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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

BARNES: Time to replace the RCMP with an Alberta force

Drew Barnes writes that Alberta should immediately begin the process of creating its own police force.

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Guest opinion column from Drew Barnes, MLA

In the Fair Deal Panel report, it was recommended that Alberta create its own police force. It is what we heard loud and clear from Albertans across the province. It is imperative, now more than ever with the overreaching policies of Ottawa, that we have control over policing in our own land. Premier Kenney – in the government’s response – has committed to conducting a further analysis of the panel recommendation to move to an Alberta Provincial Police. This analysis will support why we should have our own police force that is overseen by a directly elected Alberta Chief of Police. An Alberta Provincial Police force is a constitutional right that we have, and it should be exercised. 

Historically, Alberta had its own police force from 1917 to 1932. During that period, Alberta saw an increase in arrest rate and conviction, and a decrease in movement into Alberta by those with criminal intent. The reason for this increase has been attributed to the institutional difference in focus and priorities of a national vs an Alberta entity. 

This history serves to underscore why we need a police force that is familiar with the Alberta experience. One of the issues the RCMP have that makes it difficult for them to effectively police the province is the constant in-and-out of its members in communities, which nullifies the benefits that come with being familiar with an area and its particular challenges. An officer raised in Jasper, Ontario will be less familiar with the issues and concerns of Jasper, Alberta, than an Albertan. While some RCMP recruits may be from Alberta and may land a position in Alberta, that is too often not how it works. The lack of familiarity with community, and short-term posting protocol of the RCMP is an ongoing, acknowledged hinderance, for both the officers and the community.

The costs to operate the RCMP increase at a higher rate than provincially run police forces. A study comparing these costs found that over the span of eight years, the cost of operating RCMP detachments rose an average of $44.50 per capita. The costs for the Ontario Provincial Police force rose only $37.10 per capita on average during the same period.

We can cancel the contract with the federal government and the RCMP with two years notice. Providing notice that we will cancel the contract can take place as early as March 31, 2021. This would allow us to terminate the contract as of March 31, 2023 at no cost. Within that two-year gap, we can work out the details, such as settling accounts over buildings and equipment, which the current contract provides a road map for.

As a province, we even have a basic template in place that make this easier. The Alberta Sheriffs already perform many police duties in our province with 950 sworn members and 16 stations. We would simply need to look at expanding them into the areas that presently utilize RCMP service. 

The RCMP is a proud and iconic symbol of Canada, made up of proud, hardworking members from across Canada, however, it is time for Alberta to consider taking back it’s policing, to create local ownership, accountability, and to hire Albertans to police Alberta. Albertans should determine their own policing priorities based on their particular needs. It is time to bring back the Alberta Provincial Police.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

GEROW: Canada is a freer country than most, but still not free

Darcy Gerow writes that while Canada scores well on the Human Freedom Index, many important freedoms are still denied Canadians.

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A Canadian, in North Vietnam, asks if they can drink their beer outside the hotel on the street, the host says: “Of course you can, it’s a free country”.

It’s a bad joke, and like all bad jokes we need an explanation.

Every year, The Human Freedom Index ranks 162 countries from most free, to least. Canada has consistently held a high ranking on the list and is apparently the 4thfreest country in the world as of 2019 despite the enduring threat of violence for drinking beer in the street. Vietnam ranked 117 on the HFI, barely out outside of the least free quartile. 

The Human Freedom Index – published by The Fraser Institute, The Cato Institute and the Fredrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom – is well written and its methodology is well explained. At over 400 pages it’s an easy and interesting read.

However, Canadians who hold liberty as paramount have a hard time reconciling the fact that something as simple as drinking a beer on the street is not permissible in a place which is among the top 1 per cent of most free nations, while it is permissible under a flag bearing the hammer and sickle in countries that rank barely outside the bottom quartile of least free countries.  And beer drinking is the least of their concerns. 

Guns? They’re not on the list. Nor is there an indicator for self defense and the definition of property rights is too vague to assume it extends to firearms. 

What about heavy taxation? The Fraser Institute also released studies in 2019 that show how the average Canadian family will pay 44.7 per cent of its income in taxes, an amount considered oppressive by any humane standard. This is acknowledged in the HFI under the “top marginal tax rate” portion in the economic freedom group of indicators. Canada scores a 5 out of 10, or roughly the same as the average Canadian family’s net revenue. But the top marginal tax rate only makes up approximately 2.5 per cent of the total HFI score.

In the personal freedom group, women’s safety and security receives a score of 10/10. Which seems high for a country that has been globally lambasted for its record on missing and murdered indigenous women. Disappearance is measured in a category with conflict and terrorism and receives a 10/10 also. So, something doesn’t add up. Is the data incomplete? Or are facts being sensationalized? 

