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FERNANDO: Amid the pandemic, government has vastly overstepped its role

Spencer Fernando writes that governments have abused their powers to overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The desire for the government to “just do something,” has reached a level we’ve not seen in a long time due to the ongoing pandemic.

And yet, it is becoming clearer that the state neither possesses the competence, nor the justification for the vast overstepping the powers given it.

If someone told you a year ago – that due to a virus from China that the government spent months claiming was “low risk” and refused to close the borders to prevent when it could have been stopped – we would be listening to politicians tell us whether Christmas is “on” or not, where we can buy things, who we can buy them from, what is “essential or not,” and heavily fining anyone who “resists” these restrictions, you probably would have dismissed them as a conspiracy theorist. 

It also would have seemed entirely out of step with our values, and with our rights.

Now, some may not want to hear talk of “rights” and “freedoms” right now, as they claim we have to set those aside during this crisis.

But that is what the statists claim during every crisis, be it a pandemic, natural disaster, or war. 

But what is the point of having freedoms if they are “set aside” whenever times are challenging? They endure, even when it may seem difficult.

Worse still, there is growing evidence that politicians are taking these draconian measures out of a fear of being attacked for not “doing enough,” rather than actually following science.

For example, while governments announce the virus death toll daily, they don’t announce the daily number of suicides – which have gone up alarmingly across the world.

They don’t announce the rise in poverty from collapsing businesses. They don’t announce deaths due to overdoses – which have also been surging.

In August, more people died of opioid overdoses in that one month alone in Alberta than had died during the entire pandemic up to that point.

But since those numbers don’t get announced daily, there is no pressure on politicians to act.

They also don’t mention the fact that cases are surging worldwide, in places with all different types of mandates and restrictions.

We are seeing record profits for large international corporations, while small businesses get butchered. Many international box stores have exploited a loophole – another sign of the incompetence of government – that let them stay open to sell both “essential and non-essential items,” while the government shut down small businesses selling what they have declared to be “non-essential items.”

Of course, to those small businesses and the people who put their heart and soul into making a living, all of those items and all of their sales are “essential.”

As a result, we may exit this pandemic and come to find that our communities have been completely hollowed out of the small businesses that make them unique and truly special, with global corporations taking their place in an ever larger display of centralized dominance.

It has also been disturbing to see how many people have been demanding that their individual freedom be taken away, wishing for an authority to ‘take charge’ and restrict what they and others could do.

Yet, those demands for new and ever-expanded government authority come from many of the same people who originally opposed the government using their already-established authority to close the borders and protect ports of entry early in the pandemic, when it truly could have been mitigated.

In fact, one of the few truly proven ways of mitigating the spread of the virus has been strong borders, something that few countries have implemented, even as they impose draconian crackdowns on their own citizens.

At this point, individuals and families know about the virus, we know about the importance of wearing masks in appropriate circumstances, and we know about social distancing. With all of that information, it is time for government to step back, and remember that its job is to serve, not rule.

The government is not our parent. They should be considered a third party hired to deliver a service and defend our rights.

What we need now is for governments to recognize that instead of damaging government-enforced lockdowns and restrictions, it is up to individual responsibility, each person and family making their own choices about their own personal level of risk. That is the approach that can both keep people safe, and remain true to our rights and freedoms.

Spencer Fernando is a columnist for the Western Standard and the owner/author of spencerfernando.com from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Opinion

McCOLL: The battle for Canada’s big blue tent

“The sacking of Sloan was a reversal for O’Toole and a betrayal of the social conservative wing. The battle for the heart and soul of the big blue tent has begun.”

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In my last column I explained why centre and centre-right conservative leadership candidates court the support of social conservatives, only to throw them under the bus once they have won the leadership. Social conservatives are tiring of this habit and are demanding greater influence within the Conservative Party (CPC) and their provincial counterparts.

