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LITTLEJOHN: Can the big blue tent hold together?

“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”.

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The Conservative Party of Canada is undergoing an identity crisis as it seeks to replace the brief interregnum of Andrew Scheer. As the left has moved away from the values of free thought and expression, the conservatives have paid at least lip service to the importance of these freedoms. However, the main stream media has embraced the new orthodoxy of the intersectionalist left that believes only (their) politically correct views should be aired. 

Repeatedly, the Conservatives have found themselves between a rock and a hard place in that allowing free speech in their ranks leads to terrible press. There are a good many pundits who blame the election loss on social conservatives, and their recommendation is to tighten control further. But this risks shrinking the big blue tent because they believe there are more who believe in the mainstream orthodoxy than those who don’t. 

If the Conservatives are to have any hope of winning, they will need to keep the tent as big as possible; a daunting task at the best of times. It is no simple feat to unite fiscal conservatives, social conservative, free enterprisers, libertarians, red Tories, monarchists, environmental conservatives, urban and rural, and now a growing contingent in the West increasingly prepared to turn on federalism altogether. More freedom, not less would be the way to go.

Stephen Harper used a top down, stick to the talking points style of leadership; and it worked for him, at least until it didn’t. He was aided by the fact that Westerners were tired of losing due to vote splits and the NDP was strong enough to split the Liberal vote in Toronto and Quebec. Times have changed.

Andrew Scheer attempted to follow this style of leadership, but without the intellectual authority of Harper, his ham-fisted approach led to the creation of the People’s Party. Without appearing to believe in what he was saying on almost any topic, his insistence that his personal beliefs on moral issues wouldn’t affect public policy was unconvincing. 

During a CTV interview last week, prospective leadership contender Richard Decarie stated his belief that being gay is a choice and that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.  He was criticized by other leadership hopefuls and MP Michelle Rempel said she plans to ask the leadership organizing committee to disqualify him on the basis of his comments because she is “beyond tired” of the party being “hijacked” by this type of bigotry. Apparently the party agrees and the leadership organizing committee has vowed to assess whether a would-be candidate’s views align with the party’s principles. 

Whatever one’s views on homosexuality, abortion or other moral issues, these statements indicate the same old, heavy-handed top-down style of leadership which hasn’t worked for the past five years. To put it generously, the odds of Decarie winning are slim, so why not give party members the freedom to reject him? Liberals regularly engage in censoring speech but Conservatives are supposedly in favor the enlightenment maxim, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Westerners voted for Andrew Scheer in record numbers, not because they endorsed his leadership style, but because they were intent on getting rid of Justin Trudeau. It didn’t happen. It’s unclear if they will remain loyal to a party that doesn’t represent Western concerns particularly well and won’t allow their MPs any freedom to represent their constituents. Why should Westerners continue to back a milquetoast party for the sole purpose of getting rid of their hated opponent, when they can’t even win? 

In this volatile climate, the ‘Big Blue Tent’ might do well to remember the advice of the Archbishop of Split de Dominis during the 70 Years War religious conflict that tore the Holy Roman Empire apart, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”.  

Essentials are the few things most agree on: lowering the deficit, conservative fiscal policy and economic policy (minus supply management). The few things the federal government was intended to do.   

Figuring out the essentials is the easy part. The hard part is determining how to handle the non-essential issues. The heavy handed, top-down, approach risks narrowing or splitting the tent. A better way to expand the tent and win elections would be to allow at least a measure of liberty. Allow MPs the freedom to take positions on other issues as best meets the needs of their constituents and their own conscience. This would necessitate reducing the size and power of the leader’s office, something no leader wants to do once they have the job.

More diffuse sources of policy influence and less concentration of power would lead to better policy and more inclusion in an even bigger tent.

Would-be Conservative leaders should drop the old management style which risks shrinking the tent, offer more freedom to broaden its appeal, and draw the party’s diverse factions together in common cause. This is a tall order on both scores, but necessary if the Tories hope to remain united and win. Or they can continue to tread the well worn path to the cheers of the CBC, the People’s Party, and Wexit.

Opinion

WAGNER: 20 years ago today, Kenney was Stockwell Day’s right hand man in purging caucus rebels

On May 15, 2001, Stockwell Day began expelling MPs wanting leadership change from his caucus with the help of Jason Kenney.

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A conservative party leader fails to address the concerns of his caucus. The neglected caucus members become disgruntled and openly revolt against the leader, leading to some being expelled from the caucus. 

