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FILDEBRANDT: There’s not going to be any Equalization referendum

However limited in scope its intention was in 2017, there is a real risk that an Equalization vote would become a proxy for independence in 2020.

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I sat down this morning to write a column titled “Tories show guts in government wage rollbacks,” but scrapped it. While the Tories are showing guts on that important file, they appear to be backing down fast on another, more important one: Equalization and fairness in confederation. 

It’s been a slow, gradual process, but Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has now all but officially popped his own balloon of an Equalization referendum. Kenney didn’t come out and say it, but he has gradually walked back the conditions that Ottawa must meet to avoid the vote to such an extent that they are now effectively met already.

Kenney first began his charge towards an Equalization referendum in 2017 with a promise to hold the vote if Ottawa didn’t meet several clearly defined demands from a government under his leadership. These were: a new deal on Equalization, scrapping the federal carbon tax, repealing Bill C-48 (tanker ban) and C-69 (no more pipelines), and the building of both the Energy East and TMX pipelines. 

Jason Kenney campaigning in his blue truck (source: Jason Kenney/TwitteR)

By the fall, Kenney appeared to have dropped the demand for a new deal on Equalization and Energy East so long as the other conditions were met; but in his State of the Province speech yesterday, he mentioned only one lone demand: the construction of the TMX pipeline. 

However troubled the beleaguered TMX pipeline may be, it does appear to be headed towards successful construction. Trudeau’s new hardline anti-pipeline MP Steven Guilbeault dropped his opposition to TMX in an interview the night he was elected, so long as no new pipelines were approved, and even Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet accepted TMX so long as no pipelines go forward through Quebec, like the ill-fated Energy East proposal. 

Baring a wild change in policy, TMX will be built, and the only remaining demand of the UCP government will have been satisfied. If people don’t remember that there were five other demands attached to it, Kenney can call it a victory and declare that no referendum is necessary.

This all begs the question: Why would Kenney back away from the showdown with Ottawa that so many in Alberta want? 

The most likely answer is that he is afraid of what it could ignite. 

While Eastern pundits insist that Kenney is a secret separatist pouring fuel on the flames of discontent, he has gone out of his way to calm the waters since the federal election. 

When Kenney was campaigning on an Equalization referendum during the UCP leadership race and General Election, there was no real fear that it would be about much else than its face value: Albertans want a better deal. But since Trudeau’s re-election in a minority Parliament requiring the support of the NDP and Bloc, the independence movement has moved firmly into the mainstream of public opinion. No longer consigned to cranks in rural southern Alberta, independence is a movement now searching for a vehicle, with some like former Harper Minister Jay Hill believing it should happen within the UCP, and others believing it will require an entirely new party

However limited in scope its intention was in 2017, there is a real risk that an Equalization vote would become a proxy for independence in 2020. This risk is elevated by the reality that Ottawa would almost certainly tell Alberta to pound sand after a successful referendum.

Having been rejected by Ottawa after an emotional referendum, many moderates hoping for reform within confederation would conclude that they are now faced with a binary option of the status quo, or independence. The polarizing effect of a rejection of Alberta’s demands by Ottawa would not be unlike that in Quebec after the collapse of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. 

Most activists in Alberta’s independence movement have dismissed the Equalization referendum as a needless middle step that wouldn’t get anywhere in any case; but more patient sovereigntists have been counting on its campaign to mobilize a movement, and its inevitable rejection by Ottawa to sharpen public opinion. 

Kenney can’t well come out and simply drop his signature promise to hold a vote, but his moving of the goalposts makes it extremely unlikely that it will ever be held. He hasn’t so much killed the referendum, as he has put it on an ice float out to sea. 

Federalists carping that he is stoking the flames of independence should be more thankful. 

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher, President & CEO of Western Standard New Media Corp. He served from 2015-2019 as a Member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly in the Wildrose and Freedom Conservative parties. From 2009-2014 he was the National Research Director and Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Cserebogar K

    October 31, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Premiers are doing nothing more than a dog and pony show.my guess is Kenney wants back in to the Feds. If they toss Scheer out, I’m betting he’s going to jump ship and promise everything and nothing like his last campaign. Want action all the west has to do is stop all transfer payments n cut off all supplies transporting through our provinces until we get equality. But they won’t do that. No guts.

  2. Pauline Leroux

    October 31, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Conservatives are just like the rest liars out for their own pockets it is time we took it into our own hands to get them to listen. If activist can shut down streets for imate change. Let us all come together and do sit ins to get our voices heard.

