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OPINION: We’re not all in this together

“The lockdown has failed. Not just because the reasoning behind lockdowns is faulty, but because governments have not been honest about it, and do not feel that the pain they are inflicting on others should be shared by themselves.”

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From the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching beyond the propaganda swamps of Wuhan, politicians have parroted a single slogan meant to generate a sense of social solidarity; “We’re all in this together.”

Most of us have known better all along. Governments rarely share the same plights as they force on their subjects and citizens.

Anti-gun politicians are regularly surrounded by large squads of trained, heavily armed body guards.

Anti-fossil fuel politicians regularly fly to international confabs in exotic locations to discuss how to make it more expensive for other people to enjoy the same luxury, even with their own money.

So when politicians began shuttering the economy and locking people down, we shouldn’t have been so naive as to expect those in charge to really be “in this together” with the rest of us. A more realistic expectation would have been, “all of you are in this together”.

Politicians that shut down the economy were sheltered by the nature of the job from being laid off or having their pay cut. Small business owners that are forcibly shut down by police sent on the politicians’ behalf are “in this together”. The employees laid off or having their hours cut are “in this together”.

But those ultimately giving the orders are, well, still working. Unfortunately.

The most extreme order given by governments yet – making it is illegal to see one’s family at Christmas – was not a request for sacrifice; it was an order to sacrifice. Some ultimately made that sacrifice, but as I’ve written in this space previously, it is likely that many – or most – chose to ignore the government’s decree this time.

But while people huddled behind closed curtains with their families on Christmas to avoid being fined; while people were charged for attending peaceful protests; while people were assaulted and threatened with being tasered by police for playing hockey; while people are having their businesses and livelihoods destroyed; while people were told to cancel their non-essential travel for vacations; and while people had their most basic liberties violated; a significant number of the lockdown-politicians were flouting the rules that they themselves made.

It began in Ontario, where the PC Finance Minister Rod Philips was discovered to be on vacation in the Caribbean island paradise of St. Bart’s. While Ontarians suffer under a draconian lockdown, a key senior minister responsible for the lockdown was soaking up the sun, in defiance of the government’s own plea to not engage in any non-essential travel.

“We’re all in this together”.

To make things worse, he posted a video of himself on Christmas giving the misleading impression that he was at home, safely locked-down in Ontario.

The minister admirably took responsibility but was nonetheless sacked from cabinet by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Ford had known about it well before it became public but acted only once it became a political scandal.

At the same time, a Liberal Member of the Quebec National Assembly was forced to fly home early from Barbados, but appears to have faced no consequences.

In Alberta, suspicion began turning into a hunt for lockdown-happy MLAs and ministers who aren’t taking their own medicine.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen raised some eyebrows when he posted a video on Instagram of him standing on a frozen lake making some skating ice, geo-tagged from St. Bart’s. It was all apparently a joke at the expense of then Ontario Finance Minister Rod Philips.

But the joke was soon on Dreeshen’s own party.

His colleauge Pat Rehn, UCP MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, posted a happy Christmas photo of himself in a warm Mexican cave. To his credit, he wasn’t trying to cover anything up. He just saw nothing wrong with locking down his constituents before jetting off on some non-essential travel. No geo-tag necessary.

For good measure, Rehn was sure to post on his social media account a message to locked-down Albertans; “Stay home. Stay safe.”

At about the same time as Rehn’s reminder that “we’re all in this together”, UCP Municipal Affairs Minister Tracey Allard was discovered to have spent her Christmas in beautiful Hawaii. Allard is also the minister responsible for vaccine distribution in Alberta and is a key decision-maker in the lockdown.

She refused to answer repeated calls, emails and texts from the media. Confirmation only came from “another source” according to the CBC. In Edmonton, this normally means an internal party rival.

In fact, no ministers or MLAs were responding to calls about their holiday travel plans. Repeated calls from Western Standard reporters were ignored by various ministers and MLAs. Likely, because the Premier’s Office didn’t yet know how many of its ministers, MLAs, and staffers were breaking their own guidelines.

And as it turns out, more than a few senior UCP government staffers were also travelling abroad, including Kenney’s own chief of staff, a position that wields more power than most cabinet ministers.

To address the growing political firestorm from left and right, Kenney held a press conference on New Years Day. Refusing to take questions from Western Standard reporters (a standing order, we believe), Kenney said that nobody would be fired. Just that he should be been clearer with his team that they should obey their own guidelines.

He hopes that that will be the end of it.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation took the opportunity to point out that two years into their mandate, the UCP still hasn’t delivered on their promise to give Albertans the right to recall their MLAs, and that needless to say, there are probably more than a few Albertans wishing that they had that right about now.

The lockdown has failed. Not just because the reasoning behind lockdowns is faulty, but because governments have not been honest about it, and do not feel that the pain they are inflicting on others should be shared by themselves.

A large segment of the government in Alberta and in other provinces imposing punishing lockdowns on their people – that they themselves do not feel bound to follow – will only heat the anti-lockdown sentiment from a simmer to a boil.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard
dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com

Opinion

MORGAN: Alberta needs less talk, and more action from Kenney

“Premier Kenney needs to pick a lane and to stick to it with authority.”

