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WAGNER: Canada will never change unless Alberta is willing to leave it

Michael Wagner writes that Ted Byfield understood 20 years ago that nothing would change without a credible threat of independence.

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On June 17, the official report of Premier Jason Kenney’s Fair Deal Panel was made public. It recognized the widespread anger of Albertans towards the federal government’s unfair treatment of this province. In response, the panel recommended a number of measures to reassert Alberta’s jurisdictional powers within Canada, and to try to renegotiate the equalization program with the federal government and the other provinces.

The panel made clear however, that it completely ruled out any consideration of Alberta independence, even as a last resort. The report acknowledged that, “Some Albertans believe that the only way to get Ottawa and other provinces to pay attention to unfairness and misunderstandings is to use the threat of separation, implying that if Alberta does not get a fairer place within the federation, the province will pursue secession from Canada.” It quickly dismisses that option, stating: “But we do not believe the threat of secession is a constructive negotiating strategy.”

One panel member, MLA Drew Barnes, wrote a letter to Premier Kenney, publicly disagreeing with that conclusion. Barnes wrote, “While I appreciate that my colleagues on the panel do not believe that Alberta can or should raise the prospect of independence under any circumstance, I must respectfully disagree. A free people must be willing to at some point of injustice without rectification, to draw a line and make a stand.”

Barnes’ position is much like that of Ted Byfield, the influential publisher of Alberta Report magazine. In the aftermath of the 2000 federal election, Byfield wrote columns explaining that only the threat of Alberta independence would make Central Canada take the province’s concerns seriously.

In November 2000, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals handily beat the Canadian Alliance, leaving a large number of Albertans unhappy with their province’s status within Canada. Many wanted substantial change. 

It was within this context that the famous “Firewall Letter” written by Stephen Harper and other prominent Albertans was published. In a sense, that letter was a precursor to the Fair Deal Panel’s report. It proposed that the Alberta government maximize its use of the province’s constitutional powers, including collecting income tax, creating a provincial police force, initiating a provincial pension plan, and forcing Senate reform back onto the national agenda.

Byfield found the Firewall Letter to be defective on at least one point – there was no threat to back it up. In his January 22, 2001 column for The Report magazine (as it was at that time), Byfield wrote: “If Mr. Harper thinks that Alberta can merely proceed to exercise the same autonomy Quebec now does, he is dreaming. Quebec is a special case; it is, we are constantly told, ‘distinct.’ What makes it special? Its language? Its cultural heritage? Yes, but it always had those, and nobody outside Quebec gave a damn. Such autonomy as Quebec possesses was achieved in just one way: it made convincing threats to leave.”

“The lesson is plain,” Byfield continued. “If you really want change,” he wrote, you must “threaten to leave—and mean it. Period. If we fail to understand this, we are not being patriotic. We are being stupid. Crassly, arrogantly, blindly stupid.”

He resumed this theme in his subsequent column published February 5, 2001. The column’s title said it all: “The West’s paradox – the only way we can change Canada is by finding ways to leave it.”

In this column Byfield made his argument forcefully.

“Unless we make credible threats to set up on our own we will get absolutely nothing by way of constitutional change, or any other kind of change. We will be bashed down every time. If we threatened to leave and meant it, we would have enormous clout in Canada, more even than Quebec. By refusing to entertain such an idea, we have no clout whatever. That is the message of history.” 

A message – one might add – overlooked by the Fair Deal Panel.

Byfield went on to argue that Alberta needed to explore alternatives to being in Canada, such as becoming an independent country or joining the United States. Once it was understood that these were viable options, Alberta could then return to the negotiating table to discuss its place within Canada. He wrote, “If we go to the table without those options, we will come away with nothing whatever. All central Canada need do is stymie the negotiational process and we will have to slump back into the status quo as we always have.” Without practical alternatives, there is no reason why Central Canada would agree to any changes favourable to Alberta. 

