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STRANKMAN: Serfdom’s up Ottawa

“Alberta’s independence movement is not a fad. It is about necessity. With little input into the federal deficit-creating decisions, you can bet your bottom dollar that our contribution to fixing the calamity will be anything but small.”

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The word “freedom” is often used and misused by politicians. Freedom is properly defined as the ability to act, speak, or think without hindrance or restraint. In the context of politics, it is perceived as a carrot on a stick for those that attempt to lord over us.

My own perspective comes from many years living under the serfdom of the Canadian Wheat Board. It wasn’t until August 1st, 2012 that farmers in Western Canada were free to sell their own property (wheat/barley) in the same manner as any other commodity. Like medieval serfs, we were free to work our land, but were forced to sell it to the government on pain of fines and jail time. 

The unreasonable and unworkable restrictions that have been imposed on Alberta’s energy sector bears resemblance to the serfdom that was once imposed on most Western farmers. The term “serf” describes agricultural workers who were obligated, under an archaic feudal system that required them to work on their Lords’ estate to survive. For Albertans, our lords are elected, normally by people very far away from here. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was recently asked by one of his party faithful, “If the Trudeau Liberals win the next election, would he consider separation?” His answer reflected his determined reluctance to deliver the freedom he spoke of before being elected UCP leader on his “Grass Roots Guarantee,” which evaporated faster than dew in a warm chinook. His defiant opposition to take serious, concrete steps to improve Alberta’s overall health as a province has left us even more vulnerable in confederation.

The premier’s answer seemed to defy the words of a person that swore to fight for Alberta’s right to self-determination with Ottawa, “No, I am a proud Canadian. I am a patriot.” When a person enters the world of public office, it’s not unreasonable to expect their patriotism to reflect the office they hold. It appears that the premier fails to grasp that more and more Albertans expect that his patriotism is rooted in Alberta, and not in Ottawa. As an Albertan, it is becoming increasingly clear by the day that our best interests will not be upheld by way of Ottawa. 

Unfortunately, after 20 years in federal politics, our premier has been “Otta-washed.”

Not so long ago, when Albertans were relatively unrestrained by ideological policies and thrived economically, the entire country benefitted from the energy revenues generated from that freedom to the tune of about $630 billion. What both the premier and the prime minister fail to see is that the act of seeking autonomy through independence is ultimately driven by conditions that elicit a feeling of restraint in the people who are in serfdom.

For generations, a great many Albertans have felt disconnected and disaffected from the political power base that exists in Central and Eastern Canada. One of the more evident inequities that are often a source of Western discontent is how equalization funds get redistributed throughout Canada. The approaching storm is being created by the federal governments’ out of control spending and economic vandalism. 

Alberta’s independence movement is not a fad. It is about necessity. With little input into the federal deficit-creating decisions, you can bet your bottom dollar that our contribution to fixing the calamity will be anything but small. 

The premier and Calgary Herald columnist Don Braids’ assertions that “a majority of Albertans feel it’s a terrible idea” is erroneous. How can either of them make this unsubstantiated claim? When were Albertans allowed to vote on this issue? Perhaps within the echo chamber of the Legislature dome, that is all they can hear. Rest assured, outside the dome, the sentiment is much, much different.

Why not let the people decide? Why are our elected representatives so afraid of direct democracy?

Most Albertans believe it’s time to stand up and to definitively tell Ottawa “the serf’s up.”

Rick Strankman is a columnist for the Western Standard and the former Wildrose MLA for Drumheller-Stettler

Opinion

WAGNER: Where Canada went wrong – the legacy of Pierre Trudeau

“For over a century, Canada was a great and noble country, justly earning a deep patriotic attachment from Westerners. That was the country that so many in the West still remember and love. But alas, those days are over.”

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The Maverick Party (formerly Wexit Canada) features the following statement on its website: “We love Canada too. But the system is broken.” It may seem strange that a political party ostensibly created to advocate Western Canadian independence openly proclaims its love for the country which it seeks to leave. However, many Westerners who favour independence do so reluctantly, and would rather have Canada fixed than create a new country. This is reflected in the party’s mission statement priorities: “(a) constitutional change, or (b) the creation of an independent nation.” Fixing Canada is the first option, however unlikely. 

It is understandable that Westerners would feel an attachment for Canada. After all, it has been one of the freest and most prosperous countries in history. Many millions of people desire to move here from other parts of the world because – let’s face it – Canada is better than the vast majority of other countries. If this wasn’t the case, people would be flooding out of Canada rather than flooding in.

However, Canada has been changing in recent decades, and not for the better. Although Westerners’ legitimate grievances against Central Canada go back over a century, they have become much more acute since the 1960s. 

