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Italian magazine spotlights Alberta’s independence movement

Atlantico is an Italian libertarian magazine normally covering issues in Europe. But with the rising tide of the Western independence – or “Wexit” – movement beginning to gain attention around the world, Atlantico reached out to speak with Western Standard Publisher Derek Fildebrandt for more information.

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The full article in Italian can be found at atlanticoquotidiano.it.

Alberta between Canada and independence: an interview on the future of the Canadian West
By Marco Faraci

One year ago Justin Trudeau won the Canadian federal election for the second time, albeit with lower votes and seats than in 2015. Trudeau’s Liberal Party has substantially built its parliamentary plurality in Eastern Provinces, without hardly winning any seat West of Ontario.

The Liberals failed to make any inroads into the provinces of the Prairies and it is no surprise that the strongest rejection of the federal Liberal government has come from Alberta, where voters overwhelmingly supported the Conservative Party.

However, once again, the will of the citizens of Alberta has been outvoted by the Eastern progressive bloc. Alberta seems to be doomed to be structurally in opposition, without any real chance to have a say in federal politics.

But can things be changed? Is there still a place for Alberta and the other Western provinces in the current federal constitutional framework? And what can be the long term political alternatives for the neglected conservative provinces?

We have discussed all these issues with Derek Fildebrandt, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for the conservative-libertarian Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2019, and now the publisher of the magazine “Western Standard”.

Fildebrandt holds genuine right-libertarian views and is an adamant advocate of self-government for Alberta.

Mr. Fildebrandt, a popular expression to describe the malaise of the Western Canadian provinces is “Western alienation”. Do you think that it captures the feelings of most of the Alberta citizens accurately?

I think that in some way “Western alienation” is an old expression. This expression has been circulating since the 70s and 80s and in my opinion, it understates the current political conditions of Alberta. The word “alienation” just hints at the concept that the federal government ignores us. Unfortunately, this is not true anymore. Ottawa does not just ignore Alberta; it is actively hostile to the interests of Alberta.

I think that a more representative notion would be “Western siege”. I think that Alberta is under siege. We are attacked and besieged by a distant and increasingly foreign government.

This is a rather strong statement. Could you explain to our readers how the federal government harms Alberta and the interests of its citizens? 

It does it in many ways. It is not just about milking Albertan taxpayers’ money, which has always happened. Now, with the rise of the green New Left, our oil and gas industry is overtly under attack and this is really worrying for us. The federal government is implementing policies that are disastrous for our provincial economy.

Do you think that only economic interests are at stake or do you also see a cultural clash between Alberta and the dominant East? In other words, is Alberta “different”?

I think that the issues between Ottawa and Alberta are primarily economic: keeping more money home and defending our right to work without undue confiscations and regulations. 

There are also a number of cultural issues, but they are different from those inspiring Quebec nationalism. Quebec nationalism is about ethnolinguistic claims; we do not have this type of cultural divide with the majority of the Canadian provinces. We speak the same language; we eat the same food. Our cultural differences are more in terms of values: our approach to work, our approach to family, our approach to liberty. In these regards, we have more in common with Montana than with Toronto. 

Do you believe that a strategical alliance between Alberta nationalists and Quebec nationalists is possible?

It happened in the 80’s, when Brian Mulroney managed to form a broad coalition uniting discontented Westerners and Quebec nationalists, but the truth is that the two approaches are rather distant. On the one hand, Quebec nationalists are disproportionately positioned on the Left of the political spectrum. On the other hand, the kind of decentralization that Quebec seeks is different from the kind of decentralization that we seek. Quebec wants cultural and social decentralization from what they see as a domineering English government, but is not interested in fiscal decentralization, because Quebec is and always has been a net recipient from the federal budget – while Alberta is and has for generations been a net contributor. In other words, Quebec wants to decentralize the power of spending money but strongly supports taxation at a central level. 

Do you think that Canada is a structurally liberal country, where conservatives will always be a minority ?

Canada is structurally liberal in the sense that it is structurally Eastern. As Eastern provinces are predominantly liberal, then the result is that the federation is by default liberal – but the core issue is the uneven balance of power between the different parts of the federation.

And why then is Canada structurally Eastern? Is it a matter of demography?

Certainly in demographic terms, Easterners outnumber Westerners, but it is not just a matter of demography.

The dominance of Eastern provinces is enshrined in the Constitution and there is very little we can do to change that. Some provisions are ludicrous, such as the composition of the Senate.

We are virtually the only democracy in the world with an unelected Upper House and we are the only federation in the world where the Upper House is not conceived with any kind of regional balance.

Our Senators are appointed by the federal Prime Minister, like they were bureaucrats. Justin Trudeau, who is highly unpopular in Alberta nominates the Senators for Alberta.

