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FILDEBRANDT: The Bloc’s War on the West

Perhaps it’s time the West learned from Quebec in how to make federal politicians sing for their supper.

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Quebec and Alberta have seldom held similar visons for their respective governments, but have from time-to-time been allies against federal governments overextending their will into provincial jurisdiction. Those days appear to be relics of history.

In 2019, the bad-boys of confederation could be mistaken for enemy nations by outside observers. Few countries in the democratic world can boast having its constituent parts so close to one another’s throats. Countries torn apart as Canada are largely limited to the less-than-democratic world, and are normally focused around religious or ethnic divisions. 

That does not appear to be the case in the West-Quebec struggle. In 2017, a majority of Conservative Party members in Alberta voted to make Maxime Bernier their leader over Saskatchewanian Andrew Scheer. Westerners angry at Quebec were willing to vote for a Quebecer with a heavy accent on the basis of common values, at least in an internal party leadership race. 

The growing tempest in the West is not ethno-linguistic in nature, but economic and political. 

Source: Scott Moe twitter account

Faced with economic and fiscal headwinds exacerbated by Ottawa, Alberta and Saskatchewan view themselves as grossly unappreciated after contributing so much. Since 1960, Quebec has received more than $200 billion in direct Equalization payments, while Alberta received none, and Saskatchewan next-to-none.

Westerners have elected governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan with strong mandates to confront Ottawa, and the view from here is that it kowtows to Quebec, despite being a perennial net consumer of federal largesse. 

Quebecers for their part have felt under threat from Ottawa in relation to their Bill 21 drive to expunge religious symbols from public life, and appear to have taken offence to Western demands around Equalization and pipelines. While the major federalist parties fell over themselves to win Quebec – exacerbating tensions in the West – the Bloc Québécois stood poised to waltz into the churn. No matter what the federalist parties promise, it’s hard to out-Quebec the party devoted to nothing but Quebec. 

However wild it may appear to Westerners, the Bloc made the case to Quebecers that Ottawa was actually serving Alberta and Saskatchewan at the expense of them. Justin Trudeau even got in on the action (in the French debate only) and called for Quebecers to back his crusade against the “Oil Barons.”

Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Yves-François Blanchet

Quebecers irritated by Western calls to reduce the generosity of the Equalization program couldn’t help themselves from supporting the Bloc’s call for an additional new “Green Equalization” program. In short, a massive new tax would be levied on the energy producing provinces, and transferred to the energy consuming ones. Mostly Quebec. Even Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program was not so braggadocious about its design to plunder the economies of the West.

In all likelihood, the Bloc doesn’t expect Trudeau’s minority government to give them Green Equalization in exchange for their support. Doing so would throw the Prairies into a state of revolution. More likely, is that the Bloc used this policy to stake out a marker that they won’t give an inch on defending Quebec’s interests, and that they are happy to paint the West as not just English (the horror), but greedy and dirty. (SNC Lavalin having nothing to do with greed, and dumping raw sewage into the St. Lawrence having nothing to do with pollution.)

The move is also likely intended to inflame relations with Canada as a whole, bolstering their case for independence at home. 

Even with the federalists falling over themselves in Quebec, voters there decided to go with the home team. 

In contrast to the political mosh pit in Quebec, the vast space between Winnipeg and Vancouver was fly-over country. With few more Conservative seats to be won and fewer Liberal seats to be lost, it was wasn’t worth fighting over. The West’s home team Conservatives couldn’t even muster up the courage to promise a mealy-mouthed “review” of Equalization, let alone promise to reform or repeal it. 

Perhaps it’s time the West learned from Quebec in how to make federal politicians sing for their supper.

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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1 Comment

  1. A. B Cutterwood

    October 29, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    I enjoy having a newspaper that tells the news in Alberta like it should be told.. Jason Kenney was not my pic by any means but he’s what we have now for good or otherwise.. The time for politics from the politicians to the people is over… It’s time for our premieres to reflect the will of the people or in failing to do so suffer the consequences at the polls .. I am not interested in any equalization payments unless we have a say to where the money goes and white it’s spent on… Barring that just reducing them until the oil patch picks up again it’s not acceptable.. and that’s only after every single need that we have at home has been met… we should not have to pay one dime of equalization well we are running a deficit’s and until we have every little thing that Quebec has and we will settle for nothing less and we will certainly not tolerate a sales tax.!!

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Opinion

McCAFFREY: Don’t let Calgary ruin the region

Central planning doesn’t work and the current government should reverse this mistake as soon as possible by abolishing the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board and allowing municipalities to return to cooperating on a voluntary basis.

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The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) was created in 2015 by the NDP government to control planning and development for the entirety of the Calgary region. 

