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TERRAZZANO: It’s time for Kenney to act on citizens initiative referendums

“Citizens’ initiative is a powerful tool to give voters more influence over the laws that govern all Albertans. Kenney promised citizens’ initiative about a year ago and his government must fulfill that promise during this fall’s legislative session.”

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Last November, Premier Jason Kenney promised Albertans to introduce a citizen-led referendum law, or citizens’ initiative, to “give Albertans the power to hold this and future governments to account if we do not keep our commitment to stand up for Alberta.” It’s time for Kenney’s United Conservatives to make good on their promise and pass citizens’ initiative during the upcoming fall legislative session. 

Citizens’ initiative is based on a simple, but very important principle: if legislation belongs to the people, then the people should have a direct ability to introduce laws, hold politicians accountable and repeal bad legislation. 

Citizens’ initiative has been successful in British Columbia where it allowed voters to defeat the HST after the government bungled the transition process. While not through the formal citizens’ initiative process, the power of referendums was on full display in Calgary when taxpayers voted against the Olympic bid boondoggle and in B.C. where voters shut down the proposed TransLink tax. 

After Alberta’s New Democrats imposed their carbon tax without mentioning it in their 2015 election platform, citizens’ initiative would have given Albertans the opportunity to repeal the tax.

Citizens’ initiative would also help advance Alberta’s agenda in Ottawa. On constitutional issues such as equalizationOttawa has a legal duty to negotiate with the province if a referendum results in a clear majority on a clear question. Is there any doubt that Albertans would have had that referendum by now if we had citizens’ initiative? Importantly, Alberta’s legislation must allow citizens to initiate referendums on constitutional issues. A restriction against citizen-led constitutional referendums would mean that critical issues to Albertans such as equalization and internal free trade would be off the table unless the government of the day allows it.

Citizens’ initiative in Alberta also brings us one step closer to citizen-led referendums at the federal level. Albertans need a federal party willing to include citizens’ initiative in their policy mix, and the more provinces that have citizens’ initiative on their own, the more likely we are to have a federal party adopt the policy. If, for example, Albertans pushed for a referendum to abolish the No More Pipelines Act, that would at least put the issue on the national stage more than a simple opinion poll. In fact, that may be one of the best ways to bring our energy issues into the national spotlight.

A common concern with citizens’ initiative is that it may lead to a never ending cycle of referendums. Fortunately, there’s many different referendum laws we can follow to make sure Alberta’s model doesn’t lead to political chaos while still giving citizens a fair shot at passing our laws. 

When the UCP first promised to introduce citizens’ initiative, it said that it would follow B.C.’s example where citizens must collect petition signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in 90 days to force a referendum. That doesn’t sound so bad at first glance, but it meant collecting more than 320,000 signatures in B.C.’s last initiative attempt, which translates to more than 3,500 signatures per day. These onerous rules explain why only one referendum attempt has collected enough signatures to trigger a referendum in B.C. since citizens’ initiative came into effect in 1995. 

Contrast B.C.’s rules with the rules in California, which has a population similar to the size of Canada, but requires less than double the amount of signatures to trigger a referendum than B.C. does. If Kenney wants citizens’ initiative to be more than just window dressing, he’ll need to make sure the rules are less onerous than B.C.’s.

In the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s presentation to the province’s Democratic Accountability Committee, we advocated the Alberta government take a more middle-ground approach and follow the rules in Idaho, which require signatures for six per cent of voters to trigger a referendum. The citizens of Idaho also have 18 months to collect the required signatures. Based on the number of registered voters from the last provincial election, Albertans would need to collect about 157,000 signatures to trigger a referendum, or less than 300 signatures per day. 

Kenney should also implement a signature threshold for each electoral district to ensure interests in big cities and rural areas are both considered. 

Citizens’ initiative is a powerful tool to give voters more influence over the laws that govern all Albertans. Kenney promised citizens’ initiative about a year ago and his government must fulfill that promise during this fall’s legislative session. 

Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. This column is an abbreviated version of the presentation he made for the Alberta government’s Democratic Accountability Committee.

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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Opinion

LETTER: Canada’s electoral system is broken

“There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.”

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RE: Horgan leads NDP to majority government in B.C.

Another election, producing another fake-majority government most of the people do not want, and conducted a year before it was mandated, by law.

Our system of government is called parliamentary democracy, because the party or coalition with the greatest number of elected Members, will form a majority government while it only represents a minority of the people.

That is very different from the true democratic governments they have in Scandinavian and European countries, where the political power is vested and exercised by the people directly or indirectly through the elected Members of government.

There is more than one good reason for getting rid of this destructive and un-democratic FPTP electoral system beginning with the ballot that makes voting extremely challenging and unfair, because voters are forced to chose between party or candidate.

Canada has a very dysfunctional multi-party system, that continues to erode any semblance of democracy.

Andy Thomsen
Kelowna

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