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TERRAZZANO: It’s time for Kenney to act on citizens initiative referendums

“Citizens’ initiative is a powerful tool to give voters more influence over the laws that govern all Albertans. Kenney promised citizens’ initiative about a year ago and his government must fulfill that promise during this fall’s legislative session.”

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Last November, Premier Jason Kenney promised Albertans to introduce a citizen-led referendum law, or citizens’ initiative, to “give Albertans the power to hold this and future governments to account if we do not keep our commitment to stand up for Alberta.” It’s time for Kenney’s United Conservatives to make good on their promise and pass citizens’ initiative during the upcoming fall legislative session. 

Citizens’ initiative is based on a simple, but very important principle: if legislation belongs to the people, then the people should have a direct ability to introduce laws, hold politicians accountable and repeal bad legislation. 

Citizens’ initiative has been successful in British Columbia where it allowed voters to defeat the HST after the government bungled the transition process. While not through the formal citizens’ initiative process, the power of referendums was on full display in Calgary when taxpayers voted against the Olympic bid boondoggle and in B.C. where voters shut down the proposed TransLink tax. 

After Alberta’s New Democrats imposed their carbon tax without mentioning it in their 2015 election platform, citizens’ initiative would have given Albertans the opportunity to repeal the tax.

Citizens’ initiative would also help advance Alberta’s agenda in Ottawa. On constitutional issues such as equalizationOttawa has a legal duty to negotiate with the province if a referendum results in a clear majority on a clear question. Is there any doubt that Albertans would have had that referendum by now if we had citizens’ initiative? Importantly, Alberta’s legislation must allow citizens to initiate referendums on constitutional issues. A restriction against citizen-led constitutional referendums would mean that critical issues to Albertans such as equalization and internal free trade would be off the table unless the government of the day allows it.

Citizens’ initiative in Alberta also brings us one step closer to citizen-led referendums at the federal level. Albertans need a federal party willing to include citizens’ initiative in their policy mix, and the more provinces that have citizens’ initiative on their own, the more likely we are to have a federal party adopt the policy. If, for example, Albertans pushed for a referendum to abolish the No More Pipelines Act, that would at least put the issue on the national stage more than a simple opinion poll. In fact, that may be one of the best ways to bring our energy issues into the national spotlight.

A common concern with citizens’ initiative is that it may lead to a never ending cycle of referendums. Fortunately, there’s many different referendum laws we can follow to make sure Alberta’s model doesn’t lead to political chaos while still giving citizens a fair shot at passing our laws. 

When the UCP first promised to introduce citizens’ initiative, it said that it would follow B.C.’s example where citizens must collect petition signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in 90 days to force a referendum. That doesn’t sound so bad at first glance, but it meant collecting more than 320,000 signatures in B.C.’s last initiative attempt, which translates to more than 3,500 signatures per day. These onerous rules explain why only one referendum attempt has collected enough signatures to trigger a referendum in B.C. since citizens’ initiative came into effect in 1995. 

Contrast B.C.’s rules with the rules in California, which has a population similar to the size of Canada, but requires less than double the amount of signatures to trigger a referendum than B.C. does. If Kenney wants citizens’ initiative to be more than just window dressing, he’ll need to make sure the rules are less onerous than B.C.’s.

In the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s presentation to the province’s Democratic Accountability Committee, we advocated the Alberta government take a more middle-ground approach and follow the rules in Idaho, which require signatures for six per cent of voters to trigger a referendum. The citizens of Idaho also have 18 months to collect the required signatures. Based on the number of registered voters from the last provincial election, Albertans would need to collect about 157,000 signatures to trigger a referendum, or less than 300 signatures per day. 

Kenney should also implement a signature threshold for each electoral district to ensure interests in big cities and rural areas are both considered. 

Citizens’ initiative is a powerful tool to give voters more influence over the laws that govern all Albertans. Kenney promised citizens’ initiative about a year ago and his government must fulfill that promise during this fall’s legislative session. 

Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. This column is an abbreviated version of the presentation he made for the Alberta government’s Democratic Accountability Committee.

Opinion

GIEDE: Why are Canada’s Conservative leaders so terrible?

“We conservatives are in dire straights if the most we can do is ape our opposition, and badly to boot.”

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Why does every Conservative leadership winner go on to be a colossal disappointment?

