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WAGNER: When Pierre Trudeau put Alberta under his constitutional boot

“During the constitutional negotiations of the early 1980s, many Albertans were dead-set against Trudeau’s proposals.”

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In 1982, Canada underwent a significant constitutional transformation. For decades, provincial and federal governments had discussed the need for changes in the constitution, but agreement on those changes was out of reach. However, during the 1980 Quebec sovereignty referendum campaign, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau promised Quebecers that he would push for constitutional alterations. 

Trudeau I was successful in fulfilling that promise. Canada got the Constitution Act, 1982. Most importantly, it added a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an amending formula so that Canada could revise its own constitution without oversight from the British Parliament. There were also a few other modifications.

For the West, there was a positive side and a negative side. On the one hand, provincial control of non-renewable natural resources was made more explicit. But on the other hand, institutional changes that could have improved the West’s position within Canada were ignored.

The positive side is discussed by University of Calgary political scientist Roger Gibbins in his 1992 article, “Alberta and the National Community.” He notes that the Alberta government’s constitutional objectives during the negotiations were primarily defensive. That is, the top priority was protecting Alberta’s ownership and control of resources from the federal government. This strategy was successful – Section 92(A) was added to the Constitution, thus clarifying and protecting the province’s resource ownership. Such protection was particularly important in light of Pierre Trudeau’s desire to seize Alberta’s oil wealth.

Alberta was also successful in helping to draft the amending formula for the constitution. As Gibbins writes, “It was here that the government made substantial progress with respect not only to the protection of provincial resources, but also with respect to the constitutional enshrinement of provincial equality. The general amending formula in section 38 (1) – Parliament plus seven of the ten provinces having in aggregate at least fifty per cent of the population of all provinces – recognizes the equality of the provinces by denying any single province the power of veto.”

In short, the Alberta government was justified in seeing the 1982 constitutional changes in a positive light due to protections for Alberta’s resources and a recognition of provincial equality. However, as Gibbins adds, “the defensive posture of the provincial government also meant that no progress was made with respect to the reform of national parliamentary institutions.”

Such lack of reform in national institutions is the subject of an earlier article written by Gibbins. This earlier article,“Constitutional Politics and the West,” was published in 1983 in a collection of academic essays entitled, And No One Cheered: Federalism, Democracy and the Constitution Act. Although today the constitutional changes of 1982 are almost universally celebrated as wonderful, many Canadians in the early 1980s saw things differently. As the editors of this volume wrote, there was no “real cause for national celebration in the Constitution Act, 1982.” 

As Gibbins explains, the kinds of institutional reforms that could have improved the West’s place within Canada were entirely neglected: “In the end, the constitutional Accord failed to address, much less solve, the chronic problems of regional representation that have fostered western alienation and eroded the bond between western Canadians and their national government. The opportunity to fulfill the long-standing desire of western Canadians to be full partners in Confederation was lost when institutional reform was abandoned, and the blame must be shared by both levels of government.”

During the constitutional negotiations of the early 1980s, many Albertans were dead-set against Trudeau’s proposals. He had poisoned the well by introducing the National Energy Program (NEP) which involved a full-scale attack on Alberta’s oil industry. How could Albertans have any confidence in Trudeau’s constitutional agenda when he was trying to steal the source of their prosperity?

As Gibbins points out, “in Alberta, the immensely unpopular NEP and the constitutional proposals were commonly seen as a single package. Public meetings held to discuss the constitutional proposals focused almost entirely on the NEP, and the NEP became the layman’s interpretive guide to the constitution debate. The Constitution Act proposals were seen as a means to constitutionally entrench the NEP, while the NEP was seen to foreshadow the dangers ahead should the Constitution Act become the law of the land.”

Of course, the blame for all of this falls squarely on Pierre Trudeau. Because of him, as far as the West was concerned, “constitution-making was not an exercise in nation-building; Ottawa’s proposals were seen by far too many western Canadians as the regionally-insensitive product of one government, one party, and one man.”

Gibbins notes that in the past, Westerners had a strong national vision. Yet, today, this truly national vision “has begun to falter and fade. The ‘national interest’ is spoken of with derisive cynicism, and for many the ‘national’ government is not only remote from, but apart from the West.” 