A conflict between social conservatives and other camps at the March convention seems certain as the former are growing in number and influence. A shift in the political landscape has altered the balance of power within the CPC; but what caused this shift?

British historian Dr. Stephen Davies argues that political realignments happen every 30 to 40 years. As the alignment of most voters shifts, so too do political alliances. This results in power struggles within big tent parties that end in schism, new political parties forming, or a shift in ideology. An example is how the Republicans of Abraham Lincoln were the northern party of black liberation while his opposition Democrats were (largely) the party of southern slave owners.

Davies points out that throughout history, politics has normally been a binary option around one primary defining issue. A two-dimensional political spectrum is created by adding the most important secondary issue as the vertical axis.

For most of recent history, the primary horizontal axis was economic: economic control (socialism) to the left, and economic freedom (free enterprise) to the right. The secondary issue – vertical axis – placed authoritarianism at one end, and social freedom (libertarian) at the other.

A diagonal line between the two dominant quadrants becomes the political left vs. right spectrum we know: with upper-left “social democratic” parties and bottom-right “free enterprise conservative” parties.

Most voters will fall into one of these two dominant quadrants with the minority of voters (normally swing voters) finding themselves in one of the two quadrants devoid of major political parties. The unionized blue-collar workers who voted for Trump, for example, can often be found in the empty economic-left and social-authoritarian quadrant.

Davies argues the new 21st-century primary axis is about issues of identity: nationalism vs. globalism; stability and order vs. dynamic innovation; rural areas and industrial regions vs. global metropolitan cities.

Davies’ new dominant quadrants – representing the primary coalitions – are the “globalist liberals & free market libertarians” and the “national collectivists & cultural conservatives.”

Traditional leftist parties made up of coalitions between environmentalists, socialists, liberals, and moderates will be difficult to maintain as the liberals and moderates will want to follow the majority of voters as they shift to more globalist and libertarian social positions.

While difficult, it is possible to build a big-tent coalition of the old left and the new globalist left under first past the post systems. However, traditional centre-right parties – like the Conservative Party of Canada – are in trouble and Davies argues they will almost certainly splinter as competing policy objectives pull the moderates and social conservatives in opposite directions. The growth of social conservative influence within the CPC results from this influx of economic-left cultural conservatives and a simultaneous departure of progressives and libertarians.

Examples of the realignment include the 2017 French elections where the traditional centre-left and centre-right parties were both shut-out of the Presidential run-off between the new globalist LaREM party of Emmanuel Macron and the National Front party of the cultural conservative Marie Le Pen. The LaREM-led coalition also won a substantial majority in the National Assembly, while the traditional centre-left and centre-right parties suffered significant losses.

Trump represented a dramatic shift in Republican policy towards national collectivism, and many of the newly elected Republican senators and members of congress share Trump’s nationalism and collectivist instincts. Hillary Clinton – who most readers would agree is a globalist liberal – tried to shift her party towards globalism but faced a backlash from the old socialist wing represented by Bernie Sanders and the new radical-environmentalist wing represented by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In Canada, the shift can be seen in Quebec’s provincial elections. The new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is a prime example of a national collectivist and cultural conservative party. Federal Progressive Conservative cabinet minister turned Liberal Premier of Quebec Jean Charest set the Quebec Liberal party down the path to become a Macron-style coalition of globalist liberals and free market libertarians.

Derek Sloan and Dr. Leslyn Lewis both clearly campaigned on national collectivist and cultural conservative policies. Up until Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, O’Toole seemed content to slowly shift the CPC in the direction of national collectivism. The sacking of Sloan was a reversal for O’Toole and a betrayal of the social conservative wing. The battle for the heart and soul of the big blue tent has begun.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard

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Opinion

McCOLL: As Scheer did unto Trost, O’Toole did unto Sloan

“O’Toole – potentially shocked into action by the events in Washington – has fired the first shot and triggered a battle for control of the big blue tent.”

