Of all the strange and arbitrary things governments have done through the ages, cancelling Christmas has got to rank up there.
Here at home – and in many jurisdictions around the world – governments have used their largely unchecked powers to wrestle with the COVID-19 pandemic, culminating finally in the cancellation of Christmas, on pain of fines and even arrest.
Rare in the history of the free world is there an example of a government regulating or prohibiting non-abusive interactions within the confines of peoples’ private homes. Alas, as 2021 enters our horizon, we have crossed a dangerous threshold.
As COVID-19 spread from its incubator in Wuhan, China in March of 2020, peoples in free and non-free countries around the world overwhelmingly stood together in the face of what they were told was a historic pandemic on the scale of the Spanish Flu. Most people are not virologists and have little-to-no expertise in the danger of a novel virus. We have little choice but to trust the experts.
Even skeptics of state power could voluntarily comply with health restrictions in the face of what limited evidence we were presented with. The predictions were dire, and responsible individuals would do their part.
By June 2020, all of this changed.
The first shoe to drop was the credibility of the World Health Organization (WHO). Caught in the pocket of the Chinese Communist Party, the WHO turned itself inside-out to protect the regime responsible for the initial outbreak and silence the doctors sounding the early alarm. Despite this, Canada’s federal government clung to the WHO as sacrosanct.
Next came Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Thersa Tam. Initially ruling that face-masks did little to nothing to stop transmission, she back-flipped and recommended that the provinces make them mandatory. She never admitted that she was wrong; only that masks did nothing before, and were critical now.
Small business owners were subject to arbitrary government closure of their source of livelihood, while big box stores were allowed to continue operations relatively unimpeded.
But most devastatingly – and thankfully – the predictions proved to be woefully inaccurate.
The resulting fatality rates were far below even the “best-case scenarios” of most government modelling. A picture began to emerge of a virus that was highly contagious, but whose fatalities were almost exclusively the elderly and sick.
In Alberta and much of the developed world, the average age of a COVID-19 fatality is 82. The average life expectancy of an Albertan is 81.5 years.
This is not as the alarmists claim a dismissal of the value of the lives of the elderly or sick. It is a fact that should inform how we address a serious – but not apocalyptic – pandemic.
Governments continued to take a shotgun approach, with mask mandates and lockdowns applying to the public broadly, rather than more targeted measures focused on the truly at-risk demographics. There is a role to play for the less at-risk demographics still capable of carrying and transmitting the virus, but that role is surely lighter, and voluntary.
Those who feel that the risk of contraction is just too great, are free to lock themselves down.
Closer to home in Alberta, the government has oscillated between a laissez faire approach (relative to other provinces) and authoritarian Ontario-style lockdowns. This has resulted in the worst of both worlds, with little of the benefit.
We received neither the benefits of widespread heard-immunity, or the protection of a protracted lockdown to starve the virus out.
In a moment of sincerity, Premier Jason Kenney apologized to small business owners who were forcibly shuttered during the first lockdown that began in March, while big box stores often saw record profits. He recognized that it did little or nothing to improve public health, and put them at an unfair competitive disadvantage.
In the face of relentless and almost uniform media and NDP criticism, Kenney stood his ground against another total lockdown. Instead, he imposed half-measures with bizarre restrictions on who people are allowed to go to restaurants with. Without police doing background checks at every dinner table in Alberta, it was impossible to enforce.
On the Danielle Smith radio show, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley slammed Kenney for not imposing a total lockdown, including on restaurants and bars. Kenney was quick to shoot back, accusing the opposition leader of recklessly killing businesses.
It is difficult to say if Kenney has genuinely changed his mind in the space of a week, or if it was just the pressure from the onslaught of the media, but Kenney caved and imposed a total lockdown. Alberta is closed, again. It joins the lockdown-happy governments of Ontario’s Doug Ford and BC’s John Horgan.
The oscillation will continue, and won’t do much. Alberta has gone from a lockdown, to eased-restrictions, to hard-restrictions, to another lockdown. But unlike the first lockdown, there is far from universal buy-in.
An Angus-Reid poll found that at least 35 per cent of Albertans intend to defy government orders and meet with family over Christmas. It wouldn’t be a great surprise if many more just didn’t want to tell a pollster that they planned on breaking the law.
A lockdown requires near universal public buy-in. It no longer exists.
