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MORGAN: Smith’s departure a sign of talk radio’s slow death

“Media is in undergoing a huge, evolutionary transition right now. The technocrat class is playing whack-a-mole as they try to de-platform conservative and libertarian voices while new platforms keep springing up.”

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While working as an oilfield surveyor in the ’90s, talk radio was a must. Whether standing next to my tripod in a wheat field or trying to stay awake while driving across the endless plains of Kansas, the radio was always tuned to the local talk radio station. It kept me up to date on issues and let me hear from different sides.

Talk radio back then was gritty and informative. Here in Alberta, I would listen to Dave Rutherford in the morning, and Dave Taylor in the afternoon. One was conservative and one was liberal. I enjoyed both because they were entertaining and informative. They didn’t just have guests and callers – they took them on. They engaged, they questioned and they opined on everything. I didn’t always agree, but that didn’t matter. It was engaging and it made one think. Peter Warren on the weekends was legendary. Those days are gone.

The beginning of the end around here came when Dave Rutherford was fired for being critical of his own radio station over their poor coverage of the Alberta floods in 2013. One could tell that this was a final straw of sorts, as Rutherford had been increasingly chafing under increased efforts to control his show. As a veteran broadcaster, Dave simply wasn’t going to take it.

After Rutherford’s firing, the station floundered through a number of hosts and formats. Those all pretty much failed until Danielle Smith was hired and put into the prime daytime slot. Many conservative listeners were hesitant to embrace Smith after the unfortunate end of her time as Wildrose leader, but she won them over as she continued the talk radio style and tradition in much the same style as Dave Rutherford had. Like Rutherford though, the pressure from to control her content became too much.

I am only guessing here, but I think the beginning of the end for Smith came when she had former UCP candidate Caylan Ford on the show. Ford was immersed in a controversy due to a number of false allegations of racism which were released by a “progressive” NDP-front website with the intent of derailing the UCP campaign.

Smith gave Ford an entire segment to explain herself and the progressive cancel mob went wild. Demands were made for Smith’s firing. Sponsors were threatened, the station caved and even deleted the archived show. Even Mayor Nenshi and Rachel Notley got in on the dogpile. As a result, Danielle Smith was neutered as a host and the character assassination of Caylan Ford remained undefended until recently.

How humiliating it must have been as Smith to have been hung out to dry by the station for having done her job well. It was quite literally, the news of the day. It was a controversial issue and there were two sides. Smith quickly discovered the hard way that there is only one side when the risk of a cancel mob appears.

As a regular listener, I caught some serious undertones a few months ago when it was clear that Danielle Smith was upset about something. She talked around it, but made it pretty clear that she had been instructed not to talk about certain things COVID-19 related. She then put it to the callers in a small act of rebellion so that they could speak to the subject even if she couldn’t. I am just guessing here, but I suspect that this was when Smith decided that she had enough and gave notice.
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Talk radio is a dying format. It is a victim of modern times and it will not be able to beat the many new mediums which catch our attention. Streaming services, podcasts, and satellite radio have eaten up so much listenership that radio stations are broke and vulnerable. That is why they now cower in terror at the prospect of a mob complaining to their precious few remaining sponsors. Unfortunately, this move to vanilla radio is only making the inevitable demise of the platform all that much sadder.

I listened today to an afternoon host talking with an expert on the issue of child marriages in Canada. It really is happening and it really is legal. It is a concerning issue worthy of talking about and asking questions. The host and the guest took no callers though and managed to chat about the issue for the entire segment without once touching upon a giant elephant in the room, which is the religious and cultural aspects of this issue. Religious and cultural fundamentalism is behind nearly every child marriage and to pretend that this is an issue among most Albertans or Canadians is willfully blind. If you are only going to talk about 75 percent of an issue for fear of offending somebody, you may as well not talk about it at all. The use and point of talk radio here is lost.

Talk radio will continue to dwindle until it is little more than a news reading and traffic service. They can’t afford to discuss issues any longer.

Media is in undergoing a huge, evolutionary transition right now. The technocrat class is playing whack-a-mole as they try to de-platform conservative and libertarian voices while new platforms keep springing up. I am optimistic that balance and new forms of political discourse will emerge, but we are in for some tumultuous times as we find that balance.

Dave Rutherford has retired while Danielle Smith is already seeking new platforms to work from. I am looking forward to the new age of unfettered political discourse when it gets here. It can’t remain bottled up forever.

The heyday of talk radio is gone though. There are a few good, gritty voices still working the airwaves out there but they are fading. It’s the sad end of an era.