But the issue with the Senate goes beyond that. The Senate was created in 1867 and the distribution of seats was negotiated by the colonies that existed at that time. Western provinces had not been created yet and were later allocated only a handful of seats. Alberta is the fourth Canadian province by population; it has twice the population of all four Atlantic provinces combined, but has nearly half of the Senate seats given to New Brunswick.

The opportunities for Alberta to play a role in federal institutions are also hindered by official bilingualism. If you grow up in a province like Alberta, there is very little incentive to learn French, but this also means that Albertans will less likely qualify for federal offices requiring bilingualism, including roles in the Supreme Court.

The position of Alberta within Canada is much weaker than the position of the Red states within the United States. The American framework guarantees a much stronger system of checks and balances and no state finds itself in the position of being structurally kept out from the federal political dynamics.

Do you think that Canada is a “lost cause”? Or is it still worth fighting to bring Canada back on track?

I believe that Canada is worth trying to save, but I’m sceptical that it can be. 

We would need to reform the Constitution to allow real free trade between provinces, to have an elected and fully representative Senate and to abolish the “Equalization formula”, which transfers money from Alberta to Eastern provinces. But that reform is virtually impossible because the Constitutional amendment rules render the status quo effectively unalterable.

Canada is a great country, with a mostly great history and I believe in the idea that it is worth fighting to save. I just have extremely little faith that it is politically possible to do so.

In these conditions, is independence for Alberta a viable alternative?

Yes, it is. Alberta’s GDP per capita is among the highest on the planet. We would be in the company of countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg or Singapore. An independent Alberta would keep between 20 and 30 billion dollars a year of taxpayers’ money in Alberta.

The critics of independence say that Alberta is landlocked. This is certainly true. Alberta is landlocked and there is nothing we can do about it. But it is also landlocked as a province and, as a landlocked province, we are in an extremely weak position. We cannot push for free trade, for example – as we do not even have free trade between provinces in the current Canadian framework. And we cannot get the government we want; Alberta did not elect a single Liberal in the last election and yet we got a Liberal federal government.

I think we would have much more leverage as an independent landlocked nation than as a landlocked province, barring the unlikely scenario of constitutional reform. A sovereign Alberta would be in a position to force free trade and market access, while as a province we can only continue to elect Conservatives bound to be outvoted by Eastern Liberals.

So you are saying that independence would be economically viable. But is there a viable political path to independence?

There is definitely increasing support for independence in Alberta, but circumstances are not ready yet. I was the first elected representative in Alberta since the 1980s that openly supported independence if constitutional reform fails. I campaigned on the platform of a set of two referendums for Albertans to consider. The first referendum would be to demand full equality with other provinces. Then if either Ottawa or the provinces reject constitutional reform to make Canada fairer, the second referendum should be on independence.

Currently polls show that 52 per cent of the voters of the mainstream conservative party governing Alberta (the United Conservative Party) support independence. I am not sure if mainstream Conservatives will ever be ready to go forward on independence – they are too divided on the issue and they will try to avoid it. However new political parties and movements with a crystal clear commitment to independence are gaining ground and I am sure that they will play a political role. 

Summing up, will we ever see an independent Alberta?

The path will be long and far from smooth, but I believe that independence is a realistic possibility if things do not change.

Features

WESTROCK: Big Sugar on their Alberta anthem, and what’s next for the band

The Western Standard spoke with Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar.

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I was excited to interview Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar on a live Western Standard broadcast, but with tech issues, I had to stand on the sidelines and watch our Publisher Derek Fildebrandt do it for me. As a Big Sugar fanboy, he didn’t seem to mind though. C’est la vie.

There was much respect though as I viewed and could hear Derek apologizing and giving me props for setting up the interview. In fact, Derek told Gordie that during the application for the job as the Western Standard’s new music columnist, that if I could get an interview with one his favorite Canadian artists Big Sugar, I had the job.

It took me 24 hours to set it up. I got the job.

The beginning of the interview was some chit chat back and forth and Derek made it known that he was a huge Big Sugar fan and that he originally was just going to be my kind of Ed McMahaon or Paul Shaffer, but fate must have been involved and he had Gordie all to himself. “Maybe there’s some subterfuge going on” he joked.

Cover of Eternity Now (photo credit: Big Sugar)

In case you are not aware, Big Sugar was formed in Toronto in 1988 and over the years the band has released 11 studio albums with the most recent being ‘Eternity Now’, which for various reasons took two years to record. The band and Gordie have also received many Juno nominations and many of their albums have hit Gold or Platinum status. In addition to ‘Eternity Now’, the band decided to also rerelease a vinyl version of one of their best selling albums, ‘Hemi-Vision’ this past year.

Gordie was asked about his musical influences and across the board styles.

