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WAGNER: Don’t make the tent too big – the independence movement must be conservative

Michael Wagner writes that there is little point in pursuing Western independence if the new country looks like the old.

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In recent years some people have argued that the Western independence movement should encompass people from the entire political spectrum. Support for independence, they argue, is not a specifically conservative or right-wing phenomenon. To generate enough political support to achieve Alberta’s independence, people of all sorts of ideological positions will be needed.

For example, early in 2018, one well-meaning independence activist posted a message on Facebook stating, “We all need to remember that you don’t have to be a conservative to be a separatist. We will need people from all sides in this.”

Similarly, in a conversation at a meeting, one person seriously suggested to me that independence supporters could bring Millennials on board by telling them that the money Alberta saved from cancelling transfer payments to Canada would be used to offer free university tuition and free dental care for all Albertans. This is essentially the Bernie Sanders appeal – support Alberta independence so that you will get “free” stuff from the government. 

If that’s the direction the independence movement were to take, it would become empty and meaningless. Proposing an even greater role for government – that is, even more socialism – as the antidote to Eastern Canadian “progressive” liberalism, entirely defeats the purpose of a free West. If socialistic policies are acceptable, then Canada is already suitable and getting better every year. An Alberta version of Bernie Sanders is not an improvement on Justin Trudeau. In attempting to widen their appeal to the left, support for independence would likely shed far more fertile and dedicated support on the right.

Instead of offering socialistic goodies or opting for flimsy policies in an appeal to people from across the political spectrum, the independence movement should be clearly grounded in small-c conservative thinking that values free enterprise, private property, the family, respect for first peoples, and the historic virtues of Western civilization. That is, after all, Alberta’s heritage.

An independent Western Canada must protect property rights, and the protection of property rights will not appeal broadly to the left. An independent Western Canada must allow for the genuine freedoms that modern “progressives” too often to despise. Progressives often view conservative viewpoints and traditional Christian perspectives as “hate” that should be banned. An independent West that embraced such progressivism would be no better than the existing Canadian federation, and might even become worse.

When the Alberta independence movement first appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no doubt that it was a right-of-centre phenomenon. In the early 1980s, the Western Canada Concept Party of Alberta – the Alberta WCC – produced a four-page document entitled, “Our Statement of Principles.” It contained 24 points. The first point was, “We believe in responsibility and self-reliance.” The second was, “We believe in private enterprise.” Thirdly, it declared, “We believe in smaller government.” 

The fifth point stated, “We believe in the right to own property.” The explanatory paragraph for this point was as follows: “The power of the state to occupy, seize or expropriate private property is a violation of personal freedom. Any limitation of the freedom of the individual to own what he or she acquires, reduces the freedom and prosperity of the whole society.”

Many of the initial points in the statement focus on individual freedom and entrepreneurship, whereas the subsequent points tend to focus more on the specific role of government.

The twelfth point is noteworthy: “The strength of the family is the strength of the nation.” The explanatory paragraph for this point states: “Healthy, close-nit, nurturing families assure the future of a society by molding responsible, self-reliant, hard-working citizens. Healthy families transmit healthy values – which strengthen the community and the nation.”

The Alberta WCC Statement of Principles cannot be understood as anything other than a small-c conservative document, and it provides a shining example of the kinds of principles any future independence organization or party should embrace. The pioneers of the Western independence movement had this right.

The goals of the independence movement are self-determination and greater freedom for the West, and these goals only make sense from a conservative or libertarian perspective. Therefore, watering down principles in order to appeal for wider support from the political centre or left would ultimately defeat the purpose of the independence movement. Achieving an independent West that favoured political preferences resembling Toronto and Montreal would be an empty victory not worth the fight.

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

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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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WAGNER: Hydrocarbon based fuels are here to stay

“Think of it as telling people to step out of a perfectly serviceable airplane without a parachute, with assurances that politicians will work out alternatives on the way down.”