Byfield referred to Alberta’s situation as “a paradox” because the “only way we can change Canada is to develop ways of getting out of Canada. We must possess other options.” This is undoubtedly true. By ruling out secession from the start, the Fair Deal Panel has thrown away Alberta’s only significant alternative to the status quo. Drew Barnes is absolutely right – if Albertans cannot obtain significant changes within Canada, then “we must seek another relationship, as a sovereign people.”

Michael Wagner is columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’

Michael Wagner is a Senior Columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include 'Alberta: Separatism Then and Now' and 'True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.' mwagner@westernstandardonline.com

Opinion

SLOBODIAN: Not so quick with allegations of hate crimes

It wasn’t a fair fight, but a police investigation determined it was also not a hate crime.

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On the surface, a gang of white boys piling on one black boy sure looked like it could be a hate crime.

As it turns out, there was more to the story regarding the April 16 attack in an Edmonton schoolyard.

It wasn’t a fair fight, but a police investigation determined it was also not a hate crime.

A video of the incident, during which the 14-year-old was swarmed and beaten is painful to watch.  It made local news and the “racist” incident was featured on the CBC The National.

That seven boys, all aged 14 but for one 12-year-old, attacked one boy is profoundly disturbing. Whoever stood back to video this is just as guilty as his bully buddies who kicked, punched and put the victim in a chokehold. 

Predictably, some swiftly concluded this attack was purely driven by racial hatred. The facts be damned.

They didn’t talk to the boys involved. 

But police did.

The hate crimes unit concluded this incident didn’t meet the Criminal Code criteria for a hate crime.

“There is still not sufficient evidence that this event was motivated by hate bias or prejudice toward the complainant’s race,” said Edmonton Police Service chief Dale McFee. “As such, it does not currently meet the Criminal Code threshold for a hate-motivated crime.”

During the melee one of the boys yelled out the nasty N-word. McFee rightfully acknowledged this as “highly inappropriate” but not sufficient to meet hate crime standards.

Police discovered the boys had a troubled history but didn’t elaborate.

“Our investigation currently shows this began as a consensual schoolyard fight and was part of an ongoing dispute between a group of male youths, that reportedly started last year,” said McFee.

Admittedly, McFee’s choice of the word consensual is cringeworthy considering that the victim was grossly outnumbered. McFee opened himself up to criticism and is obliged to explain why police arrived at this conclusion.

Police everywhere are working under a microscope, constantly being accused of discriminating against minorities. With budgets being slashed and calls to defund them, they can’t afford to be careless or callous. 

After hearing the results of the investigation, one anti-racism activist with A Fight For Equality insisted it was a hate crime and said charges should be laid against the boys. Essentially, this is a demand for police to ignore the Criminal Code. 

Canada cannot ever go down that slippery slope.

Other activists accused police of not getting the zero-tolerance for hate crimes message across.

What are they doing as activists to bring people with all skin colours together and repair relations in communities? How are they helping to teach their children tolerance and that beating up anyone is unacceptable? 

Knee-jerk reactions fuel division, create unwarranted fear and anger, and are grossly unfair to victims and perpetrators. To wrongly insist this was hate crime doesn’t help these boys who should be the priority. It ignores the root of why this happened and interferes with determining appropriate punishment. A problem, not honestly addressed, doesn’t get fixed.

The reaction to this incident is symptomatic of a growing Canada-wide problem.

McFee dared to say race wasn’t a factor. This is something Canadians are increasingly afraid to say out loud, even when true.

These days, people who denounce or even question accusations of race-based hate are – sometimes viciously – targeted as racist. That’s a bad thing to be. False accusations can destroy reputations. 

Race baiters, seeking to support agendas or personal biases, skillfully use this fear tactic to silence anyone who challenges potentially unfounded claims. 

We must cautiously discern between those who earnestly want unity and seek to protect victims of hate and those seeking to serve their own interests.

Yes, there are racists in Canada. 

No, Canada’s not a systematically racist country.

