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MCALLISTER: Nenshi’s latest power grab over rural communities must be stopped

Nenshi has hired a lobbyist to obtain more powers over the rural communities surrounding Calgary.

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In Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s world, it’s his way or the highway. That’s why he hired a lobbyist to tell the province that Calgary City Hall should have control of the entire region. Should we be surprised? 

It has been his way of treating Calgary’s rural and small town neighbours for years. Nenshi is famous for trying to lord over other municipalities through the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB). The member municipalities of the board are trying to grow their economies, attract investment, and make decisions for those that elected them. In Nenshi’s eyes, that’s a job for him and his bureaucrats. Only he, and he alone, should decide where investment goes in the greater Calgary area. 

Hiring a lobbyist shouldn’t come as a surprise, but doing so without Council approval ought to sound a few alarms. Rocky View and Wheatland counties hired a lobbyist, but they did so in the open after a healthy and robust discussion on their respective councils, and largely to navigate the pressures coming from Nenshi’s office. They decided that protecting their citizens against the bully next door was important enough to spend a few dollars on. But Nenshi could not be bothered with such trivial democratic practices because. Never content to simply be mayor of Calgary, he seems to enjoy flexing his political will as ruler of the realm.

Perhaps somebody closer to the United Conservative Party government in Edmonton could explain the importance of local autonomy, property rights and free-enterprise principles for rural Albertans standing in Nenshi’s shadow. So far, it hasn’t worked because the UCP continues to let this behemoth board trudge along spending millions of taxpayer dollars chasing away hard-fought investments from neighbouring municipalities.

A quick glance at those doing the lobbying reveals the true nature of this NDP-mandated central planning board. On the file for the lobbying firm hired by Nenshi is none other than Keith McLaughlin. He is the former Chief of Staff for Municipal Affairs in Rachel Notley’s NDP government. The same government that mandated this central planning disaster. He helped write the playbook for this unnecessary and unelected fourth layer of government that gives Calgary city hall the keys to the region. He will happily sit down with Conservative MLA’s to tell them how wonderful and necessary this boondoggle of a board is. No wonder Nenshi likes him.

Nenshi says he needs to counter misinformation. He thinks a two-billion-dollar investment leaving the province happened long ago. Here again, his facts are dead wrong. Western Securities was in the process of creating an Area Structure Plan (ASP) for its project along Highway 8 when company president Ryan O’Connor made the decision to pull out, citing “the headwinds of the CMRB.” O’Connor rightfully realized that as long as Calgary city hall and Nenshi are allowed control of the region through this NDP-mandated board, it’s highly unlikely that a big project outside Calgary’s borders will be given approval. Calgary city hall has veto voting power on the board and will use this undemocratic tool to get their way. It is a recipe for limiting competition, and chasing away investment. 

Airdrie East MLA Angela Pitt was right to raise the issue of the CMRB in question period, even if it was painfully obvious that Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard knew it was coming. Allard parroted UCP talking points on the subject while hardly acknowledging that billions of dollars in investment is leaving Alberta because of their own policy. It was the usual song and dance when a government member asks a puff ball question of their own minister. But at least the subject was raised. Don’t count on the NDP raising the issue.

And while Nenshi turned to lobbyists to help sell the merits of his undemocratic pet board, the UCP must be realizing it has a problem on its hands. If Nenshi and former NDP bureaucrats are aggressively pushing a policy, there’s a good chance it’s offside with the principles of conservative Albertans who elected the UCP. Let the politicians twiddle their thumbs, because while they do, hardworking and industrious rural Albertans are continuing to build Alberta. 

Nenshi and his big government lobbyists should stand down and let Albertans and their ideas and entrepreneurial spirit help get our economy rolling again.

Bruce McAllister is a columnist for the Western Standard, Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview

Opinion

WAGNER: Kenney needs to follow Moe’s lead in putting someone in charge of provincial autonomy file

Michael Wagner writes that Scott Moe’s appointment of an MLA responsible for the autonomy file should be replicated in Alberta.

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Shortly after an election that saw surprisingly strong support for the new independence-minded Buffalo Party, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe assigned his new legislative secretary the task of exploring how his province could “exercise and strengthen” its powers within Canada. This legislative secretary, MLA Lyle Stewart, explained that “there is more work to do in standing up for Saskatchewan’s interests within Canada.” 