Since then, this unelected body has been working on creating a new growth plan for the region that contains some of the most radical changes to development and planning rules ever proposed in Alberta.

With the enactment of this growth plan, the CMRB is set to become what will effectively be a fourth level of government for citizens of the Calgary region and will allow Calgary to export its bad policies across all the other municipalities of the region.

Yet barely anyone in the Calgary region has even heard of the board.

How is it possible a new level of government could be introduced without anyone noticing?

Well, in part, that’s thanks to a very deliberate effort by the former NDP government, and the board itself, to keep the powers and potential wide-ranging influence of the board as below the radar as possible for as long as possible.

The board, at least according to its designers, is simply meant to help manage planning and development issues, in order to help manage the significant population growth that the Calgary region is expected to experience in the coming decades.

Make no mistake about it, though, the CMRB and its growth plan do much more than this.

The entire growth plan is based on the philosophy that a small group of people, in this case, bureaucrats and city planners—particularly in Calgary—can do a better job planning and managing population and employment growth than the free market can.

The central planners believe the challenges of growth are better addressed by forcing the municipalities in the Calgary region to cooperate rather than compete to provide these services and facilities.

Rather than merely permitting cooperation between municipalities as claimed, however, the creation of the CMRB and the implementation of the growth plan actually forces Calgary and the surrounding municipalities to cooperate on many issues, even when this goes against the wishes of the municipalities and their residents.

Requiring municipalities to cooperate even if they believe it’s against their and their residents’ interests to do so is bound to lead to less fair and less equitable outcomes for the whole of the Calgary region.

Even worse, the forced co-operation doesn’t go both ways.

Despite claims the board is based on cooperation, the 10-member municipalities are being forced to participate in the organization, they cannot leave, and the voting system of the board effectively gives a veto to the Calgary on every issue.

In effect, this puts Calgary politicians and bureaucrats in charge of planning and development for the entire region, as without Calgary’s approval, no plan or development can go ahead.

This is no accident, the board was very deliberately created to do exactly this.

For years, Calgary has pursued bad public policies that have increased rules, regulations, red tape, and taxes on businesses and residents of Calgary.

The situation has become so dire that now many businesses and residents are leaving Calgary entirely and setting up their operations and family lives outside of the city in one of the many surrounding municipalities, where regulations and taxes are lighter.

Essentially, Calgary has become noncompetitive with other municipalities in the region, but planners in Calgary don’t see this as a problem, rather they see it as an opportunity.

But Calgary didn’t want to fix the problem by cutting red tape, getting taxes and spending under control, and working to become competitive again.

Rather, the city lobbied the provincial government to help them out by giving Calgary the power to impose the same high levels of regulations across the entire region—essentially killing off the competition.

It was perhaps not surprising that the former NDP government was willing to give Calgary this power, as the NDP government do not understand or believe in the benefits of free market competition to begin with.

But the current Alberta government has repeatedly stated its core focus is on reducing red tape and unleashing Alberta’s economy. They have put significant effort into achieving this goal in many other policy areas.

Yet, when it comes to regional planning they have, so far at least, permitted the exact opposite to continue.

Rather than reducing red tape and regulation to get the Calgary region’s economy going, in almost every policy area the growth plan goes in completely the other direction and essentially centralizes planning decisions for the entire region.

All types of development—single family houses, row houses, apartments, shopping malls, retail stores, manufacturing, warehouses, agricultural services, and more—will now have to be approved not only by the local municipality but also by an unelected board dominated by Calgary.

Thrown out the window is any concept of the free market, individual choice, property rights, competition and, frankly, basic economics.

This dramatic centralization will impose a series of significant direct and indirect costs on the economy of the Calgary region, none of which are considered by the CMRB in its growth plan.

These costs include the millions of dollars spent creating and operating what is effectively a fourth level of government, the significant costs to Calgary businesses, residents, and the economy as a result of this extra bureaucracy, the dramatic costs that would be incurred by projects being reduced, relocated, or cancelled under the growth plan, as well as indirect and intangible costs.

The plan also runs roughshod over local democracy in the member municipalities, and over the property rights of the residents of those municipalities.

What, exactly, is the point of electing a local council in your district or town, if planning and development rules—until now one of the most important tasks of a local government—will now be controlled centrally by an unelected board?

Worse yet, this move from voluntary cooperation to forced cooperation will not solve the very problems the CMRB and the growth plan were designed to fix.

The end result of a growth plan that replaces voluntary cooperation and competition with forced collaboration will be higher taxes and higher fees, more regulation and red tape, increased housing and infrastructure costs, less efficient delivery of utilities and services, and worse environmental outcomes for the entire region.

