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DREW BARNES: Alberta must get a fair deal, or vote on independence

Drew Barnes writes that it’s long past due to implement the firewall letter and demand a new constitutional arrangement with Ottawa. And if Ottawa is unwilling, let Albertans vote on independence.

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On January 27th, 2001, a group of prominent Albertans submitted the now famous Alberta Agenda – better known as the ‘Firewall Letter’ – to the National Post with a clear call-to-action. I’ve been re-reading their work, and was struck by this quote. 

“Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan…Collect our own revenue from personal income tax. Resume provincial responsibility for health-care policy. If Ottawa objects to provincial policy, fight in the courts…Each province should raise it own revenue for health…It is imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta”. 

Now, almost 20 years later, and we find ourselves expressing the same dreams, frustrations, and debating these same steps. Albertans’ culture is that of taking action and getting things done, of fulfilling dreams and hopes, not sitting on them for almost 20 years. 

I was humbled by, and proud of, the hundreds of Albertans who went to the microphone, reached out, or emailed the Fair Deal Panel to help our government understand the depths of the frustration and powerlessness felt by Albertans. We heard excellent ideas from every region and every political perspective, and the quality of the debate strengthened my faith in our province and our people. But at the heart of it, we heard an overwhelming desire for change and the need for consequences.

We heard Albertans want equalization stopped or reformed. We heard that the firewall items from 20 years ago need to be implemented, that meaningful democratic and public spending reform needs to occur, for actual free trade, and a constitutionally guaranteed resource movement. 

Eighty per cent spoke passionately about the need for a fair deal with Ottawa and our Canadian partners. Twenty per cent of speakers felt the Canadian partnership was beyond repair. Significantly, many more are on the cusp – if we cannot reach agreement and make confederation work, it is the last time we try. Stunning numbers put forth that timelines and deadlines needed to be sent to Ottawa. Also prevalent was the number of those who also said that if Ottawa did not respond with a fair deal for Alberta, then a referendum on Alberta’s future within confederation must be held. If Prime Minister Trudeau ignores our efforts to make Canada work, then he accepts the consequences. 

Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP’s failed alliance with Prime Minister Trudeau has been a catastrophic failure. $650 billion transferred out of Alberta to Ottawa since 1961. Alberta is almost $100 billion in debt. An ineffective, punitive, wealth redistributing carbon tax. As well as biased, misguided, targeted federal laws that discriminate against our industries.

These policies continue to hurt Alberta families, business and communities daily and directly, leaving them powerless.  Many Albertans spoke at the Fair Deal Panel and mentioned how they haven’t found work, are paid much less, have a child or parent suffering from the effects of reduced opportunities and employment, or have put their entire RRSP’s back into their business to keep their employees working. Many Albertans have lost hope for the future. Albertans are resilient and optimistic. To hear the despair and pessimism is alarming, on so many levels.

Let us be clear. The NDP recent call for a motion to “Reject Alberta Separatism” is wrong. It is wrong because Albertans have shown for over a hundred years that we are exceptional. We are capable risk takers, builders and a willingness to do what it takes to achieve our goals. Albertans are compassionate family and community members, and we have built a province that has led in opportunity, growth and wealth creation for Alberta and Canada. We want to make Canada work, but we recognize that we need a willing partner across the table.

It was time 20 years ago to take action, to develop a new deal with Ottawa and assert Alberta’s autonomy, strength and ability to lead. With conservative premiers in many of the provincial capitals, the best time to act is now. Alberta needs to lead the way and push for a stronger constitutional framework, one that will lead to stronger provinces and ultimately a stronger Canada.

Let’s get busy. Let’s start with, engaging Albertans­­- to draw out all their thoughts and ideas. Through building “Alberta First” government programs, agencies and opportunities. Then we need to put Ottawa on a notice that we are insisting on a fair deal now, including guaranteed resource movement, free trade and constitutional reform.