Governments have been caught spreading incorrect, and sometimes dishonest information. Politicians and media have too often been caught stoking fear for political ends. Media have been caught doing it to sell ads and get clicks.
Conspiracy theorists have taken these misdeeds and built larger narratives around them, and a following.
The proverbial “Karens” have taken up this moment not as a public health crisis, but as a chance for public virtue signalling. The wearing of the mask is for them less about mitigating the transmission of a virus, then about proudly displaying their social solidarity.
Conversely, many skeptics quickly came to see the mask not as a health protection measure, but as the dark side of the symbol that the Karens proclaim: submission to authority.
Almost as soon as it started, COVID-19 has been a victim of the culture war.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s early measures to stop air traffic from China were labelled as “racist” by his critics. The pandemic was apocalyptic, but not so apocalyptic as to stop travel from the virus’s breeding ground.
As the left came to broadly favour lockdowns and mask-mandates, the right came to see it as excessive statism. As the left came to view the right as science-denying conspiracy theorists, the right came to view the left as slavish, state-worshiping authoritarians.
Whatever the truth, the social uniformity required for another lockdown to work clearly no longer exists.
A good many people will grumble and grudgingly comply with the lockdown and mask-mandates, but a likely large minority will have none of it. For them, Christmas will be held clandestinely.
A lockdown observed religiously by 50 per cent, grudgingly by 20 per cent, and defied by 30 per cent will not succeed. All it will achieve is greater economic and social hardship, and continue to divide an already divided society.
Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard
SLOBODIAN: Not so quick with allegations of hate crimes
It wasn’t a fair fight, but a police investigation determined it was also not a hate crime.
On the surface, a gang of white boys piling on one black boy sure looked like it could be a hate crime.
As it turns out, there was more to the story regarding the April 16 attack in an Edmonton schoolyard.
It wasn’t a fair fight, but a police investigation determined it was also not a hate crime.
A video of the incident, during which the 14-year-old was swarmed and beaten is painful to watch. It made local news and the “racist” incident was featured on the CBC The National.
That seven boys, all aged 14 but for one 12-year-old, attacked one boy is profoundly disturbing. Whoever stood back to video this is just as guilty as his bully buddies who kicked, punched and put the victim in a chokehold.
Predictably, some swiftly concluded this attack was purely driven by racial hatred. The facts be damned.
They didn’t talk to the boys involved.
But police did.
The hate crimes unit concluded this incident didn’t meet the Criminal Code criteria for a hate crime.
“There is still not sufficient evidence that this event was motivated by hate bias or prejudice toward the complainant’s race,” said Edmonton Police Service chief Dale McFee. “As such, it does not currently meet the Criminal Code threshold for a hate-motivated crime.”
During the melee one of the boys yelled out the nasty N-word. McFee rightfully acknowledged this as “highly inappropriate” but not sufficient to meet hate crime standards.
Police discovered the boys had a troubled history but didn’t elaborate.
“Our investigation currently shows this began as a consensual schoolyard fight and was part of an ongoing dispute between a group of male youths, that reportedly started last year,” said McFee.
Admittedly, McFee’s choice of the word consensual is cringeworthy considering that the victim was grossly outnumbered. McFee opened himself up to criticism and is obliged to explain why police arrived at this conclusion.
Police everywhere are working under a microscope, constantly being accused of discriminating against minorities. With budgets being slashed and calls to defund them, they can’t afford to be careless or callous.
After hearing the results of the investigation, one anti-racism activist with A Fight For Equality insisted it was a hate crime and said charges should be laid against the boys. Essentially, this is a demand for police to ignore the Criminal Code.
Canada cannot ever go down that slippery slope.
Other activists accused police of not getting the zero-tolerance for hate crimes message across.
What are they doing as activists to bring people with all skin colours together and repair relations in communities? How are they helping to teach their children tolerance and that beating up anyone is unacceptable?
Knee-jerk reactions fuel division, create unwarranted fear and anger, and are grossly unfair to victims and perpetrators. To wrongly insist this was hate crime doesn’t help these boys who should be the priority. It ignores the root of why this happened and interferes with determining appropriate punishment. A problem, not honestly addressed, doesn’t get fixed.
The reaction to this incident is symptomatic of a growing Canada-wide problem.
McFee dared to say race wasn’t a factor. This is something Canadians are increasingly afraid to say out loud, even when true.