  3. Mike Power

    October 31, 2019 at 6:27 am

    Sounds to me like Kenney’s heart is not into anything that will upset his own designed apple cart. If every decision has to be based on the result of panel findings, we are no further ahead than ever. Example, the first thing he should have done was the firewall. No ifs, ands or buts, get on it. Send a message to Ottawa straight off. Instead we get a letter sent to the PM which he will largely ignore, and even if Trudeau does comply, another gov will backtrack on it and 5, 10 yrs down the road we are still treated like crap. Panels tend to talk to people who fit the govs agenda, and waiting for that could be two years down the road. I like Kenney, voted for him. But we need to show Ottawa a few things, and I am not sure Kenney is up to it.

  4. jim daskalopoulos

    October 30, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    Am I missing something here? What is the point of building the TMX pipeline to the west coast if the outbound tanker ban bill C 48 isn’t repealed?

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Opinion

LOGAN: It’s time to divest from Suzuki

“It’s time to send a message to Suzuki where it will hurt the most – his donors.”

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Eco-alarmist David Suzuki has become more than just your everyday environmental activist — he’s become a well-known Canadian brand.

And it’s a brand that helped create the David Suzuki Foundation, which in 2020 raised more than $13 million for various environmental causes.

But what happens when the namesake of your charitable foundation not only feeds into, but repeats the dangerous rhetoric being employed by extreme environmental groups like Extinction Rebellion?

It was at an Extinction Rebellion event in Victoria in November that Suzuki crossed the line between peaceful activism and extremism.

“There are going to be pipelines blown up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on,” vowed the 85-year-old activist, best known for hosting CBC’s The Nature of Things.

And he wasn’t ready to back down following the outrage sparked by his comments, telling Victoria’s CHEK News it was “absurd” for people to think he was inciting violence and didn’t regret his comment.

“I meant it. I said it. I regret that the media … would take the context of that article, which was a fine report, and put the headline that totally slants it as if I’m inciting violence,” Suzuki said.

The Foundation that bears his name was quick to distance itself from the co-founder’s comments, saying Suzuki wasn’t speaking on their behalf.

Suzuki eventually apologized for his remarks, saying they were said out of “extreme frustration,” and not meant to support violence.

But despite the apology, Suzuki refused to condemn Extinction Rebellion’s defense of his own comments, which only further raised the temperature.

“Not only will pipelines be blown up, but we can be certain that world leaders will be put on trial for treason or worse — be killed,” said Extinction Rebellion’s National Action & Strategy Coordinator Zain Haq, doubling down on Suzuki’s comment.

It’s time to send a message to Suzuki where it will hurt the most — his donors.

You can send a letter today to the David Suzuki Foundation’s largest donors telling them that his violent rhetoric is unacceptable. Just click on this link.

If activists like Suzuki won’t hold themselves accountable, you can do your part to make them accountable to the people who write their paycheque.

Let these companies and foundations know that it’s time to divest from Suzuki!

Guest column by Shawn Logan with the Canadian Energy Centre

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Opinion

MORGAN: Prepare for National Energy Program 2.0

“Justin Trudeau has never held much love for the prairie provinces and don’t think for a second he wouldn’t repeat the actions of his father with another federal cash grab.”

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Few people remember the history of Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program (NEP) anymore, but we may be doomed to repeat it.

The parallels between the political circumstances leading to the NEP of 1980 and the those of today are chilling.

The most obvious, is that we have another Trudeau at the helm of Canada.

Prior to the mid-1970s, Canada had little interest in Alberta’s oil and gas. While Alberta premiers and business leaders had tried to make a case for Central-Eastern Canada to embrace Albertan hydrocarbon products for decades, they were invariably turned away. We were told our oil was too expensive and impractical to serve the needs of the East. We were instructed to find other investors, and we did.

Alberta oil and gas field development was carried out mostly by American companies in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of our products were sold to American markets including oil shipped through the Transmountain pipeline constructed in 1951. Eastern Canada got their energy products predominantly from foreign tankers and ironically from American sources in the east.

In 1974 everything changed as OPEC imposed an oil embargo in retaliation against countries that supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. North America was thrown into a prolonged energy crisis as oil shortages hit and costs skyrocketed. While the embargo ended after a few months, OPEC quotas and energy supply manipulations made insecurity a problem for years to come. By 1978 the world price for a barrel of crude oil had risen 700% to $13.54 USD per barrel. The Iran-Iraq war in 1979 cause the price of oil to peak at $40 USD per barrel.

Canadians suddenly discovered the price of oil does indeed impact the price of everything. Inflation that had been problematic became a crisis. The standard of living for Canadians was being impacted and citizens demanded Trudeau (The First) do something, so he did.

With the implementation of the National Energy Program (NEP) in 1980, Alberta’s oil suddenly became Canada’s oil.