While most of us are still reeling from Erin O’Toole’s announcement last week of his carbon tax that “isn’t a carbon tax”, all I can feel is a sense of deep disenchantment. Like many social conservatives, I marked O’Toole as my second choice on the ballot, after Derek Sloan. I even wrote a column at my old digs telling others to do the same.

With the announcement of a carbon tax that goes into an O’Toole Petro Points rewards program, I find myself in the same position as people 30 years my senior, who recall scraping Mulroney’s stickers off their bumpers after the 1988 election. Was there ever any hope at all? Did O’Toole just get some bad advice? Or were we lied to the entire time?

Those of us who consider themselves loyal conservatives, feel a deep sense of personal betrayal.

But maybe we true believers need to open our eyes. The empirical evidence is there for all to see: centre-right parties in Canada and their leaders have not been the disruptors we elect them to be. If one looks to the past or to the present, most Canadian “conservatives” are just Liberals driving the speed limit.

Stephen Harper just finished addressing the rebranded Manning conference as a guest speaker, along with former British Prime Minister David Cameron. With US President Donald Trump safely out of office, both Cameron and Harper — clearly tapped to represent pre-2016 Toryism — exhorted the faithful to repent of nationalist populism, and turn to a conservatism more confirmable with global collaboration.

Some might argue retirement has changed Harper. But looking back at his government, the policy choices made weren’t boldly conservative: micro-targeted tax credits don’t fix our torturous tax code; scrapping the long gun registry didn’t stop nonsensical model and class bans — some of which happened under Harper — and the minor austerity that closed lighthouses and veterans affairs offices saved nothing compared to the colossal expenses of the CBC and equalization.

Our former Right Honorable needed to use those omnibus bills to radically alter Canadian government. He needed to stack the Senate instead of letting the seats go empty to be filled by his enemies later, and he needed to articulate a vision for his movement as well as the country. “Strong, stable, national, Conservative majority government,” looks great on a whiteboard, but it doesn’t mean anything in the real world and its means even less once a party inevitably losses power.

Let us turn now to our most prominent Conservatives leaders: premiers Kenney, Pallister, and Ford. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic is throwing them through an unexpected loop, but outside that, what about their leadership inspires? Did voting for Kenney get Ottawa to listen, or Ford to bring common sense back to the largest provincial government, or Pallister to reform school taxes on rural and agricultural land?

Premier Ford bringing Toronto to heel appeased his base and sent a clear message to urban latte liberals that no “creature of the province” was beyond being taken down a peg. Premier Pallister did fulfill his less-than-intelligent promise to lower the provincial sales tax, while keeping most distributive taxes high. Premier Kenney’s tough rhetoric victory in Alberta inspired all of us in the West in a moment of triumph, only to see most of the NDP’s policies continue with little harassment.

But in policy terms the only thing that Tories seem to know is austerity, which riles up front line civil servants, teachers, or nurses and kills voter support while making useless management teams bigger and richer. Friends and staff of the premiers always receive lucrative, noncompetitive contracts. And in the end, they normally fail to be tough enough to reduce the size of the government payroll in any meaningful way.

On COVID-19, “Conservative” governments have been the harshest, striping away liberties more often than their NDP or Liberal counterparts.

Danny Williams took down the Maple Leaf in Newfoundland to make a point, and Christie Clark played both the “pro-development” as well as “anti-pipeline” camps to gain concessions from Ottawa. Contrast this to our most “conservative” provinces; their citizens have no more liberties than anywhere else, their governments are no more efficient, and their leaders are no better at fulfilling the promises they make.

Which brings us back to O’Toole. If his solution to the questions around climate and revenue is to imitate Justin Trudeau with a policy that makes even less sense, why would anyone vote Conservative? Liberals may as well vote for the real thing, and conservatives have nothing to vote for at all.

Canadian conservatism is in dire straights if the most we can do is ape our opposition — and badly to boot.

Nathan Giede is the BC Political Columnist and Host of Mountain Standard Time for the Western Standard

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: There’s a lot more to O’Toole’s climate crusade than his carbon tax

“It’s an unforced error of historic proportions, that will likely cost the Conservative Party a historic loss in the next election.”

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Without consulting his caucus, party members, or the broader Canadian public, Erin O’Toole committed the Conservative Party of Canada to joining the centre and far-left parties in Parliament in their zeal to save the world from apocalyptic climate change. As of April 15, 2021, there isn’t a single party represented in the House of Commons that opposes a carbon tax.

