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WAGNER: Canada will never change unless Alberta is willing to leave it

Michael Wagner writes that Ted Byfield understood 20 years ago that nothing would change without a credible threat of independence.

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On June 17, the official report of Premier Jason Kenney’s Fair Deal Panel was made public. It recognized the widespread anger of Albertans towards the federal government’s unfair treatment of this province. In response, the panel recommended a number of measures to reassert Alberta’s jurisdictional powers within Canada, and to try to renegotiate the equalization program with the federal government and the other provinces.

The panel made clear however, that it completely ruled out any consideration of Alberta independence, even as a last resort. The report acknowledged that, “Some Albertans believe that the only way to get Ottawa and other provinces to pay attention to unfairness and misunderstandings is to use the threat of separation, implying that if Alberta does not get a fairer place within the federation, the province will pursue secession from Canada.” It quickly dismisses that option, stating: “But we do not believe the threat of secession is a constructive negotiating strategy.”

One panel member, MLA Drew Barnes, wrote a letter to Premier Kenney, publicly disagreeing with that conclusion. Barnes wrote, “While I appreciate that my colleagues on the panel do not believe that Alberta can or should raise the prospect of independence under any circumstance, I must respectfully disagree. A free people must be willing to at some point of injustice without rectification, to draw a line and make a stand.”

Barnes’ position is much like that of Ted Byfield, the influential publisher of Alberta Report magazine. In the aftermath of the 2000 federal election, Byfield wrote columns explaining that only the threat of Alberta independence would make Central Canada take the province’s concerns seriously.

In November 2000, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals handily beat the Canadian Alliance, leaving a large number of Albertans unhappy with their province’s status within Canada. Many wanted substantial change. 

It was within this context that the famous “Firewall Letter” written by Stephen Harper and other prominent Albertans was published. In a sense, that letter was a precursor to the Fair Deal Panel’s report. It proposed that the Alberta government maximize its use of the province’s constitutional powers, including collecting income tax, creating a provincial police force, initiating a provincial pension plan, and forcing Senate reform back onto the national agenda.

Byfield found the Firewall Letter to be defective on at least one point – there was no threat to back it up. In his January 22, 2001 column for The Report magazine (as it was at that time), Byfield wrote: “If Mr. Harper thinks that Alberta can merely proceed to exercise the same autonomy Quebec now does, he is dreaming. Quebec is a special case; it is, we are constantly told, ‘distinct.’ What makes it special? Its language? Its cultural heritage? Yes, but it always had those, and nobody outside Quebec gave a damn. Such autonomy as Quebec possesses was achieved in just one way: it made convincing threats to leave.”

“The lesson is plain,” Byfield continued. “If you really want change,” he wrote, you must “threaten to leave—and mean it. Period. If we fail to understand this, we are not being patriotic. We are being stupid. Crassly, arrogantly, blindly stupid.”

He resumed this theme in his subsequent column published February 5, 2001. The column’s title said it all: “The West’s paradox – the only way we can change Canada is by finding ways to leave it.”

In this column Byfield made his argument forcefully.

“Unless we make credible threats to set up on our own we will get absolutely nothing by way of constitutional change, or any other kind of change. We will be bashed down every time. If we threatened to leave and meant it, we would have enormous clout in Canada, more even than Quebec. By refusing to entertain such an idea, we have no clout whatever. That is the message of history.” 

A message – one might add – overlooked by the Fair Deal Panel.

Byfield went on to argue that Alberta needed to explore alternatives to being in Canada, such as becoming an independent country or joining the United States. Once it was understood that these were viable options, Alberta could then return to the negotiating table to discuss its place within Canada. He wrote, “If we go to the table without those options, we will come away with nothing whatever. All central Canada need do is stymie the negotiational process and we will have to slump back into the status quo as we always have.” Without practical alternatives, there is no reason why Central Canada would agree to any changes favourable to Alberta. 

Byfield referred to Alberta’s situation as “a paradox” because the “only way we can change Canada is to develop ways of getting out of Canada. We must possess other options.” This is undoubtedly true. By ruling out secession from the start, the Fair Deal Panel has thrown away Alberta’s only significant alternative to the status quo. Drew Barnes is absolutely right – if Albertans cannot obtain significant changes within Canada, then “we must seek another relationship, as a sovereign people.”

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 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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