Massive tariffs were placed upon oil exports while Alberta was forced to sell oil to the rest of Canada at a mandatory discount. An 8% pre-royalty tax was placed on petroleum and gas revenues and the federal share of petroleum revenues was slated to increase while provinces (mostly Alberta) were to decrease their take. A Canadian ownership levy was applied to multinational companies to try and increase Canadian ownership to 50%. Again, we can’t forget it was Eastern indifference to Albertan oil and gas that created a large amount of foreign ownership in the first place.

The impact on Alberta’s oil and gas sector was immediate and devastating. Companies went bankrupt or fled under the new restrictions. Petro Canada was created as a state-capitalist crown corporation. They couldn’t fill the void left by the companies ruined by the NEP.

The NEP remained in place until 1986. During that period it drained upwards of $100 billion from Alberta while businesses and citizens suffered. Coupled with the high-interest rates of the day, many Albertans were literally forced to walk away from their homes.

Brian Mulroney promised to end the NEP when he successfully campaigned to become prime minister in 1984. Mulroney waited two years before dismantling the program. He only followed through on his promise to Westerners when the price of oil collapsed. And he had devious reasons for it.

Under the NEP, Ottawa placed a ceiling on oil prices, capping how much money Alberta could make. To add a little honey to the vinegar, Ottawa also placed a theoretical price floor, whereby Canada would pay artificially high prices for Alberta oil if prices collapsed.

Mulroney was happy to keep the NEP while prices remained high. As soon as prices fell and Ottawa would have to pay a net-loss for Alberta oil, he got around to keeping his promise.

Alberta was left drained, humiliated, and broke. It took nearly a decade to financially recover.

Fast forward to today and we have another Trudeau in power as world oil prices are spiking. Inflation is reaching levels not seen in generations and the cost of living for Canadians is on the rise. OPEC is actively working to keep oil prices high. Europe is in the midst of an energy crisis while President Biden is begging OPEC to increase oil production in order to bring down world prices. Canadians are starting to raise concerns about the rising cost of living and the government is looking for a source of cash. Carbon-tax happy politicians like Trudeau and BC Premier John Horgan bemoan the high price of gas at the pump, without a hint of irony.

The federal government has been signaling for years they don’t want the West’s “dirty” oil. The Energy East pipeline was and the Teck Frontier oilsands mega-mine regulated to death while Northern Gateway was outright killed. Biden killed the Keystone XL line with nary a peep of opposition from Trudeau while we are being told we must transition away from producing hydrocarbons. Prices for oil and gas were low and we were told demand wouldn’t be returning. That tune may suddenly change.

While rising oil prices are putting pressure on other jurisdictions, they are greatly improving Alberta’s financial outlook. Total government revenue for 2021-22 is forecast to be $14.2 billion higher than initial budget estimates. While the UCP is understandably celebratory with this budget windfall (despite a large deficit remaining), they should keep their celebrations muted. Alberta’s good fortune is also painting a big red target on our back as the federal government desperately seeks revenue sources.

Justin Trudeau has never held much love for the prairie provinces and don’t think for a second he wouldn’t repeat the actions of his father with another federal cash grab.

They won’t call it a national energy program again, but we can expect much the same thing. Western oil and gas producers will be drained in the name of the national interest. Anybody in the West who dares complain of this depredation will be accused of being selfish and heartless.

If and when oil and gas prices return to lower levels, Ottawa will back off and leave the West alone. We will lay besmirched and used again.

This fate doesn’t have to befall us though. We can be proactive rather than reactive for a change.

Western provinces need to demonstrate they won’t take unprovoked attacks from Ottawa any longer. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe was mocked for saying Saskatchewan must become a nation within a nation, but he is right and is asking for nothing that hasn’t been given Quebec a dozen times over. Nobody is going to look out for the interests of the Western provinces aside from ourselves, so let’s get on with it.

No more talk. It’s time for action. Form provincial pension plans as we withdraw from the CPP. Create provincial police forces as we withdraw from Ottawa’s RCMP. Bring in real citizens’ initiated referenda legislation and don’t be afraid to talk about full sovereignty for provinces as free states. It has to be made crystal clear to Ottawa that another NEP-style incursion upon Western resources will lead to nothing less than the dissolution of confederation. Nothing short of this will stop the federal government from pillaging us again.

If Premier Jason Kenney wants a path to restoring respect for his leadership, it’s right in front of him. Peter Lougheed’s time in office likely would have been somewhat forgettable had it not been for his battles with Ottawa. Alberta wants a leader who will put Alberta first. Kenney has been less than solid on that front and it is indicated in his abysmal support numbers. So far, he has had little but words and failed court challenges for Ottawa.