Doubtless, there are many upset Conservative MPs who had things sprung upon them, but on the record, there isn’t a single MP left in Canada that publicly opposes carbon taxes anymore.

Most of the ink spilt over O’Toole’s big flip-flop focus on his plan for a consumer carbon tax that will begin at $20/mt, and increase to $50/mt (for now), and the fact that he lied about it all, after signing a Canadian Taxpayers Federation written pledge with the promise not to do just that.

Lost beneath the headlines however is a hard-line climate crusade plan that, until recently, would have been considered radical even by Liberal standards. The full Conservative climate plan document should be a terrifying read to those who aren’t prepared to see the oil and gas industry ride into the sunset, those who are concerned about increased government spending, or those who don’t like the government micro-managing their personal choices.

Let’s start with this nugget from O’Toole’s plan.

“This will put a price on carbon for consumers without one penny going to the government.”

This just isn’t true. Just below that nugget are a long string of multi-billion dollar spending promises, including:

  • $1 billion for building out electric vehicle manufacturing in Canada.
  • $1 billion for deploying hydrogen technology including hydrogen vehicles.
  • $3 billion for natural climate solutions focused on management of forest, crop and grazing lands and restoration of grasslands, wetlands and forests.
  • $5 billion for carbon capture and storage
  • $1 billion for Small Modular Reactors.

O’Toole promised his carbon tax wouldn’t actually cost Canadian taxpayers anything, but that’s an easy $11 billion in budgeted promises, and many more billions in the more ambitious, unbudgeted promises.

Theoretically, O’Toole may not pay for them out of revenues from his proposed carbon tax; he may just decide to pay for it out of general revenues by increasing government borrowing, which he’s promised will continue long into the future. In the absence of any moderately detailed financial plan presented by O’Toole, the only two plausible options are that this will be paid for by the carbon tax, or by borrowing. Neither should please conservative voters much.

As much as O’Toole insists his proposed carbon tax is not a tax — it is — he’s also proposing other bizarre new taxes that he doesn’t make any bones about calling “taxes.” The plan says the Conservatives will “[study] the potential for introducing new taxes on frequent flyers, non-electric luxury vehicles and second homes to deter activities that hurt the environment.”

21st century conservatism boils down to taxing people who like to fly or own a cottage. How O’Toole will determine which “non-electric luxury vehicles” fall under his new carbon tax regime is anybody’s guess. Would my pickup truck count? Would my wife’s SUV?

Doubtless, the luxury SUVs that Ottawa’s political elites are chauffeured around in won’t be any more expensive for their users.

Key to O’Toole’s tenuous claim that his carbon tax is not a carbon tax, is that instead of paying the tax into the government’s coffers, it will instead be paid into a “Personal Low Carbon Savings Account.” ‘PLCSA’ doesn’t have much of a ring, so let’s just call them “O’Toole Petro Points.” O’Toole himself likens his scheme to an “affinity or rewards program” in the document.

This is the single most bogus idea in the entire plan.

At present, provinces that do not have federally-approved carbon tax regimes in place are directly charged the federal government’s carbon tax. Ottawa — after a modest handlers fee — turns around and rebates some of it back to carbon taxpayers. It’s unfair. It’s re-distributive, but it’s at least simple.

O’Toole’s plan, by contrast, would initiate the largest bureaucratic growth in the administration of government since the introduction of the modern welfare state in the 1960s.

No details whatsoever are provided as to how this will be administered, other than a statement that it will be “managed by a consortium of companies as the INTERAC system is.”

That is, Erin O’Toole will appoint a few friendly bankers to to run the massive new bureaucracy, for a modest handlers fee.

The best that we can guess as to how this would be put into practice is Canadians would have to carry a new card in their wallets, to track the purchases O’Toole deems to be deviant behaviour. Using your MasterCard or VISA to pay for gas would likely lead to you paying the new carbon tax, but left ineligible to earn O’Toole Petro Points.

Alternatively, we may need to save receipts for every single hydro-carbon purchase we make and pay an accountant a modest handling to fill our new carbon tax statements every year.