It’s the UCP in 2021. It’s also the Canadian Alliance in 2001. 

In fact, the Canadian Alliance caucus suspensions began on May 15, 2001, twenty years ago today. It was at that time that eight Alliance MPs publicly called for party leader Stockwell Day to resign, provoking a crackdown.

There are clear parallels between these two conservative parties experiencing similar difficulties in the middle of May. But perhaps the strangest common factor of all is Jason Kenney. In 2001, Kenney was an Alliance MP and a key Day loyalist who supported the expulsion of the dissidents. That is to say, this is not his first caucus rodeo. 

The Canadian Alliance was the successor of the Reform Party of Canada, formed in 2000 as an unsuccessful attempt to “unite the right” at the federal level. Former Alberta Finance Minister Stockwell Day won the leadership of the new party and led it into the November 2000 federal election. However, the new party did not achieve its much hoped-for electoral breakthrough in Ontario, and Day was blamed for the poor result.

Shortly thereafter, Day was involved in a series of missteps and controversies – such as falsely accusing a judge of being in a conflict of interest, and denying he met with an undercover agent after first affirming that he had met with him – that were embarrassing to the party and undermined his credibility as leader. 

By April 2001, the Alliance was polling at 13% nationally, behind Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives at 15%, and well behind Jean Chretien’s Liberals. This was embarrassing and clearly undermined the effort to unite-the-right behind the Alliance. 

Nevertheless, Day demanded strict loyalty from his MPs. As Preston Manning recounts in his book Think Big, “On several occasions – at internal meetings in February and March 2001 – when requesting personal loyalty from his caucus officers and key staff, Stockwell had emphasized the point by saying: ‘If I kill my grandmother with an axe, I want you to stand up and say she had it coming.’” 

By May, however, much of the Alliance caucus had lost confidence in Day, and MP Art Hanger publicly called for Day to resign as leader. He was suspended from the caucus, followed shortly by MP Gary Lunn, who agreed with Hanger.

Then, on May 15, eight MPs issued a joint statement calling on Day to resign and were then suspended from caucus. Deborah Grey, the first-ever elected Reform Party MP wrote of that group in her book Never Retreat, Never Explain, Never Apologize: “They were an impressive bunch. Among them were several members of the [Reform Party] Class of 1993. One was Jay Hill (Peace River-Prince George), who had run in the 1988 election and was as faithful to the Reform cause as anyone I have ever met.” That is the same Jay Hill who currently leads the Maverick Party.

These “dissidents” would later be joined by other disgruntled Alliance MPs, and form the Democratic Representative Caucus (DRC). 

Day eventually resigned and then lost the subsequent leadership campaign to Stephen Harper in March 2002. By that time, support for the Alliance was down to 7% in a Gallup poll. The leadership controversy had led to a total meltdown for the party.

During this period of leadership crisis in the Alliance, Jason Kenney was a chief lieutenant to Stockwell Day and supported ousting the dissident MPs. He wasn’t watching from the sidelines. Now, exactly twenty years later, Kenney is once again at the centre of a full-scale caucus revolt. Did he not learn from that initial experience the best practices for caucus management? Apparently not.

As mentioned, the first Alliance MPs suspended from caucus were soon followed by others. In comments to the Calgary Herald, recently expelled MLA Drew Barnes mentioned that some discontented MLAs remain within the UCP caucus and said, “I think as long as the premier doesn’t accept responsibly for how low the UCP has become in the polls, how low his popularity is, that that may embolden some people to speak up.” That is, the caucus revolt may not be over yet. 

Will the UCP undergo a continual erosion of support for its leader, like the Canadian Alliance experienced twenty years ago? Is there another Stephen Harper on the horizon who could take the reigns and restore the party to health in time for the next provincial election? Who in the UCP caucus is playing 2001 Jason Kenney to Stockwell Day for 2021 Jason Kenney?

The beneficiaries of the current internal discord in the UCP are the Wildrose Independence Party and Rachel Notley’s NDP. Many of those disappointed with the UCP are likely to move towards Wildrose, building on its current growth. The party might even pick up one or more former UCP MLAs, giving it a presence in the legislature and a more prominent provincial voice. 

On the down side, the NDP is leading in the polls. Could the unthinkable occur? A second NDP government? For many Albertans, their blood runs cold at the thought. As these possibilities reveal, the current turmoil in the UCP is not just about the future of one party and its leader, but about the future of the province itself.