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I wanted to use the phrase, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me;” but for Ontario social conservatives, this is the third time.  Erin O’Toole is now the third conservative politician from Ontario who recently courted the support of social conservatives only to throw their champion out of the party a few months after winning a leadership election.  Why does this keep happening?

Conservatives say they elect leaders in accordance with a “one member, one vote” principle; but most centre-right parties in Canada do not. The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party use a ranked ballot and an electoral college style point system. With each constituency entitled to the same number of points, this system allows a dozen dairy farmers with one-year memberships in Quebec to be worth the same number of points as hundreds of life-long social conservatives in a rural Ontario constituency or the thousands of members in Calgary Centre.

Politicians are people, and people respond to incentives. The path to victory for a challenger in a conservative leadership vote lies in securing the runner-up position early by being an undefined “True Blue Conservative” and then vigorously courting social conservatives for down ballot support.

With 13 candidates in the 2017 leadership race, Scheer positioned himself as everyone’s second choice; but it was the social conservatives who voted for the hard-right social conservative Brad Trost and the more moderate social conservative Pierre Lemieux that gave him his narrow 51 to 49 per cent win over Max Bernier. Unfortunately, the hard-right support that is key to winning the CPC leadership can also be a “stinking albatross” in competitive swing ridings during a general election. This encourages CPC leaders to dispose of political liabilities. Less than a year after the leadership vote, Brad Trost lost his CPC nomination in what his supporters have described as a Scheer ordered hit job.

In the 2018 Ontario PC Leadership, Doug Ford courted the down ballot support of social conservative Tanya Allen. Doug Ford narrowly won the most points – while losing the popular vote – thanks to the down ballot support of rural social conservatives.

Allen ran for the leadership in opposition to Liberal changes to the public-school curriculum, and Ford signaled his support arguing that the “sex-ed curriculum should be about facts, not teaching Liberal ideology.” Within two months of the leadership vote, Ford revoked Allen’s elected nomination because of her social conservative views on sex education.

During the 2020 leadership race, Sloan implied that being gay was a choice. Many Conservative MPs were outraged and demanded that Sloan be expelled from caucus. O’Toole defended Sloan in caucus, and made it known to Sloan supporters that they were welcome in O’Toole’s “True Blue” tent. Less than a year later, Sloan has been kicked to the curb.

Trost, Allen, and Sloan all had the support of the Campaign Life Coalition, a social conservative group that campaigns against abortion and what they see as liberal ideology in sex education curriculums. As reported in the Western Standard, the president of Campaign Life has demanded O’Toole’s resignation and confirmed reports that Campaign Life has organized  delegates to attend the CPC’s virtual March convention. As only delegates can vote for National Council leadership positions, it was reported that O’Toole dumped Sloan as part of a plan to stop Campaign Life from taking control of National Council and passing anti-abortion policies.

In the 2017 Conservative leadership race, the social conservatives were the king makers, but they did not have the numbers to elect one of their own.  Social conservatives also represented a minority of delegates at the 2018 party convention in Halifax. In the 2020 leadership race, social conservatives won the popular vote in the second round. After Sloan’s down ballot support was redistributed, moderate social conservative Dr. Leslyn Lewis had 35 per cent of – and was winning – the popular vote but she placed third in the points and was eliminated because her support was concentrated in the West.

Social conservatives are demanding greater influence over the CPC.  A conflict between the two camps at the March convention seems certain. O’Toole – potentially shocked into action by the events in Washington – has fired the first shot and triggered a battle for control of the big blue tent.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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Opinion

WAGNER: The Toronto book that predicted the rise of Western independence, 50 years ago

“It is remarkable that this book – The Prairie Provinces: Alienation and Anger – written by a team from a Toronto newspaper and published in Toronto in 1969, got so much right.”

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In 1969, The Toronto Telegram newspaper undertook the ‘Canada 70’ study, which involved surveying the attitudes of citizens across the country. One of the products of this study was a book entitled, The Prairie Provinces: Alienation and Anger which was written by The Telegram’s Ottawa Bureau chief, Peter Thompson, and published by McClelland and Stewart. The striking thing about this book is that it shows how little has changed in the West’s relationship with Central Canada in over 50 years.

