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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.

Opinion

NAVARRO-GENIE: Computer modellers are still driving the COVID-19 fear wagon

“Meanwhile, we can hope that media learn to treat #COVIDzero experts the same way they treat those claiming the virus doesn’t exist.”

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Renewed calls for prolonged lockdowns to deal with the new SARS-CoV-2 mutations are wrong headed. It has been a year since emergency measures were declared. The policy response to the COVID-19 crisis has been and continues to be moved by fear that is in turn propelled by statistical models incapable of accounting for risk and of pondering consequences. SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the disease identified as COVID-19, is a reality. It poses health risks to a well-defined segment of the Canadian population. And while SARS-CoV-2 can infect everyone, the models and responses largely pretend everyone can equally suffer and die from COVID-19. The logic of this pretense points toward lockdowns and heavy restrictions for all instead of carefully-designed protection of the vulnerable. 

The initial reaction to this logic may have been reasonable in mid-March 2020, were it not for the fact that the panic-prone politicians discarded existing pandemic plans designed precisely to prevent panic. Their lockdown strategy, they argued, would bend the curve to protect the integrity of the medical system until it could be reenforced. Such reinforcement would help to save lives. 

The system did not become more resilient and the infections did not stop after nearly two months in lockdown: the strategy was a failure. But such failure has not prevented the continuation of wrongheaded policies and restrictions. There are now misguided calls for #COVIDzero (or #zeroCOVID), which pretend to drive COVID-19 cases to zero by wiping out the virus and all its variants, if only we locked down hard again for another seven weeks. Like the previous failed strategy, this one also is driven by modellers and their flawed mathematical models.

In March 2020, the world seemed gripped by images from Italy, Iran and China, and one model stampeded policy-makers into various forms of lockdowns. It was the work that College of London theoretical physicist Neil Ferguson led. Their “Report 9: Impact of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to Reduce COVID-19 Mortality and Healthcare Demand,” called for 510,000 deaths in Great Britain and 2.2 million in the US. Ottawa’s model version “showed deaths would easily top 300,000 (but only 46,000 with a lockdown) in Canada, while Edmonton said 32,000 Albertans could die here and 1.6 million could be infected. World-wide, Ferguson and his team expected seven billion infections and 40 million deaths. None of that has happened.

Ferguson’s model raised troubling questions. First, Ferguson refused to publish the original source code and Imperial College refused a British Freedom of Information Act request. Writing in the Financial Post in June 2020, Peter St. Onge remarked that Ferguson’s code was unreliable and fragile, “giving different answers depending on the processing speed of the computer running the model.” Similarly, Chris von Csefalvay noted that the code was practically antique (13 years old), and it was written to model an influenza pandemic. Moreover, thousands of lines of code were “undocumented,” making impossible to take it apart and examine for errors — or to correct them. In his view, the code was “a tangled mess of undocumented steps.” Accordingly, von Csefalvay wondered how the British government assessed and validated the model. He concluded that only Ferguson’s reputation made the Imperial College model authoritative. 

Except that there was no reason to hold Ferguson’s work in high esteem. Ferguson’s “apocalyptic” predictions were gross exaggerations. An earlier model of his predicted 150,000 deaths from mad-cow disease in 2002 (the number of fatalities was 2,704). In 2005, Ferguson’s model predicted 200 million deaths from avian flu (455 persons died). Eventually, Ferguson resigned from the British Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), not because his COVID-19 model was so inaccurate as to be worthless but because he was found violating the lockdown that he so vocally supported for everyone else by entertaining someone else’s wife in his London residence. After the fact, commentators wondered why anyone listened to Ferguson in the first place. 

As if modellers were not discredited enough after Ferguson’s exaggerated predictions, CBC’s Laura Glowacki promoted Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his name) in September 2020. Smith? is a mathematician at the University of Ottawa. He builds models for infectious diseases. As case numbers rose at the time, Smith? called for a “ruthless” and “draconian” return to a full lockdown “for a few months … [that] … could bring numbers down to zero new infections.” There was no mention of previous model failure. The country had already locked down hard for a couple of months, and close to 10,000 people had died, mostly in Ontario and Quebec where the vast majority were vulnerable people whom policy makers had vowed to protect and save. Alarmist modelling like Smith?’s pushed the second round of bullying restrictions. Smith? does not fall among the experts who see a tension between health and economy. In his opinion, the economy would be ruined without a full lockdown.

