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WAGNER: Alberta Alone – Independence in fiction

Michael Wagner reviews the 1976 novel on an Alberta uprising against Ottawa.

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A movement for Alberta independence is too interesting to escape the notice of fiction writers. So far, there are at least two novels with the Alberta independence movement as core themes, one written in the 1970s – Alberta Alone by John Ballem – and the other published earlier this year – True Patriots by Russell Fralich. Unfortunately, in both cases the Alberta patriots are the bad guys.

They’re not just your run-of-the-mill bad guys either—in both cases the independence supporters are – literally – terrorists. Spoiler alert: both novels have dramatic endings where the terrorist plots are foiled and Canada is saved (although not without a bit of violent death and destruction to keep things interesting).

The first novel about the Alberta independence movement was originally titled The Judas Conspiracy and it was written by John Ballem in 1976. Ballem was a long-time oil industry lawyer in Calgary and a noteworthy fiction writer. He knew the business environment and political climate of Calgary well, and it shows in this book. However, it’s also clear that he did not sympathize with the idea of an independent Alberta.

After the surge in support for independence that resulted from Pierre Trudeau’s 1980 re-election and the subsequent – infamous – National Energy Program, Ballem’s book was re-issued under the title Alberta Alone. According to the July 31, 1981, issue of Alberta Report magazine, about 15,000 copies of The Judas Conspiracy were sold, and close to 40,000 copies of its re-release as Alberta Alone had sold as of mid-1981. Those are very respectable figures in the Canadian book market.

The central character of Alberta Alone is Peter Groves, who is just arriving in Calgary for the Stampede at the beginning of the book. He meets and befriends Valerie Thompson, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent oilman and rancher, Charles Thompson. Charles Thompson is the leading voice of the Alberta independence movement. Publicly, he is a respectable and articulate spokesman for independence. Secretly, however, he is also plotting a terrorist attack on Ottawa.

Canada’s prime minister is a Liberal, Donald Lambert. After Alberta cuts off shipments of natural gas to Central Canada, Lambert declares that the federal government must take control of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, stating: “I have decided, with the full support of my colleagues in the cabinet, to reconvene Parliament in order to declare under the British North America Act that all oil and gas wells, field facilities and oil sands plants are works for the general advantage of Canada. Once such a declaration is passed all these facilities will come under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of your federal government and we shall operate them for the good of the entire country, as they should be.”

Lambert knew this would incense Albertans, but he continued, “I know that the Canadians who live in Alberta will feel resentment at what may appear to be yet another invasion of their rights and their resources. But I know, too, that they will come to realize that these resources must be used for the benefit of the entire country. It would be unthinkable for parts of this country to suffer privation and even danger to life itself because one province hoards an essential resource. Canada is not just a collection of provinces. It is, and will remain, one strong and united country.”

Charles Thompson is, of course, outraged by this move. He sees it as clearly justifying Alberta becoming independent. As he responds, “We don’t have to remain a colony, shipping our raw materials to feed the insatiable industry of eastern Canada. We have a choice. This great country—Alberta—that Ottawa is determined to bring to her knees, can go it alone!”

Thompson then goes on to explain that, “when the federal government unilaterally takes over our oil industry, the cornerstone of our future, keeps our ranchers perpetually on the edge of bankruptcy and arrogantly tells us that we are to remain a colony of the East, loyally supplying our raw materials to fuel its industries, then the time has come for us to seek our own destiny.”

An attempt by the federal government to take control of Alberta’s oil industry, followed by an explosive movement for Alberta independence, is a very realistic plot. Indeed, this story was originally written in 1976, and it’s almost spooky how its portrayal of a Liberal seizure of Alberta’s oil resources foreshadows the National Energy Program just a few years later. Ballem appears somewhat prophetic. Unfortunately, he painted independence supporters with a very sinister hue.