There was a time when Canadian patriotism was the sensible position for Westerners. But things have changed. From the time of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau onwards, confederation has increasingly been detrimental – and sometimes outright hostile – toward the West. Although Canada was once great, it has changed so much that the creation of a new country in Western Canada is needed.

An excellent source for information about Canada’s decline in the latter part of the twentieth century is the 1994 book, Derailed: The Betrayal of the National Dream by historian David Bercuson and political scientist Barry Cooper, both professors at the University of Calgary. In this book, they explain the original purpose of confederation, and how that purpose became subverted after the Second World War, especially under the administration of Pierre Trudeau.

Bercuson and Cooper point out that the original colonies confederated in 1867 primarily for economic reasons. By uniting, they could create a national government with the resources to build a country that would generate greater economic prosperity than each of the smaller units could do on their own. As Bercuson and Cooper explain, “Only when the national government was able to marshal effectively the resources of the nation and to direct westward expansion, settlement, railway construction, and industrial development would the real aim of Confederation be achieved – namely, prosperity as a British Dominion. As long as that happened, the New Nationality would hold together out of self-interest and the mutual support of disparate groups in the common enterprise of what we now call nation building.”

It was not intended that the new country would lead to a common identity that all Canadians could share. What kind of national identity could the English-speaking Protestants of Ontario and the French-speaking Catholics of Quebec have in common? They already had their own cultural identities, so they could only be united in one country on the basis of economic and political interests. As Bercuson and Cooper explain: “There would be no national myths to tie the disparate peoples of Canada together, other than the myths and ties of commerce. The role of the new national state that had been created to foster the new nationality was to promote economic growth and national development. The Fathers of Confederation well knew that the state could never have any other role.”

This was the predominant view of federal leaders until the 1950s, and it did not begin to change until Prime Minister John Diefenbaker came to power. He saw Canada as more than an economic alliance, but was unable to make much of a difference. 

After Diefenbaker, however, Prime Minister Lester Pearson began to take the country in a new direction. Pearson’s government wanted to establish what being a Canadian really meant. As Bercuson and Cooper write: “the new Canadian character itself was going to be created in the image of the thinkers and doers that Pearson had collected around him. So, for example, Canada was going to be bilingual and bicultural whether or not it made sense of Canadian reality, whether or not the nation could afford it, whether or not it actually drew Canadians together. They would do so by making bilingualism and biculturalism part of the national creed and, by lifting it above politics, turn it into an expression of our collective public virtue.”

This meant that by 1967 the role of the federal government had changed significantly: “Henceforth that role was not simply to administer, but to create and shape and mould a national character and, above all, to pursue collective public virtue.” Canada would henceforth be on a different path.

It was in this environment in which Pierre Trudeau entered politics and became prime minister in 1968. Even more than his predecessor, Trudeau wanted to substantially change the country of which he had become leader. 

According to Bercuson and Cooper, there were two major components of Trudeau’s agenda: “First, he would make Canada the kind of place where Quebecers would feel at home anywhere. And second, he would make Canada, including the now comfortable and well-adjusted Quebecers, a just society. His tool would be the state.”

The bottom line of Trudeau’s major policy initiatives and pursuit of a “just society” all had one thing in common: “increased intervention by the state in the operation of the economy and in the daily lives of ordinary citizens.”

Trudeau came to power facing a major challenge from the growth of Quebec nationalism. Within a few years he was also faced with an energy crisis due to the rapid rise of oil prices resulting from war in the Middle East. After his come-back re-election victory of 1980, he decided to aggressively tackle both issues. 

Bercuson and Cooper outline Trudeau’s goals as follows: “The logic was clear but never could be admitted: if Alberta’s energy revenues could be appropriated by Ottawa, and then redirected by it, the economy would hum; if the constitution could be changed, Quebec would be happy to remain in Canada. Even if it proved impossible to change the constitution, the ‘redirection’ of energy revenues as regional equalization payments held the promise of making Bourassa’s profitable federalism attractive.” The idea of “profitable federalism” was that Quebec should remain in Canada (rather than separate) because of the financial rewards it would receive.

Trudeau pushed through his constitutional changes but they did not satisfy Quebec. Nevertheless, those changes — and especially the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — fundamentally altered Canada (for the worse, in my view). As federal Justice Minister John Crosbie said to a parliamentary committee in 1985: “The public does not realize that we already have had a revolution in Canadian society. The adoption of a charter was a revolution. It has changed the whole power structure of Canadian society.” This assertion would be confirmed by future judicial decisions.

Besides his constitutional initiative, Trudeau unveiled his infamous National Energy Program (NEP). It was predicated on the belief that Alberta was benefiting too much from high oil prices. Why should a pipsqueak province like Alberta profit at the expense of Ontario and Quebec? 