When Canadians learn someone has been the victim of a hate crime it tears at their hearts. They generously support activist groups who fundraise off of every incident. Ironic isn’t it? 

Moving forward, we must tread carefully on this issue of alleged systematic racism some insist permeates Canada.

Meanwhile, the definition of hate-crime victims sometimes gets confusing.

If seven black boys had attacked one white boy would anyone call it a hate crime? Or would it have been recognized for what it was? 

In today’s climate that’s an uncomfortable, but fair, question. 

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard.

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Opinion

HARDING: Maverick is poised to make gains as Conservatives turn their back on the West

“Until recently, the party said it will run candidates solely in ridings where a “split” of the vote wouldn’t elect a Liberal or New Democrat. Since O’Toole’s carbon tax flip-flop, interim party leader Jay Hill has hinted he may drop this policy and run in tighter races, seeing little difference between the Tories and Liberals on western issues.”

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In the coming federal election, whenever it may be, the Conservative Party is positioning itself to lose a significant portion of its western and rural base to the upstart Maverick Party. It’s not hard to see why. 

The policies and person of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fanned the flames of western discontent, and even independence in some quarters. Outdoing all his predecessors since Brian Mulroney, federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has taken the west for granted. In a bid to win more votes in Toronto and Quebec, he has embraced a huge carbon tax with enthusiasm. It could just prove to be the most hated policy on the prairies.

Erin O’Toole’s carbon tax Petro Points plan turned some party faithful into real doubters, or downright hostile ones. Even the phrase “carbon Petro Points plan,” plainly demonstrates the mixture of a bad idea made worse by a gimmicky joke. Even Trudeau’s tax-and-give-it-back-to-you premise – however punishing – is still better than the Tory proposal. O’Toole wants to tax you, but deny he’s taxing you and leave you no recourse to recover your seized money except to make “green” government-approved expenditures. The anti-oil movement meets the nanny state, with a vengeance.

And O’Toole will actually campaign on the idea. The only previous time a major federal opposition leader openly campaigned on a carbon tax was the Stephane Dion Liberals of 2008. They had the most dismal showing in Liberal history to that date, thanks in part to Conservative attack ads that said, “Stephane Dion is not a leader,” and Harper’s comments that his carbon tax was “a tax on everything” that will “screw everybody.” The same could be said of Erin O’Toole and his carbon tax. Obviously, he must have some savvy, having won the Conservative leadership, but his about-face on the carbon tax has turned his reception from “meh” to “blech.”

A recent encounter brought home the seriousness of O’ Toole’s miscalculation for me. At the Chris Sky rally in Regina, I met a man from the Assiniboia Sask. area who told me, “A lot of people are saying they’re not voting Conservative anymore. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

If you don’t know Assiniboia, it’s got about 2,400 people and the closest place with more people, Moose Jaw, is an hour’s drive away. It’s farming and ranching all the way, though the coal-fired power plant in nearby Coronach is a big employer. 

In rural Saskatchewan, the two things heard most often in the 2019 election were: “The election is over as soon as it hits the Manitoba border” and “If Trudeau gets in again, I’m all for Western independence.”

The Maverick Party is best positioned to capitalize on that sentiment. Until recently, the party said it will run candidates solely in ridings where a “split” of the vote wouldn’t elect a Liberal or New Democrat. Since O’Toole’s carbon tax flip-flop, interim party leader Jay Hill has hinted he may drop this policy and run in tighter races, seeing little difference between the Tories and Liberals on western issues.

PPC leader Maxime Bernier gets it on many of the big western issues, but the loss of his own Quebec seat in the last election left a vacuum in the west for discontented conservatives. With no major party capable of electing MPs to champion western issues, Maverick is poised to fill that vacuum.

The late Joseph Garcea, a University of Saskatchewan political science professor who died in November, shared an important insight on the last provincial election. He said the Saskatchewan NDP had many little policy ideas, but no big idea to rally support. Similarly, the PPC has many little ideas. It’s hard to convince people to vote for change with little ideas. The Maverick Party has a big – and some would say radical idea: an independent west – whether within confederation or apart from it.