It seems that the Alberta independence movement could use some help from aspiring fiction writers. A novel portraying Alberta patriots as the good guys would be a nice change from what has been produced so far. John Ballem was a fine writer, but someone of his calibre is needed to provide a different perspective on the dream and possibility of Alberta independence.

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

GEROW: Libertarians are the principled option in BC Election

Polls show the Liberals losing badly to the NDP. Principled small-government voters should stop holding their noses and do the principled thing. Vote Libertarian.

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After British Columbia’s NDP received a significant bump in their polling support, rumors began to spread that John Horgan wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and call a snap election. The Libertarian Party of BC was quick to warn the sitting Premier that this action was not only unwanted, but might also be illegal. However, the Covid-19 pandemic had created the perfect conditions for political opportunism and John Horgan was not going to let it go to waste.

The BC Liberals are the acknowledged biggest threat to John Horgan’s NDP, but they are not the Chretien consensus Liberals of 2001 and it’s doubtful that past reputation will carry the day. Their brand as a coalition of red Tories and center-left liberals does little to attract the small government, fiscally responsible voter. The first thing you’ll notice on the BC Liberal website is that there is no quick and easy way to understand their election platform. With Covid-19 as the number one issue, Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has skillfully skirted the hard questions.

Don Wilson – Leader of the BC Libertarian Party – hasn’t shied away from criticizing the NDP or the Liberals complicity in what he calls “authoritarian policies.” The first link on the BC Libertarian party website is COVID-19: A Return to Normal: “The current crisis management is disproportionate to the harms of the virus and causes more damage than it helps cure”.

Although they’re the only political party in BC advocating for a return to normal – a move guaranteed to generate support – that is hardly their most successful platform item. Since 1986 the BC Libertarians have advocated an end ICBC’s monopoly on auto insurance. You won’t put on too many kilometers anywhere from Fernie to Fort St. John without seeing their iconic bumper sticker.        

That type of success comes at a price. “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” said Don Wilson on Tuesday, October 8,2020 after Andrew Wilkinson announced that if elected they were following the Libertarians lead and would end ICBC’s monopoly on auto insurance. Just like legalized cannabis and same-sex marriage, the Libertarians have once again been vindicated, and once against without much in the way of credit. It’s a shame that it only took 34 years. Now it looks like they will be proven right again by denouncing this election as illegal.

Libertarian omniscience has an ear to the ground for future policy in British Columbia. They are the only party authentically advocating for reducing the cost of living by repealing regressive tax laws which hurt low income working families the most and raising the base exemption rate. They say they’ll eliminate the carbon tax and other sin taxes like the ones on tobacco and liquor.

There is no good argument to make for the BC Liberals being conservative in any sense of the word, other than they are the party backed by the federal Tories. Their platitudes and obscure non-commitment to any real tax reform is a disappointment to their voter base. Yet, Andrew Wilkinson decided to run attack ads against an 8-candidate roster called the Conservative Party of BC on the accusation that by vote-splitting, they spoiled wins for the Liberals in two ridings in 2017. Rather than putting forward any original ideas or standing on the remnants of fiscally responsible liberalism, Andrew Wilkinson steals platform items from the Libertarians and attacks actual conservatives. In doing so, he has made it clear that this race will be the last one where his party enjoys a chance at success. 

This is a race between two far-left parties and a weak centre-left party. The need for responsible governance in British Columbia has become unavoidable and the political climate is forcing the traditional parties to adjust course, but voters in BC should simply be voting for the real thing. The 25 Libertarians are the party of ideas and two Conservatives hold the balance of votes in key swing ridings. This enough to form actual opposition to big government and irresponsible policy.

Polls show the Liberals losing badly to the NDP. Principled small-government voters should stop holding their noses and do the principled thing. Vote Libertarian.

Darcy Gerow is a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

WAGNER: This isn’t the first time the CBC has tried to silence its critics

Michael Wagner writes that in 1986, the CBC tried to silence a study about its ideological bias.