Moe has already joined other premiers in launching a legal challenge to Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax, replaced the federally appointment firearms officer with a provincially appointed one, establishing trade offices in Asia, and is discussing provincial control over immigration. The legislative secretary can focus on how to build on these initiatives. Having an official charged with this responsibility sends a message that Saskatchewan is fed up with the status quo and is serious about considering new measures.

Appointing an MLA responsible for exploring provincial autonomy is a good idea and one that should be emulated by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Last year he appointed the Fair Deal Panel to gather input from Albertans about their views on how to improve the province’s position within Canada. The panel conducted its work and released its report, which many – including one MLA on the panel – saw as being weak. Appointing an MLA dedicated to working on this file would demonstrate that the premier is serious about addressing the ongoing challenges Alberta faces from the federal government and the prime minister’s hostility to the energy industry.

If he really wanted to up his game, Premier Kenney could borrow ideas from a proposal advanced by retired University of Alberta political scientist Leon Craig. In an August 2019 article for C2C Journal entitled, “Alberta Needs A Minister Of Independence Preparation,” Professor Craig recommended creating an entire government department with the responsibility to develop a plan for an independent Alberta. As he explains, “Since declaring independence would involve major changes in how governmental business is done, it is not a step to be taken without having thoroughly thought through the practical difficulties and prepared accordingly. Thus we need a cabinet minister charged with that responsibility – the Minister of Independence Preparation (MIP).”

Needless to say, that would be a bridge too far for Premier Kenney. However, establishing a ministry, or an agency within an existing ministry, to plan and implement the best recommendations of the Fair Deal Panel (as a starting point) would be a meaningful and effective way to demonstrate that Alberta will no longer passively accept the status quo.

This new ministry could be charged with developing blueprints for establishing an Alberta provincial police force, enacting provincial control of tax collection, and creating an Alberta Pension Plan. 

If Trudeau continues to block opportunities for Alberta to develop and export its petroleum products, the ministry could expand its work into developing proposals for an independence referendum and establishing contacts with foreign governments that may be sympathetic to Alberta’s plight. Public information sessions about the process outlined in the Clarity Act could be initiated to create widespread discussions among Albertans about options for the province’s future. 

Of course, whether Premier Kenney was to appoint a legislative secretary for this purpose – or create a ministry – the obvious person for the job would be Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes. Barnes has distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate for Alberta, more so than any other sitting MLA.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that any such position or ministry will be established in the near future. Were he to do so, Premier Kenney could show he is serious about changing Alberta’s relationship with the rest of Canada, fire up his increasingly disenchanted base, put meaningful pressure on Justin Trudeau, and drive the NDP into apoplectic summersaults. That sounds like a winning combination to me.

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

LETTER: Trump is undermining democracy

A reader says that Trump intentionally lies to destabilize and undermine the people’s trust in their public institutions.

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RE: Biden projected to win the presidency (assuming courts agree)

Trump has a lot of media savvy, and his strategy is to continue to engage and manipulate the media, to make sure the cameras are on him – not Biden.

He does that by constantly baiting the media with all kinds of lies and claims a hungry media readily responds to like he was throwing them small chunks of political ‘raw meat’ because he knows the media will respond by promoting, speculating, and arguing credibilities and probabilities for days, sometimes weeks, depending on how ‘juicy’ it is, and he will continue to scream – ‘I never lost’ – till he is a shadow on the horizon:

He will forever insist he won the election while insisting Biden is stealing it.

He will continue to scream fraud and fake till he dies.

He will continue to feed the media and the public misinformation to destabilize and undermine the people’s trust in their public institutions, including the democratic process.

He is a very sick boy.

Andy Thomsen
Kelowna, BC

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Opinion

CATHCART: Know your rights on mandatory facemasks

“In short, the local municipal governments are on shaky legal ground in imposing mask by-laws. Businesses in mandatory-mask municipalities are only enforcing what they are told to do, and businesses that voluntarily impose mask requirements have a right to do so as private, non-government entities, with several “human rights” caveats.”

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Anyone who has left their house in recent months knows that the rules on mandatory face masks are hardly uniform. In some places there are no masking requirements at all. Some stores insist on masks, some do not.  

Only in situations where the requirement to wear a mask is forced on an individual by a government body, or by a government order or law, does the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply. That is, if a business is not required by government to enforce the wearing of facemasks – but does require them of their own accord – the Charter does not apply. 

