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BARNES: An independent Alberta would be less landlocked than a provincial Alberta

Drew Barnes writes that an independent Alberta would have more tools to fight its landlocked status than a provincial Alberta.

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Federalists endlessly argue that Alberta could never become an independent nation because it is landlocked. It has been since Ottawa created the province in 1905 without negotiating with the First Nations and settlers here.

While being landlocked presents challenges for a national Alberta, those challenges are not as great as those currently facing a provincial Alberta. 

How to deal with being landlocked is a frequent and fundamental question when talking about getting a fair deal for Alberta, as a province, or as an independent nation. While being landlocked is an issue, it is not the make-or-break issue for Alberta that federalists claim it to be. Instead, the federalists should consider how Alberta’s landlocked status could force it to seek independence if a genuine “fair deal” fails to be obtained. 

In seeking a fair deal, we should consider what leverage a landlocked national Alberta would have in achieving market access. 

As a province, there is little to no ability for Alberta to build adequate pipeline capacity. Politically and legally, we have run out of options. For more than a decade, Ottawa, B.C., and Quebec have blocked market access to the oceans that all functioning countries on the planet allow; that is, as a province. This is not how Canada’s founding fathers intended confederation to work in 1867, but it is where we are today. 

Peter Lougheed secured Section 92A of the Constitution with the goal of ensuring provincial control over resource development in the 1982 negotiations, but successive federal governments have piled on unilateral environmental policies to limit that development. Now, not only are we landlocked, we are policy-locked and regulation-locked. These are not geographic facts. These are political facts. And unlike geography, political facts can be changed. 

Federalists – both inside and outside of Alberta – point only to the geographic fact. An independent national Alberta would have no border with an ocean. They assume as a given that a post-independence Ottawa would build walls around the new nation and seek to starve it into economic and political submission. This ignores three vital considerations.

Firstly, most of Alberta’s trade goes neither east or west, but south. The Americans would be happy to continue trading with Alberta. In fact, our trading relationship with the U.S. would most likely be stronger than it currently is, hemmed in as it is by Ottawa’s obsession with Ontario and Quebec in trade negotiations. Without the need to protect Quebec’s supply-managed dairy cartel and Ontario’s auto and aluminum sectors, Alberta would be free to negotiate much more favorable trade terms with the Americans. 

Secondly, it would not be in Ottawa’s interest to effectively embargo Alberta. As much as leftist governments in Ottawa and several provinces might protest, they still need Alberta’s energy. Without it, energy prices across Canada would skyrocket.

Thirdly – and most importantly – Canada needs to trade through Alberta much more than Alberta needs to trade through Canada. If a vengeful Ottawa were to disallow pipelines and trade westward through B.C., Alberta could stop all trade in both directions between B.C. and Eastern Canada. Unless Ottawa proposed to build a wildly expensive highway and railroad through the Arctic muskeg and permafrost, B.C. would be turned into a proverbial East Prussia; that is, an exclave separated by Alberta and two oceans from the rest of Canada. This option would be untenable for obvious reasons. Ottawa would be cutting of its nose to spite its face to vengefully try to isolate an independent Alberta. 

As an independent nation, Alberta would have the legal and political right to play hardball with Ottawa to force market access. As a province, all Alberta can do is complain. 

Also, being a landlocked nation is no guarantee of doom. On the contrary, some of the wealthiest nations on Earth are landlocked. Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg are all in the top 20 highest GDP per capita in the world. An independent Alberta would place 11th, just below Switzerland and Luxembourg, and ahead of Austria without even accounting for all of the transfers that would stay at home. 

These three countries are landlocked by larger nations, but they and their neighbours understand the mutually advantageous benefit of trade. And as independent nations, they cannot be so easily bullied – even by Germany, France, and Italy – as Alberta can be by Ottawa. 

Many Albertans are ready to move toward independence right now. Some say that they are unconditional federalists. But many more want a fair deal within confederation that would see Alberta become autonomous, retain its wealth, and trade freely. And if this proves impossible, then seek independence. 