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Alberta’s future is threatened by a national campaign to dramatically reduce the production of hydrocarbons.

The political and media elite repeatedly assure everyone that such fuels can be replaced by new “green” energy sources such as wind and solar power. People currently employed in the oil and gas industry will supposedly transition into green energy production and life will continue on as before, except with fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Indeed, Justin Trudeau’s federal government has committed to transitioning Canada’s economy to producing net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Trudeau’s scheme is a fairy tale. Hydrocarbons are going to be required for a very long time because current green energy technology is nowhere near where it needs to be to replace them. Currently, there are no realistic alternatives to oil and gas, so reducing their production will only lead to energy shortages.

As Dr. Henry Geraedts put it recently in the Financial Post, “The ultimate goal of net-zero politics is to impose a radical energy transition that demands a top-to-bottom physical and social-economic restructuring of society, with no credible road map in sight. Think of it as telling people to step out of a perfectly serviceable airplane without a parachute, with assurances that politicians will work out alternatives on the way down.”

Geraedts’ Financial Post column is a brief description of a policy report he produced in June 2021, and how it was ignored because its conclusions contradict the ideological perspective that university professors are expected to support. He didn’t toe the party line, in other words, and therefore got the cold shoulder.

Geraedts’ report, Net Zero 2050: Rhetoric and Realities, is available online at the website of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy which is affiliated with both the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina. It’s a very credible piece of work.

Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons and Geraedts points out “hydrocarbons are nature’s most efficient embodiment of primary energy: the combination of high energy density, abundance, stability, safety, portability and affordability is unmatched by any other source of energy.”

Currently, hydrocarbons comprise about 80% of global primary energy. This is essentially the same percentage as 30 years ago, when the global warming craze began. Despite years of favourable government policies and billions of dollars in government subsidies, green technology such as wind and solar energy remain relatively small contributors to the world’s energy supply.

Geraedts also describes the negative environmental impacts caused by so-called green energy technology. Among the most interesting details he mentions is: “Neither turbine blades nor solar panels nor lithium-ion batteries are physically or economically recyclable. They are instead, at an alarming rate, ending up in landfills leaching toxic chemicals — an estimated 10 million tons/year of batteries by 2030 alone.” So much for protecting the environment.

Geraedts is not a so-called “denier.” He points to data from reliable sources indicating global temperatures have increased by one degree Celsius since 1900. But he also explains “the projections used to justify net zero policies and the Paris Accord, are based on fundamentally flawed computer climate models that overstate warming by some 200%.”

Not only that, but “observational, empirical evidence remains agnostic as to what, with requisite confidence levels, is attributable to anthropogenic influences vs. natural variability.” In other words, it cannot be determined with certainty to what degree the gradual temperature increase is the result of human activities.

But climate change worries aside, there is still a fatal lack of realistic alternatives to hydrocarbons. The International Energy Agency forecasts that even if all countries fulfill their Paris Accord commitments — an unlikely prospect — hydrocarbons will still account for 60% of primary energy in 2040. With accelerating energy demand in Africa and Asia, Geraedts expects hydrocarbons will remain the dominant energy source for decades to come.

This is what it all means: If we put progressive ideology aside and take a hard, honest look at the energy situation, hydrocarbons are here to stay for quite a while. Knowing the ingenuity of human beings in a free society, the discovery of new energy sources is likely at some point in the future. For now, though, we need oil and gas, and Alberta has lots of both.

With strong international demand for hydrocarbons forecast to last for decades, there is no reason why these resources cannot continue to provide the foundation of economic prosperity for the province. The biggest obstacle to such prosperity, of course, is the federal government. Due to its determination to prevent the development of hydrocarbons, independence may be the only way to maintain and increase the resource-based wealth that is Alberta’s birthright.

An independent Alberta could implement policies maximizing economic growth and avoid the suffocating policies of Canada’s central government. A free Alberta would be a prosperous Alberta.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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