Michael Wagner is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

TULK: Canada’s leaders hid behind bureaucrats when they should have led

“The erosion in trust continued and continues with ever changing restrictions many with dubious and everchanging benchmarks.”

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As the Battle of France opened and Winston Churchill was sworn in as prime minister, he told the House of Commons and the people of the British Empire, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.” 

He did not then turn the lectern over to the deputy minister of war. 

The struggle of the Second World War was a very different conflict, but it bears resemblance in a few respects: it’s global scale and its economic devastation. But it is strikingly different in others, particularly how the politicians managed and worked with their government bureaucracies.

Once the war truly became global with the Battle of France and in north Africa, the political leaders came to the fore and the bureaucrats stayed in the background. Churchill consulted with industrialists like Beaverbrooke on the mobilization of the British economy; Roosevelt looked to the likes of Ford and Westinghouse to build the military horn of plenty that created such decisive devices as the Higgins boat and the atomic bomb. The response of the private sector and the people in it borders on the miraculous. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the overwhelming majority of politicians have pushed the health bureaucrats to the fore. They let the infectious diseases specialists not only command the podium, but to have a monopoly on decision making. Seldom did one see a bureaucrat whose expertise was mental illness — or bankruptcy or education — speak of the ancillary impacts of the government’s response to the coronavirus. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw never campaigned for office. She never received a vote from a single Albertan. Nor has she ever voted on a bill in the legislature. It’s one thing to listen to the bureaucrats during a crisis; it’s another to hide behind them and surrender decision making to them. 

Consider the outcomes in this crisis. 

Where the bureaucracy has been given the job, it has generally failed miserably – from communicating the situation, to securing the border, to tracking those infected, to procuring enough vaccines. This should hardly be surprising. Bureaucracy is designed to administer, not to innovate. It is designed to follow orders, not to lead. 

Bureaucracy is fundamentally not accountable in any substantive way; they will have jobs for years to come, while many citizens will have lost their livelihoods, and many politicians their careers due, at least in part, to bureaucrats failing. 

Where the private sector has dominion, combating COVID-19 has been significantly more successful. Fittingly, just saying some of the brand names suffices as proof: Zoom, Amazon, Pfizer, Moderna, Skip-the-Dishes. They, and many others, achieved heroic, hugely beneficial, world-changing feats; all in the name of the despised profit motive. 

Just imagine if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP had contracted a logistics companies to increase our hospital and ICU bed capacities, rather than leave it to the bureaucrats. 

And it isn’t just sloth and confusion the government bureaucracies excelled at – it showed what an isolated and smug elite much of it is. 

It did this by showing in the light of day that they had no trust in Albertans to behave like responsible citizens. Most of its dictates have all involved limited basic human freedoms. 

It lied to us, or at the very least, spread misinformation with little effort to correct the record. When those in the health bureaucracy knew well COVID-19 spread almost exclusively via airborne transmission – that masks may be effective – they told citizens they did no good whatsoever. They did not trust us to not run out and hoard the masks that were in stock. 

Had the health bureaucrats respected the people and been upfront with the need to not hoard – to leave the N19 quality masks for the healthcare workers – the vast majority would have complied and found other ways to mask.

Only once the shortage of personal protective equipment passed did Dr. Theresa Tam flip-flop and advice people wear a mask. 

Once this – let’s call it a falsehood – was exposed, their lack of trust in the people was reciprocated in manifold ways – most conspicuously in unlawful gatherings, but also in possibly the far more serious form of resistance and flat-out refusal to get vaccinated. 

Still, the erosion in trust continued and continues with ever changing restrictions many with dubious and ever changing benchmarks. 

Just as the success of Zoom and its clones and other private creations will have long lasting benefits, the damage to the trust in government — both the bureaucracy and the politicians who abandoned their command of it — will possibly last for generations. Certainly, long enough to greatly complicate things when the next crisis hits.

Gord Tulk is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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SLOBODIAN: No call yet from drive-by activist Fonda after pipeline protest

Drive-by activists tend to perform before the cameras, then scurry away, ignoring their impact on the lives and livelihoods they sanctimoniously mess with.

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Hanoi Jane is missing in action.

Weeks have passed since Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council (IRC), invited actress/activist Jane Fonda to partake in a “respectful discussion” about Alberta’s oil sands industry.

