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Westerners shouldn’t sell their votes too cheaply to Tory leadership candidates

Unlike national elections when the Tories can take the West for granted, Tory leadership candidates need Western support. Don’t let them have it at such a low price.

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Westerners have a rare opportunity to finally have themselves heard as the federal Tories prepare to select their next leader. Unlike in national elections, their votes will make a material difference in the Tory leadership race. To make this voice count however, Westerners should be prepared to boycott the race unless one or more candidates is willing to work as hard for their vote, as they are for votes in the East.

Within weeks, Tory leadership candidates will come parading through the West vote-hunting. There will be much tut-tutting about their support for the Western energy sector and rhetoric about how Westerners aren’t treated fairly in confederation, but a big question mark hangs over what the likely candidates will actually do about it.

With wildly high barriers to even getting on the ballot, the field of potential candidates appears to be exclusively from the East: Peter Mackay, Erin O’Toole, Pierre Poilievre, Marilyn Gladu, and potentially Jean Charest. For a party with its roots and base in the West, it’s a strong sign that the party’s braintrust will pivot even further towards the East.

This doesn’t mean that an Eastern candidate cannot work to deserve the support of Westerners though.

Here are five concrete policy commitments that candidates can make to demonstrate that their support for the West goes beyond donning “I love Canadian oil and gas” sweaters.

One: Equalization

In the 2017 CPC leadership race, Maxime Bernier became the first francophone to win a major electoral contest in Alberta since Sir Wilfred Laurier (before the First World War). This was in large measure due to his commitment to reform the Equalization program. Largely out of fear of “vote-splitting,” Westerners held their nose in the national election and remained in the Tory camp despite Andrew Scheer’s refusal to even whisper in public about Equalization. This is a clear example of how Western votes are important in internal leadership races, but are nearly irrelevant in national general elections.

Since 2017, Western attitudes towards Ottawa, Equalization, and even federalism have became more militant. Loud cheers of frustration could be heard at a conference in Calgary over the weekend when Prem Sigh of ‘The West Can’t Wait’ demanded that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney move up the date for his promised Equalization referendum. While Bernier pushing modest Equalization reform may have been viewed as radical in 2017, it is considered a moderate position in the West today.

Source: Scott Moe twitter account

Without a clear commitment to reform – if not outright eliminate – the $20.5 billion Equalization program, Westerners should dismiss outright any pretenders to the Tory crown.

Two: Senate Reform

Since the Supreme Court shot down Stephen Harper’s attempts to introduce the mildest of reforms to the Senate, politicians previously zealous on this front have given up entirely. Their reasoning isn’t unreasonable: any reform of the Senate will require reopening the constitution. As students of Brian Mulroney can attest, the constitution is Pandora’s Box, and will unleash the ghosts of Quebec nationalism and Western reformers.

But the pains of constitutional reform are required if the federalists are to make any credible case to the growing ranks of Western sovereigntists ready to exit Canada altogether. There is no functioning, large federation in the democratic world without a credible, regionally balanced, and democratically legitimate upper legislative chamber. The United States, Australia and Germany all provide reasonable and applicable templates.

The Canadian Senate Chamber (source: Flickr/The Canadian Senate)

In no democratic country on Earth – outside of Canada – is there a powerful legislative chamber that awards nearly twice as many seats to a jurisdiction (like New Brunswick) with less than one-fifth the population than Alberta. If Quebec faced anything like this, it would have voted to leave many decades ago.

Electing Senators (or having them appointed by provincial legislatures) without radically re-balancing their seat distribution, would create a Senate even more unfairly pitted against the West.

With good reason, Tory leadership candidates will be afraid of reopening the constitution, but without a radically reformed Senate, none of them can claim with a straight face to support an equal West in a fair Canada.

Three: Free Trade

Few functioning countries require its subnational jurisdictions to sign free-trade agreements among its provinces or states, but this is one of those curious Canadian quirks. The British North America Act (BNA) that created the Dominion of Canada was crystal clear about goods moving between provinces in 1867, but since then has been crippled by myopic provincial politicians, cowardly federal politicians, and bad Supreme Court decisions.