In November, CTV Infectious Disease Specialist Abdu Sharkawy expressed similar alarms. “We need the hammer, and that hammer needs to be applied with conviction. It needs to be applied with some assertiveness, and we need to apply the support that’s necessary from an economic point of view to the people that would suffer if that hammer is laid down,” he said partially conceding to economic harm. Earlier, with some awareness of greater harm, he said: “You can call it authoritarian, you can call it dictatorial. The fact of the matter is, there’s no more room right now for a balanced approach. It’s simply too late.” Medical experts calling for the confinement of entire populations a new tyranny of “expert opinion” passing for scientific advice. No matter how one slices it, the forced confining of entire populations is not a medical measure.

What is worse, achieving zero infections by locking people down is impossible. If that was not clear in March 2020, it is clear now. The virus cannot be made to disappear at will, and no amount of hiding will eliminate it. But model builders keep driving up the fantasy. In Alberta, for instance, there are dreams of creating a zero-infection zone, in the same way the province is rat-free. Last October, CBC found Malgorzata Gasperowicz, an assistant researcher in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary. She studied biotechnology at Gdansk and has a doctorate in biology from Freiburg. 

From a series of Tweets based on her personal calculations, Robert Brown of CBC News Calgary gave her a platform for her alarmist prognostication of rising cases, warning of disaster is nothing was done “right now.”  Gasperowicz’ motivation appears in a pinned Tweet from July 2020 (@GosiaGasperoPhD). It announces “we can achieve COVID-19 elimination in Canada.”  She advocated turning Canada into a new New Zealand.  Her October 29, 2020 tweet caught the attention of people looking for scary materials and warnings of impending disaster: “It’s too late for soft measures. We need strong decisive measures + $$ support for businesses and people ASAP, in order to substantially [sic] *reduce the scale* of the upcoming disaster. It takes 3-4 weeks from the shutdown date till the peak in cases and hospitalizations[,]” it read.  Note the alignment of language with Smith? andSharkawy. Note how the tweet implies that there will be disaster regardless, but only strong medicine can reduce its scale. 

Gasperowicz pointed out that the number of cases in Alberta was doubling every 16.9 days. Nothing was said about what hospitalisations or ICU cases would be.  Nothing was said about the rate of hospitalizations being a fraction of what it was in the Spring. No extrapolations were offered, except to mention that there would be more “upticks,” as Brown called it. It was all about cases. Modelling for actual illness, hospitalization rates and ICU interventions may have proven far too complex.  

While Gasperowicz predicted 2400 cases for December 5, there were 1765 cases at the peak of the case curve on December 8. The predictions were off by 27 percent, but it did not stop Calgary Herald’s Jason Herring from endowing her projections on 12 December with “impressive precision.” Gasperowicz described the accelerating rate of cases each 2.5 weeks in an ominous-sounding calculus category no calculus professor is likely to teach: “über-exponential.” Predictions for thereafter were even worse, and were adorned with a catchy slogan: “If we shut down on Nov 15, we will reach 3000+ daily new cases before numbers start to decrease. Either we control the virus, or the virus controls us.” Alberta did not shut down on November 15th and the predicted onslaught for early December 2020 never materialised. Robert Brown did not once ask questions about the origin of the data Gasperowicz crunched, the methodology she used, the assumptions built into the calculations, why the model stopped at calculating case numbers, or any shortcomings the calculations might have. Her “results” were all taken as Gospel. It all one wanted was to drive up fear, there was no need for additional information. 

With no mention of the significant error spread in her October calculations, in January 2021 Gasperowicz issued new Twitter warnings about the new SARS-CoV-19 strands, which she finds “terrifying.” She particularly worries about B117, the British strand, claiming it is “60 percent” more virulent. Elsewhere, she claimed its virulence is 30-50 per cent higher, and constitutes a “super-danger” Presenting freshly raised fears of the mutations, her model predicted that B117 will spread in Alberta above 2,000 daily cases by the third week in April, 2021, unless Jason Kenney implements another full shut down for 7 weeks. Seven weeks!  

