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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.”




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.

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SLOBODIAN: ‘Angels with wings’ rescuing Manitoba cats, dogs, ravens from fires

But the exhausted heroes with Manitoba Animal Alliance (MAA) – volunteers with angel’s wings tucked under their T-shirts – refuse to stop putting their lives and health at risk in dense smoke with encroaching flames.




Eighty-seven dogs – terrified, sick, coughing, hungry, and dehydrated – have been rescued after being abandoned since wildfires forced six northern Manitoba First Nations to evacuate this summer.

Several hundred dogs and cats, pets and strays, remain in the smoke engulfed communities. 

The fire is on their backs.

While 130 wildfires rage, a dozen out of control, more communities face evacuation.

And so, even more animals will be left behind because devastated owners aren’t allowed to take them with them on the planes.

But the exhausted heroes with Manitoba Animal Alliance (MAA) – volunteers with angel’s wings tucked under their T-shirts – refuse to stop putting their lives and health at risk in dense smoke with encroaching flames.

rescue dog. Photo courtesy Manitoba Animal Alliance

Some are working 18-hour days wearing breathing apparatus and goggles to save as many animals as possible. 

They’ve arranged for helicopters and planes to get dogs out and feed and water those they must leave behind.

“We have to triage. We identify who needs to come onto the transport based on what we see in front of us. We don’t know with some of them if they are owned or strays. We prioritize based on what we see in front of us. If you look healthy, you’re not going to get put on the plane,” said Debra Vandekerkhove, MAA’s managing director.

Some dogs placed in kennels had to be released back into the danger by heartbroken volunteers. There was no room on the aircraft.

“All we rescued were very sick, very infected eyes, a lot of them coughing. We have special inhalers to help them get by if any are struggling,” said Vandekerkhove.

Despite MAA’s best efforts, some dogs are only getting fed once a week. 

Monday eight dogs and a bat were airlifted out of Pauingassi First Nation, 280 km northeast of Winnipeg. The chief and council are arranging flights to get the remaining 27 dogs out.

“In Pauingassi, there’s nobody left in the community because the fire’s too close and too dangerous. There’s nobody there, just the dogs,” said Vandekerkhove.

“Custom Helicopters called us late Sunday to let us know that they had a bit of room on a helicopter to help animals.”

MAA sent volunteers to feed every dog. 

This isn’t the first time these champions, specialists in emergency evacuation, came to the rescue. Previously, Custom donated a helicopter with the company paramedic and two employees.

“These helicopters cost over $5,000 an hour…They took all of their emergency gear out of their main helicopter, the 12-seater. They helped us fill it with dog kennels,” said Vandekerkhove.

In Little Grand Rapids First Nation, 280 km north of Winnipeg, RCMP saved all dogs from certain death.

“The RCMP collected these dogs, just put them in the back of a pickup, filling it up and getting them out. It’s good they did. After the fire, we could not get up there.” 

Meanwhile, in one community people desperate to save their pets loaded them on an Amik Aviation plane that landed to drop off firefighters and supplies.

“People were so scared of the fire coming, they threw their animals on the plane. They didn’t know what the hell was going to happen to them. They ended at the airport. Amik messaged us and said: ‘We have these animals; we know who they belong to,'” said Vandekerkhove.

“I said ‘Don’t worry about, we’ll come and get them. When everything’s settled, they can pick up their animals.’”

MAA also rescued a raven and two cats.

“These poor cats. The cats can’t be outside because of the risk of being eaten by dogs. One cat was in the house for 10 days by the time this owner was able to connect with chief and council,” said Vandekerkhove.

“We said you’ve got to break into the house. You’re leadership, I’m not breaking into that house.”

Bless their hearts, they busted in.

Another cat survived 14 days.

“We have him. He’s under medical care. He’s not in very good shape but he’ll live. They’ll both live,” said Vandekerkhove.

The cost of feeding the abandoned animals is staggering. Amik charges $1.50 a pound to transport. Eagle Air charges $1 a pound.

“Eagle Air reached out to us to help us. They’re giving us a discounted rate to be able to get there with volunteers and to drop off food and pick up animals in Little Grand Rapids,” said Vandekerkhove.

Rescued dogs are loaded up for rescue. Photo courtesy Manitoba Animal Alliance

This year is exceptionally hard because pet food companies have not donated emergency pallets of food like in the past.

Monday, volunteers drove from Toronto to Winnipeg to deliver more than 100 bags of dog food donated by good-hearted people in Ontario, thanks to the combined efforts of small Toronto-based MUTTS Dog Rescue and Animal Care Zone.

“They’ll offload our donations then we will load up the dogs and the same two drivers will be doing that drive back to Toronto. In this operation, we’re hoping to bring back 15. It depends on who fits in the vehicle,” said MUTTS director and co-founder Ni Chen.

“There’s such a demand for rescue dogs in the Toronto area, southern Ontario really. People love their northern dogs. Manitoba has such a need. What MAA is doing is monumental. It’s amazing work.”

Some of the dogs are taken to the Winnipeg Humane Society. The rest are placed in MAA foster homes until adopted or their owners can retrieve them.

Evacuations continue. To date, more than 2,000 people have been moved to hotels from First Nations in Pauingassi, Little Grand Rapids, Red Sucker Lake, Berens River, Poplar River and Bloodvein.

“This is long-term,” said an exhausted, but determined Vandekerkhove.

“If it’s a bat, baby bear, a fawn, I don’t care, we’ll get them on the plane.”

Anyone wishing to help can contact MAA at www.manitobaanimalalliance.com

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard

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McAllister: Politics chasing jobs and investment from Calgary region

This is the kind of anti-free enterprise, red tape machination that the UCP promised to eliminate, but so far it seems that politics and the louder voices of the urban mayors and bureaucrats are still freely wielding their vetoes.




