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STRANKMAN: Do our politicians represent their constituents, or their parties?

Rick Strankman writes from his experience being whipped to vote as party bosses told him to.

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Last winter, at an agricultural estate planning course, a speaker commented, “Many large problems occur after the death of a significant farm family leader. This results from ‘unspoken expectations’ from other family members”. 

Similarly, many elected officials have little to no understanding that their constituents have similar, ‘unspoken expectations’ that might not be voiced out loud. 

In 2012, as the Wildrose Party charged towards the spring election, one of the key platform promises was electoral recall. For some reason, many of the same people that professed at that time to believe in this form of accountability from elected representatives, have been distracted by the lure of political power. A score of once loud democratic crusaders now “look the other way” as they see unaccountability, patronage, and nepotism in their own ranks. Power – and the lure of power – can do this. 

After more than a year in power, this has set in with many in the UCP government, as they develop a blind-spot to the issues that got them there in the first place. It’s unclear if it’s the obstructed view one gets from sitting on the government side of the house in the legislature, or whether it comes from a lack of proper perspective. MLAs serving in opposition will understand the frustration to getting non-answers to often very real questions. This, more than most things, can quickly cure those self-serving blind-spots.

The legislature is an eye-opening experience, particularly for anyone that has never watched question period. The open disdain for democracy that many former and current MLAs have witnessed in the house, is appalling. In my own time, I personally witnessed government ministers loudly heckling when an opposition member requested that they answer a question. 

“That’s why they call it ‘question’ period and not ‘answer’ period!’

Many of those same self-congratulating ministers now sit in the NDP opposition benches, wondering why the UCP ministers across from them do much the same.

On more than one occasion, I was warned by acquaintances that “the closer people get to the power, the more they lose their minds.” This is a phenomenon not exclusive to the UCP, NDP, or even Alberta, or Canada. It is a natural process that plagues governments everywhere.

The lack of any meaningful representation and direct accountability is the single largest contributing factor in what seems to be an aura of discontent brewing in the minds of many Albertans right now. 

The fear to step out and speak up in opposition to one’s own party is something that I experienced and witnessed over my elected years in the legislature. As an elected representative, it is your moral – and I would argue fiduciary – responsibility to advocate on behalf of the taxpayers that entrust you with their democratic rights, regardless of a political party’s position. 

The examples are few and far between, but former federal Liberal MPs, Jody Wilson-Rabould and Jane Philpott, along with Alberta’s own MLA Drew Barnes, showed the gut-wrenching courage it takes to actually represent their constituents first, in the face of party discipline. 

A common statement I’ve heard more and more every day is, “it doesn’t matter who you elect, they’re all the same,” which is becoming harder to argue against. Their actions often reflect the conformity that, at times, is in direct conflict with the best interests of the constituents they represent.

One of the leading contributing factors to this is the Sword of Damocles that party leaders hold over their MLAs and MPs local nominations. In the American primary system, rogues like libertarian Ron Paul and socialist Bernie Sanders can still win their local nominations without the blessing of their party’s leaders. In Canada’s party systems, the leaders have the ability to rig nominations – or disqualify candidates outright – that they consider uncompliant. 

After the Wildrose was merged into the UCP before the last election, we were routinely whipped by the new party’s leadership in voting against our own consciences, and our constituents’ interests. When the NDP proposed legislation to attack the right of pro-lifers to protest, we were told we were not allowed to speak to, or even vote on the bill. When the NDP introduced regulations to impose effective supply-management over oil production, we were told that we had to support it. 

So, what have I learned in the last two decades from my time as an activist, politician and now recovering politician? That peoples’ expectations are simple; they want you to show up with your work boots on, and ready to do battle directly on their behalf.

Now I understand why I was warned about what happens when people get closer to that power.

Rick Strankman is a columnist for the Western Standard and the former Wildrose MLA for Drumheller-Stettler

Opinion

MORGAN: Alberta needs a sunshine list union bosses

“As the Western Standard recently reported, AUPE boss Guy Smith has been pulling in nearly $300,000 per year in salary and benefits.”

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Almost everybody is hurting as pandemic restrictions take their toll upon the economy. Private sector workers have been facing layoffs, work reductions, and pay cuts all year. Public sector workers have remained shielded from these economic realities so far. That may change soon as public sector wage cuts are being proposed by the Alberta government. One well-compensated group which has been sliding under the radar as we re-examine compensation levels in the new economy has been the executives in big labour.

As the Western Standard recently reported, AUPE boss Guy Smith has been pulling in nearly $300,000 per year in salary and benefits. Along with Smith, a swath of other union executives were pulling in packages in the $200,000 range and higher. Nice work if you can get it, particularly in such trying times for the working class.

Union executives make their money directly on the backs of the workers that they claim to represent. Dues are taken from every union member’s hard earned cheque and a portion of those dollars go directly into the pockets of the union executives. While nobody is expecting union executives to work for free, but it is not unreasonable to expect public disclosure of just how much these privileged members of the union are taking in. It shouldn’t take a leak in order to find out.