The personal freedom category is split into two sub-groups. The first is legal protection and security, to which the two former indicators belong. The second is specific personal freedoms, such as movement, religion, association, etc. It is a fine line when it comes to balancing these ideas as legal protection and security are generally considered a prerequisite for maintaining specific personal freedoms.

Yet when protecting those freedoms, the state has a tendency for its hand to grow heavy and its will to grow strong, such as imposing restrictions on free speech hidden behind the guise “hate” laws. The HFI does not have a provision for over-protection and it doesn’t appear to measure free speech specifically, although it is inherent in measurements of religious freedom, association and expression.

The thing to keep in mind is that The Human Freedom Index measures one country against 161 other countries. It is comparing relative freedom and only from data which is comparable from one country to another. There is no agorism yard stick. So Canada is freer than most other countries, and still not actually free.

The metrics and analysis in the HFI should be taken with a grain of salt, but let’s not discount the value of the index. It’s a gold mine for free market policy wonks. Income per capita in the top 25% of the freest countries is 3 times that of the average lower 75%. Even allowing a heavy contingency for improper weighting of indicators, minor data faults and loose interpretations of freedom, it is a very impressive statistic in defense of free markets and personal liberty.

In measuring up the Human Freedom Index, we should consider the words of Rousseau.

“Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.”

Darcy Gerow is a columnist for the Western Standard and the former Deputy Leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada.

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Opinion

MORGAN: Injunction against inquiry shows anti-oil groups have something to hide

Cory Morgan writes that the 11th hour injunction by EcoJustice shows that the group has reason to fear the report’s release.

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Alberta’s resource sector has been besieged by an organized campaign to shut it down for well over a decade and that campaign is working. Well organized protests backed by slick advertising campaigns have created the illusion that there is a strong base of support for an anti-energy movement in Alberta. Court challenges to energy projects seem endless and activist groups seem to just spring up like daisies to file them. Letter writing campaigns target investors and insurance companies demanding that they divest from Alberta energy projects, and it is working.

While political parties have had their means of fundraising and expenditures greatly limited in the last few years, activist groups appear to have no controls and their resources appear to be bottomless.

It is not beyond reason for Albertans to ask where the money is coming from for all of these campaigns against our core industries. It is well beyond reason to believe that the funding for these initiatives is coming from Albertans. We have a segment of the population who are inclined to self-loathing flagellation who would indeed would donate to such initiatives, but their numbers are low and tend to be folks working as artists and baristas. Where is the big money coming from?

Vivian Krause did some fantastic investigative work on tracking where the funding for the anti-energy movement in Western Canada was coming from. Krause made many clear and stark connections between foreign funders and domestic activist groups which usually used Tides as an intermediary for the dispersal of the funds. The organized and hysteric reaction of the anti-energy set to Krause tells one that she was clearly on the right track. They try to dismiss Krause as a conspiracy theorists but the connections are simply too clear to deny.

The Kenney government formed The Public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns in July of 2019 and tasked them with answering the questions many Albertans have about the real source of funding for these activist groups. The inquiry should be producing some results soon and this appears to be making some environmentalists very uncomfortable.

Ecojustice is an activist law firm that is opposed to energy development in Alberta and they have just filed for an injunction to get the courts to stop the inquiry and block the release of it’s work.

This of course simply begs the question, what have they got to hide?

What could the inquiry be finding in order to trigger such an anti-democratic and desperate court action from an activist firm?

If there is nothing to be seen as the anti-energy groups claim, then why aren’t they looking forward to the inquiry releasing a big nothing-burger in a report? It would give the anti-energy set a fantastic “I told you so” opportunity and would allow them to easily dismiss any more claims of foreign funding being used to target Alberta’s industries.

The left in Alberta loves to claim a love of fiscal transparency and accountability, but they turn a blind eye when it comes to applying those principles to their pet activist groups.

Many of the groups who are working to shut down Alberta’s energy sector have charitable status. As we are seeing with WE, that is hardly a guarantee that these groups are principled or spending money with the interests of citizens in mind. The public has a keen eye for accountability among charities right now and it sure would be nice to see organizations cleared in this inquiry.

The attempt by Ecojustice to shut down the inquiry at the 11th hour demonstrates just how important this inquiry really is. Something stinks and it appears that Public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns chaired by Steve Allan is getting close to the bottom of it.

Let’s hope that the Court of Queen’s bench tosses the application for an injunction into the trash where it belongs. We need to see what these groups are trying so desperately to hide.

Cory Morgan and a columnist for the Western Standard and a business owner in Priddis, Alberta

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