Even if you knew it was coming, a kick in the teeth is still a kick in the teeth and that’s exactly what rural Albertans in the Calgary region got last week, courtesy of the central planning monstrosity known as the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB).

By all measures, it’s not too harsh to call this board a monstrosity. Made up of 10 municipalities in the Calgary Region and mandated by the Rachel Notley’s NDP to control land-use decisions and dictate investment for the area, the CMRB was set up under the guise of ensuring responsible development. That’s the mandate, however creating a voting structure that guarantees the urbans vote down the rurals is anything but responsible. The board is not about sound regional planning, it’s all about political protectionism and this was blatantly evident around the table last week.

At stake was the County of Rocky View’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and the Area Structure Plans (ASPs) for North and South Springbank. Calgary’s neighbours had a thoughtful path forward for their municipality and their economy. The plans were grounded in solid planning principles, and they were approved by the board administration and an outside and unbiased consultant. They paved the way for tens of billions of dollars in investment to the region over the next several decades with countless jobs, communities, and family amenities in the works from several investors and developers. But the urban municipalities hate any good idea that could be theirs for the taking. They have a super majority voting structure around the table, and this allows them to vote down anything that smells like competition on the other side of their fence. So, led by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, they voted Rocky View’s plans down, and just like that, years of planning and millions of dollars in studies including countless hours of community consultation was shot down by the big city, central planning protectionists. Do you see what they did there?

This is a bad precedent for Alberta and a terrible signal to outside investment that Alberta is not open for business. That landowners and municipalities can go through the entire planning process, following all the laws, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars planning projects in their own backyard only to have the selfish politicians and bureaucrats from other municipalities look over the fence and kibosh any plan that did not come from them. It is anti-free-enterprise, and anti-Albertan. 

Property rights just took a solid blow and rural landowners across Alberta should be ready to ask some pretty direct questions of their governments. If it can happen in the Calgary Region, what’s to stop this central planning philosophy from spreading to other regions: Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Medicine Hat? If you have a plan for growth and investment outside the urban municipality in today’s Alberta, forget it. Big brother next door will nix your plans thereby eliminating any competition from the marketplace.

This is the kind of anti-free enterprise, red tape machination that the UCP promised to eliminate, but so far it seems that politics and the louder voices of the urban mayors and bureaucrats are still freely wielding their vetoes over everyone else’s land while they continue to gladly spend Alberta tax dollars on themselves.

The UCP will have to make a decision on this board in the fall. They have been handed a growth plan for the region by the board they need to deal with. The rurals on the board all voted against it of course, but that doesn’t matter as they are consistently outvoted 7-3 by the “super majority” of the urbans. One must wonder if the UCP are waiting for the municipal election to play out and a change in the big chair at Calgary City Hall before dealing with this board. They may face less blow-back and criticism once Nenshi is gone. 

Kicking the can down the road on this one is not wise, however. This should be an easy decision. The board should be promptly shut down and each duly elected municipal government should have the right to plan for their own future under the laws of our province. That is exactly what former Premier Ralph Klein did with this central planning model in 1995. He knew a thing or two about free enterprise and wasn’t afraid to take criticism to do what is right. He got rid of the central planning, anti-competitive planning commissions and the Alberta Advantage came roaring to life.

Premier Klein did it because it was the right thing to do. He chose principle over politics. Will the UCP show the same courage? Albertans should expect nothing less.

Bruce McAllister is a columnist for the Western Standard, Executive Director Rocky View 2020 & is the former Wildrose and PC MLA for Chestermere-Rockyview

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SLOBODIAN: Disgraced Catholic priest banned from Northern Manitoba reserves

Father Rheal Forest accused residential school survivors of fabricating abuse claims to cash in on settlement money.




A Catholic priest could land himself in the back of an RCMP cruiser if he steps foot on a Manitoba First Nation he served and lived on for years.

Father Rheal Forest, who accused residential school survivors of fabricating abuse claims to cash in on settlement money, will be considered a trespasser in Bloodvein First Nation, located 210 km north of Winnipeg.

A Band Council Resolution (BCR) barring Forest from the community is being drafted and when signed this week by council will be given to RCMP to enforce, Bloodvein Chief Derek Cook confirmed.

“I know a lot of people are upset. It’s bringing back a lot of the stories they have to deal with and are continuing to deal with from residential schools,” Cook told CBC.

“I hope he abides by the process and respects our decision.”

Despite not having worked in Bloodvein for a few years, Forest continued to visit.

The Archdiocese of St. Boniface also banned Forest from all preaching and teaching for remarks he made about residential school survivors in sermons last month while filling in for a vacationing priest at Winnipeg’s St. Emile Roman Catholic Church.

The sermons that were live-streamed at the time to Facebook have been removed.

“If they wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes, lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” Forest told the congregation.

“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”

Forest also absolved priests and nuns from any abuse and blamed laymen.

Anywhere from $3 billion to $4.7 billion has been paid to thousands of people who claimed they were victims of abuse at residential schools.

Almost 50 churches have been burned and desecrated in Canada since unmarked graves were allegedly discovered on former residential school sites.

Foster also made controversial comments during one mass about the criminals responsible for the destruction.

He admitted to having “thoughts of anger” when he passed by a church that had been vandalized.

“If I had a shotgun at night and I’d see them, I’d go ‘Boom’ just to scare them and if they don’t run away, I’ll shoot them,” he said laughing.

He immediately added: “This would not help. It’s bad to do that. I’d go have a chat with them.”

Forest also made it clear he is not a fan of the “evil” media which he said is controlled by Freemasons. 

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard


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