As Bercuson and Cooper explain, in the view of Trudeau and the Liberals, “it was not ‘fair’ that Alberta should collect so much revenue. The ultimate cause of this unfairness was the irrationality of nature in putting oil in Alberta in the first place. Surely it was now up to the rationality of EMR [Department of Energy, Mines and Resources] to set things right. More to the point, it was self-evident that Alberta could not be expected to use its new financial power in the interests of Canada. What made it self-evident was the undisputable fact that Albertans had shown their complete irresponsibility, not to say irrationality, by refusing to elect a single Liberal to the House of Commons.”

The NEP severely damaged Alberta’s oil and gas industry. It was later repealed by the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. However, Mulroney’s government itself favoured Central Canada over the West. Both the federal Liberal and federal Progressive Conservative parties prioritized policies that benefited Central Canada because they needed to win large numbers of seats in Ontario and Quebec to form the government. Therefore, the West required its own party, and Preston Manning’s Reform Party filled that need.

Despite the Reform Party’s best efforts, however, the West is still expendable to the Liberal Party and taken for granted by the Conservative Party. Again, a new Western party is needed to represent the West’s interests in the House of Commons. The Maverick Party’s prioritizing of “constitutional change” is understandable but somewhat naïve. A number of Western initiatives have been launched to reform the country over the last 40 years, and all have failed. Not an inch of progress has been made. This means that it’s time for the Maverick Party’s Plan B: “the creation of an independent nation.”

In an ideal world, a truly conservative federal government would be elected, allowing Alberta to develop its energy resources and export them through numerous pipelines and oil tankers along the BC coast. The limitations of so-called “progressive” policies could be overcome, and Canada would emerge as the freest and most prosperous country in the world. But this is just a pipe dream; the only realistic path to this kind of freedom and prosperity is an independent Western Canada, or at least an independent Alberta. 

For over a century, Canada was a great and noble country, justly earning a deep patriotic attachment from Westerners. That was the country that so many in the West still remember and love. But alas, those days are over. Since the time of Pierre Trudeau, this has been a different country. Now, a new political path forward is needed. The time has come for an independent 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.’

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Opinion

JAMES-FROM: Governments owe citizens a better explanation on lockdowns

“If it is possible to adopt compassionate and balanced measures to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity naturally or through vaccination.”

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Media coverage of the Great Barrington Declaration has been almost non-existent in Alberta’s mainstream media. This is an utter travesty; a blemish on our Fourth Estate. The Declaration is an important public health document offering a compassionate and balanced alternative strategy for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Quite simply, the public needs to know about it.

On October 4, 2020, professors Sunetra Gupta, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff authored and signed the Declaration in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. These professors (from Oxford, Stanford, and Yale respectively) are accomplished scientists from prestigious institutions who have expertise in public health and epidemiology.  Since then, the public has been able to read and sign the Declaration online. There are now nearly 50,000 medical and public health scientists and practitioners and over 600,000 concerned citizens who have added their signatures.

Acknowledging that COVID-19 presents a significant threat, the authors of the Declaration point out: 

“We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.”

Indeed, data from Alberta bears this out. The average age for a COVID-19 fatality is 82 years, and to date, no one under 20 years old has died. The goal of any compassionate response to COVID-19 must be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity, whether naturally or through vaccination. Armed with these simple facts, how should we accomplish our goal?

The authors favour an approach different from extremists. Albertans are being inundated with pleas for all manner of lockdown, while those who are opposed to these measures are construed as misanthropes who want nothing at all to be done to protect the vulnerable. These are false alternatives, and neither are tenable responses for neither is capable of meeting the goal of minimizing both mortality and social harms. 

“Focused Protection” is what the Declaration’s authors ask us to consider. This consists of two things: first, those minimally at risk should go about their lives, should they choose to do so, in order to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, and second, those at highest risk should be offered rigorous protection tailored to suit local and individual needs.

This strategy, according to the authors, will both minimize fatalities and ameliorate the devastating public health consequences of lockdowns.

It’s difficult to believe at this point in the pandemic, but there are still those who refuse to acknowledge that lockdowns result in social harms rivalling those of COVID-19. Lockdowns result in deaths from despair due to economic ruin and social isolation, as well as untreated health issues like cancercardiovascular disease and the like. They also serve to increase spousal and child abusefamily breakdownsubstance abusesuicide and depression. And be warned, lower educational outcomes and poverty could affect our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

Alberta released a response to the Declaration on October 28, but instead of the thoughtful and fulsome analysis that we deserve, the response greatly misconstrued the Declaration and attacked a strawman. It is an interesting exercise to read the two documents side by side to parse the arguments. The response is inadequate, to say the least.

The response says that “herd immunity” is the “stated goal” of the Declaration. This is false. The stated goal is to balance the risks and benefits of all COVID-19 policies against the risks and benefits of other health concerns until we reach the inevitable end of the pandemic, which will come when we reach herd immunity naturally or through vaccination. Herd immunity is not a goal.