A store doesn’t have to follow the Charter, they aren’t the government. However, they are required by law to comply with the applicable provincial human rights code. Businesses and private companies are legally allowed to require that employees, customers, clients, or visitors to their premises wear face masks. Stores and companies have a general right to refuse service to anyone, provided that they still comply with human rights legislation. Businesses cannot discriminate based on grounds like race, religion, creed, physical disability, mental disability, etc. 

If someone is unable to wear a mask because of a mental disability, such as claustrophobia, a business would be engaging in illegal discrimination if it denied services to such a person for not wearing a mask, and did not provide some form of reasonable accommodation. 

A requirement to wear a mask as a condition of employment, or as a condition to receive a service, may be discriminatory toward people with exemptions. If a business denies such a person service or employment because they refuse to wear a mask, that denial may form a legally valid basis for a human rights complaint. 

Some people refuse to wear a mask for religious reasons. Other people cannot or should not wear masks because of various medical and health conditions. Many of the municipal bylaws are worded broadly enough to exempt those with “health concerns” or ” health conditions”, including mental conditions like claustrophobia. Laws must not disproportionately punish the vulnerable who are unable to wear masks. 

There are jurisdictional questions regarding mask bylaws, as well. Cities have no inherent jurisdiction to enact laws because they are entirely creatures of statute: their power is delegated from provinces through legislation. If a province has chosen not to enact mandatory masking requirements, then what empowers a municipality to do so?  The answer may well be “nothing”. 

Despite the poor drafting of mask bylaws and jurisdictional and constitutional issues, a legal challenge to them is not guaranteed to be successful. Hard data now demonstrates that the virus has a survivability rate of 99.98 per cent, but the mask requirements remain. 

If a store or service accommodates non-mask wearers with curbside pickup, online shopping, or some other alternative, a provincial human rights commission would likely rule that sufficient accommodation has been provided. 

An individual is typically not required to disclose his medical condition to any store, service, restaurant or facility, provide proof of exemption, or discuss religious beliefs. Individuals are not required to prove that they have a mask exemption. 

If asked to wear a mask, you can reply, “I can’t wear a mask.” A store or company can ask if you have a doctor’s note due to ignorance of the law, however, you are under no legal obligation to provide a note, discuss your medical condition, or get into detail about why you cannot or will not wear a mask. The exception to this is if you file a Human Rights Complaint. You are likely going to be required to provide proof as part of the complaint process. 

The mask exemption cards that are circulating on the internet are merely symbolic. While some stores may accept them because they look like an “official” piece of paper, they have no legal weight. 

Legally, the question of mask bylaws remains circumstance-dependent and uncertain. Scientists and doctors disagree on the benefits of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ultimately, the constitutionality of requirements to compel non-medical masks can only be determined by a court after it considers all factors, including the fundamental rights of liberty, security of person, freedom to make ones’ own medical decisions, and the right to control ones’ own body and bodily integrity. 

Some insist that masks are like seatbelts, and since the government requires seat belt use as a precaution, it also ought to require mask use. The comparison between face-masks and seatbelts is a poor one, however. Seatbelts are extensively standardized, factory- and crash-tested and customized for each age group, weight, model of car, etc. Non-medical masks and fabric masks are not tested, standardized or even customized, and there are zero studies on the safety of masks for children, or long-term wearing of masks for eight hours or more a day, seven days a week. Further, seatbelts do not interfere with an individual’s breathing, or cover one’s face, which is a fundamental and personal part of existence, and also involves the most visible part of human identity.

No one can physically force you to cover your face in a free country, however you may have to shop in stores that welcome all customers regardless of disability or condition. Stores may choose to enforce the mask bylaw on their premises, but customers will likewise choose not to spend their hard-earned money in that store. In this economy, can stores afford to turn away customers?  

Importantly, medical offices, hospitals, and nursing homes are the most difficult places to exercise a mask exemption. These are places full of sick people, where the risk of catching any kind of cold, flu or virus is high and can result in death. However, Alberta Health Services produced a COVID information instruction sheet  which clearly stated: “No patient shall be denied service in AHS because they cannot or will not wear a mask.” This has since been removed from the original website.

In short, the local municipal governments are on shaky legal ground in imposing mask by-laws. Businesses in mandatory-mask municipalities are only enforcing what they are told to do, and businesses that voluntarily impose mask requirements have a right to do so as private, non-government entities, with several “human rights” caveats. 

Know your rights.

Marnie Cathcart was a reporter and journalist for more than 15 years and is Director of Communications at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

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