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WAGNER: How Pierre Trudeau created the Alberta independence movement, and his son made it mainstream

Michael Wagner writes that before 1980, independence was a tiny fringe movement. In 2020, it is approaching a majority of Albertans.

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A fundamental change occurred in Alberta in 1980. On February 18 of that year, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals defeated Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives, restoring Trudeau to the office of prime minister. Consequently, on October 28 – a day that will live in infamy – the National Energy Program (NEP) was unleashed as a blatant attack on Alberta and its oil industry. These historical events generated a credibility for Alberta’s independence movement that had never before existed. After 1980, support for independence was no longer a tiny fringe phenomenon.

Until the fateful events of 1980, polling data measuring support for Alberta independence were generally in the low single digits. This can be seen in the early polls on sovereigntist sentiment that were reported in a 1979 article by political scientists David Elton and Roger Gibbins entitled, “Western Alienation and Political Culture,” in the book The Canadian Political Process. As Elton and Gibbins noted, a 1969 provincial poll found that only 5 per cent of “respondents expressed interest in even discussing the merits of separation.” Five years later, a 1974 survey conducted in Calgary found less than 4 per cent “expressed even the most cautious support for separatism.” And in a 1977 survey commissioned by the Calgary Herald, only 2.7 per cent said yes to the question, “Would you like Alberta to separate?” 

Clearly – at least as far as polling data suggests – support for independence was disappointingly low before 1980. 

But then Canada experienced the second-coming of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – who can rightly be called the father of the Alberta independence movement because his policies gave the movement its original credibility and momentum. 

The effect of Trudeau’s aggressive anti-Alberta posture was immediate. Data from a number of post-NEP polls are presented in an article entitled, “Separatism and Quasi-Separatism in Alberta” by sociologist Edward Bell in the Fall 2007 issue of Prairie Forum. On November 1, 1980 (shortly after the NEP was announced), the Calgary Herald reported on a poll indicating that 23 per cent of Albertans were in favour of Western Canadian independence. A subsequent study – undertaken in Edmonton from February to April 1981 – found that “about one in four respondents either supported Alberta independence or were willing to give their provincial government a mandate to negotiate it.” 

Surprisingly, in a March 1981 poll conducted by the Canada West Foundation, 49 per cent of Albertans agreed with the statement: “Western Canadians get so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” That question did not measure outright commitment to independence as such, but it does seem rather high. Nevertheless, it is not inconsistent with some later polling. 

Sociologist Trevor Harrison, in his 1995 book, Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, reports on a 1992 poll with a question very similar to the one from the Canada West Foundation. Harrison writes, a “poll of 710 Westerners conducted by Environics Research in March 1992 found that 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the question: ‘Western Canada gets so few benefits from Confederation the region might as well be on its own.’” At that time, of course, Brian Mulroney was prime minister, and like Pierre Trudeau, he catered to Central Canada at the expense of the West. In fact, Mulroney’s policies led to the rise of the Reform Party.

Edward Bell adds one more poll result to fill things out. In 2005, a poll found 35.6 per cent of Westerners agreed with the statement: “Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country.” 

More recently, on August 1, 2014, Insights West released a poll of Albertans that found, “Only 23 per cent of residents believe the province would be better off as its own country.” “Only” 23 per cent? Actually, 23 percent is rather high, especially considering that Stephen Harper – an Albertan – was prime minister at the time.

Two years later, on July 28, 2016, Insights West released another poll noting that “23 per cent of Albertans say the province would be better off as its own country.” The percentage remained the same as before, but the harmful effects of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s anti-Alberta policies were not yet fully realized. Things have since changed.

On May 25 of this year, in a poll conducted for the Western Standard, “45 per cent of decided Albertans surveyed said that they would defiantly vote yes or were leaning yes if there was a referendum on Alberta’s independence.” That is to say, support for independence is likely higher in 2020 than at any previous time. The more moderate position of supporting independence if proposals for constitutional reform were first rejected by Ottawa, was just shy of a majority at 48 per cent. 