From beer, to milk, to oil, Canadian goods have more difficulty crossing the Ottawa River from Ontario to Quebec, than European goods crossing the Rhine from Germany to France. Without genuine free-trade, Canada cannot claim to be a functioning 21st Century economy.

Milch Cow (source: Glen Musem)

Liberals and Conservatives alike both pay lip service to internal free-trade, but when the rubber hits the road are too afraid to anger provincial politicians and industry lobbyists with the action required. Prairie Westerners shouldn’t have to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to nationalize a pipeline, and a decade in court and NEB hearings just to exercise their constitutional right to trade freely.

Internal free trade is a natural right of any citizen in a free country, and this right must be retrenched powerfully in the constitution.

Four: Supply Management

There is no more potent a symbol of the weak and pandering leadership of Andrew Scheer than his subservience to the supply management dairy cartel. His deal with the devil may have helped him clinch the Tory leadership in 2017, but outside of the Beauce, most of these newfound friends provided little political payoff in the general election.

Supply management is not just terrible Soviet-era economy policy; it is highly discriminatory towards the West. With hard quotas, supply-management artificially props up Quebec’s dairy industry, and makes it illegal for Western dairy farmers to produce enough to meet even their own domestic needs. It’s hard to imagine the federal government putting in place a quota system to prop up any Western industry at the direct expense of consumers and Eastern interests.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer featured in a social media image created by the Dairy Farmers of Canada lobby group.

Committing to end supply management would prove that a candidate is both a real economic libertarian, and Western friendly.

Five: Separation of Powers

Like internal free-trade, the 1867 constitution was clear on the separation of powers between the federal and provincial governments. Trade, currency, criminal law, and national defence were exclusively federal. Healthcare, education and social services were exclusively provincial. Since 1867, provincial politicians have meddled in most areas of federal jurisdiction (short of national defence), and federal politicians have laid claim to areas of clear provincial jurisdiction.

In 2020, Ottawa will collect $57 billion from the provinces, and hand it back to them with strings attached so that it can dictate health and social policy. It is a wild violation of clear provincial jurisdiction as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, and goes unquestioned by the Liberal and Tory establishments alike. Supporters of these provincial transfers say that this is to ensure uniformity of services across Canada, but the constitution says that the entire point of separate jurisdiction, is so that they can be different.

We can expect every last Tory leadership candidate to proclaim their “respect for provincial jurisdiction,” but to date, that has been only words. Provincial transfers are the single largest item in the federal budget, and are almost entirely in direct contradiction of the original intent of the constitution.

Six: Gun Rights

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce the details of his gun confiscation program in the spring. He has been intentionally vague about what kinds of firearms he intends to seize from lawful gun owners, but every plan floated by them to date amounts to little more than legalized theft.

Gun rights – like free trade and supply management – is a national issue, but disproportionally effects Westerners.

Conservative leadership candidates should commit to repeal any gun confiscation, provide compensation for any government theft, and a full pardon for anyone charged with not complying.

Don’t sell your vote too cheaply

Westerners should demand more than rhetoric from would-be Tory leaders. They should demand firm, written commitments before giving them their votes.

Unlike national elections when the Tories can take the West for granted, Tory leadership candidates need Western support. Don’t let them have it at such a low price.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and the President of Wildrose Media Corp.

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Opinion

McCOLL: The battle for Canada’s big blue tent

“The sacking of Sloan was a reversal for O’Toole and a betrayal of the social conservative wing. The battle for the heart and soul of the big blue tent has begun.”

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In my last column I explained why centre and centre-right conservative leadership candidates court the support of social conservatives, only to throw them under the bus once they have won the leadership. Social conservatives are tiring of this habit and are demanding greater influence within the Conservative Party (CPC) and their provincial counterparts.