No mention whatsoever is made of the massive indirect cost of carbon taxes, such as the increased prices of groceries or clothing. Or as Stephen Harper put it when he campaigned against Stehpane Dion’s carbon tax in 2008, a “tax on everything” that “will screw everyone.”

Administration of this program would surely breed untold miles of red tape. If administered by bankers as proposed by O’Toole, it won’t come cheap. The army of accountants taking up new residence in downtown Toronto would need to be paid, and it would almost surely come off the top of the carbon taxes that Canadians pay.

O’Toole’s plan includes a raft of other policies that meddle into private consumer choices and provincial jurisdiction, such as a requirement that “30% of light duty vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030”.

O’Toole says that, “Canada’s Conservatives will take this plan to the provinces but, unlike the current government, we will work with them, knowing that by doing so we’ll achieve more.”

Crazy thought here, but what if say, Alberta for instance decided it didn’t want to hop onboard their climate craze? O’Toole says he’s a nice guy, and can convince the provinces to all do his bidding. Trudeau said the same thing in his sunny-ways campaign of 2015. As it turns out, not every province will agree to go along with the latest federal program.

On one key front, O’Toole explicitly promises no change whatsoever from the Trudeau carbon tax, keeping the industrial (AKA: oil and gas industry) carbon tax on track to reach an incredible $170/mt. But it’s all good, so long as the tax is administered by O’Toole.

“We aren’t going to change the rules just for the sake of change. Justin Trudeau has already created far too much regulatory uncertainty, driving investment and jobs away.”

Trudeau is bad. O’Toole is good. Policies are the same.

The good news in all of this is none of it will ever happen. If somehow O’Toole managed to find his way into the Prime Minister’s Office, he would have next to no chance of implementing his carbon tax/Petro Points plan.

He would sit down with the bankers, and they would tell him, “That’s nice, but it’s going to cost a fortune if you want us to do it.” The cost would almost certainly be so prohibitive he would toss it back to the federal bureaucracy, at which point it’s now called a tax, even by O’Toole’s muddled vocabulary. In the end, O’Toole would be faced with the only practical pro-carbon tax option: keep Trudeau’s carbon tax in place.

Alternatively, he could admit the entire thing was a terrible mistake, and revert to his promise to repeal the Trudeau carbon tax. But he probably won’t.

It’s an unforced error of historic proportions that will likely cost the Conservative Party a historic loss in the next election.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

MORGAN: Nenshi’s legacy leaves little to be celebrated

“Despite a decade in power and having the combined forces of the progressive media celebrating him throughout his tenure, Naheed Nenshi never managed to accomplish much that could be considered a positive legacy.” – Cory Morgan

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After roughly a year of playing coy, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi finally announced he will not be running for re-election. I’m sure it was a tough decision for him. If nothing else, Nenshi is a vain man. He did not want to go out looking as if he was running away from his political nemesis, Jeromy Farkas, who is gunning hard for his job. Nenshi also would surely have liked to entrenched a solid legacy of sorts after having served over a decade as Calgary’s mayor.

Nenshi’s fear of potentially losing at the hands of an upstart won out over his desire to try and serve one more term as mayor and leave a lasting positive legacy. As it stands now, there’s little positive of which to speak.

Despite running, and being hailed as, a pro-business candidate for mayor, Nenshi’s term in office was markedly anti-enterprise. Massive year-over-year increases in business taxes led to a business revolt which brought even some of the most progressive of Calgary business owners to the steps of city hall in protest in June of 2019.

Meanwhile, city hall gave a $100 million fund to Calgary Economic Development (CED) and tasked them with using the money to draw new enterprises into the city. While CED has burned through more than $40 million of that money so far, their record of actually drawing new ventures into Calgary has been well short of successful. Calgary has been driving existing businesses into insolvency through tax increases while taking those tax dollars to try and draw in competitors to the remaining businesses.

Nenshi’s disdain for business leaders has gotten him into the legal trouble more than once. Taxpayers were forced to front the legal bill for a period of time while Nenshi was being sued by Calgary home builder Cal Wenzel, after Nenshi called him a “godfather-like figure.”

Nenshi embarrassed the city in a bizarre 2016 recording when he referred to the CEO of Uber as a “dick” and falsely alleged that the city had slipped known sex offenders through the uber screening process for Uber. This almost certainly flowed from Nenshi’s hostility to Uber’s challenge to the taxi monopoly, which has been a strong backer of his

Now Nenshi is now being sued by Calgary businessman Mike Terrigno for defamation. Again, for allegedly insinuating that he is involved with a certain Italian criminal enterprise.