Fonda, contemptuously dubbed Hanoi Jane due to her loathsome activism during the Vietnam war, still hasn’t called back.

Not surprising. Drive-by activists tend to perform before the cameras, then scurry away, ignoring their impact on the lives and livelihoods they sanctimoniously mess with.

Buffalo’s invitation came on the heels of another one of Fonda’s one-star rating activism performances. She was in Minnesota on March 15 to protest the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement.

“We were driving down the highway and we saw this, we saw the pipeline that they want to lay under the headwaters of the Mississippi,” said Fonda referring to an Enbridge Energy sign, in a video posted to Twitter.

Actress Jane Fonda at pipeline protest

“That company Enbridge, it’s a foreign company. It’s bringing oil from Canada, tar sands oil, the worst,” said Fonda, heroically vowing to “try to stop it.”

It was a bit confusing. She was driving by and stumbled onto her favourite thing to protest? That would be the oil and gas industry.

Why was she even in the neighbourhood? Her mansions are in California, New Mexico and Georgia.

And wouldn’t a high-profile activist insist on a mandatory hefty fee before leaping out of a vehicle to get her boots dirty on a remote road in a faraway state?

Fortunately, Fonda cleared up the confusion on Instagram, stating “friends” with the Ojibwe Water Protectors invited her to “join them in the fight to stop Line 3.”

Her “friends” have the right to do that. Fonda doesn’t the right to disrespectfully ignore Buffalo, who represents so many First Nations in Canada.

Line 3, which runs from Alberta through Minnesota to Wisconsin, is being protested by American indigenous and climate groups claiming it harms the environment. Supporters say it’s environmentally safe and good for the economy.

Fonda apparently doesn’t want to bother with hearing both sides.

This column isn’t about determining whether the pipeline’s good or bad. It’s about Fonda poking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Again.

It’s impossible to look at that woman without remembering her perched on an antiaircraft gun – used to shoot down American helicopters – while surrounded by Viet Cong soldiers when she visited Hanoi in 1972 to protest the Vietnam war.

More than 58,000 U.S. and hundreds of Canadian soldiers were killed in North Vietnam. Those who returned, many without limbs, many surviving brutal torture by the Viet Cong, were spat on and discriminated by an American public that activists like Fonda worked into a hateful frenzy.

Fonda told America the Viet Cong were the victims and didn’t use torture tactics, that U.S. soldiers and government were liars.

But if the Viet Cong did resort to torture, she reasoned, it was justified.

“These men were bombing and staffing and Napalming the country,” she said of her fellow Americans.

“If a prisoner tried to escape, it’s quite understandable that he would probably be beaten and tortured,” she said, according to a 1973 Associated Press story.

Decades later Vietnam vets remain tormented by the invisible wounds of PTSD, because of the hellish war many were drafted to fight in and the hatred, fueled by Fonda, unleashed on them at home.

And who can forget Fonda’s helicopter landing in Fort McMurray in 2017? She emerged to lecture people – still reeling from their homes and businesses being destroyed by wildfires – about massive open-pit bitumen mines.

Fonda has zero credibility.

Nonetheless, Buffalo, who is based on the Tsuut’ina Nation near Calgary, was remarkably cordial and restrained when he invited her to chat.

Fonda may not care about some of the lives she impacts.

But Buffalo does.

The IRC advocates on behalf of 147 oil and gas producing Canadian First Nations.

“I see you are in Minnesota on Line 3 calling our oil sands the worst,” said Buffalo in a message to Fonda. “I’d like to invite you to join my colleagues and I on a Zoom call to give you the real story about great things happening in Northern Alberta.”

Buffalo noted that the energy sector is critical to First Nations economic and social development.

“As people closest to the land we have an input into the environmental stewardship which we are very proud of. Our communities have had concerns in the past. But we’re working with industry to develop solutions to protect the environment while growing our economy,” he said.

“I hope you’ll join me in respectful discussions to answer any questions you might have. Let’s have a conversation based on facts, not stereotypes based on dogmas and ideology.”

To be fair, maybe Hanoi Jane’s so anxious to hear Buffalo’s side she planned to visit rather than call. Maybe that big jet that carts her around needs to fuel up. Maybe she’s stuck in some long lineup caused by the severe gas shortages in the U.S. because of the ransomware attack on Colonial pipeline.

Yeah, pipelines – who needs them!

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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