A conflict between social conservatives and other camps at the March convention seems certain as the former are growing in number and influence. A shift in the political landscape has altered the balance of power within the CPC; but what caused this shift?

British historian Dr. Stephen Davies argues that political realignments happen every 30 to 40 years. As the alignment of most voters shifts, so too do political alliances. This results in power struggles within big tent parties that end in schism, new political parties forming, or a shift in ideology. An example is how the Republicans of Abraham Lincoln were the northern party of black liberation while his opposition Democrats were (largely) the party of southern slave owners.

Davies points out that throughout history, politics has normally been a binary option around one primary defining issue. A two-dimensional political spectrum is created by adding the most important secondary issue as the vertical axis.

For most of recent history, the primary horizontal axis was economic: economic control (socialism) to the left, and economic freedom (free enterprise) to the right. The secondary issue – vertical axis – placed authoritarianism at one end, and social freedom (libertarian) at the other.

A diagonal line between the two dominant quadrants becomes the political left vs. right spectrum we know: with upper-left “social democratic” parties and bottom-right “free enterprise conservative” parties.

Most voters will fall into one of these two dominant quadrants with the minority of voters (normally swing voters) finding themselves in one of the two quadrants devoid of major political parties. The unionized blue-collar workers who voted for Trump, for example, can often be found in the empty economic-left and social-authoritarian quadrant.

Davies argues the new 21st-century primary axis is about issues of identity: nationalism vs. globalism; stability and order vs. dynamic innovation; rural areas and industrial regions vs. global metropolitan cities.

Davies’ new dominant quadrants – representing the primary coalitions – are the “globalist liberals & free market libertarians” and the “national collectivists & cultural conservatives.”

Traditional leftist parties made up of coalitions between environmentalists, socialists, liberals, and moderates will be difficult to maintain as the liberals and moderates will want to follow the majority of voters as they shift to more globalist and libertarian social positions.

While difficult, it is possible to build a big-tent coalition of the old left and the new globalist left under first past the post systems. However, traditional centre-right parties – like the Conservative Party of Canada – are in trouble and Davies argues they will almost certainly splinter as competing policy objectives pull the moderates and social conservatives in opposite directions. The growth of social conservative influence within the CPC results from this influx of economic-left cultural conservatives and a simultaneous departure of progressives and libertarians.

Examples of the realignment include the 2017 French elections where the traditional centre-left and centre-right parties were both shut-out of the Presidential run-off between the new globalist LaREM party of Emmanuel Macron and the National Front party of the cultural conservative Marie Le Pen. The LaREM-led coalition also won a substantial majority in the National Assembly, while the traditional centre-left and centre-right parties suffered significant losses.

Trump represented a dramatic shift in Republican policy towards national collectivism, and many of the newly elected Republican senators and members of congress share Trump’s nationalism and collectivist instincts. Hillary Clinton – who most readers would agree is a globalist liberal – tried to shift her party towards globalism but faced a backlash from the old socialist wing represented by Bernie Sanders and the new radical-environmentalist wing represented by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In Canada, the shift can be seen in Quebec’s provincial elections. The new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is a prime example of a national collectivist and cultural conservative party. Federal Progressive Conservative cabinet minister turned Liberal Premier of Quebec Jean Charest set the Quebec Liberal party down the path to become a Macron-style coalition of globalist liberals and free market libertarians.

Derek Sloan and Dr. Leslyn Lewis both clearly campaigned on national collectivist and cultural conservative policies. Up until Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, O’Toole seemed content to slowly shift the CPC in the direction of national collectivism. The sacking of Sloan was a reversal for O’Toole and a betrayal of the social conservative wing. The battle for the heart and soul of the big blue tent has begun.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard

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Opinion

McCOLL: As Scheer did unto Trost, O’Toole did unto Sloan

“O’Toole – potentially shocked into action by the events in Washington – has fired the first shot and triggered a battle for control of the big blue tent.”