“Well music is just the language I speak and I hear funk in my heavy metal. I hear rock when I listen to reggae, and that’s what a Big Sugar show is about; there is so much complexity and it makes you move and feel good”

The interview then got a bit scary (for me} as Derek mentioned that I said that Gordie resembled Julian from the Trailer Park Boys.

“Julian” from Trailer Park Boys

“Tell Ernest I’m going to kick his ass after school” was the singer-guitarist’s reply.

From there we delved into how the impact of Gary Lowe’s passing a couple years ago after a two year battle with cancer had on the band.

“First of all, it was devastating and there was no getting over it…I mean I know his kids and Gary was unique in what he brought to the studio and our friendship was unique. Moving forward, I didn’t hire guys to sound like him; I hired guys to be themselves and that is why Big Sugar has been successful over the years.”

As I noted above, Fildebrandt is a pretty much a Big Sugar groupie. He literally talked my ear off about Gordie and his favourite Sugar song, ‘All Hell for a Basement’.

I listened to the song and although I liked the vibe and groove, the important thing I noted is that the title was attributed to the famous poet laureate Rudyard Kipling who was born in Bombay in 1865 and traveled the world and wrote and studied. In 1907, his travels landed him in Medicine Hat, Alberta. There he coined the phrase “All hell for a Basement” referring to the region’s vast reserves of natural gas beneath the soil.

Gordie confirmed that fact. “Back in the day in downtown Medicine Hat, they literally would just stick a pipe in the ground and light it and use it for a street light” No joke.

Johnson grew up between Ontario and The Hat.

Although the song is written as kind of an athem for oil and natural gas rich Alberta, Gordie says it was more of a song about displacement as Newfoundlanders in their thousands crossed the country to find work in the oilfields as the cod fishing industry dried up.

“I just thought that was an amazing cultural phoenomena that was happening in Canada and nobody was talking about it.”

Johnston said that he still can’t play the song without tearing up.

“It’s a song about displaced people.”

“I wrote it about a young fellah – a guy in his 20s – who was working in the oilfield, who had moved from Newfoundland with his family…He couldn’t have been further from home. He was trying to make a new life for himself in Fort McMurray, Alberta.”

Johnson tells the story of a time he was in a Newfoundland pub drinking – and not preforming – and a traditional Irish folk group starting playing the song.

Another time he was working with a traditional Irish-folk musician from Newfoundland who told him – in a thick Newfie accent – “Big Sugar did not write that song. That’s a traditional old Newfoundlander song.”

Fildebrandt asked him if he believes he would get more blowback – or even get ‘canceled’ for releasing such an openly pro-oil and gas worker song. Johnson’s answer was shocking.

“We got in trouble back in 2001. You know why that song was never a radio single? Because record companies based in Toronto. You get 12 guys that live in Toronto sitting around a board room table, they say ‘ you can put that out, because they’re not going to play it anywhere else…People want to sing it everywhere we go. No record company execs have ever been as wrong as, shall be nameless.”

“We took the heat for it back in the day.” Johnston said they also took hell for putting a rock version of ‘O’Canada’ on the album.

To give more context of how much of a huge Gordie-fan Derek is, I had originally asked Gordies’ assistant if he could some how play the first couple of bars to ‘All Hell For a Basement’ either during the intro or ending of the interview. I was politely turned down through an email as Gordie was doing some session work and was just going to stop long enough to take the interview. At that point, I garnered a lot of respect for him.

Funny thing is that Derek (knowing this) persisted politely and since he was the host due to my technically-challenged demise, asked Gordie the same question. I laughed as Gordie very respectfully denied him and explained the situation…again.

I could feel the crushing blow and tearing of my new employer’s heart.

Although being in lockdown for the better part of 2020, it has still been a busy year for Gordie and Sugar as ‘Hemi-Vision’ was rereleased with some hidden gems on it that they pulled out of the vault such as a Beatles cover, and also the release of ‘Eternity Now’ by “Big Sugar 3.0”. It’s 3.0 according to Gordie because the band is always evolving, and with new members it was almost like a new band in many ways.

One of the questions that I had prepared and passed along during interview was to ask who Gordie thought was a great upcoming band or underrated artist. In a very honest and politically phrased answer, he said it would be a disservice to really mention anyone because there are so many that he would be regret if he forgot to mention someone.

The longer they chatted, Mr. Johnson did confess that he had a soft spot for the Vancouver music scene, as that is where he met his wife. He also coughed up that there are some really great musicians there and one happens to be his buddy Rich Hope.

“He’s one of those dudes that still rides his skateboard to work and has this big black Les Paul and he just embodies Rock n’ Roll and at my age he is still just shredding on it, and I can’t just limit it to Richie. Jay Sparrow is another one and the list goes on and on.”

So the moral of the story is that if you get Gordie to talk long enough, he’ll eventually slip up and I’m sure Ritchie and Jay appreciate the plug.