In Manitoba, Bill 16 is currently before their legislature. It is a bill which would reform the Labour Relations Act of their province. One of the clauses in that act is a call for disclosure of compensation for public sector employees who are compensated more than $75,000 per year. A big labor “sunshine list” in other words.

Unsurprisingly, union bosses in Manitoba are quite upset about the bill. If compensation for their executives is reasonable though, what should they have to fear? Should not those paying their bills be entitled to know how much it is?

Union dues are tax-deductible. That puts that money into the realm of public disclosure. This applies with the tax-deductible status of political contributions and it should apply with union dues. Those are our dollars and we all deserve to know who is pocketing them in the end. If unions do not want public disclosure, then they should forgo public subsidy.

We will be entering a period of austerity when the pandemic finally winds down, that is, if governments have any sense of fiscal reality. Government spending increases have been explosive and are unsustainable. Public sector unions will surely be fighting against any spending restraint.

As they represent their members in the working class, the union leadership will have a much stronger leg to stand on when they can openly disclose and display how much they are personally earning. It will likely take some legislative encouragement to ensure that these executives disclose just how many dollars from union dues enter their personal pockets.

Having a labour executive sunshine list as Manitoba is proposing will do the trick. It’s time for Alberta to follow suit.

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

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Opinion

GRAFTON: Trudeau’s ‘reset’ may not be so great

“An uneasy sense of foreboding lies over Parliament Hill during these dark days of COVID. It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”

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What are the Liberals up to? Has Canada’s government gone rogue? 

The Liberals have stopped reporting financial expenditures to the Parliamentary Budget Office, stopped answering questions during Question Period and interviews, prorogued Parliament in order to shut down the Finance Committee’s investigation of the WE scandal. They have filibustered the Finance Committee to further obstruct the investigation, heavily redacted WE documents ordered by the Finance Committee, and hacked funding to the Auditor General. An uneasy sense of foreboding lies over Parliament Hill during these dark days of COVID. It’s quite out there. Too quiet.  

What do we know?

First, the Liberals have not produced a budget since March 2019. The Liberal Economic and Fiscal Update presented by then Finance Minister Bill Morneau in July estimated a $343 billion federal deficit for 2020, and over $1 trillion in federal debt – now expected to increase further.

While it would be only fair if taxpayers knew exactly what they were mortgaging their futures for, the Liberals aren’t exactly saying.

According to Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, it has been “much more difficult to get information out of the minister’s office” since Parliament returned with Chrystia Freeland as Minister of Finance.

In addition, the Liberals are underfunding the Office of the Auditor General, who audits government spending for one thing. Conservative MP Michael Cooper accused then Finance Minister Bill Morneau of deliberately defunded the Office of the Auditor General by $11 million because “your government is afraid of being accountable”. As a result of the underfunding, performance audits have been reduced in half. 

What do they have to hide?

A September 3rd opinion piece in the National Post by John Ivison entitled ““Trudeau’s ‘literally frightening’ spending plans has some Liberals, bureaucrats very worried”” should have been a red-flag to Canadians that the Prime Minister is up to no good. Indications are that something big is in the works. 

According to Ivison, a number of Liberal MP’s and senior bureaucrats are concerned over current government plans to increase spending and debt (that is, more than they have already). One unnamed senior public servant described the expensive schedule of social programs coming down as a “structural change in the way government in this country operates.” 

The Prime Minister has made a number of references to an impending “reset”, sometimes reported as “a great reset”. 

Trudeau is referring to his commitment to UN Agenda 2030. In 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted a document referred to as “United Nations Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. 

It states, “This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development… We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.” 

Changes of this scope historically have relied upon some corresponding crisis event. It is a tactic conceived by renowned economist Milton Friedman at the Chicago School of Economics. Known as “Economic Shock Treatment”, or “Shock Therapy”, it predicts that the speed and scope of significant change in times of crisis creates a psychological state in the public that facilitates change acceptance. As Friedman famously observed, “Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” 

The current COVID-19 pandemic is just such a crisis, and the ideas have been haunting Liberal dreams for decades. 

Addressing the UN, Trudeau said, “This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change…Building back better means getting support to the most vulnerable while maintaining our momentum on reaching the 2030 agenda…” 

Whatever the Liberals are planning, they aren’t elaborating, but they are heavy on the alarming buzzwords. Attempts to get answers during question period and interviews have faced a wall of on-message babblespeak. 

Canadians won’t have to wonder much longer however. Freeland has just announced that a “full update” on federal spending will be presented November 30th

Buckle up Canada.

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

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Opinion

CARPAY: Kenney’s “not a lockdown” is very much one. And it’s more dangerous than COVID.

John Carpay writes that despite the government’s claim, Alberta is very much in a lockdown that is violating freedoms without just cause.