There are far better ways to accommodate future population growth in the Calgary region than via a top-down, centrally controlled regional growth plan that violates the values that made Alberta what it is today: individual freedom, personal choice, fiscal responsibility, property rights, and a free market built on competition rather than government diktat.

The proposed growth plan would block billions of dollars of investment, redirect billions more out of the Calgary region, and cost tens of thousands of jobs. This is the exact opposite of what the Calgary region needs right now.

The CMRB, and the requirement for them to create a growth plan to control development in the region, were an ideological creation of the former provincial government, based on the idea that top-down central planning is the best way to run an economy.

Central planning doesn’t work and the current government should reverse this mistake as soon as possible by abolishing the CMRB and allowing municipalities to return to cooperating on a voluntary basis.

Peter McCaffrey is the President of the Alberta Institute, an independent, libertarian-minded, public policy think tank that aims to advance personal freedom and choice in Alberta.

The Alberta Institute has prepared an academic research paper outlining the history of regional planning in the Calgary Region, and looking at the implications of the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board on jobs, investment and democracy for Alberta.

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Krahnicle’s Cartoon: September 17, 2021

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Opinion

MORGAN: It’s time for Kenney to resign

“I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party. I wish things had ended differently.”

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Premier Jason Kenney gambled and lost.

His move to declare Alberta as being permanently open for business was a hail-Mary pass for a beleaguered government and it has failed in the worst possible way.

Alberta is in the midst of a health care crisis, deaths are on the rise and we are entering a new period of mandatory vaccine passports, lockdowns, and other restrictions.

I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party.

I had the highest of hopes for Kenney. I was enthusiastic as he won multiple leadership races and merged the previously intransigent Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. I was thrilled when Rachel Notley’s NDP government was trounced in the general election. I thought we’d be looking forward to some steady, competent, conservative governance for at least a couple of election cycles.

I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Love him or hate him, Jason Kenney is undeniably one of the brightest and hardest working politicians in Canada. He worked his way from advocacy into elected office and then became a respected cabinet minister in a number of portfolios. It appears Kenney met his match when it comes to the party and provincial leadership. He has managed to alienate both the left and the right within the province and I don’t see how he can recover from this.

Kenney’s leadership woes were already appearing well before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared on the scene. The shotgun marriage of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives was showing cracks as caucus infighting began to smolder. The pandemic crisis exacerbated the issue and Kenney is now heading up a deeply divided caucus with multiple members having been tossed out of the party or disciplined. This inability to manage his own caucus has shaken the confidence Albertans had in Kenney to manage the province.

The Kenney government has been noteworthy for setting high targets and then failing to move toward them. The Fair Deal panel appeared to be an act of deferral, rather than an exercise to build a stronger, more independent province.

Kenney refused to take strong actions against Ottawa despite the open hostility shown to Alberta by the Trudeau government. This has fed the theory Kenney is using Alberta as a stepping stone towards pursuing a federal run. We can safely say Kenney’s federal career is finished at this point.

It seems that everything Kenney has touches turns to scheiße. The energy “war room” has turned into a running joke and with long and constant delays on its launch. The Allen Report examining groups that attack Alberta’s energy sector has been a waste of time. Energy producers seeking a sense of confidence in Alberta have been left disappointed.

In picking a battle with Alberta’s doctors and nurses, Kenney has drawn fire from all sides of the political spectrum. While there certainly is room to reexamine the agreements with health care providers, it has to be done carefully and with strong leadership. The UCP has appeared ham-handed and virtually leaderless on the issue.

The Kenney government has become election fodder used to hammer the O’Toole Conservatives on the federal front. The UCP looks so inept and unpopular that Trudeau is using it to attack O’Toole, and O’Toole hides from any association with Kenney.

Politicians are by nature self-interested beings. Caucus members within the UCP are surely weighing their options as the Kenney government continues to crash and burn in public opinion. With less than two years to go before the next provincial election comes, they know the window for getting rid of Kenney is closing quickly. The only hope the UCP has of winning the next election is to get a new leader and show some sign of new direction, and soon.

Rumblings from caucus are soon going to become a roar.

There are two options for the UCP right now. They can keep Kenney into the next election and most likely hand Rachel Notley a second NDP term, or they can get on with finding a new leader and reconnecting with Albertans. The UCP now is simply too wildly unpopular to regain the trust of the electorate under Kenney’s leadership.

I still respect Jason Kenney and appreciate what he did on the federal front, along with his efforts to unite conservatives in Alberta. I would like to see Kenney retain what dignity he can by resigning for the sake of Alberta and his party. It would hurt his pride, but it still would be a better end to a political career than being kicked out by his own caucus, or by the electorate in a general election. His “best summer ever” strategy failed and it’s time to face the music.

I wish things had ended differently.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show

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