These days, people who denounce or even question accusations of race-based hate are – sometimes viciously – targeted as racist. That’s a bad thing to be. False accusations can destroy reputations.
Race baiters, seeking to support agendas or personal biases, skillfully use this fear tactic to silence anyone who challenges potentially unfounded claims.
We must cautiously discern between those who earnestly want unity and seek to protect victims of hate and those seeking to serve their own interests.
Yes, there are racists in Canada.
No, Canada’s not a systematically racist country.
When Canadians learn someone has been the victim of a hate crime it tears at their hearts. They generously support activist groups who fundraise off of every incident. Ironic isn’t it?
Moving forward, we must tread carefully on this issue of alleged systematic racism some insist permeates Canada.
Meanwhile, the definition of hate-crime victims sometimes gets confusing.
If seven black boys had attacked one white boy would anyone call it a hate crime? Or would it have been recognized for what it was?
In today’s climate that’s an uncomfortable, but fair, question.
Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard.
HARDING: Maverick is poised to make gains as Conservatives turn their back on the West
“Until recently, the party said it will run candidates solely in ridings where a “split” of the vote wouldn’t elect a Liberal or New Democrat. Since O’Toole’s carbon tax flip-flop, interim party leader Jay Hill has hinted he may drop this policy and run in tighter races, seeing little difference between the Tories and Liberals on western issues.”
In the coming federal election, whenever it may be, the Conservative Party is positioning itself to lose a significant portion of its western and rural base to the upstart Maverick Party. It’s not hard to see why.
The policies and person of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fanned the flames of western discontent, and even independence in some quarters. Outdoing all his predecessors since Brian Mulroney, federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has taken the west for granted. In a bid to win more votes in Toronto and Quebec, he has embraced a huge carbon tax with enthusiasm. It could just prove to be the most hated policy on the prairies.
Erin O’Toole’s carbon tax Petro Points plan turned some party faithful into real doubters, or downright hostile ones. Even the phrase “carbon Petro Points plan,” plainly demonstrates the mixture of a bad idea made worse by a gimmicky joke. Even Trudeau’s tax-and-give-it-back-to-you premise – however punishing – is still better than the Tory proposal. O’Toole wants to tax you, but deny he’s taxing you and leave you no recourse to recover your seized money except to make “green” government-approved expenditures. The anti-oil movement meets the nanny state, with a vengeance.
And O’Toole will actually campaign on the idea. The only previous time a major federal opposition leader openly campaigned on a carbon tax was the Stephane Dion Liberals of 2008. They had the most dismal showing in Liberal history to that date, thanks in part to Conservative attack ads that said, “Stephane Dion is not a leader,” and Harper’s comments that his carbon tax was “a tax on everything” that will “screw everybody.” The same could be said of Erin O’Toole and his carbon tax. Obviously, he must have some savvy, having won the Conservative leadership, but his about-face on the carbon tax has turned his reception from “meh” to “blech.”
A recent encounter brought home the seriousness of O’ Toole’s miscalculation for me. At the Chris Sky rally in Regina, I met a man from the Assiniboia Sask. area who told me, “A lot of people are saying they’re not voting Conservative anymore. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
If you don’t know Assiniboia, it’s got about 2,400 people and the closest place with more people, Moose Jaw, is an hour’s drive away. It’s farming and ranching all the way, though the coal-fired power plant in nearby Coronach is a big employer.
In rural Saskatchewan, the two things heard most often in the 2019 election were: “The election is over as soon as it hits the Manitoba border” and “If Trudeau gets in again, I’m all for Western independence.”
The Maverick Party is best positioned to capitalize on that sentiment. Until recently, the party said it will run candidates solely in ridings where a “split” of the vote wouldn’t elect a Liberal or New Democrat. Since O’Toole’s carbon tax flip-flop, interim party leader Jay Hill has hinted he may drop this policy and run in tighter races, seeing little difference between the Tories and Liberals on western issues.
PPC leader Maxime Bernier gets it on many of the big western issues, but the loss of his own Quebec seat in the last election left a vacuum in the west for discontented conservatives. With no major party capable of electing MPs to champion western issues, Maverick is poised to fill that vacuum.
