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TERRAZZANO: Alberta needs recall legislation now

“Recall rules would be a big step towards reaffirming the role of citizens as boss. It’s time for Kenney to make good on his promise and pass recall legislation during the upcoming fall legislative session.”

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When most of us stink at our jobs, we get sent packing. That standard doesn’t apply to politicians, who don’t need to worry about impressing their boss, taxpayers, outside of an election every four years. 

Fortunately, Premier Jason Kenney promised to change that by introducing recall legislation. 

“Albertans want their MLAs to be accountable to them. That’s why a United Conservative government would introduce a Recall Act allowing voters to fire their MLA in between elections if they have lost the public’s trust,” Kenney said while on the campaign trail ahead of the 2019 provincial election.

“Empowering citizens to hold their MLAs to account will strengthen Alberta democracy.”

The most obvious benefit of recall legislation is allowing voters to hold misbehaving politicians accountable more than once every four years. Recall legislation in British Columbia helped citizens give former MLA Paul Reitsma the bootwhen he got caught sending fake letters to the editor. 

There are several examples where recall could have been used by Alberta voters. 

Take the case of former premier Allison Redford. It took months of mounting political pressure over expense scandals, including the infamous $45,000 South Africa trip, for internal political machinery to finally force her to step down. Or consider former Lethbridge coun. Darlene Heatherington, who refused to step down after being charged with fabricating a story about a stalker. In both cases, recall could have been a handy accountability tool for voters, who should be the ones making these decisions.  

The on-going scandal over Calgary’s Coun. Joe Magliocca’s expenses is another example where citizens should have the ability to hand out a pink slip through the recall process. 

Ensuring citizens can hold their elected officials accountable is crucial, but just as important is the role that recall rules could play in discouraging politicians from messing up in the first place. It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to understand that a politician will think twice before blowing tax dollars on steaks and martinis if there’s a chance they could have to face the voters immediately rather than in four years.

Alberta’s recall rules must be extended to the local level, so voters have the same ability to hold local councillors and mayors accountable as they will with MLAs. Fortunately, the government’s last throne speech promised exactly that. 

“To further make life better for Albertans, my government will undertake significant reforms to strengthen democracy in Alberta, including the tabling of … a recall act, allowing constituents to remove their MLAs, municipal councillors, mayors,  and school board trustees from office between elections,” reads the speech.  

When designing recall legislation, Kenney must make sure the requirements to force a by-election aren’t too onerous. Beyond the Reitsma example, there hasn’t been any successful recall campaigns in B.C. This is partly because of B.C.’s onerous requirement to collect signatures for more than 40 per cent of eligible voters in that district in 60 days. 

This threshold puts B.C. at the upper limit when compared to American states, where the most common requirement is to have 25 per cent of votes cast in the last election to sign the petition to trigger a byelection. A 25 per cent threshold would be a good starting point for Alberta’s recall rules to balance political stability with accountability, and is what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommended in our presentation to the Alberta government’s Democratic Accountability Committee. The most important thing to remember when thinking about signature thresholds, however, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Albertans need recall now, and politicians can always tinker with the requirements down the road to make improvements. 

Recall rules would be a big step towards reaffirming the role of citizens as boss. It’s time for Kenney to make good on his promise and pass recall legislation during the upcoming fall 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.

Franco Terrazzano is a guest columnist and the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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Opinion

GIEDE: Happy 150th British Columbia!

“It’s been a tumultuous 150 years, but this province is still the Most Beautiful Place on Earth.”

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BC Flag

While everywhere else in Canada it’s simply known as “August long weekend,” technically speaking the statutory holiday is called “British Columbia Day” west of the Rockies. For those of us who enjoy official designations and labels, this will be the sesquicentennial of BC’s entrance into Canadian confederation, a much harassed political project within these pages. Still, a century-and-a-half is worthy of exhortation.

Of course the proper birthday was July 20, corresponding with our joining up in 1871. But no one in BC is interested in a bon fete they cannot properly observe with beverage in hand. Thus, BC Day has been permanently tacked to the first Monday of August to ensure an annual long weekend in perpetuity – which is how all significant non-religious holidays ought to be scheduled from sea to sea to sea.

