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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 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

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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