The late Joseph Garcea, a University of Saskatchewan political science professor who died in November, shared an important insight on the last provincial election. He said the Saskatchewan NDP had many little policy ideas, but no big idea to rally support. Similarly, the PPC has many little ideas. It’s hard to convince people to vote for change with little ideas. The Maverick Party has a big – and some would say radical idea: an independent west – whether within confederation or apart from it.
People make decisions emotionally, then justify them rationally. The Maverick Party will harness both the anger and grievance in western alienation and the hope found in western independence. The Maverick platform adds substance to the sentiment.
As a fresh party with rookie campaign teams, I’d be surprised if Maverick won any seats. However, they stand a good shot of landing plenty of second place finishes. That might be enough to make O’ Toole remember the West. If the Mavericks can do that, it will be accomplishment enough.
Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard
MORGAN: I was a part of Kenney base. No longer
“I know who Kenney’s base was. The base hasn’t changed. Jason Kenney has.”
I was a part of Jason Kenney’s base.
Like most Albertans after 2015, I was mortified that we had managed to give the NDP a majority government due to our incessant political infighting and corruption in conservative ranks. I was eager and searching for a way to free ourselves from a provincial government that was farther to the left than Ottawa’s Liberals. I was ready to embrace pragmatism and compromise on the partisan front to ensure that Rachel Notley was a single-term premier, or as Jason Kenney put it, “one and done.”
Jason Kenney entered the Alberta political scene and offered us a plan. He showed us a path to conservative unity and he offered to lead us there. I was thrilled.
I have always respected and admired Jason Kenney. As a fiscal watchdog with the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, Kenney mercilessly held Ralph Klein’s feet to the fire in the 1990s on issues of spending and corporate welfare. As a Reform Party MP, Kenney took the Chretien Liberals to task on spending and corruption. Kenney deserves some of the credit for the balanced budgets that both Klein and Chretien eventually presented. It takes steady, reasonable pressure in order to get government leaders to take on tough tasks and Kenney was masterful at putting that pressure on.
As a cabinet minister in the Stephen Harper government, Jason Kenney was no less impressive. Immigration has always been a difficult file for conservative governments and as the Immigration and Citizenship Minister, Kenney made great inroads into relations with immigrant communities and was respected across the country. Kenney was no slouch in other ministerial portfolios as well and it has been long established that his parliamentary work ethic is second to none.
Because of that impressive political resume, I was confident that Kenney was the man who would bring Alberta back into being a province known for good, no-nonsense conservative governance.
I supported Kenney’s efforts to unite the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Parties. I encouraged people to buy memberships in both parties and to vote to merge. I supported Kenney in his multiple leadership races and I supported the UCP in the 2019 Alberta election.
I know who Kenney’s base was. The base hasn’t changed. Jason Kenney has.
The Western Standard reported in an exclusive story, Premier Kenney said, in reference to Albertans who attended a rodeo south of Bowden last week, “If they are our base, I want a new base.”
I didn’t expect Premier Kenney to endorse or support the rodeo. Indeed, it was intentionally modelled to be in defiance of provincial regulations. Kenney clearly realized that the attendees of the rodeo did represent a large part of his base, and while that doesn’t obligate him to support them, it does obligate him to respect them. Kenney instead chose to insult them in public, and show contempt for them in private.
We were your base Premier Kenney, but we aren’t any longer. As for your new base, I am not sure where you expect them to come from. Rest assured, you will not be winning any love from NDP supporters no matter how much you spend or suppress individual rights.
Jason Kenney has turned into a terrible disappointment as Alberta’s premier and it is well reflected in his current support numbers. Kenney’s support among his base was slipping well before the pandemic struck. In this year of crisis however, Kenney’s support has truly evaporated. Kenney has tried to be everything to everybody, and ended up being nothing to anybody. It is a fate that befell Jim Prentice before him.
The conservative base hasn’t left Alberta. They have simply left Jason Kenney and it appears that he is just fine with that.
The base will not go back to Jason Kenney after having been abandoned and taken for granted by him though and he can’t win the next election without them.
The base will find a new home. It may be through replacing Jason Kenney within the UCP, or through a new partisan vehicle. That base may dominate in the next provincial election or we may end up with another NDP government. Time will tell.
Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and the Host of the Cory Morgan Show
Alberta gov’t granted injunction to ban weekend protest at Whistle Stop Cafe
SLOBODIAN: Not so quick with allegations of hate crimes
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