Demand Kenney either stands up with strength for Alberta, or make it clear he will be replaced by a leader who will.

Otherwise, we will indeed be doomed to repeat history.

Cory Morgan is Assistant Opinion & Broadcast Editor for the Western Standard
cmorgan@westernstandardonline.com

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Opinion

SLOBODIAN: Manitoba’s Keystone Party to focus on grassroots

Now that’s a refreshing concept for Manitobans who got bitterly fed up with the iron-fisted approach of former premier Brian Pallister a.k.a. dictator.

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Interim leader Kevin Friesen understands why the Keystone Party of Manitoba is perceived as far right-of-centre.

“The parties in Manitoba have moved so far to the left that everybody’s going to see us as a rightwing party.

“We like to call ourselves centre,” Friesen told Western Standard.

He’d like to clear up a misconception promoted by left-wing professors some media tend to breathlessly run to for biased opinion. 

“We’ve been labelled as an unvaccinated, anti-mask party and that’s totally wrong.”

Another thing, Keystone is not affiliated with the federal People’s Party of Canada.

“We we’re getting confused with the PPC and we didn’t want that to happen.”

For some, the confusion stemmed from both party logos sporting the color purple.

So then, what is Keystone all about?

“This is a true grassroots party. Everyone says they want to be grassroots, but nobody’s been that yet. That’s our real focus.

“The real problem is that the accountability from our leaders isn’t being respected. We need someone who is more transparent, more accountable. We’ve always looked for honesty and that seems to be an impossible thing to find in politics nowadays. I hope that’s something that we can bring to the province.

“We need to create a stronger, united Manitoba. But most importantly, we would lead our province and not rule it.”

Now that’s a refreshing concept for Manitobans who got bitterly fed up with the iron-fisted approach of former premier Brian Pallister, a.k.a. dictator.

Although his replacement, Premier Heather Stefanson, promised a change in management style and a more “collaborative approach,” she has yet to convince Manitobans — who call her as ‘Pallister in a dress’ or ‘Pallister in pantyhose’ — that their voices will be heard.

Reeves, mayors, business people, union leaders, indigenous leaders, and Manitobans from diverse backgrounds disenchanted with the Progressive Conservatives fiscal and COVID-19 policies are paying attention to and signing on with Keystone which got started in early 2021.

“I’m the only farmer on the board,” says Friesen from south-central Manitou. 

“We’re finding there are a lot of people from the extreme left, from the NDP and Liberal community, that are interested in what we’re doing and are signing our petition and are saying ‘We’ll support you.’

“It’s not only one area of Manitoba. We’re pretty spread out from Winnipeg to Brandon, north of Dauphin to Southern Manitoba.”

Several Keystone supporters started out backing Manitoba First, formerly the Manitoba Party, and “learned early on it was on a mission to be a top-down party.”

They explored trying to “fix the PC party from within,” but doubted that would work considering “what goes on behind closed doors,” said Friesen.

Keystone is gearing up to field candidates in the 2023 provincial election. But first, it must gather the 2,500 signatures required to register as a political party.

“It would be an awesome Christmas gift to be registered. We’d like to go to Elections Manitoba, not with 2,500 signatures, but 10,000 would be our goal.” 

Keystone’s website promotes fiscal conservative policies and a reduction in the size of government.

In an October 30 video address, Friesen took aim at the PC’s destructive COVID-19 measures. He stipulated Keystone was not formed because of these policies, rather because of the way they were developed and enforced.

“This government has promised to deliver, but it has only mandated. It has stopped businesses from paying their bills to the point of bankruptcy.

“It has divided marriages to the point of divorce and broken relationships of every friend, neighbour, and business partner to the point of tattle-taling and ultimately suicide.”

The immediate goal is to get registered. 

“Then we’ll need to hold a leadership race. I’m not sure Kevin Friesen will be part of that race. The last step would be to have a convention and make sure we do exactly what the members want. We’re gathering a lot of information on what we think Manitobans want.

“This party’s going to lead and not rule and we’re going to do that with integrity.”

One thing that sets Keystone apart from other parties now is the recall clause in its constitution.

“The steering committee made a recall clause in the constitution to hold a leader in check. That creates a prolific new attitude in leadership. It changes the whole way a leader of a party leads his or her team.

“I don’t know of any other party in Manitoba that has a recall clause on their leader. That makes us 100% grassroots and different.”

Friesen knows new provincial parties start up all the time and get nowhere fast because they forget the grassroots.

But he’s convinced, based on the growing and diverse support Keystone is gaining, that the PCs, NDP, and Liberals have something to be very concerned about.

It’s possible. There is no question Manitoba voters are an increasingly disenchanted lot.

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard
lslobodian@westernstandardonline.com

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