On January 22, Gasperowicz twitted: “#COVIDzero (aiming to eliminate all community transmission of Sars-CoV-2 as fast as possible) is the solution: 7 weeks of effort and AB can be like NZ.” And on January 27, she said: “B117 is in the community[.] Current restrictions are not enough to prevent its spread. Assuming 10 cases on Jan25 & 50% transmissibility of B117, we can have: 1000+ daily cases on Mar 23 2000+ daily cases on Mar 31[.] This model does’t [sic] include the effect of schools reopening.” We’re a month away from March 23rd, Kenney has relaxed some of the restrictions, and the number of cases is not growing. One can guess that April 23 will not likely bring “disaster,” if we go by previous predictions but Global News was sufficiently impressed to make the claim that Gasperowicz’ modelled projection “shows how a seven week lockdown will drop new COVID-19 cases to zero in Alberta.”

Gasperowicz has not described what the lockdown she recommends for seven weeks looks like, but given her intention to eliminate the virus from circulation, one can assume that it includes stringent stay-at-home directives, shutting down most economic activity and government services.  She also wishes to stop all travel, and published a co-authored column in the Calgary Herald in February 2021 arguing that if Alberta can keep rats out of its borders, it could certainly keep the coronavirus out. Although the column mentioned New Zealand as a model jurisdiction that had kept virus-free, they do not mention re-infecting flare ups. New Zealand had declared itself victorious over SARS-CoV-2 twice by mid-February 2021, only to call for another one in Auckland for three days. There was no thoughtful consideration of the spin-off and collateral damage of stopping and starting time and time again every time cases pop up. By the end of February 2021, with no explanation for the change in the face of the “super danger,” Gasperowicz’s recommendation for total confinement in Alberta, reportedly, was now only 6 weeks.  

According to Global’s Jacqueline Wilson, Gasperowicz says “all non-essential businesses would need to close and all international and inter-provincial travellers would have to quarantine.” That most jurisdictions in Canada, including Alberta, have made a monumental mess in imposing what is “essential” for everyone was not part of the discussion. 

A glance at the New Zealand case charts shows that the country has been at zero cases but for a few consecutive days here and there. Given that their standard reaction to reappearing cases (“outbreaks”) is locking down, chances are they will have more lockdowns. We have seen the same with PEI in early March, 2021. As Sweden’s ranking epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, puts it: “fighting Covid-19 is a long-term undertaking, meaning temporary lockdowns will ultimately backfire. …once they’re lifted, infection rates will again rise.” And vaccines will not get us there by incantation either. Even with the vaccines, serious scientists do not expect the elimination of the virus. “Even if you vaccinate, you’ve still got a fairly large number of susceptible people there,” says Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton. “So, we will still see outbreaks happen. Viruses simply aren’t rats. And when cases keep popping up, #COVIDzero is a misnomer or a deceitful expression, if zero means zero.

Alberta’s economy is plugged into the world’s and depends on its ties to the rest of the world, whether in agri-foods, tourism, energy or mining.  It could not easily close its borders, airways, highways and railways, much less for another 6-7 weeks without returning to the enormous damage to human lives and to the economy already caused by the first and second rounds of confinement.  Alberta is no island, making the virus here much more difficult to contain. Not that the issue is geography. The reason PEI has had so few cases is because not many people go to or through PEI. Conversely, Manhattan has been one of the most disastrous COVID-19 areas in the world.  The difference is many people want to go to, or need to go through, Manhattan.   

Although PEI and New Zealand are hailed as lockdown successes, they demonstrate the opposite point: it is impossible to hide from the virus, let alone make it disappear. #COVIDzero is a well-intended but irresponsible fantasy posing as medical advice that, if instituted, will again bring greater social and economic harm. So, let’s say no to #COVIDzero and to the fear it inadvertently peddles with the fantasy of virus elimination. Meanwhile, we can hope that media learn to treat #COVIDzero experts the same way they treat those claiming the virus doesn’t exist. After all, denying the existence of the virus seems as detached from reality as it is claiming that it will disappear if we hide from it. 

Marco Navarro-Génie is a columnist for the Western Standard, president of the Haultain Research Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).