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In June 1986, the University of Manitoba hosted a conference of academic societies where scholars presented papers. One of these societies was the Canadian Communications Association (CCA), headed at the time by a Carleton journalism professor named Peter A. Bruck. A presentation was made to the CCA by University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper. He shared the results of an unpublished report entitled Bias on the CBC? A study of network AM radio. The CBC was extremely unhappy about Cooper’s report and tried to get it suppressed.

The controversy over Cooper’s study and the CBC’s reaction was newsworthy, and it was featured as the cover story of the July 21, 1986 issue of Alberta Report magazine. 

Anecdotal evidence had led Prof. Cooper to become concerned about the apparent left-wing bias of the CBC, and he decided to determine if such bias actually existed by having five students monitor four of its most well-known current affairs programs on AM radio, namely, As It HappensSunday MorningMorningside, and The House. Generally speaking, stories that were pro-defence, pro-business, and anti-union were categorized as right-wing, whereas those that took an opposite stance were categorized as left-wing. The results demonstrated a distinct leftist and Eastern bias in the CBC’s coverage.

Among the more specific findings detailed by Alberta Report were that “72 per cent of the stories evaluating government policy did so negatively; 62 per cent criticized from a left-wing perspective; 27 per cent from the centre, and 12 per cent from the right.” Furthermore, “Of the stories for which an ideological focus could be ascertained, 50 per cent were oriented to the left, 34 per cent to the centre, 15 per cent to the right.”

Coverage of Cooper’s study had also appeared in the Globe and Mail, prompting the CBC’s Toronto-based vice-president of English radio, Margaret Lyons, to write a letter to the editor where she dismissed it as “virtually ridiculous.” Susan Freedman, CBC’s Edmonton director of radio said, “I think it’s junk.” 

However, Colin MacLean, CBC Edmonton’s arts, culture and entertainment reporter told an interesting story. He had covered a meeting of the Western Canada Concept at the Jubilee Auditorium for the CBC. There were about 300 people at the meeting, which was quiet and orderly. MacLean told Alberta Report, though, that “When I filed the story, Toronto said ‘We don’t want this. We want rednecks running rampant in the streets.’”

The CBC did not take Cooper’s study sitting down. As an article in the July 28, 1986 issue of Alberta Report explained, the CBC threatened legal action. Barry Kiefl, the director of research for the CBC, wrote a letter to Prof. Bruck of the CCA stating: “I am writing to inform the CCA that the CBC wishes your association to renounce this research and retract the paper from the record of the conference and inform all who heard or received the results of this action. The study in question had several methodological flaws making the findings invalid and the conclusions not proven.” 

Kiefl went on to state, “The CBC feels that its renowned reputation as Canada’s most pre-eminent journalistic organization has been damaged by the release of the paper and we sincerely hope that the CCA will formally withdraw it from the conference record, preventing the need for any further discussion or litigation.”

Ted Byfield’s column in the same issue of the magazine noted that Kiefl’s letter was six pages long. As Byfield explained, “Such a letter could only be written by a public body that has lost all touch with practical reality, and has long ago abandoned any remote notion that it is responsible to the people who pay for it.”

Nothing of significance appears to have resulted from this episode, except embarrassment for the CBC – embarrassment for its childish reaction to Prof. Cooper’s report, and embarrassment for threats to get the report retracted and denounced. 

In 2020, it’s the Western Standard’s turn to receive threats of legal action, albeit on different legal grounds.

The case for privatizing the CBC was strong even before its latest antics. Canada does not need a state broadcaster that unfairly competes with the private sector. It’s coverage of news has been unbalanced for decades, as Cooper’s work has demonstrated. The consistent bias is irritating and unfair for the conservative and libertarian-minded taxpayers who are forced to pay for it. There is a solution: privatize the CBC.

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.’

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Opinion

How the CBC presented a rosey view of the Soviet Union during the Cold War

“The CBC created a smokescreen for Marxists before the fall of the Soviet Union, the ultimate “progressive” state. But it’s important to realize that during the Cold War, Canada’s taxpayer-funded state broadcaster ran interference for the most powerful Marxist dictatorship in history.”