Alberta has the capacity to be the freest, wealthiest place in the world to raise strong families, strong communities, as a strong province or nation. It is up to Ottawa to decide how that sentence ends. 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

Opinion

GRAFTON: Wexit’s morph into the Maverick Party a big missed opportunity

“Westerners are looking for alternatives, and one can’t help thinking that Wexit has missed an opportunity to become a mainstream, credible party, with a real chance of sending members to Ottawa following the next election.”

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On September 17th, Wexit Canada leader Jay Hill announced that they were jettisoning their catchy portmanteau, and had registered a new name with Elections Canada. Wexit Canada is now the Maverick Party.

The new name immediately became fodder for satirists, who drew comparison to the popular Tom Cruise character in the 1986 blockbuster action-drama “Top Gun”. Hill denied any intentional connection. 

“Maverick” seems an odd name for a party, considering the definition of the word, “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party” (Merriam Webster), and could be interpreted as conceptual confusion. Certainly, it does not convey any particular political orientation.

Hill’s own explanation, “There’s (sic) mavericks in the business world, in virtually every occupation you run across what is referred to as mavericks — people who chart an independent path,” seems to align with the dictionary definition of mavericks as individuals who can’t work together. 

In his message to members, Hill explained that the name change was designed to give the party an individual identity, separate from other movements like Brexit. In a CBC interview he said that the Wexit brand had been tainted by previous connections, and confusion among similarly named political entities. “We polled via Facebook, our members and some of the general public that would be interested in whether we should change our name or not,” Hill said. “It came back that (a) two-thirds majority thought it would be wise to change the name.” No argument there.

But, what’s in a name? As Juliette famously lamented, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

As it turns out, names can be important.

A 2017 CBS article entitled “What’s in a name? Plenty” quoted New York University Professor of Marketing Adam Alter; “You’d think it should just be a label, an idle label that doesn’t affect anything. But that’s not how the world works. It turns out it matters a huge amount.” Alter has a PhD in Psychology from Princeton University, and has analyzed and written about the impact of names. “There’s evidence that a good name is a simple name,” Alter said, “In law firms, people with simple names tend to make partner faster. In politics – with the notable exception of former President Barack Obama – fewer syllables generally mean more votes. People vote more for people with simpler names. We’ve got some results showing that.”

Dating back to confederation – excepting a blip in 1918 when the wartime Unionist Coalition under Sir Robert Borden formed a government, there has never been a governing party in Canada other than the Liberals or the Conservatives. The two brands offer serious credibility, and convey a clear and simple message of political orientation to voters. This became briefly muddled in 1920, following the demise of the Unionist Coalition, when the Conservative Party changed its’ name to the National Liberal and Conservative Party. 

The closest that any other party has come was with the decimation of the Liberals in 2011, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) became the official opposition. Formed in 1961 as the love-child of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and sometimes described as “Liberals in a hurry”, perhaps the brand may have resonated more with Canadians with a simpler name…the Democratic Party of Canada perhaps. “New” sounds…well, inexperienced. And nearly 60 years old, a bit inaccurate. 

The point is, a niche party has never come close to forming a federal government in Canada. Niche parties are easily identifiable by their names. Elections Canada currently lists twenty registered federal parties, most of them niche parties – the Animal Protection Party of Canada, the (festive but now obsolete) Marijuana Party, the Green Party, and the Rhinoceros Party. These parties will never form a government. In the serious game of national politics, you need a serious name to play. 

Bloc Quebecoise is a serious name, and it worked for them…thirty-two seats.

Should Wexit should have gone with something else? The Western Independence Party seems an obvious, credible-sounding alternative.

Westerners are looking for alternatives, and one can’t help thinking that Wexit has missed an opportunity to become a mainstream, credible party, with a real chance of sending members to Ottawa following the next election.

“Maverick” is also defined as “an unbranded range animal, especially a motherless calf.” 

Ken Grafton is a freelance columnist

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Horgan’s early election is the worst kind of opportunism

“In the strange bedfellows of Canadian politics, BC’s socialist NDP government is more aligned with Quebec’s conservative CAQ government.”

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British Columbians will go to the polls on October 24th. Throwing the spirit of the province’s fixed election date law to the wind, Premier John Horgan just couldn’t help but capitalize on strong polling numbers for his party.