Later, the response mischaracterizes the Declaration as a “herd immunity plan.” But nowhere does the Declaration claim that herd immunity is a “plan.” Rather, it’s a biological result incidental to some portion of the population’s exposure to a pathogen. It’s a product, an outcome.

The response is replete with many other similar errors, which leads me to believe that focused protection has yet to be seriously considered by the Alberta government.

If it is possible to adopt compassionate and balanced measures to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity naturally or through vaccination. Albertans deserve that. If it is not possible, we deserve a far more rigorous analysis from our public officials explaining why we can’t implement it here.

Derek James-From is a freelance columnist and constitutional lawyer

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Opinion

ALBERS: There’s a difference between Quebec’s separatist, and Alberta’s independence movements

“It is not Canada’s culture that many Albertans and Westerns seeks distance from. It is its policies.”

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With the rise of Alberta’s independence movement and the cunningly conceived “Fair Deal” panel to “explore” what it is Albertans want, inevitable comparisons have arisen between Alberta and Quebec.

And, to be fair, there is much we have learned from Quebec. For example, what sorts of jurisdictional authority we should assert as a province and over what kinds of areas. Like them or hate them, Quebec at least is one of the few provinces that understands what it controls and demands that it maintains that control. 

But beyond that lessons in jurisdiction, the similarities end there.

The very concept of Canada is vacant without its twin founders. Like Romulus and Remus of Roman myth, the English and the French, Upper and Lower Canada, Ontario, and Quebec are at the heart of what we understand to be Canada. Like twins wrestling together in the womb, the character of the country was profoundly impacted by those two cultures and political entities. Whether they care to admit it or not, they have rubbed off on each other and there is more than grudging mutual respect. 

In fact, even a cursory review of Canadian political origins reveals that once they overcame their animosity toward each other, Ontario and Quebec have shaped confederation into something that would benefit them and retain a lock on power. Certainly, the maritime provinces received concessions (good ones at that) and British Columbia as well, but all through those negotiations, you can see the tag-team effort between our two founding provinces in the manner in which they ensured that political and economic power would always rest in the center. 

That is why when the undercurrent of separatist sentiment bubbled to the surface in the middle of the last century in Quebec, it could actually be labeled as separatist. 

Quebec’s exit from confederation would have ripped away half of the Canadian identity. It would have been a separation, similar to a divorce of two parents in a family with eight other children. 

This is not so with Alberta and the rest of the West. When in the late 19th century, when Ottawa (that is, Ontario and Quebec) was lobbying London to grant them take over control over the West from the various companies that had been mandated to settle it, it caused a great deal of unease with the people who were already living in those regions. And with good reason; there were interesting lessons still fresh in everyone’s minds from the manner in which the federal government had “welcomed” Manitoba into confederation. It had occurred to the people in these parts that Ottawa did not seem quite as accommodating as London.

As it turns out, they were right, as was evidenced in the heavy-handed manner in which Ottawa dealt with the citizens of Manitoba, culminating in the brutal put-down of the Northwest Rebellion.

Canada was not at all shy about declaring the West a vast region over which it was their duty as imperial subjects to exploit. That the people who lived out here might not yet see themselves as Canadians in the same light never occurred to the ruling elite in Ottawa. Never mind that Alberta and Saskatchewan were really provinces in name only with a scant few of the same powers as the other provinces in confederation. Never mind that whether it was the Wheat Board, dairy cartel, or simply control of our own provincial resources, Ottawa employed many levers of repressive economic exploitation and ensured that the game was always stacked in their favor.

We knew this in 1905, we knew this in the 1980s when the rallying cry was ‘the West wants in’, and we know it now with the rise of a much more organized Alberta independence movement. 

Notice I say “independence”, and not “separatist”. We would have to be treated as equal partners, contributors, and benefactors of confederation to actually be considered separatists. Likewise, Quebec’s movement is fueled by ethnicity, language, culture, and sometimes race, where Alberta’s is driven by a desire for economic and political self-determination. 

It is not Canada’s culture that many Albertans and Westerns seeks distance from. It is its policies. It is time to leave an abusive system of structured and ingrained exploitation of our region and its industries. Time to leave a system that uses its population base to impose burdensome policies, taxation, and debt upon us. It is time to leave a ‘nanny state’ culture that simply does not reflect the values of a majority of Albertans. 

The Americans declared independence over taxes on tea and stamps, and had to fight the most powerful empire in the world with self-armed farm boys. 

Albertans are in a position to leave an equally distant, but even more exploitive relationship peacefully, and in friendship. The only thing holding us back is our will to act. 

James Albers is a guest columnist for the Western Standard

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