British Columbia was bribed into confederation by a drunk Scotsman who dreamed of transcontinental railways.

We almost broke out again when the delivery of the Canadian Pacific Railway seemed doomed, and would of likely joined the United States, which had a sizable ex-patriot population here (particularly Civil War veterans from the South.) We stayed on with the reassurance the CPR would be finished, even returning Sir John A. Macdonald to Parliament from Victoria once after he lost his seat in Kingston, Ont.

Of course, our 150 birthday as a province has also been overshadowed by pandemic, then the church fires, and now the wildfires which rage throughout the Southern Interior. British Columbians will still be cracking our famous IPA’s despite the smoke, but perhaps being seen to be celebrating our legacy in such dire times is too much for even our self-aggrandizing political class to bear, let alone the rest of us.

British Columbia is a series of paradoxes. While sovereigntist fervor is most strongly felt east of the Rockies, particularly in Wildrose country, only BC has the surest chance of ever leaving the Dominion with its borders intact: save for minor disputes with America along the coast, our borders are the same as when we took up Sir John A.’s invitation, unlike the rest of the West. Yet this does not motivate us.

If anything, the peculiar history and geography of the Western cordillera makes separation from itself just as likely as a break at the federal level. Outside of the Lower Mainland and South Island, people are far more different than they are similar, despite waving the same flag. Each part of British Columbia is a land entirely unto itself: river valleys, plateaus, and atolls all littered with dozens of siloed cultures.

This is not a new phenomena or collateral damage due to the post rural-urban divide: before contact, a plethora of indigenous languages flourished; after contact, successive waves of development happened at different rates throughout the province – the fur trade, gold rush, railway, forestry, mining, and finally oil and gas, as well as hydro – layering BC with company towns, ghost towns, and peculiar infrastructure.

Our vehicle fleets are by far the oldest of the provinces, just as independent contractors number more greatly amongst our workforce than nearly everywhere else in Canada. Economic cycles strike our province without uniformity, as there’s always some other resource that needs extracting from her natural bounty. Considering the remoteness, BC really could be considered the “fourth Territory.”

Perhaps this latent independence is what makes the manifestation of sovereignty so difficult.

There are more eccentrics per square kilometre here than anywhere else on God’s green earth, and each of them can tell you exactly whats wrong — as well as how to fix the place. Without a central tenet of BC identity, just thousands of caricatures brought to life in every quarter, from marijuana addicts to moral puritans, there is no single point of focus for British Columbians to rally around within the separation agenda.

But perhaps the key to understanding British Columbians lax attitude about sticking it to Ottawa is we’re too busy enjoying where we live, even as costs rise egregiously. While living in a closet west of Hope isn’t my jam, people do it by the thousands just to enjoy the Lower Mainland lifestyle; and in the rest of the province the water and wilderness goes on for eternity, beckoning every kind of adventurer.

Not unlike the wild child we all knew in class, British Columbia cannot be marshalled easily to march in step with her sister provinces, West of Lakehead on the secession question. Until confederation impedes the natural freedoms we enjoy in BC, federalism by convenience will rule the day. No doubt, its been a tumultuous 150 years, but this province is still the Most Beautiful Place on Earth.

Nathan Giede is the BC Affairs Columnist and the host of Mountain Standard Time

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Opinion

WAGNER: The prominent Toronto political scientist who called Communism ‘democratic’

As it turns out, some members of Canada’s Left have a fairly positive view of communism.

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Some commentators have noted the silence of Canada’s Left in the face of anti-government protests in Cuba. Why the reluctance to condemn a communist dictatorship?

Well, as it turns out, some members of Canada’s Left have a fairly positive view of communism. One such prominent Canadian leftist was C.B. Macpherson (1911-1987), an internationally-renowned political scientist who taught political theory at the University of Toronto. Among other things, he was especially known for his critiques of capitalism and individualism.