Like former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, Horgan sees the province’s fixed election date law as, more of a guideline, than a law. If it suites him. But unlike Jim Prentice, Horgan is likely to be rewarded for his opportunistic early starting shot.

Polls consistently show Horgan’s NDP with a massive lead over their rivals. The most recent poll conducted by Angus Reid puts the BC NDP at 48 per cent, far more than enough to elevate his government from minority to majority status. The BC Liberals are far back at 29 per cent, while Horgan’s one-time coalition partners, the Green Party, are at 14 per cent. The sometimes semi-relevant BC Conservative party sits at 8 per cent.

Campaigns matter, and poll numbers often change during a writ period. But they normally don’t. Even if Horgan lost 10 per cent between now and Election Day, he would almost certainly secure at least another minority, if not a slim majority.

The biggest victim in this is respect for the basic laws that govern BC’s democracy. Fixed election date laws are an awkward fit in Canada’s Westminster-style parliamentary democracies. Prime Ministers and premiers have always been able to call elections on their whim, and still technically do under most of these laws. Therefore, the fixed election dates are technically not binding – in a legal sort of way. But the public expects those in power to live up to the spirit of them. Once they are broken, the goodwill that gives fixed election dates meaning, is lost.

When Prentice broke Alberta’s law to go a year early in 2015, it caused irrevocable damage to the credibility of the law. For all four years of former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s administration, speculation was rampant that she would break it, albeit by delaying the election by a year. To her credit, she stuck to the law, but it will take a long time before people believe that the fixed election date has any credibility again.

The second major casualty of Horgan’s early start is his spurned partners in the BC Green Party. With their three seats holding the balance of power after the last election, they made a pact with Horgan to prop him up in an effective coalition government to oust Liberal Premier Christy Clark, despite not having the most seats.

From a constitutional perspective, there was nothing wrong with this, but from a political perspective, the Greens were naive to put their trust in Horgan. Horgan got what he needed from the Greens: the government. All he had to do was wait for the right moment for his polling to rise into strong territory, and he could pull the rug from under them. The Greens could put Horgan in the Premier’s Office for a term, but they couldn’t keep him there.

With their own polling slagging, the Greens now stand to lose not only their balance of power position, but even two of their three seats. In the off-chance of another minority government, they are unlikely to be so trusting of Horgan again.

What happens in BC matters to the rest of Canada, and the West in particular. Horgan is the only NDP Premier left in Canada after the party’s defeats in Alberta and Manitoba. It’s graduation from minority to majority status in BC will hearten their fellow social democrats elsewhere. It also ensures that the NDP has a national base from which to keep activists on the payroll as staffers, something useful for the party nationally.

A re-elected Horgan government will also continue to keep Alberta isolated in confederation. While Alberta has a strong ally in Moe’s Saskatchewan, its ally in Ford’s Ontario has so far only extended to nice words. But nice words are more helpful than Horgan’s outright hostility. In the strange bedfellows of Canadian politics, BC’s socialist NDP government is more aligned with Quebec’s conservative CAQ government.

British Columbia’s democracy has been hurt by Horgan’s greedy power grab, and the effects will be felt beyond its borders.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com

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Opinion

LETTER: Farkas vs. Nenshi and the establishment

A reader says that Lori Williams speaks for the establishment and Nenshi in her comments about Farkas.

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RE: Farkas announces run for Calgary mayor

Nice run over of Farkas by the political establishment at Mount Royal University, Lori Williams.

Honest leadership is what we need at silly hall and I haven’t seen that in a decade.

In fairness, Lori Williams, having been a colleauge of Mayor Nenshi prior to his election to Calgary Mayor. I think she needs to disclose if she has a personal investment in the article wrote by Mr. Naylor, on Mr. Farkas.

In the article that Mr. Naylor wrote, Lori Williams came down very hard on Mr. Farkas and I think unfairly, compared to some of the moves Mayor Nenshi has made over the years that has brought embarrassment to the City of Calgary.

“It is an out-of-touch establishment,” Farkas said of council, adding now is the time for “honest leadership. I agree.

Steven Ruthven
Calgary, AB

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