The point is this: before 1980, polls showed support for Alberta independence to be in the low single digits. After 1980, polls show support in the double digits, usually a quarter of the population or more. This suggests that a fundamental change occurred in 1980 as a result of Pierre Trudeau. Before Trudeau, Albertans really weren’t interested in thinking about independence – but he made it respectable and credible. Support for independence never seems to have returned to the low single digit range. 

Support for Alberta independence is not going away. It is not a passing fad. Under the current Liberal government – with its agenda of phasing out Alberta’s key industry – the independence movement will likely continue to grow. The question is whether a leader will emerge to articulate the Alberta cause and gather Alberta patriots into a coherent and effective political body.

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

ALLISON: Forget trade agreements. Just give us free trade.

Andrew Allison writes that Canada should end its semi-“free trade” agreements, and push for complete market access.

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On December 31, 2020 the 11-month transition period which gives the U.K. time to sort out its international affairs before Brexit is finalized will come to an end. One of the most important diplomatic items that the British government must decide upon is its various trade deals with other countries. While focus has largely been on the trade deal that will emerge between the U.K. and the E.U., there are many other trade deals which must have their terms decided on. This includes their trade agreement with Canada.

The trade deal which Canada and the E.U. operate on is the Canada-European Trade Agreement (CETA). This trade deal is still in effect until the end of the transition period, but once January 1, 2021 arrives, the deal will no longer be in effect and Canada and the U.K. will be operating without a trade agreement. As the looming deadline gets closer, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Lizz Truss, and Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Mary Ng, have begun work on what they call a “transitional agreement” which would be an interim solution before a full agreement can be finalized.

CETA, according to the Canadian government, reduces barriers to trade between Canada and Europe. Since CETA’s enactment, 98 per cent of Canadian goods have become exempt from European tariffs when previously only 25 per cent were. As Canada and the U.K. come to a trade agreement, it’s time to ask why we should stop at 98 per cent and not move to 100 per cent and remove other barriers to trade. In fact, it’s time to ask why we need trade agreements at all. As American economist Murray Rothbard notes, “Genuine free trade doesn’t require a treaty or its deformed cousin, a ‘trade agreement’ … If the establishment truly wants free trade, all it has to do is to repeal our numerous tariffs, import quotas, anti-‘dumping’ laws, and other American-imposed restrictions on trade. No foreign policy or foreign maneuvering is needed.” If the benefits of CETA are that we get reduced barriers to trade, then why not eliminate all of them? Why indulge in protectionism at all?

One argument for protectionism is the claim that that jobs will be saved and domestic wages will be raised. As William McKinley, the American mastermind behind the McKinley tariff of 1890 argued during his 1892 presidential campaign, “Open competition between high-paid American labor and poorly paid European labor will either drive out of existence American industry or lower American wages.”

But this thesis proves far too much. For if it is really the case that places with different wage rates do not benefit from free trade then we should reject not only international free trade but intranational free trade as long as there are unequal wages between different regions. As German economist and philosopher, Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“Any argument in favor of international protectionism rather than free trade is simultaneously an argument in favor of interregional and interlocal protectionism. Just as different wage rates exist between the United States and Mexico, Haiti, or China, for instance, such differences also exist between New York and Alabama, or between Manhattan, the Bronx and Harlem. Thus, if it were true that international protectionism could make an entire nation prosperous and strong, it must also be true that interregional and interlocal protectionism could make regions and localities prosperous and strong. In fact, one may even go one step further. If the protectionist argument were right, it would amount to an indictment of all trade and a defense of the thesis that everyone would be the most prosperous and strongest if he never traded with anyone else and remained in self-sufficient isolation.”

McKinley ironically also noted in 1892 that the United States had free trade between the states. He said in the speech title “The Triumph of Protection”, “We have free trade among ourselves throughout our forty-four States and the several territories. That is because we are one family, one country. We have on standard of citizenship, one flag, one Constitution, one Nation, one destiny.” What these states did not have was equalized wages across states. And thus, based on McKinley’s own arguments, he should have aimed to restrict trade between the states as well as between America and the rest of the world. Just as Toronto benefits from free trade with Hamilton and PEI benefits from free trade with British-Columbia, so too does Canada benefit from free trade with the U.K.