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I wanted to use the phrase, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me;” but for Ontario social conservatives, this is the third time.  Erin O’Toole is now the third conservative politician from Ontario who recently courted the support of social conservatives only to throw their champion out of the party a few months after winning a leadership election.  Why does this keep happening?

Conservatives say they elect leaders in accordance with a “one member, one vote” principle; but most centre-right parties in Canada do not. The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party use a ranked ballot and an electoral college style point system. With each constituency entitled to the same number of points, this system allows a dozen dairy farmers with one-year memberships in Quebec to be worth the same number of points as hundreds of life-long social conservatives in a rural Ontario constituency or the thousands of members in Calgary Centre.

Politicians are people, and people respond to incentives. The path to victory for a challenger in a conservative leadership vote lies in securing the runner-up position early by being an undefined “True Blue Conservative” and then vigorously courting social conservatives for down ballot support.

With 13 candidates in the 2017 leadership race, Scheer positioned himself as everyone’s second choice; but it was the social conservatives who voted for the hard-right social conservative Brad Trost and the more moderate social conservative Pierre Lemieux that gave him his narrow 51 to 49 per cent win over Max Bernier. Unfortunately, the hard-right support that is key to winning the CPC leadership can also be a “stinking albatross” in competitive swing ridings during a general election. This encourages CPC leaders to dispose of political liabilities. Less than a year after the leadership vote, Brad Trost lost his CPC nomination in what his supporters have described as a Scheer ordered hit job.

In the 2018 Ontario PC Leadership, Doug Ford courted the down ballot support of social conservative Tanya Allen. Doug Ford narrowly won the most points – while losing the popular vote – thanks to the down ballot support of rural social conservatives.

Allen ran for the leadership in opposition to Liberal changes to the public-school curriculum, and Ford signaled his support arguing that the “sex-ed curriculum should be about facts, not teaching Liberal ideology.” Within two months of the leadership vote, Ford revoked Allen’s elected nomination because of her social conservative views on sex education.

During the 2020 leadership race, Sloan implied that being gay was a choice. Many Conservative MPs were outraged and demanded that Sloan be expelled from caucus. O’Toole defended Sloan in caucus, and made it known to Sloan supporters that they were welcome in O’Toole’s “True Blue” tent. Less than a year later, Sloan has been kicked to the curb.

Trost, Allen, and Sloan all had the support of the Campaign Life Coalition, a social conservative group that campaigns against abortion and what they see as liberal ideology in sex education curriculums. As reported in the Western Standard, the president of Campaign Life has demanded O’Toole’s resignation and confirmed reports that Campaign Life has organized  delegates to attend the CPC’s virtual March convention. As only delegates can vote for National Council leadership positions, it was reported that O’Toole dumped Sloan as part of a plan to stop Campaign Life from taking control of National Council and passing anti-abortion policies.

In the 2017 Conservative leadership race, the social conservatives were the king makers, but they did not have the numbers to elect one of their own.  Social conservatives also represented a minority of delegates at the 2018 party convention in Halifax. In the 2020 leadership race, social conservatives won the popular vote in the second round. After Sloan’s down ballot support was redistributed, moderate social conservative Dr. Leslyn Lewis had 35 per cent of – and was winning – the popular vote but she placed third in the points and was eliminated because her support was concentrated in the West.

Social conservatives are demanding greater influence over the CPC.  A conflict between the two camps at the March convention seems certain. O’Toole – potentially shocked into action by the events in Washington – has fired the first shot and triggered a battle for control of the big blue tent.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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Opinion

WAGNER: The Toronto book that predicted the rise of Western independence, 50 years ago

“It is remarkable that this book – The Prairie Provinces: Alienation and Anger – written by a team from a Toronto newspaper and published in Toronto in 1969, got so much right.”