Ernest Skinner is the WestRock columnist for the Western Standard

Join Ernest for a live-streamed interview on Friday February 5 at 7 pm MST with Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake and the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

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Features

WATCH: Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar

We interviewed Gordie Johnston of Big Sugar on the origins of his Alberta anthem ‘All Hell for a Basement’ and what’s next for the band.

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Western Standard Publisher Derek Fildebrandt interviews Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar

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An Alberta company’s mission to make Bitcoin mainstream

Edmonton-based Bitcoin Well is expanding its ATMs across Canada in a bid to make the cryptocurrency more accessible.

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“I’ll have a large coffee and a bitcoin please.”

If Adam O’Brien has his way, those types of orders will soon become a normal transaction across the country.

O’Brien is the head of Edmonton-based Bitcoin Well and his mission is to teach Canadians about bitcoin cryptocurrency as an alternative to government-issue paperbacks.

“This is how you get financial sovereignty. This is how you can take control of your own money,” said O’Brien.

The world of cryptocurrency can sound intimidating and complicated than it really is. O’Brien says that he and his staff are there to help customers understand Bitcoin and help navigate their way through.

“Bitcoin is most closely related to digital gold – it has to be mined. It’s scarce and it holds its value,” said O’Brien, noting it’s easy to use. “If I want to pay a million-dollars with of gold, I would need a forklift. With bitcoin, I can do it in my pyjamas.”

All government-backed paper current in Canada is controlled by the five major chartered banks.

“Bitcoin is not managed by anyone. Bitcoin is accessible. Bitcoin never closes.”

A single bitcoin now sells in the area of $30,000 CAD. But you don’t have to break the bank to own some of your own. A bitcoin is sub-dividable, like cutting an old gold coin in halves, or quarters.

Adams’ favorite selling point is to give potential customers $5 and have them convert it into bitcoin at the ATM.

Bitcoin Well has a interactive map of all of its ATMs across Canada on its website,

The bitcoin market can be “volatile. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was trading around the $3,200/bitcoin mark. Today it stands at $30,00/bitcoin, and it can fluctuate by that $3,200 figure on any given day. He said daily drops and increases can be between 10-15 per cent.

Every bitcoin owner gets their own wallet with their balance sheet on it. Every single bitcoin transaction is made public, only the sender and receiver are kept secret. So unless you share your password, your Bitcoin account remains safe.

“Bitcoin has never been hacked,” Adams said.

One of the things the Edmonton businessman is most proud of is the fact his company is 100 per cent Canadian-owned.

“We bleed maple syrup!” his website reads. “Our team is handpicked and local. We are proud to employ a team of Canadians and aspiring Canadian permanent residents. We are Canadians, focused on the Canadian bitcoin and cryptocurrency culture.”

O’Brien started in the bitcoin business in 2013 and it was rebranded into Bitcoin Well. As in a well of water.

It now boasts of having bitcoin ATMS across Ontario and the West. Mainly in places like coffee shops and restaurants. Any place that is open for long hours works best. The number of bitcoin ATMS has grown by a staggering 242 per cent.

Bitcoin Well ATM

“With a bitcoin ATM, it creates a community in your outlet. People come in regularly to use them and stop and talk. Hosting an ATM is the best way you can dip your toe into the bitcoin pool.” said Adams.

“I’m not a salesman – I’m not trying to convince anyone to buy bitcoin. My purpose is to make people aware of it. It’s not our job to changes minds.

“My goal is to bring bitcoin further into the mainstream and educate everyday people about the benefits of decentralized currency. This is exactly the platform I wish I had access to when I first started to explore and learn about bitcoin in 2013.

“We are aiming to make bitcoin easy to buy and sell for many reasons. Bitcoin allows the average consumer to take power over their finances and ensure they are not susceptible to centralized-banking failure. We aim to educate and expose as many Canadians as possible to enable the dream of true financial freedom.”

Elon Musk

While stressing he is not a financial advisor, O’Brien is a proponent of having one per cent of a person’s net value in Bitcoin. “The one percent will outperform the rest of your portfolio,” he said.

O’Brien said bitcoin work for all ages and that the school system fails children by not teaching the basics of how money works, from tax bills to mortgages. He’s paying it back by setting up an internship program with Edmonton schools.

Leaders in the business world are standing up and taking notice of bitcoin.

Space pioneer Elon Musk on Sunday asked about the possibility of converting “large transactions” of Tesla Inc’s balance sheet into bitcoin.

Earlier this month, market analysts were stunned when the 170-year-old insurance company Mass Mutual invested $100 million USD in bitcoin.

“The institutional places are worried they are missing the Bitcoin train. It is arguably safer than cash and gold,” Adams points out.

Musk and O’Brien are both after the same thing for bitcoin – and they’re shooting for the stars.

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