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Support for the United Conservative Party under Premier Kenney’s leadership has collapsed. Exclusive polling for the Western Standard has the UCP languishing at an abysmal 26 percent support while the NDP is at 41 percent while the new and still leaderless Wildrose Independence Party has climbed to 9 percent province-wide. This trend is nothing less than catastrophic for the UCP and they will need to make some major changes if they hope to be re-elected in 2023.

With nearly two years in power now, it is tough to point to any concrete changes or policies from the Kenney government. While Jason Kenney talked a great game at campaign time, we have seen little follow-through. Where is the promised democratic reform through citizen’s initiated referenda and recall legislation? Where is the fiscal conservatism and moves to get the budget under control? When will the government act on even one of the Fair Deal panel recommendations?

While Premier Jason Kenney continues to try to be everything to everybody, he is losing support on all fronts. The NDP-left will never learn to love the UCP, yet Kenney remains reticent to take on the government unions which are opposing all efforts at fiscal reform or efficiencies. Kenney has talked tough with unions, but won’t act. It’s time to take a stand and start cutting spending, not just haircuts. We are running out of money and taxpayers are running out of patience. It won’t become any easier for waiting.

On the democratic reform front, Kenney needs to implement the promised referenda and recall legislation. It has been nearly two years and this doesn’t need to be studied any longer. We know what we need and we know what we voted for. Give it to us already.

On the Western alienation front, Kenney has been at his most disappointing. This again has been clearly indicated in the recent polling commissioned by the Western Standard. Support for independence is exploding to new records in Alberta. While the UCP was not elected with a mandate to pursue independence, they were elected as a party expected to stand up to Ottawa. It is time that they did it.

Ottawa has more control over Alberta today than when Jason Kenney came to office. Tough talk is clearly not working.

No more panels. No more “expert” studies. No more kicking the can down the road. Albertans want some leadership and they want somebody to protect Alberta’s interests from an increasingly hostile federal government.

We have made it clear that we want a provincial pension plan. I doubt that I will see it implemented before I am old enough to collect it, and I am only 49 years old.

Why more study on whether or not we want a provincial police force? We know we want it. Now start working on what it will take to create it. What did we get? The province commissioned yet another study.

Where is the Alberta Chief Firearms Officer we were told we would get? How hard is it to appoint somebody? Instead, we got an Alberta Firearms Advisory Committee. More talk.

We are getting a referendum on equalization at least, but Kenney has made clear that there will be no ‘or else’ consequences if Ottawa and the other provinces fail to make reforms.

We are living in tough times. Citizens want to see leadership and that means seeing leaders making tough, definitive decisions. Wishy washy approaches to issues aren’t acceptable.

Premier Kenney needs to pick a lane and to stick to it with authority. If you oppose lockdowns, don’t impose them. If you support lockdowns, do it unapologetically and do it in full. Trying to appease both sides only alienates both sides.

Talk is cheap and we are tired of hearing it. If the current government can’t discover how and where they want to actually act on things, they will be replaced in the next election, and I fear for what that replacement may be.

Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

OUELLETTE & SHAW: Freedom of expression is under attack in Canada

“While Canada is a relatively free country, the pandemic has exacerbated our pre-existing shortcomings in terms of freedom of expression.”

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Our freedom of expression is under attack. In recent years, there’s been a significant trend toward censorship in the media, in academia, and among the general population. The controversy at the University of Ottawa over the use of the N-word is one example among others. Why do we need to worry about this trend? For one thing, an attack on our freedom of expression is also an attack on our standard of living.

The virtues of freedom of expression are widely recognized: It improves the quality of our democratic institutions, facilitates the exchange of ideas, and leads to sounder, more transparent public policies.

But aside from these benefits, there is also a strong link between freedom of expression and economic growth. This is confirmed by the economic literature and by many academic papers from different researchers at Stanford UniversityDartmouth College, and the University of California, Berkeley, who all arrive at the same conclusion: The exchange of ideas stimulates innovation, and innovation is one of the main engines of economic growth and rising living standards.

Encouraging the exchange of ideas and the protection of freedom of expression is therefore intuitively beneficial, and this is confirmed by the scientific literature. But concretely, what would the average Canadian stand to gain if our governments put in place public policies encouraging greater freedom of expression?

According to our calculations and our econometric model, individual Canadians would be an average of $2,522 richer each year. Obviously, this amount wouldn’t be deposited directly into one’s bank account, but rather, a gradual increase in our living standards would result from the effects of more freedom of expression.

In the sample of 132 countries used in our study, Canada is among the top 15 per cent in terms of freedom of expression. But while it is true that we live in a relatively free society, taking this good ranking for granted would be a mistake.

Indeed, governments have a lot of room to grow when it comes to improving freedom of expression, especially if we compare ourselves to Norway, the top country in the ranking. There, it is standard practice for politicians to make constant efforts, encouraged by citizens, to better protect freedom of expression.