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Some conservatives and libertarians like to joke that the acronym of Canada’s national broadcaster – the CBC – stands for “Communist Broadcasting Corporation.” But a post-Cold War study by University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper presents information and analysis that may leave people wondering how much of a joke it really is.

Cooper studied the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for several years, and the most significant result of his efforts was the book, Sins of Omission: Shaping the News at CBC TV which was published by the prestigious University of Toronto Press in 1994. From the evidence presented in this book, it is clear that CBC TV had an affinity for the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

To conduct this study, Cooper poured over a large number of transcripts from TV broadcasts and compared what was said with the political reality of the situation being portrayed. When he began this work in the 1980s, he decided to focus on coverage of foreign affairs, and in particular, issues related to the Cold War and the Soviet Union. 

One part of the study looks at how the internal affairs of the USSR were portrayed, including the Soviet occupation and withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was a major issue at the time. The general tendency in the coverage was to make it appear that the Soviet Union was much like Canada. As Cooper puts it, “Obvious external or elemental differences, such as the absence of genuine elections, the existence of a secret police, the concentration camps, and restrictive emigration policy, were ignored, played down, or euphemized into innocuous variations of normalcy. In short, the substantive political and, indeed, cultural differences between the political regimes established by communism in the USSR and those set up by liberal democracy in the West were minimized.”

In reality, the political life of the Soviet Union was very different from Canada’s due to the brutal nature of the Marxist ideology that guided its regime. To some degree, the CBC turned a blind eye to the suffering of the people in that country, giving Canadians a misleading, sugar-coated view of the communist regime 

A major feature of the Cold War, of course, was the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. During the period studied by Cooper, there were a couple of summit meetings between the leaders of these two countries – Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan – that received considerable media coverage. Officials from both countries presented the views of their respective governments, but the CBC did not treat these statements in the same way. As Cooper puts it, “the surface meaning of Soviet accounts was overwhelmingly accepted at face value. Accounts by U.S. officials, in contrast, were severely scrutinized, and alternative visualizations were presented.” The CBC was skeptical of American claims, but rarely of Soviet claims.

There is considerably more detail in Cooper’s study carefully documenting his conclusions, but the long and the short of it is this: “The visualization of the summit meetings was remarkably consistent: the USSR was seen as a progressive and dynamic actor, the United States as a source of resistance to peace initiatives.” The CBC, Cooper writes, “advanced the vision of a progressive USSR and a dangerous United States.” 

In short, government-paid journalists in a free country – Canada – sided with one of the most oppressive regimes in history. As Cooper puts it, “CBC visualizations were ‘objectively’ in the service of Soviet propaganda.”

Cooper goes on to note that the philosophy guiding CBC coverage of US-Soviet relations was “moral equivalence.” Basically, this view assumes that the USA and Soviet Union – liberal democracy and Marxist totalitarianism – have similar virtues and vices, so one side should not be seen as morally superior to the other. 

But the “moral equivalence” position was garbage, as Cooper explains.

“The doctrine of moral equivalence, which is the articulate conceptual statement that the CBC operationalized in its coverage of the Soviet Union, ignored the most fundamental distinction in political life, the distinction between tyrannical and non-tyrannical forms of government. This omission led to such otherwise inexplicable curiosities as equating or balancing U.S. support for the Afghan mujahedeen with the Soviet invasion of that country. Moreover, some stories did more than bend over backwards or forwards to excuse the actions of a tyranny.”

So there you have it. The CBC created a smokescreen for Marxists before the fall of the Soviet Union, the ultimate “progressive” state. But it’s important to realize that during the Cold War, Canada’s taxpayer-funded state broadcaster ran interference for the most powerful Marxist dictatorship in history. 

30 years after the end of the Cold War we are left to consider: what is the CBC’s agenda for us now?

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.’

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