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

Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: $131 Sloan donation leak was an inside job – Conservative MPs tell us so

Conservative MPs say O’Toole’s office has been caught clearly trying to set Sloan up. This is amateur House of Cards.

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What I’m about to write here doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to put together. But since nobody has yet – at least publicly – let me connect some very clear dots.

On the evening of January 18, federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole announced that he was “asking” his MPs to kick fellow Ontario Tory MP Derek Sloan out of the party’s caucus.

Far-left gotcha-propaganda website Press Progress said that they have proof that Sloan accepted a $131 donation from a man named Paul Fromm.

Who the hell is Paul Fromm? Until a few hours ago, I – and probably 98 per cent of Canada – had never heard of the guy. Turns out that he’s a particularly loathsome white supremacist.

The Press Progress hit piece was complete with lots of colourful pictures of Fromm doing his best impression of a Nürnberg rally. The intention was clearly to link Fromm with Sloan.

Doing their best Pravda knock-off, Press Progress has done this before, libelling mainstream – even moderate – conservative politicians in Alberta as a 21st century sturmabteilung. It’s what they do best.

O’Toole did his best surprised face and tweeted furiously.

“Derek Sloan’s acceptance of a donation from a well-known white supremacist is far worse than a gross error of judgment or failure of due diligence.”

Conservative MPs tell me that they all learned about it in the press.

Now you don’t need to be on Team Sloan to smell a rat here. You just need two eyes and half a brain. Let’s examine the evidence.

One: Almost no candidate is aware of every – or even most – of the donations that they receive. It is processed by the campaign’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). For small campaigns like Sloan’s, that position is often a volunteer, or at the least, not a professional. I could have accidentally accepted blood diamond money while I was in politics for all I know.

Two: No candidate – and I repeat no candidate – is aware of the details of donations the size of Paul Fromm’s: $131. It’s a rounding error. I only ever ran to be an Alberta MLA in my time in politics, and I did not know who was giving me $131. I knew if someone was giving me $1,000. Maybe even $500. Never, ever, $131.

Three: I have never heard of Paul Fromm before. Unless you’re a full-time Nazi hunter, you probably have never heard of Paul Fromm either. I’m doubtful that Press Progress had heard of him until they had this gently brought to their attention.

Four: Paul Fromm’s big $131 donation was processed not just by the Sloan campaign, but by the Conservative Party of Canada itself. Had the CPC had recognized this name, they would have flagged it. They didn’t. They do apparently expect Derek Sloan’s CFO to however.

Five: If the Conservative Party of Canada – with its legendary resources – could not flag this $131 donation, then it is not reasonable to expect a fourth-place also-ran campaign to have the resources to do it.

Six: Elections Canada only requires the disclosure of donor names for contributions over $200. It is illegal for them to disclose donations under that amount. The only two entities that would have had any awareness of Fromm’s donation are: Derek Sloan, and, the Conservative Party of Canada’s staffers.

Seven: Press Progress could not have legally obtained information about the donation except from: Derek Sloan, or, the Conservative Party of Canada. Take your best guess about which one gave the information to Press Progress.

Sloan is not a centrist Tory in the mould of O’Toole, and has a reputation as a bit of a maverick. Leaders do not like mavericks in their caucus.

And Sloan is the only rival that O’Toole faced for the Conservative leadership that currently has a seat in the House of Commons.

Multiple Alberta and Ontario Conservative MPs the Western Standard has spoken to tell us that they and Sloan found out about this in the media. They also tell us that they believe that this was entirely an inside-hit job by O’Toole via the Leader’s Office or party HQ.

One veteran Conservative with inside knowledge of the matter says that several MPs intend to vote against O’Toole’s demand to expel Sloan…if they get a secret ballot.

The Reform Act legally requires that they do, but I’m sure smart people in Ottawa can find a way around that.

And even if his caucus showed some spine, O’Toole has unilaterally declared that Sloan will not be allowed to seek the CPC nomination in his constituency again, even if his local members want him. Grassroots stuff.

From the MPs we have spoken to at least, the Conservative Caucus is bitterly divided. While Sloan has his share of enemies in the party, they see – without much need for a tinfoil hat – that this is clearly instigated at the behest of their own leader. And they tell us that they are afraid that O’Toole could come for them next on trumped-up charges (no pun intended).

What could O’Toole possibly be thinking? There are other ways for leaders to purge troublesome underlings. They can bring forward better false charges of impropriety. They can do a better job of covering their tracks. They can just go the route of Andrew Scheer via Brad Troast, and rig the nomination against them.

This is amateur hour House of Cards.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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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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