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WAGNER: Alberta Alone – Independence in fiction

Michael Wagner reviews the 1976 novel on an Alberta uprising against Ottawa.

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A movement for Alberta independence is too interesting to escape the notice of fiction writers. So far, there are at least two novels with the Alberta independence movement as core themes, one written in the 1970s – Alberta Alone by John Ballem – and the other published earlier this year – True Patriots by Russell Fralich. Unfortunately, in both cases the Alberta patriots are the bad guys.

They’re not just your run-of-the-mill bad guys either—in both cases the independence supporters are – literally – terrorists. Spoiler alert: both novels have dramatic endings where the terrorist plots are foiled and Canada is saved (although not without a bit of violent death and destruction to keep things interesting).

The first novel about the Alberta independence movement was originally titled The Judas Conspiracy and it was written by John Ballem in 1976. Ballem was a long-time oil industry lawyer in Calgary and a noteworthy fiction writer. He knew the business environment and political climate of Calgary well, and it shows in this book. However, it’s also clear that he did not sympathize with the idea of an independent Alberta.

After the surge in support for independence that resulted from Pierre Trudeau’s 1980 re-election and the subsequent – infamous – National Energy Program, Ballem’s book was re-issued under the title Alberta Alone. According to the July 31, 1981, issue of Alberta Report magazine, about 15,000 copies of The Judas Conspiracy were sold, and close to 40,000 copies of its re-release as Alberta Alone had sold as of mid-1981. Those are very respectable figures in the Canadian book market.

The central character of Alberta Alone is Peter Groves, who is just arriving in Calgary for the Stampede at the beginning of the book. He meets and befriends Valerie Thompson, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent oilman and rancher, Charles Thompson. Charles Thompson is the leading voice of the Alberta independence movement. Publicly, he is a respectable and articulate spokesman for independence. Secretly, however, he is also plotting a terrorist attack on Ottawa.

Canada’s prime minister is a Liberal, Donald Lambert. After Alberta cuts off shipments of natural gas to Central Canada, Lambert declares that the federal government must take control of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, stating: “I have decided, with the full support of my colleagues in the cabinet, to reconvene Parliament in order to declare under the British North America Act that all oil and gas wells, field facilities and oil sands plants are works for the general advantage of Canada. Once such a declaration is passed all these facilities will come under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of your federal government and we shall operate them for the good of the entire country, as they should be.”

Lambert knew this would incense Albertans, but he continued, “I know that the Canadians who live in Alberta will feel resentment at what may appear to be yet another invasion of their rights and their resources. But I know, too, that they will come to realize that these resources must be used for the benefit of the entire country. It would be unthinkable for parts of this country to suffer privation and even danger to life itself because one province hoards an essential resource. Canada is not just a collection of provinces. It is, and will remain, one strong and united country.”

Charles Thompson is, of course, outraged by this move. He sees it as clearly justifying Alberta becoming independent. As he responds, “We don’t have to remain a colony, shipping our raw materials to feed the insatiable industry of eastern Canada. We have a choice. This great country—Alberta—that Ottawa is determined to bring to her knees, can go it alone!”

Thompson then goes on to explain that, “when the federal government unilaterally takes over our oil industry, the cornerstone of our future, keeps our ranchers perpetually on the edge of bankruptcy and arrogantly tells us that we are to remain a colony of the East, loyally supplying our raw materials to fuel its industries, then the time has come for us to seek our own destiny.”

An attempt by the federal government to take control of Alberta’s oil industry, followed by an explosive movement for Alberta independence, is a very realistic plot. Indeed, this story was originally written in 1976, and it’s almost spooky how its portrayal of a Liberal seizure of Alberta’s oil resources foreshadows the National Energy Program just a few years later. Ballem appears somewhat prophetic. Unfortunately, he painted independence supporters with a very sinister hue.

It seems that the Alberta independence movement could use some help from aspiring fiction writers. A novel portraying Alberta patriots as the good guys would be a nice change from what has been produced so far. John Ballem was a fine writer, but someone of his calibre is needed to provide a different perspective on the dream and possibility of Alberta independence.

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 Alberta 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

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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Opinion

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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We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

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