People make decisions emotionally, then justify them rationally. The Maverick Party will harness both the anger and grievance in western alienation and the hope found in western independence. The Maverick platform adds substance to the sentiment.

As a fresh party with rookie campaign teams, I’d be surprised if Maverick won any seats. However, they stand a good shot of landing plenty of second place finishes. That might be enough to make O’ Toole remember the West. If the Mavericks can do that, it will be accomplishment enough.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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MORGAN: I was a part of Kenney base. No longer

“I know who Kenney’s base was. The base hasn’t changed. Jason Kenney has.”

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I was a part of Jason Kenney’s base.

Like most Albertans after 2015, I was mortified that we had managed to give the NDP a majority government due to our incessant political infighting and corruption in conservative ranks. I was eager and searching for a way to free ourselves from a provincial government that was farther to the left than Ottawa’s Liberals. I was ready to embrace pragmatism and compromise on the partisan front to ensure that Rachel Notley was a single-term premier, or as Jason Kenney put it, “one and done.”

Jason Kenney entered the Alberta political scene and offered us a plan. He showed us a path to conservative unity and he offered to lead us there. I was thrilled.

I have always respected and admired Jason Kenney. As a fiscal watchdog with the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, Kenney mercilessly held Ralph Klein’s feet to the fire in the 1990s on issues of spending and corporate welfare. As a Reform Party MP, Kenney took the Chretien Liberals to task on spending and corruption. Kenney deserves some of the credit for the balanced budgets that both Klein and Chretien eventually presented. It takes steady, reasonable pressure in order to get government leaders to take on tough tasks and Kenney was masterful at putting that pressure on.

As a cabinet minister in the Stephen Harper government, Jason Kenney was no less impressive. Immigration has always been a difficult file for conservative governments and as the Immigration and Citizenship Minister, Kenney made great inroads into relations with immigrant communities and was respected across the country. Kenney was no slouch in other ministerial portfolios as well and it has been long established that his parliamentary work ethic is second to none.

Because of that impressive political resume, I was confident that Kenney was the man who would bring Alberta back into being a province known for good, no-nonsense conservative governance.

I supported Kenney’s efforts to unite the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Parties. I encouraged people to buy memberships in both parties and to vote to merge. I supported Kenney in his multiple leadership races and I supported the UCP in the 2019 Alberta election.

I know who Kenney’s base was. The base hasn’t changed. Jason Kenney has.

The Western Standard reported in an exclusive story, Premier Kenney said, in reference to Albertans who attended a rodeo south of Bowden last week, “If they are our base, I want a new base.”

I didn’t expect Premier Kenney to endorse or support the rodeo. Indeed, it was intentionally modelled to be in defiance of provincial regulations. Kenney clearly realized that the attendees of the rodeo did represent a large part of his base, and while that doesn’t obligate him to support them, it does obligate him to respect them. Kenney instead chose to insult them in public, and show contempt for them in private.

We were your base Premier Kenney, but we aren’t any longer. As for your new base, I am not sure where you expect them to come from. Rest assured, you will not be winning any love from NDP supporters no matter how much you spend or suppress individual rights.

Jason Kenney has turned into a terrible disappointment as Alberta’s premier and it is well reflected in his current support numbers. Kenney’s support among his base was slipping well before the pandemic struck. In this year of crisis however, Kenney’s support has truly evaporated. Kenney has tried to be everything to everybody, and ended up being nothing to anybody. It is a fate that befell Jim Prentice before him.

The conservative base hasn’t left Alberta. They have simply left Jason Kenney and it appears that he is just fine with that.

The base will not go back to Jason Kenney after having been abandoned and taken for granted by him though and he can’t win the next election without them.

The base will find a new home. It may be through replacing Jason Kenney within the UCP, or through a new partisan vehicle. That base may dominate in the next provincial election or we may end up with another NDP government. Time will tell.

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



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