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In 1969, The Toronto Telegram newspaper undertook the ‘Canada 70’ study, which involved surveying the attitudes of citizens across the country. One of the products of this study was a book entitled, The Prairie Provinces: Alienation and Anger which was written by The Telegram’s Ottawa Bureau chief, Peter Thompson, and published by McClelland and Stewart. The striking thing about this book is that it shows how little has changed in the West’s relationship with Central Canada in over 50 years.

Much of the book is a sympathetic discussion of Western alienation and the reasons for it. Thompson sought out the views of many Westerners and seems to have obtained an authentic sense of their frustrations with Central Canada. This provides a basis for him to accurately explain a genuine Western perspective to his Toronto audience.

Early in the book, Thompson writes: “Many Western Canadians are getting mad. They have been disenchanted for generations with the East over economic inequities because the best interest of the Western primary producer is fundamentally opposed to that of the Eastern manufacturer. They have been disturbed by their apparent inability to influence the political and financial decisions of the nation.” In other words, “The real basis of Western discontent as Canada enters the 1970s is the fact that too many decisions guiding the Prairie destiny are made in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.”

Of course, in 1969 Canada had a rookie prime minister named Pierre Trudeau. The Canada 70 study was able to get a comment from Trudeau about discontent in Western Canada. He began by saying, “Perhaps, to be quite candid with you when you talk of growing disenchantment, I must begin by saying that some of my reading of the West is that it is always disenchanted.” In other words, his basic assumption was that Westerners are a bunch of chronic whiners. Not a good place to start.

In one part of the study, Westerners were asked about their sense of attachment to the country in relation to their sense of attachment to the West. A somewhat concerned Thompson writes: “perhaps many Canadians will be disturbed to know that thirty-four percent of Westerners think of their province or region ahead of the nation. Even more disturbing could be the fact that young people are more inclined to identify with their region or province than their parents are.”

Not surprisingly, then, Thompson sensed the budding of secessionist sentiment in the West. Indeed, the concluding chapter of his book is entitled, “Seeds of Separation.”

As he explains, the prairie West had been relatively poor from the early part of the twentieth century until the 1960s. During that decade, however, its economic situation began to improve, leading to new political thinking: “Not until the mid-1960s did the West halt to take stock, of both its riches and its position within confederation. It found the riches to be vast in dollar value but apparently limited in power to change the industrial and social structures of Canada.”

The result was that many Westerners became determined to get a better deal from Canada. As Thompson points out, “The suggestion implicit in the West’s confident tone is that if this game is rigged,” then “the West is getting out. The West is in a position to set some of the rules because it has more than its share of wealth in the game.”

He quickly adds that there were only “tiny seeds of separatist thought” in the West. However, he then points out that if the federal government does not deal fairly with the West, it “could force those tiny seeds of Western separatism into a growing movement within a decade.”

Thompson’s words were prophetic. The first serious secessionist organizations began to form in Alberta during the 1970s, and really took off in 1980 after Pierre Trudeau introduced his execrable National Energy Program (NEP).

Thompson was able to interview Premier Harry Strom – the last Social Credit premier of Alberta – and asked him about Western sentiment. Strom’s view was that “it would take a man of national stature to stir up the scattered separatist feeling in the West.” Although he did not think such a leader was then on the horizon, he said “such men have been known to emerge almost overnight.”

Premier Strom’s view that the lack of a prominent, credible leader was the missing piece in the independence movement is worth pondering. This same point would also be made by others in the ensuing decades. Clearly, there is something to it.

It is remarkable that this book – The Prairie Provinces: Alienation and Anger – written by a team from a Toronto newspaper and published in Toronto in 1969, got so much right. Over fifty years ago, an accurate and sympathetic portrayal of Western concerns and grievances was presented to Central Canada, along with a warning about budding secessionist sentiment. But in Central Canada, nobody listens to the West. In fact, federal policies are probably worse for the Prairie West today than they were in 1969.

Alberta’s – and even Saskatchewan’s – independence movement have begun to emerge from their infancy with organized and increasingly credible political parties behind them.

All the movement needs to catch fire is Strom’s man of “national stature”.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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