Canadian and British consumers deserve the low prices that come with free trade. Mary Ng and Liz Truss are presented with a unique opportunity to make that a reality for their respective consumers and they should seize it. Let us begin our relationship with the newly independent U.K. as one of free trade and free exchange.

Andrew D. Allison is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo

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Opinion

McCOLL: Ending Alberta’s paid plasma ban is the right thing to do

Tany Yao’s private members bill would lift the NDP’s ban on people being paid for giving their own blood.

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On October 26, UCP MLA Tany Yao’s private member’s bill – Bill 204: The Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act – was debated in the legislature. It is now only one step away from repealing the previous NDP government’s 2017 law that banned private paid plasma clinics.

In an interview with the Western Standard, Tany Yao outlined how this issue has been important to him since he was the opposition health critic in 2017. Back then, Yao said that the law “does more harm than good.” 

History has proven him right, as the NDP law made it illegal for pharmaceutical companies to make plasma medicines in Alberta by paying donors like they do in the United States and Saskatchewan. Proposals to build paid plasma clinics and laboratories to manufacture plasma medicines in Alberta were cancelled.

Yao stated that the goal of his bill is to “attract those companies to develop these life saving medications right here in Alberta.” When it came to objections from the NDP, Yao lamented: “I do find it unfortunate that only labour groups are fighting this. Their arguments are from the 1980s and from the tainted blood scandal.” When asked to explain the opposition from public sector unions and Canadian Blood Services (CBS) – even though CBS imports paid plasma products from the United States and has testified that paid plasma products are perfectly safe Yao said, “Labour is trying to protect their monopoly given to them by the NDP. [CBS] admits they cost more versus private companies.”

Over seventy per cent of global plasma comes from paid donors in the United States. It’s a $26 billion (USD) industrythat should grow to $40 billion by 2040. Plasma medicines make up a greater share of US exports than steel or aluminium. This is a high-tech growth industry that saves lives, creates high paying jobs, and could attract billions of dollars in pharmaceutical company investment to Alberta. 

During Monday’s debate, UCP MLAs Jackie Lovely, Mark Smith, Devinder Toor, Michaela Glasgo, Ronald Orr, and Richard Gotfried all spoke in support of bill 204. As Yao predicted, NDP MLAs Richard Feehan, Marie Renaud, Lorne Dach, and Shannon Phillips spoke against the bill voicing debunked public safety concerns. NDP MLA Marie Renaud argued that it would be morally wrong to allow low income Albertans to be paid for their blood. She didn’t say how rich you had to be for it to be moral to earn an extra $2000 per year for weekly donations of life saving plasma.

One NDP critique of the bill was that all paid plasma donations made in Alberta would be exported to other countries. If the NDP MLAs had paid attention to Dr. Peter Jaworski’s July testimony to the Standing Committee on Private Bills, they would know that Canadian plasma is exported because CBS refuses to buy it – even when offered lower prices!

“Canadian Plasma Resources was only Health Canada-certified when they first opened… It is only when Canadian Blood Services rejected their offer of all of their plasma in 2016 at $166 per litre, which was 20 per cent less than the price in the United States, that Canadian Plasma Resources sought to get European Medicines Agency approval, which means that they are allowed to sell their plasma within the European market… Canadian Plasma Resources has made two subsequent offers to Canadian Blood Services. In 2018 they offered all of their plasma at $195 a litre for a term of seven years and then most recently in 2019, $220 per litre for a term of 20 years.”

CBS unpaid plasma donation centres cost the taxpayer about $412 dollars per litre. The answer to this problem is clear: first pass Bill 204, then open paid plasma centres in Alberta, and finally shame CBS and Ottawa into ending the irrational policy of importing American paid plasma instead of buying Canadian paid plasma.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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Opinion

Sask PCs Say “no” to merger with Buffalo Party

With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent.

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A recent column in the Western Standard proposed the idea of uniting Saskatchewan’s Buffalo and PC parties. Progressive Conservative candidates and leadership responded quickly with a hard ‘no.’ 