Finally, most important, we have to make Ottawa understand there will be consequences if a fair deal is withheld. A provincial referendum on Alberta’s future. Soon. Not 20 more years.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

Opinion

MORGAN: Has Kenney dodged a bullet?

“Whatever shortcomings he may have, it is undeniable that Jason Kenney is a master political player.”

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Apparently the meeting was quick, but strategic discussions went well into the night before the Executive Committee (EC) of the UCP agreed upon the rules to set out for a future leadership review for Jason Kenney.

The political brinkmanship leading up to this meeting began months ago. While rogue constituency associations (CAs) were trying to meet a constitutional bar set for invoking a leadership review, Kenney loyalists were organizing to ensure the EC elected at the UCP’s November 2021 annual general meeting (AGM) could control the terms of the review. It appears the Kenney loyalists have won this round.

A total of 22 CAs issued a letter demanding a leadership review to be held by the end of March in 2022. That met the bar set out in the party bylaws to invoke such a review and it put Kenney on the spot. An attempt was made to raise the bar for calling a review to 29 CAs, but that motion was soundly rejected by party members at the November AGM. Plan B was to stack the party EC and that appears to have been a success.

A leadership review is now slated to be held in Red Deer on Saturday, April 9, 2022. This review will look nothing like what the 22 constituency associations wanted to see, however. The terms of this review have been set by the party executive and they will slant the odds in favour of Jason Kenney.

The CAs wanted the review to allow every member of the party to place a vote. The only party members who will be able to vote in the leadership review will be delegates who pay a fee and travel to Red Deer on April 9th in order to vote in person. That fee has yet to be determined, but we can rest assured it won’t be inexpensive. This will likely reduce the number of people voting in the leadership review down to well under 1,000. This provides a much more manageable number of members to manipulate in order to ensure a positive measure of support for Jason Kenney.

In the late hours of the last night of the legislative session, the UCP government invoked closure and passed Bill 81 that will allow a single person to purchase hundreds of memberships on behalf of other people in a political party. CAs that used to have to disclose the source of all donations will no longer be obliged to do so. This provides a mechanism for a political action committee (PAC) to funnel funds to CAs which could sponsor members to attend events such as leadership reviews. Theoretically, memberships could now be purchased for others who then have their transportation and convention fees sponsored in order for them to place votes favorable to the leader. Do you think this may happen?

Whatever shortcomings he may have, it’s undeniable that Kenney is a master political player. He knows rules and procedures inside out and he has decades of experience in winning campaigns from general elections to leadership races. Kenney is pulling out the stops to keep himself in the leader’s seat of the UCP and it looks like he may very well pull it off.

While Kenney may have just won the latest battle, it will remain to be seen if he wins the war. He is lining up the stars in order to ensure a winning leadership review, but he will be still facing a grumpy caucus and some infuriated CAs the day after the review if not sooner.

Kenney is buying himself time. With time he may win over ruffled caucus members and as we come closer to election time, CAs may become dominated by Kenney loyalists again.

While Kenney may pull off dodging a bullet with his leadership, his biggest challenge remains winning the next election. Being a skilled political operator may help keep him in the leader’s seat, but it doesn’t necessarily endear himself with the general electorate. Political intrigue can foster public mistrust.

Kenney is in a fight for his political life. This war will take place in a number of battles. So far Kenney is winning them.

The final battle will come in the spring of 2023 when Kenney faces the Alberta electorate as a whole.

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

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The Pipeline: YouTube cancels Western Standard

This week a Calgary Cop suspended for refusing vax, YouTube cancels Western Standard and D-Day on Kenney’s leadership vote rules. Join us live at 12 PM!

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Opinion

MORGAN: Free speech in comedy under siege

“What has happened to our society when a comedy festival may turn into a street battle? “

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Standup comedians have always been on the front lines in battles over free speech and expression.