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Opinion

McCOLL: Frig it. Navy’s new ships over budget and behind schedule. Again

The cost of replacing Canada aging surface fleet skyrocketed $82 billion, and will be at least two years late.

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The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released a new report on February 24 about the escalating costs of the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project. The program to build fifteen new Type 26 frigates in Halifax is behind schedule and billions over budget. Again.

The original 2008 budget from the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Harper Government – a number that many defence experts suggested was an impossibly low estimate – was $26.2 billion. A 2017 PBO estimate put the cost at around $62 billion. DND then updated their own estimate to between $56 and $60 billion.

In 2019, the PBO revisited the program, and again the budget increased; this time to $69.8 billion. The latest 2021 estimate is a staggering $77.3 billion if the ships are built on time, $79.7 billion if COVID causes only a single year delay, and $82.1 billion if the program is delayed by 2 years.

The PBO attributes these increases to a combination of factors “including a significant increase in lightship weight (from 6,900 to 7,800 tonnes) and a shift in the start of construction.” 

Much of this 13 per cent weight gain is attributed to the Navy requesting Canadian customization of the British Type 26 design. Lockheed Martin – the design team lead – will be responsible for managing the $4.4 billion development work budget. 

It is quite lucrative to reinvent things for the Canadian military, but not nearly as lucrative as being the local provincial government. Nova Scotia charges the military a 10 per cent PST on these ships.

In a Western Standard interview with the PBO’s Yves Giroux and the two lead analysts who wrote this report, I asked if Canadian taxpayers could save over $7 billion by building these ships in PST-free Alberta – hypothetically, of course – and their answer was a simple: “Yes.” 

That PST bill is worth more than Nova Scotia’s last three years of equalization transfers combined.

The only Navy procurement that currently seems to be going well is Canada’s new Saab CU-176 Gargoyle maritime helicopter drone program. The Navy’s new Swedish drones are being assembled in PST-free Medicine Hat, Alberta.

An odd aspect of the PBO report was the cost comparison to alternate designs: the FREMM and Type 31e. A Navy expert interviewed off-the-record said that including the FREMM makes sense, but that the Type 31e should never have been considered.

The United States Navy recently selected the French/Italian FREMM design to be the basis of its new Constellation-class frigate program. 

The PBO estimated the cost of Irving building 15 Constellation-class frigates in Canada at $71.1 billion. The PBO clarified in the interview that this was based on the US Constellation-class estimates, not on the $30 billion bid the FREMM consortium submitted to the Canadian government in 2017 that was rejected for failing to meet industrial benefit requirements.

The British Type 31e does not yet exist. It is a proposal for a much smaller, less capable, and more affordable frigate based on a Danish design. So why was it included? Because a politician ordered it at a committee. In my initial call, a PBO PR person said that they only looked at the FREMM and Type 31 because that is what the Government Operations and Estimates Committee motion ordered them to investigate.

When I pointed out that the Bloc MP who made the motion – in French – requested that the PBO investigate the FREMM, Type 31, “et de tout navire de catégorie comparable” (and similar ships) but that the official English record of the motion was mistranslated; there was an awkward pause followed by an invitation to interview the PBO.

Two hours later in said interview, the fluently bilingual PBO Yves Giroux explained that they fully understood the French motion but only investigated the FREMM and Type 31 due to time constraints. 

He went on to say that the PBO would be happy to do a cost estimate for the F-105 and De Zeven Provinciën-class frigates (the two other bids that lost the 2017 design competition) should the Committee order a second report.

Perhaps instead of forcing nationally regulated private businesses to provide bilingual service, the Trudeau Liberals should concentrate on getting Parliamentary Committee motions correctly translated into English.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

WAGNER: How the 1970 FLQ Crisis crushed Alberta’s first independence movement

“The pattern of an ‘on-again, off-again’ secessionist movement would continue for decades.”

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One of the longstanding problems of the Alberta independence movement is that it waxes and wanes in response to external events. That is, something happens in Ottawa to provoke outrage in Alberta boosting support for secession, then something else happens in Ottawa easing the outrage, and the movement fades away. Each time there’s a provocation from the federal government, the movement needs to rebuild from scratch. This pattern has repeated itself numerous times over several decades.