Nenshi took it upon himself to turn Calgary’s downtown into a “world-class center.” The mayor made it no secret he didn’t care for the corporate and Western culture that built Calgary’s core. Millions and millions of tax dollars were poured into the city center, particularly in the East Village where a massive new library and music centre were built along with condo developments that had no parking available. Bike lanes and tracks took up valuable road space while city-controlled parking rates remained some of the highest in North America. The goal was to create a pedestrian hipster’s paradise in downtown Calgary. It was expected that people would come from around the world to walk around and admire Calgary’s hip and artsy, car-less core.

While Nenshi did indeed radically change Calgary’s downtown, few will claim that it was for the better. The atmosphere in Calgary’s core is ghostly as empty office towers stand over parks that have been taken over by addicts and the homeless. High taxes and parking costs drove downtown corporate businesses to outlying developments such as Quarry Park , while businesses on the street level simply went broke for lack of local clientele and accessibility. This trend has been ongoing for years. The pandemic and energy price crash only sped a process that was already underway.

Public art could have been a draw to Calgary’s core, but under Nenshi’s stewardship instead we saw expensive, ugly creations springing up on overpasses and in industrial areas. It became an almost annual tradition for the city to become enraged over some ghastly art project. Nenshi would condemn it and then repeat the cycle with a new eyesore somewhere else. He can’t point to fine art installations as his legacy.

Nor can His Worship be able to point to a unified and productive city council as a legacy of his leadership. While he promoted himself has the great renconciler, we have seen the most vitriolic and dysfunctional city council in living memory under Nenshi’s leadership. Nenshi even hired a psychologist in 2012 to manage a closed-door meeting to try and maintain order among council members.

While Nenshi promised a more transparent government since he became mayor, Calgary’s city council has spent more time hiding behind closed doors for meetings than any major city council in Canada. The meeting room where the council retreats for in-camera meetings has been labeled “the chamber of secrets.” The room has literally been equipped with lazy-boy style recliners so council members can stay comfortable during their extended sessions in hiding.

The Green Line LRT expansion has been in the planning stages for years, and seen its scope cut in half while the price continues to soar. The entire project is now at risk as people question the need to spend billions of dollars to increase transit services to an empty downtown.

Nenshi was outright giddy at the prospect of Calgary hosting the 2026 Olympic games. It was his chance for a lasting legacy. He would be able to cut ribbons for years and hobnob with top athletes from around the world. Tens of millions of dollars were spent in promoting the pursuit of the bid. Mary Moran of Calgary Economic Development was hired to promote the bid to Calgarians. To her credit, then-premier Rachel Notley told Nenshi no provincial money would be dedicated to holding the Olympics unless Calgarians got the chance to vote on the bid in a plebiscite. Calgarians overwhelmingly told Nenshi to put his Olympic dreams away.

More recently, the new arena deal with the Calgary Flames is at risk of falling apart. A hasty agreement for a facility was hammered out behind closed doors where taxpayers would be expected to foot nearly $300 million of the bill for the new arena. Now all work has been paused as the Flames organization has demanded another $70 million from taxpayers along with more land for the project. The cupboard is bare and citizens will be strongly reconsidering just how much they need an arena while we try to recover from the pandemic and the economic devastation wreaked by the lockdowns championed by Nenshi.

Now all that Nenshi can hope for in a legacy is that he hands off the role of mayor to his preferred successor. Jyoti Gondek has proven herself to be a close Nenshi ally during her term on city council, and with her mayoral campaign being managed by Stephen Carter, it’s not hard to see who Nenshi hopes will replace him in next fall’s election. It’s widely speculated Nenshi held back on announcing his intent not to run for re-election as a favor to Gondek. It is a form of running interference as contenders who didn’t want to take on an incumbent mayor stayed out of the field while Gondek worked to establish her campaign.

Despite a decade in power and having the combined forces of the progressive media celebrating him throughout his tenure, Naheed Nenshi never managed to accomplish much that could be considered a positive legacy. Calgarians will have an opportunity to bring in some fresh blood in the mayor’s chair and on council this fall. If they want to see a period of vision, growth and lasting legacies created, they will vote to turn over council.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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