In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, most of the pearl-clutching busybodies came from the ‘moral majority’ religious right. They feared obscenity within comedy acts would degrade the moral fabric of the nation and for a while, the law agreed. Comedian Lenny Bruce was convicted and sentenced to four months in a workhouse in 1964 for the crime of spreading obscenity in his act. George Carlin was arrested seven times during the 1970s for his famous “Seven Dirty Words” routine.

Bruce died before the appeal of his sentence was completed. He was posthumously pardoned in 2003. Charges against Carlin were all dropped before he could be convicted. Carlin and Bruce refused to back down and in the end, the state couldn’t win. We will never know how many comedians allowed themselves to be cowed into changing their acts due to state and social intimidation in those days. Not all of them had the will or support bases Carlin and Bruce enjoyed.

The ability for comedians to freely express themselves is just as threatened today as it was 50 years ago. The source of puritanical outrage against comedy routines has changed, though. These days the prigs demanding the curtailment of free speech in comedy acts are the snowflakes of the politically correct left.

Canadian comedian Mike Ward found himself dragged before human rights tribunals and the Canadian courts for nearly a decade over a routine in which he mocked a disabled young Canadian performer. The case ultimately went to the Canadian Supreme Court where it was ruled in a tight 5-4 split decision Ward’s right to free speech was to be protected, and jokes were not subject to judicial review. We came dangerously close to having a comedian convicted for his routine during this decade. The threat to free expression is real and it’s ongoing.

The prime target of the cancel-culture mob lately has been American comedian Dave Chappelle. Chappelle has long enjoyed poking fun at the hypersensitive underbelly of the LGBTQ activist community and has never backed down in the face of the enraged blowback following one of his acts. In Chappelle’s most recent Netflix comedy special he went out of his way to antagonize the usual suspects as he made jokes about transgender ideological orthodoxy. The response to his act was immediate and predictable. Activists demanded Netflix pull the special down and small groups of Netflix employees staged widely publicized walkouts in protest of Chappelle’s act.

Netflix never pulled Chappelle’s special down and Chappelle has remained unapologetic for it. The controversy generated by apoplectic snowflakes in response to Chappelle’s act likely only increased viewership of the special.

It has just been announced Dave Chappelle is going to be headlining a Netflix comedy festival this coming April in Hollywood Bowl. This signals Netflix has done well with Chappelle’s routine despite or perhaps even because of the controversy it generated. In having a set date at a large outdoor venue and in such a populated area, Netflix is upping the ante in their battle with cancel-culture activists. Not only are they saying they won’t pull Chappelle’s older content, but they are also expanding the reach for his next act.

American and Canadian courts have proven they will protect the rights of free expression for controversial comedians, albeit grudgingly. Anti-free speech activists will have to take their case to the streets now and I suspect they will. With as many as 17,000 attendees arriving for a comedy festival being potentially greeted by a sizable number of protesters, things may get ugly.

What has happened to our society when a comedy festival may turn into a street battle?

Chappelle’s showdown this spring could be a turning point for comedy. Will he and Netflix stand their ground in the face of protests? Will local authorities ensure the show can go on even if activists vow to shut it down? This comedy event is going to be an important one.

As with any art, the enjoyment of comedy is subjective. Some people like simple clean humour, some like complex satire, and some like vulgarity-laden shock comedy. The only people who can judge good comedy are the audience and they should only be able to render judgment through voting with their feet (and wallets). In other words, if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

Comedians ply their trade by observing the world and poking at sacred cows. They dig into subjects people commonly avoid and force us to think about them through the lens of humour. They provide a public service by pushing the boundaries of free expression and ensuring no subjects are ever out of bounds. They often make us laugh and we need a whole lot more of that these days.

Comedians will not be able to effectively practice their art if they fear censors or legal repercussions. They will be restrained and they will leave subjects that need to be brought before public scrutiny untouched.

If the speech and expression of comedians are allowed to be suppressed, no speech is safe. We need to stand up for our comics for both their sake and our own.

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

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