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It seems that Jason Kenney is taking his government’s communications strategy straight out of George Orwell ’s classic 1984. The government in 1984 uses propaganda as a cornerstone of exploiting people and remaining in power, with slogans like “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength.”

Too harsh?

After declaring a new public health emergency in Alberta this week, Kenney said: “Let me be clear, we are not moving into a lockdown.”

He then proceeded to make all indoor social gatherings illegal; impose fines of $1,000 or more on people gathering “socially” outside of their homes (including weddings and funerals) in numbers larger than 10; limit religious gatherings to one-third capacity while requiring masks and prohibiting singing; shut down all banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoria, community centres, children’s play centres and indoor playgrounds, and all team and individual sports; place onerous and profit-killing restrictions on restaurants, pubs, bars, and lounges; harm retail establishments by reducing them to a fraction of the capacity needed for profitability; limit museums, galleries, libraries, movie theatres, indoor entertainment centres and indoor fitness centres to 20 per cent capacity; severely damage “personal services” businesses providing haircare, esthetics, wellness services, professional services, taxi and rideshare, hotels/motels, and private lessons; and keep grade 7-12 children away from school for six weeks (November 30 through to January 11).

This, maintains Premier Kenney, is not a “lockdown.”

Our caring and compassionate premier magnanimously acknowledges that these severe restrictions on our Charter freedoms to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship will be “disruptive to businesses and to all Albertans.”

Not a lockdown; just “balanced” measures that are a bit “disruptive.”

Not that our premier would know what it’s like to have to take care of children at home when you are used to them attending school from 9:00 to 3:00. Not that our Premier’s own public sector salary will in any way be impacted by his own measures. Not that he would ever need to survive on only $2,000 per month in government benefits while shouldering the responsibility of supporting a family and paying for rent or a mortgage.

Premier Kenney wants to “thank all Albertans in advance for [our] understanding and what [we] have done personally” to “stop the spike and protect each other.”

Premier Kenney ignores Alberta Health Services (AHS) data which does not justify or support the daily fearmongering perpetrated by him and by Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw.

As of Tuesday, November 24 there were fewer than 500 COVID-19 deaths in Alberta since March, in the context of more than 27,000 Albertans who die each year: more than 2,000 per month and more than 500 each and every week. Of course, the 492 COVID-19 deaths are troubling, but so are the other 26,500 deaths from cancer, drug overdoses, cancelled surgeries, suicides, lack of access to health care, and other causes of death. Many of these 26,500 deaths are caused directly by the government’s lockdown measures, like cancelling 22,000 medically necessary surgeries and delaying thousands of vitally important CT scans and MRIs to diagnose cancer.

Only 348 COVID-19 patients are currently in hospital according to AHS, leaving more than 8,100 hospital beds available for more COVID-19 patients, and for patients suffering from the various conditions that cause 98 per cent of deaths in Alberta. COVID-19 patients are occupying 4 per cent of Alberta’s hospital beds, which is pretty close to the 2 per cent of deaths in Alberta that result from COVID-19. Why and how is this a crisis that justifies the lockdowns we have been suffering under – to various degrees – since March?

Is it Jason Kenney’s goal that our 8,500 hospital beds remain empty? If yes, why bother spending more than $7,500 per person on health care each year? Is the health care system here to serve citizens? Or are citizens supposed to refrain from using it, as though we wish to avoid troubling our masters? Overcrowding, bed shortages and delayed surgeries have been serious problems for many years, long before COVID-19 arrived. Why is it a crisis when COVID-19 patients occupy 4 per cent of available hospital beds? Is this percentage actually higher than when flu patients enter hospital each winter, of which we are told there are “zero” this year?

What applies to hospital beds also applies to ICU capacity. AHS tell us that COVID-19 patients are using 66 ICU spaces, which is 5 per cent of the 1,300 total ICU capacity. And we are to accept the destruction of businesses, livelihoods and mental health because of some danger of the health care system being “overrun”?

With COVID-19 patients occupying 4 per cent of hospital beds and using 5 per cent of ICU capacity, there is obviously no danger of our health care system being overrun. We are now hearing in November the same misinformation that Jason Kenney and Deena Hinshaw told us in March and April.

Media-supported fearmongering about large numbers of “cases” is misleading in the extreme. Aside from the small number of people who actually require hospitalization, 97 per cent of these “cases” concern healthy people experiencing no symptoms, and a small number experiencing symptoms which they can take care of themselves at home. Not my opinion; check the data for yourself.

There is no excuse for Premier Kenney and Deena Hinshaw to ignore AHS data on COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations. There is no excuse for fearmongering about meaningless and irrelevant numbers of “cases” of perfectly healthy people.

If George Orwell were writing his novel in Alberta today, he could have added a fourth slogan to his government’s list of mantras: “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength; There is no lockdown.”

Lawyer John Carpay is a columnist for the Western Standard and President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca).

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