Interestingly, Macpherson also defended Soviet Communism as genuine democracy in action. This can be seen in a series of CBC radio messages he delivered in 1965 that were subsequently published as a book entitled The Real World of Democracy. These lectures argued there were three forms of government that could be legitimately called democracies: the liberal democracies of the West, the Soviet bloc countries, and the one-party states of the Third World. 

As Macpherson put it, “democracy is not properly to be equated with our unique Western liberal-democracy.” Instead, “the clearly non-liberal systems which prevail in the Soviet countries, and the somewhat different non-liberal systems of most of the underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa, have a genuine historical claim to the title democracy.”

Macpherson explained the meaning of democracy has undergone some change over time. It hasn’t always referred to the kind of constitutional system common in the Western countries: “Democracy originally meant rule by the common people, the plebeians. It was very much a class affair: it meant the sway of the lowest and largest class.” Thus, Macpherson argued Soviet Communism and other one-party states can legitimately be called democracies, based on this definition. That is, he used this conception of “democracy” to describe some of the world’s most brutal and repressive regimes. 

Karl Marx’s proposed “dictatorship of the proletariat” was an expression of genuine democracy in Macpherson’s view. He noted many people would find it outrageous to consider the dictatorship of the proletariat to be a form of democracy. “But,” he wrote, “to call it democracy was not outrageous at all: it was simply to use the word in its original and then normal sense.”

Macpherson’s analysis gets even worse. Lenin extended Marx’s theory by arguing a revolution would need to be undertaken by a relatively small group of class-conscious people he called the vanguard, which is to say, the Communist Party. 

From the Communist perspective, since the vast majority of people in any society are debased by the structures of capitalism, they cannot be trusted to participate in political decision-making. To allow their participation would just perpetuate the problems of the old, capitalist society. Only the vanguard could bring about the necessary reforms. As Macpherson explains: “Lenin, building on Marx, came out for a seizure of power by a vanguard who would forcibly transform the basic relations of society in such a way that the people would become undebased and capable of a fully human existence, at which point compulsive government would no longer be needed.” 

In Macpherson’s view, this rule of the vanguard to “forcibly transform” society is democracy in action, despite the fact that it involves politically motivated executions and concentration camps. Democracy, it seems, becomes indistinguishable from dictatorship.

Macpherson evokes what he calls the “broader concept of democracy” to legitimize the Marxist-Leninist state: “Wherever the circumstances are such that no motion towards this kind of society is possible except through the action of a vanguard, then the vanguard state, so long as it remains true to its purpose, may be called democratic.” Thus, in his view, an outright communist state can be legitimately called a democracy. Many of the most brutal, bloodthirsty, and repressive regimes in the 20th Century were democracies in this sense. Who knew?

Using a similar line of argumentation, the one-party dictatorships of the Third World can also be justified as democracies. Invoking Rousseau, Macpherson wrote one-party states can be legitimately called democracies because “there is in these countries a general will, which can express itself through, and probably only through, a single party.” As a result, “opposition to the dominant party appears to be, and sometimes actually is, destructive of the chances of nationhood. In such circumstances opposition appears as treason against the nation.” Thus, a one-party state, where opposition to the ruling party is punished as “treason,” can be a legitimate form of democracy. (Don’t tell Justin Trudeau.)

Macpherson was an internationally known and respected political scientist. The views he expressed were not the rantings of a black-clad activist running wild in the streets. Some elements of the intellectual Left truly believe that a Marxist-Leninist state (or any other Left-wing single-party state) is a genuine democracy. Despite the inescapably violent and murderous nature of communism, some Canadian leftists view it favourably. 

The lessons of the 20th Century have not been learned. Ideas that inspired inhuman tyranny – what C.B. Macpherson happily calls the “broader concept of democracy” – seem to be making a comeback.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

MORGAN: COVID has shown the need to overhaul Canada’s health care system

“We need to stop pretending the American and Canadian models of health provision are the only ones on earth. In fact, only two other countries on the planet explicitly ban private health care insurance: Cuba and North Korea.”

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After his retirement, Ralph Klein was quoted expressing regret for having backed down on his “third-way” health care reform plan. We are paying the price today for the government’s lack of will of yesteryear.