Much of the book is a sympathetic discussion of Western alienation and the reasons for it. Thompson sought out the views of many Westerners and seems to have obtained an authentic sense of their frustrations with Central Canada. This provides a basis for him to accurately explain a genuine Western perspective to his Toronto audience.

Early in the book, Thompson writes: “Many Western Canadians are getting mad. They have been disenchanted for generations with the East over economic inequities because the best interest of the Western primary producer is fundamentally opposed to that of the Eastern manufacturer. They have been disturbed by their apparent inability to influence the political and financial decisions of the nation.” In other words, “The real basis of Western discontent as Canada enters the 1970s is the fact that too many decisions guiding the Prairie destiny are made in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.”

Of course, in 1969 Canada had a rookie prime minister named Pierre Trudeau. The Canada 70 study was able to get a comment from Trudeau about discontent in Western Canada. He began by saying, “Perhaps, to be quite candid with you when you talk of growing disenchantment, I must begin by saying that some of my reading of the West is that it is always disenchanted.” In other words, his basic assumption was that Westerners are a bunch of chronic whiners. Not a good place to start.

In one part of the study, Westerners were asked about their sense of attachment to the country in relation to their sense of attachment to the West. A somewhat concerned Thompson writes: “perhaps many Canadians will be disturbed to know that thirty-four percent of Westerners think of their province or region ahead of the nation. Even more disturbing could be the fact that young people are more inclined to identify with their region or province than their parents are.”

Not surprisingly, then, Thompson sensed the budding of secessionist sentiment in the West. Indeed, the concluding chapter of his book is entitled, “Seeds of Separation.”

As he explains, the prairie West had been relatively poor from the early part of the twentieth century until the 1960s. During that decade, however, its economic situation began to improve, leading to new political thinking: “Not until the mid-1960s did the West halt to take stock, of both its riches and its position within confederation. It found the riches to be vast in dollar value but apparently limited in power to change the industrial and social structures of Canada.”

The result was that many Westerners became determined to get a better deal from Canada. As Thompson points out, “The suggestion implicit in the West’s confident tone is that if this game is rigged,” then “the West is getting out. The West is in a position to set some of the rules because it has more than its share of wealth in the game.”

He quickly adds that there were only “tiny seeds of separatist thought” in the West. However, he then points out that if the federal government does not deal fairly with the West, it “could force those tiny seeds of Western separatism into a growing movement within a decade.”

Thompson’s words were prophetic. The first serious secessionist organizations began to form in Alberta during the 1970s, and really took off in 1980 after Pierre Trudeau introduced his execrable National Energy Program (NEP).

Thompson was able to interview Premier Harry Strom – the last Social Credit premier of Alberta – and asked him about Western sentiment. Strom’s view was that “it would take a man of national stature to stir up the scattered separatist feeling in the West.” Although he did not think such a leader was then on the horizon, he said “such men have been known to emerge almost overnight.”

Premier Strom’s view that the lack of a prominent, credible leader was the missing piece in the independence movement is worth pondering. This same point would also be made by others in the ensuing decades. Clearly, there is something to it.

It is remarkable that this book – The Prairie Provinces: Alienation and Anger – written by a team from a Toronto newspaper and published in Toronto in 1969, got so much right. Over fifty years ago, an accurate and sympathetic portrayal of Western concerns and grievances was presented to Central Canada, along with a warning about budding secessionist sentiment. But in Central Canada, nobody listens to the West. In fact, federal policies are probably worse for the Prairie West today than they were in 1969.

Alberta’s – and even Saskatchewan’s – independence movement have begun to emerge from their infancy with organized and increasingly credible political parties behind them.

All the movement needs to catch fire is Strom’s man of “national stature”.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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