An Alberta showdown is brewing. Alberta oil and gas producers are asking for a tax break and the province is looking at ways to give it to them. That sounds like the Alberta Advantage at work, but there’s one pump-jack-sized hitch: the tax cuts will shift the burden onto the backs of farmers, ranchers, rural municipalities.
Both sides say – rightly so – that they cannot bear the cost. They are giving the mess back to the Alberta government to sort it all out. If taxes stay high, local oil and gas companies will have to cut jobs or fold. If taxes are cut, rural Albertans will be forced to take up the slack and suffer a steep tax increase.
Where did this train derail? Since when have we in Alberta stood by while two of our main resource sectors face off against each other in a battle for our support? This is a no-win scenario for rural Albertans, and neither should take the blame.
Rural Albertans built Alberta. They do the hands-on hard work of laying down the economic fundamentals that the rest of the province – and country – rely on. The Alberta government is trying to figure out how much to take from Paul to give to Peter, but they’ve already lost their way. Both sectors are vital and should be given every advantage to carry our economy back into a place of prosperity.
There is a sickness that has grown in corners of our province: a top-down-government-knows-best, Ottawaesque style of central planning that chokes off those who feed and resource our country. Instead of giving power to local governments to create competitive environments, big city and provincial government bureaucracies are setting the stage for these kinds of grand battles, and they make sure they never lose.
Ottawa has been spending wildly knowing full well that they can pass it on to the likes of Alberta. Alberta provincial politicians spend well above their means and pass it onto the cities. Civic leaders are more than happy to keep the taps flowing to mega projects that benefit a few, and we’re left with rural resource sectors battling it out for their very existence. Layers of government are tying the hands of those who are holding them up. They force puzzling bureaucratic foolishness on our municipalities and mock them when they cannot keep up with the latest socio-political fad or cannot untie their burdensome tax knot. Municipalities should be at the forefront of building a prosperous Alberta, free from the meddling of central planners.
It is time that we turn this around, starting at the rural level. Give back the Alberta Advantage to the oil and gas and agriculture sectors. Give them a break and recognize that when they succeed, we all do. One straight-forward move is to take an axe to unfruitful layers of government that keeps rural Albertans at bay. The Calgary Metropolitan Regional Board is alive and well, choking out rural investment to the benefit of big city planners. This board actually allows Calgary City Hall and other urban bureaucrats to stifle growth and investment in neighbouring, mostly rural municipalities. They can bluntly stop rural elected officials in their own municipality from governing. It is anti-competitive, short-sighted and a damaging anti-prosperity program. The provincial government is doing to rural Alberta, what Ottawa is doing to Alberta.
Instead of tying the hands of Albertans, we need to turn to their ingenuity, creativity and resilience to let them dig us out of this mess. Big-spending provincial and federal governments need to change their behaviour and eliminate the unelected and unnecessary fourth layers of government. If our governments really want free-enterprise, nimble, and thriving municipalities, then their best bet is in the agriculture and resource sectors, and the rural communities that built our province in the first place.
Government doesn’t create jobs; people do. Ralph Klein understood this and eliminated central planning boards. It’s long past time for the Kenney government to do the same.
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.
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
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.”
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.
MORGAN: This is Kenney’s moment to do or die with union bosses
“Premier Jason Kenney has hit his defining moment in office. He can either be the next Ralph Klein or he can be the next Ed Stelmach.”
Push has come to shove and the crisis which will define Jason Kenney’s premiership is upon us. The collapse of the petrochemical industry and of course the COVID-19 pandemic are both pressing catastrophes on their own. But the issue which will make or break Jason Kenney’s time in office will be in how he manages the looming organized labour revolt.
The “spontaneous” wildcat strikes held by health care support workers last Monday was a test run. A warning shot at best from Alberta’s unions to set the stage for larger actions. Today, a press conference involving a number of union leaders and headed by the Alberta Federation of Labor’s Gil McGowan was held where nothing less than a general strike was threatened if Jason Kenney doesn’t back off on a plan to outsource laundry and food services to health care facilities.
Organized labour has drawn a line in the sand and Jason Kenney needs to jump across it without hesitation.
The plan to outsource health care support services is far from unreasonable or controversial. While these services are indeed essential to running a health facility and much of the work is hard, these are not services that need to be done in-house by government employees. It has been contracted out before and it will be again. The issue of course is that in outsourcing these services while many of the jobs will simply be transferred rather than lost, many if not most of these jobs will become non-union.
Union dues are big money and unions are big business. The AUPE which is responsible for the health care service support workers just built themselves a palatial new $49 million headquarters where their executives can relax in comfort while they count the money coming into their organization from the paycheques of real workers. Of course these union bosses are terrified at the prospect of losing that income. This fear has caused them to choose a terrible hill to die on, which is why the time to push back is perfect for Jason Kenney and the UCP.
Aside from in the energy industry, there is no larger glut of unemployed people out there than in the hospitality industry. Tens of thousands of hotel and restaurant workers are out of work as the pandemic has utterly decimated their industry. These workers will be more than overjoyed to take on the job security which would come from providing services to contractors in the health sector. The government union workers are not filling a need which can’t be easily filled by others. If anything, wage concessions should be floated by union leadership in hopes of keeping those jobs rather than threats to Albertans.
Albertans are fearful for both their economic futures and for the state of their health care. I can think of few ways that organized labour can lose the trust and support of citizens more effectively than by holding Albertans hostage by withholding health care services and refusing to take pay reductions as everybody else has had to. The government unions are putting themselves into a terribly unsympathetic position here.
Our health care system and the spending upon it are unsustainable. Spending cuts are inevitable and they will hurt. Be reminded though that despite all of the noise from labour leaders, Alberta hasn’t actually cut a nickel of spending from health care yet. The UCP has actually increased health care spending since taking office. For the unions to threaten to put the entire province at risk with a general strike over this is ridiculous and Premier Kenney should call them out on this immediately.
It will be tough to make cuts when the time comes, but it has to be done. The protests will come and the unions will strike. It should be remembered how Albertans responded to austerity before though. When Ralph Klein made deep spending cuts in his first term, unions went wild. Protests blossomed while tall foreheads predicted the demise of the Klein government. In the next election, Klein’s support increased. Klein continued to cut, unions continued to howl and in the next election, Klein increased his support yet again. Albertans understand the need for responsible spending and they appreciate it. This has been proven out.
Jason Kenney has hit his defining moment in his premiership. He can either be the next Ralph Klein, or he can be the next Ed Stelmach. Let’s hope Premier Kenney chooses wisely. The time is now and he can’t hesitate.
Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard
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Sask PCs Say “no” to merger with Buffalo Party
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