The first baby-steps of the secessionist movement were made shortly after Pierre Trudeau became prime minister, but were soon undermined by subsequent events. This is recounted by Calgary lawyer and long-time Liberal activist Darryl Raymaker in his informative 2017 book, Trudeau’s Tango: Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968-1972.

Pierre Trudeau became prime minister in April 1968, and one of his top priorities was the passage of the Official Languages Act. The purpose of the bill was to give French and English equal status in the government of Canada, with the hope of redressing the concerns of francophones.

As Raymaker notes, however, “Many English-speaking people across Canada, Albertans prominent among them, were outraged at the federal government ‘shoving French down our throats.” With oilmen and farmers already skeptical about Trudeau, the passage of the Official Languages Act in July 1969, increased the sense of Western resentment towards Trudeau and his government.

A few months later, prominent Calgary lawyer Milt Harradence began to openly question the West’s place within Canada. As Raymaker describes him, “Harradence was a high profile, revolver-packing, headline-seeking criminal lawyer (and former skilled RCAF pilot) who had grown up in Prince Alberta, Saskatchewan, where he’d fallen under the spell of its finest criminal lawyer, John Diefenbaker.”

Harradence had also been leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party in the 1963 provincial election. He resigned as leader after the party won no seats, but remained involved politically. According to Raymaker, in “February 1970 Harradence announced the formation of the New West Task Force, comprising Calgary businessmen and ordinary citizens who wanted economic consultants to study the feasibility of an independent western Canada.”

Harradence received numerous calls offering support as well as requests to speak. Calgary radio talk show host Bill Knights reported that two-thirds of his callers were favourable towards Western secessionism. Additionally, Robert Thompson, the Progressive Conservative MP for Red Deer and former leader of the federal Social Credit Party, said that the independence movement only needed a leader for it to pose a threat to Canadian unity.

However, as Raymaker writes, “All this western alienation ballyhoo continued at a reduced noise level through the summer of 1970 and Harradence’s task force never delivered a report.” Indeed, the incipient secessionist movement was about to be cut off at the knees by a major event down East.

That event was the “October Crisis” of 1970. A far-left Quebec terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte and British trade commissioner James Cross. The FLQ had committed numerous acts of violence throughout the 1960s and was already responsible for the deaths of eight people. Acting at the request of the Quebec government as well as the Montreal municipal government, Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, thereby suspending habeas corpus, and giving extraordinary powers to police. The army was also out in force.

Trudeau’s decisive action was very popular across the country, and notably in Alberta. When a reporter questioned Trudeau on the large military presence and asked him how far he was willing to go, Trudeau responded, “Well, just watch me.” As Raymaker writes, “Most westerners loved Trudeau’s retort; it remains one of his most popular lines in Alberta.”

It was three days later that the War Measures Act was invoked and Trudeau gave a very effective twenty-minute televised speech to the nation. According to Raymaker, “For the second time in three days Trudeau was the most popular man in the country and probably the most popular Canadian prime minister of all time. Albertans and millions of Canadians coast-to-coast regarded this speech as his finest hour. The Alberta daily press throughout the crisis remained squarely on the government’s side.”

A public opinion poll conducted the following month found that 80 percent of Canadians supported Trudeau’s use of the War Measures Act while only 10 percent were opposed. And in an interview, Alberta’s Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, “said that he completely supported the federal government’s response to the Quebec crisis, and in his view so did 95 percent of Alberta’s citizens.”

Trudeau’s newfound support in Alberta was the death-knell of the embryonic secessionist movement. As Raymaker puts it, gone “were the rabble-rousers of western alienation; Harradence’s task force disappeared permanently. Alberta public opinion had rarely been more unconditionally Canadian than in those dark days of October 1970.”

Support for secessionism was essentially dead but would rekindle within a few short years, and the Independent Alberta Association (IAA) – the first serious secessionist organization – would be formed in 1974.

Nevertheless, the pattern of an “on-again, off-again” secessionist movement would continue for decades. We are currently in an “on-again” phase, and there is no end in sight, so perhaps this time will be different. Justin Trudeau shows no signs that he could demonstrate genuine leadership like his father did during the October Crisis. Therefore, as long as he is prime minister, the movement can continue to grow and organize with the possibility of achieving Alberta independence on the horizon.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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