“Won’t happen Lee,” PC leader Ken Grey posted on Facebook below the article. “We will welcome ex-Buffalo members but merger is a no go. We are a federalist party and from what I see Buffalo wants to broker left and right wing ideologies. We are different parties with different mandates.”

Grey cited the Buffalo Party’s approach of reaching out to both left and right policy goals. “That’s distasteful to me,” said Grey, whose party slogan is “True Conservative.”

The Buffalo Party – despite being just a few months old and running in a handful of ridings – finished as Saskatchewan’s third-place party on October 26th. With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent. 

Frank Serfas, a founding signatory of the Western Independence Party and its interim leader in 2015, placed third as the PC candidate in Moosemin. He commented on my Facebook post, “Any talk of PCs and Buffalo merging are completely [p]remature and [h]alf [b]aked.”

In an interview, Serfas said that he joined the PCs in 2018 to support Ken Grey’s leadership bid, but also bought a membership in Wexit Saskatchewan (the Buffalo Party’s original name). He said the Buffalo Party lacks the needed foundation to last.

“No constitution, no membership-adopted platform. There is no elected executive, no elected leader,” Serfas said. “I’ve been watching this a long time, since the early 80s. The only time western separatist parties or independence parties had any traction is when their leaders were legitimately elected by the grassroots.”

Serfas said the party initially indicated they would do these things, then gave reasons why it did not. “Covid. Not enough people. Oh, and my favorite one was not enough time,” he said.

“They’re two different parties in two different places, organization wise, leadership wise, stuff like that. Things still need to be settled in both camps before you can even start dialogue.”

Ironically, a PC press release on August 13 already called it a “merger” when former Wexit candidates such as Harry Frank decided to run as PC candidates. “This merger comes after complaints of top down decisions, candidate removals without reason, and dictatorial style leadership within the Buffalo Party.”

The press release quoted Frank saying, “By uniting the right we have a greater chance of being in a position to challenge this liberal leaning SaskParty and pushing for the changes the residents of this province have been needing.”

The two parties share common policy ground in supporting MLA recall, a provincial police force, and a referendum on equalization to trigger a constitutional convention, all welcomed by Serfas.

“They’re willing to explore other avenues of autonomy. That’s a good start. But the thing you have to remember is that the PCs are a party with one foot in the past and one foot trying to reach into the future,” Serfas said.

Serfas said the PC Party trust fund was one example of control by legacy PCs.

“The party leader does not control that. The party executive does not control it. There is a trust executive that is basically made up of PC luminaries of the past, and they control it.”

PC candidate Tony Ollenberger was a founding member of the Alberta First Party and ran as a candidate in 2001. His former party eventually was refounded in 2018 as the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta. The FCP would later merge with Wexit Alberta to form the Wildrose Independence Party. 

Ollenberger does not want the Saskatchewan PCs to follow suit. 

“Buffalo is a flash in the pan. This is exactly what happened with the Alberta Independence Party in 2001,” Ollenberger said. “When they come onto the scene, and not even as a registered party, immediately the media just jumped all over them because they were just the next great thing. And you know after the election in 2001 they went nowhere.”

Ollenberg said his decades of observing independence movements in both provinces suggests some Buffalo Party members will eventually challenge interim leader Wade Sira’s position of “secession if necessary, but not necessarily secession.”

“He’s going to find someone come along and saying, ‘Well we need to separate now,’ and they’ll factionalize, and then they’ll refractionalize… until there’s six parties that need to get registered,” Ollenberger said.

“I’ve seen this movie before and I’ve seen exactly how it ends,” said Ollenberger. “We’d be shooing ourselves in the foot if we wanted to hitch our wagon to the Buffalo Party because I see the same fate unfolding again.”

Ollenberger, who placed third in Saskatoon Fairview, said the party’s message of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility had a positive response at the doors.

“We certainly need to do more to get our main track on the political radar, get our messaging out there, and make sure that people understand that there is a difference – that when people hear the word ‘Conservative’ they think of us again and not the Sask Party.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

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