t just the usual Liberal accusations that ‘everyone that disagrees with me is a: racist, homophobe, transphobe, Islamophobe’, ect, ect, ect. 

While seeking the Tory leadership in January 2020, Sloan told CTV: “Whatever the cause of sexual orientation, which I still maintain is scientifically unclear. That is the position of science right now.”

It’s not. Being gay is not a choice. For most of mankind’s history, those who were gay, wished that they weren’t. Even in broadly tolerant societies like Canada, many gay men and lesbian women still struggle with their innate identities. 

Claims that being gay is a choice – implicitly or explicitly – is meant to buttress long-discredited theories that we can “pray the gay away.”

Sloan is welcome to hold these views. But most Canadians, most Conservatives, and even most social conservatives, do not. 

His positions on other issues – abortion, child sex reassignment surgery – while controversial, are not necessarily extreme. They might go against the grain, but they should be a welcomed part of open debate in the political sphere, and within the Conservative Party. 

But claiming that being gay is a choice? The Conservatives need to draw a line somewhere, and that seems like a good place to start. 

Unfortunately, that’s not where O’Toole drew it.

After Sloan made these comments about gay-choice theory, O’Toole defended Sloan against attempts by mostly Peter MacKay-supporting MPs who were trying to expel him then. 

At the time, O’Toole needed third and fourth-place down-ballot support from Sloan to secure the Tory leadership. These views – while not his own – were welcomed in O’Toole’s “True Blue” coalition. 

Keen observers could see close parallels with Andrew Scheer courting support from social conservative Brad Troast in the 2017 leadership race, just to discard him once he had the job. 

O’Toole needed Sloan in 2020. He didn’t in 2021. 

Since 2020, Sloan has been mostly quiet, and hasn’t committed any political sin of note. O’Toole was grateful for the contrived scandal of a meager donation from a has-been hate monger made under another name. 

If O’Toole had not defended Sloan in 2020, if O’Toole had not courted his support for down-ballot votes, if O’Toole had supported the move to expel Sloan when he first made his remarks, he might then have a leg of credibility to stand on. 

Instead, he drummed up a fake scandal and played the self-righteous Liberal card.

And in the process, has made himself the bad guy, and Sloan the man who deserves justice. 

Now O’Toole looks like a man caught playing dirty backroom politics, and leaves the social conservatives in his party asking themselves if they are just there to hand over votes and money.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

CYR: Kenney has betrayed his ‘Grassroots Guarantee’ one too many times

“As a Wildrose MLA, I fought hard for the merger that created the UCP so that we could cast out the radical socialists and bring back better times to Alberta. It disheartening that time has proven that the new party we thought we created only turned out to be little better than a re-branded PC Party.”

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Would you even notice if your locally elected MLA was replaced in Alberta’s legislature by a Premier Kenney cardboard cut-out? If the answer is ‘no’, then your party has failed you.

Mainstreet Research conducted a poll in January 2018 where the UCP held 52 per cent support and the NDP just 25 per cent. Fast forward to January, 2021 and a new Mainstreet Research poll conducted for the Western Standard shows the UCP collapsing to just 26 per cent. In its place, the NDP have surged to 41 per cent, and the new Wildrose Independence Party has broken out to 9 per cent. What changed from three years ago?

The grassroots were abandoned.

The Wildrose Party had an unparalleled grassroots movement that we brought to the table before the merger, whereas, the Progressive Conservative Party (PC) held name recognition from 44 years of being in government. It made sense to combine both parties into one, the United Conservative Party (UCP). We had grassroots and name recognition and in return, were rewarded with record popularity to enact a mandate of throwing out the NDP to prevent further damage to Alberta.

Premier Kenney recognized early in his leadership campaign that putting the grassroots in charge was the answer, and rolled out his “Grassroots Guarantee”. This appealed to both parties’ members and led to resounding support. After successfully winning the leadership race, he rolled out the same narrative to Albertans and in 2019, the UCP grassroots platform walloped the NDP top-down platform.

What truly made the UCP successful had less to do with Premier Kenney being a battle-hardened politician and more to do with the party’s connection with the middle and working class. As a province, we all lived through the reigns of Alison Redford and the NDP, and saw first-hand how destructive top-down their leadership styles were. We found out that it inevitably leads to elitism and the disconnection of government from its citizens.

When Premier Kenney made the January 14 Facebook post to unilaterally eject the Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn from caucus, I was alarmed. Let’s set aside this MLA’s alleged transgressions and the fact that it was probably the right decision for the party. My concern is how it was done.

As a grassroots party, the caucus would normally be called together and the offending MLA would be given the opportunity to defend themselves. Once the caucus members received answers to their questions, they would hold a secret ballot to decide if the MLA is ejected or not. This is grassroots decision making at the highest level of the party.

Whereas, in a top-down party like the PCs of old and NDP, the leader ignores their caucus and makes the decision on behalf of the party.

If a leader has the unilateral power to eject caucus members, it gives them absolute power over the people’s elected representatives. What’s stopping the leader from ejecting the legislature speaker for not making a ruling they like, or an individual MLA voting with their conscience – or the worst offense of all – a conservative standing up for conservatism?

Leaders making the sole decision to eject caucus members is not grassroots. It’s authoritarianism.

But that’s not the most alarming part of the announcement Premier Kenney made in his post. It now appears that he usurped his own party’s board by taking complete control over the nomination process. For those that don’t know what this process is, it’s how the party chooses its candidates running in the next election. This means that your candidate likely won’t be chosen locally, but you will be told who represents your region by the Premier’s Office.

Presently, Premier Kenney has shown he doesn’t have enough respect for his fellow caucus members, his party’s board, UCP party members and their policies (he “holds the pen”), and the average Albertan who he promised with his “Grassroots Guarantee.”

What will be the result of this broken promise? Dave Rutherford put it best in a Facebook post, “Conservatives like me will never vote for the NDP, but when conservatives get angry, they don’t vote for the lefties, they stay home and don’t vote at all, or they find a non-threatening alternative to park their vote.”

These are powerful warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored. So again, I ask you, would there be any real difference between your MLA and a cardboard cut-out of Jason Kenney?

As a Wildrose MLA, I fought hard for the merger that created the UCP so that we could cast out the radical socialists and bring back better times to Alberta. It disheartening that time has proven that the new party we thought we created only turned out to be little better than a re-branded PC Party.

Scott Cyr is the former Wildrose and UCP MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake

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