Canada’s health care system has long been considered a sacred cow. We have been taught since childhood that it’s the best health care system on the planet; it’s the very thing that defines what it means to be Canadian. Any efforts to reform the system are immediately framed as potentially moving us towards the dreaded American system.

The most politically expedient way to deal with health care challenges has been to blindly toss more money into the system without changing how anything is being done. Government reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our finances and exposed massive shortcomings in the health care system. Both these problems are good cause to undertake a serious overhaul of the status quo.

Alberta has 11,120 physicians and 32,000 nurses. We have 161 hospitals and spend more per capita on health care than most other provinces. At the peak of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds was just over 500 people. Why did this volume of patients seemingly bring our system to the brink of collapse? If we don’t ask ourselves some tough questions and begin to make some serious changes to our system, we could find ourselves vulnerable to a true systemic meltdown if a more serious pandemic hits us down the road.

In the event of a widespread medical crisis, a system needs to be able to pivot in order to meet sudden new pressures. Our socialized system has led us into centralizing our treatments and procedures into hospitals. Many services and procedures are being performed in hospitals when they could have been done in outside, specialized clinics. When something like a pandemic occurs, entire wings of hospitals can be closed off while large blocks of staff are placed under quarantine. This leads to procedures deemed as being non-essential being deferred which leads to long backlogs of medical procedures which could take months, or years, to catch up on. If we had more health facilities outside conventional hospitals, our hospitals could focus on acute health care needs while elective and non-urgent procedures continue unhindered in clinics.

In order to get these specialized clinics, we will need to allow more private investment into health care provision. We have to set aside that ingrained prejudice against profit-based models in health care provision. Private clinics for general practitioners haven’t crushed the system. Private facilities for everything from hip replacements to dialysis won’t either. This is not a matter of reinventing the wheel. Most European nations allow for private health provision within a publicly funded, universal model. Entire private hospitals are integrated within public systems. We need to stop pretending the American and Canadian models of health provision are the only ones on earth. In fact, only two other countries on the planet explicitly ban private health care insurance: Cuba and North Korea.

Many other systems are outperforming Canada’s in both outcomes and in cost. It does not deserve the status of sacred cow.

We will also need to take on the public sector unions. Organized labour has traditionally battled every form of health care reform every step of the way. How many years have we battled back and forth over something as simple as the outsourcing of hospital laundry services?

How many stories have we heard about nurses who game an incredibly generous overtime system to the point where some have earned over $200,000 per year? Alberta’s nurses are the highest paid in Canada yet they immediately started rumbling about striking when the Kenney government proposed a modest 3% pay reduction. We are in an economic crisis as well as a pandemic. If we can’t even get modest concessions from unions in times like these, we won’t be able to sustain our service levels for much longer. Seniority systems and contract clauses make it difficult to schedule staff based on surges leading to sporadic shortages and over staffing at times. It’s going to take some strong will and it will take some labour disruptions, but the union stranglehold on health care provision needs to be ended.

We need to look beyond the politics of envy and let people pay out of pocket for enhanced services. They wouldn’t be jumping the queue. They should be jumping out of one queue, and into another, allowing both to receive quality services faster.

Let’s face it, people have been leaving the country in order to “jump the queue” for decades. These people aren’t always rich, but they are desperate. If a person is given a choice between suffering or potentially dying on a waiting list for treatment or selling their home and seeking treatment in another country, most will sell the house. Let’s keep those dollars here and have regulated pay-for-service models that allow for private insurance. It will lead to shorter wait times for all. Don’t look at it as if it is a person cutting the line ahead of you, look at it as if a person wants to spend their own money in order to shorten the line for all of us.

Canada’s health care system is rigid and obsolete. The pandemic has shown us we are always teetering on the brink of overrunning our capacity despite constant increases in health care spending. Our economy is in shambles and government deficits are unsustainable. If we want to have a strong, universal health care system we can rely upon during times of crisis, we need to dramatically reform our current one. There’s no better time than right now to begin that process. Let’s hope our political leadership can find the will and courage to take on this difficult but essential task.

If they can’t stand their ground on a modest wage reduction for nurses, they won’t be able to do what really needs to be done in the long term.

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

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