In contrast, in Canada, and especially in certain provinces like Quebec, the government can arbitrarily decide to subsidize one media outlet rather than another, which can potentially hinder media independence and lead to biased and less reliable information. Not to mention that it is increasingly difficult to obtain information from our governments through requests for access to information, which hampers proper public debate. This situation should alarm us.

In order to improve the country’s performance in terms of freedom of expression, thereby also improving our standard of living, we have three recommendations:

  1. Favour media independence from government by limiting arbitrary subsidies and, in their place, creating a regulatory and fiscal framework favourable to all media;
  2. Encourage Canadian public universities to protect freedom of expression in order to truly allow their researchers, professors, and students to express themselves freely without risk of reprisals;
  3. Increase the information and data available to the population by reducing the need to make requests for access to information, in order to facilitate public debate.

While Canada is a relatively free country, the pandemic has exacerbated our pre-existing shortcomings in terms of freedom of expression. We must not allow the current situation to become the new normal. For the sake of our standard of living and the wealth of our country, we must do more to promote and protect the freedom of expression of all Canadians.

GUEST COLUMN: By Miguel Ouellette, Director of Operations and Economist, and Maria Lily Shaw, Economist, Montreal Economic Institute

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Kenney culls Rehn from the herd, but none of it adds up

“If Rehn was the sacrificial lamb, it raises even bigger question about why his head was on the block, and not the other six.”

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The Great Snowbird Scandal has finally claimed its first real political victim. On Thursday morning, Jason Kenney fired Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn from the UCP Caucus. But none of it adds up.

Rehn – for all his political sin of travelling to Mexico during his own government’s lockdown – was just one of seven snowbird MLAs.

Former Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard was forced to resign from cabinet –a demotion to be sure – but she still remains comfortably in the UCP benches. Jeremy Nixon, Jason Stephan, Tanya Fir, and Tany Yao all still enjoy full membership in the UCP Caucus.

Why is Pat Rehn the only one to be exiled to northwest corner of the legislature – otherwise known as ‘Siberia’?

Publicly at least, Kenney’s statement on the unilateral firing did not mention the Snowbird Scandal at all.

“The most important job of an MLA is to represent his or her constituents,” Kenney wrote in his statement. “It has become clear that Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn has failed to do so. He has made no meaningful effort to work in his constituency, or properly to represent his hard-working constituents.”

“I have repeatedly asked Mr. Rehn to be more present in his constituency. He has ignored calls from me, UCP Caucus leadership, and his constituents to do so.”

So the Snowbird Scandal had nothing to do with it, on paper at least. He was fired because he was an absentee MLA not working very hard, according to Kenney. It’s a curious reasoning that requires some scratching below the surface.

The Slave Lake Town Council issued a scathing letter on January 5 with a laundry list of sins committed by Rehn, including their claim that he doesn’t live in Slave Lake. In fact, they allege that he mostly lives in Texas, something Rehn denies.

While Texas would be a bit far aboard, I have a spoiler for readers: many, many MLAs and MPs do not reside full-time in their constituencies.

Even Jason Kenney himself does not live in his Calgary-Lougheed constituency. In fact, there is pretty strong evidence that he didn’t quite live in Alberta for much of the time that he was a Calgary MP.

It doesn’t really matter, so long as an MP or MLA works hard for their constituents, and earns their support come election day. At the end of the day, constituency boundaries are largely arbitrary lines on a map, drawn up by political appointees.

But for Pat Rehn alone, it appears to have mattered to Kenney.

Kenney official reason given – that he wasn’t working hard or around the constituency – holds no water.

Most backbench MLAs – especially those on the government side of the house – have remarkably little of importance to do. They read cue cards with pre-scripted puffball questions and pablum speeches written by staffers when the legislature is in session. When the legislation is not in session, their biggest job is to show up and be seen kissing babies at their local legion.

Most complaints about Rehn from his constituency is that he wasn’t kissing enough babies. Is that alone really cause to fire an MLA from the caucus?

For those not born yesterday, something clearly doesn’t add up.

So why was Pat Rehn really fired by Kenney?

Western Standard reporters have obtained some interesting documents that appear to cast a new shadow over Rehn. Our reporters will do their due diligence with these documents before we discuss them publicly, but if they are what they appear to be, then this is the real reason that Kenney sacked Rehn.

We can only hope that Kenney did his due diligence with these documents first.

But even if these documents prove the worst possible scenario, Rehn deserves a chance to explain himself fairly.

If the UCP had kept its promise to pass recall legislation, then his constituents could judge for themselves. But, they could also decide to pass judgement on the other six snowbirds.

Was Rehn just a sacrificial lamb for the other six Snowbird MLAs? A Mainstreet Research poll conducted for the Western Standard found 68 per cent of Albertans want Kenney to fire all seven (known) Snowbirds. Alarmingly, 41 per cent even wanted Kenney himself to resign over the matter, including 21 per cent of those who voted UCP last time.

If Rehn was the sacrificial lamb for this scandal, it raises even bigger questions about why his head was on the block, and not the other six.

Perhaps Rehn was a rogue and this was a convenient opportunity to cull him from the herd.

One way or another, we don’t know the whole story. I’d be surprised if we know half of it yet.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard

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