Trudeau’s constitutional changes did nothing to address the West’s cynicism. Aside from clearer protections for natural resources, the West’s historic complaints about the unfair structure of Confederation were ignored. Instead of a national vision, the constitutional changes entrenched a Trudeaupian vision for Canada. 

This is the current situation and it will not change any time soon. The prospects for positive constitutional reform are negligible at best. That route has been tried, and it failed. Therefore, the only way for the West to get control of its own destiny is by becoming independent. 

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

Michael Wagner is a Senior Alberta Columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include 'Alberta: Separatism Then and Now' and 'True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.' mwagner@westernstandardonline.com

Opinion

MORGAN: It’s time for Kenney to resign

“I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party. I wish things had ended differently.”

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Premier Jason Kenney gambled and lost.

His move to declare Alberta as being permanently open for business was a hail-Mary pass for a beleaguered government and it has failed in the worst possible way.

Alberta is in the midst of a health care crisis, deaths are on the rise and we are entering a new period of mandatory vaccine passports, lockdowns, and other restrictions.

I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party.

I had the highest of hopes for Kenney. I was enthusiastic as he won multiple leadership races and merged the previously intransigent Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. I was thrilled when Rachel Notley’s NDP government was trounced in the general election. I thought we’d be looking forward to some steady, competent, conservative governance for at least a couple of election cycles.

I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Love him or hate him, Jason Kenney is undeniably one of the brightest and hardest working politicians in Canada. He worked his way from advocacy into elected office and then became a respected cabinet minister in a number of portfolios. It appears Kenney met his match when it comes to the party and provincial leadership. He has managed to alienate both the left and the right within the province and I don’t see how he can recover from this.

Kenney’s leadership woes were already appearing well before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared on the scene. The shotgun marriage of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives was showing cracks as caucus infighting began to smolder. The pandemic crisis exacerbated the issue and Kenney is now heading up a deeply divided caucus with multiple members having been tossed out of the party or disciplined. This inability to manage his own caucus has shaken the confidence Albertans had in Kenney to manage the province.

The Kenney government has been noteworthy for setting high targets and then failing to move toward them. The Fair Deal panel appeared to be an act of deferral, rather than an exercise to build a stronger, more independent province.

Kenney refused to take strong actions against Ottawa despite the open hostility shown to Alberta by the Trudeau government. This has fed the theory Kenney is using Alberta as a stepping stone towards pursuing a federal run. We can safely say Kenney’s federal career is finished at this point.

It seems that everything Kenney has touches turns to scheiße. The energy “war room” has turned into a running joke and with long and constant delays on its launch. The Allen Report examining groups that attack Alberta’s energy sector has been a waste of time. Energy producers seeking a sense of confidence in Alberta have been left disappointed.

In picking a battle with Alberta’s doctors and nurses, Kenney has drawn fire from all sides of the political spectrum. While there certainly is room to reexamine the agreements with health care providers, it has to be done carefully and with strong leadership. The UCP has appeared ham-handed and virtually leaderless on the issue.

The Kenney government has become election fodder used to hammer the O’Toole Conservatives on the federal front. The UCP looks so inept and unpopular that Trudeau is using it to attack O’Toole, and O’Toole hides from any association with Kenney.

Politicians are by nature self-interested beings. Caucus members within the UCP are surely weighing their options as the Kenney government continues to crash and burn in public opinion. With less than two years to go before the next provincial election comes, they know the window for getting rid of Kenney is closing quickly. The only hope the UCP has of winning the next election is to get a new leader and show some sign of new direction, and soon.

Rumblings from caucus are soon going to become a roar.

There are two options for the UCP right now. They can keep Kenney into the next election and most likely hand Rachel Notley a second NDP term, or they can get on with finding a new leader and reconnecting with Albertans. The UCP now is simply too wildly unpopular to regain the trust of the electorate under Kenney’s leadership.

I still respect Jason Kenney and appreciate what he did on the federal front, along with his efforts to unite conservatives in Alberta. I would like to see Kenney retain what dignity he can by resigning for the sake of Alberta and his party. It would hurt his pride, but it still would be a better end to a political career than being kicked out by his own caucus, or by the electorate in a general election. His “best summer ever” strategy failed and it’s time to face the music.

I wish things had ended differently.

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

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: In the face of tyranny, freedom demands our defiance

“Our silence is compliance. Our compliance is surrender.”

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has crossed a line.

When and where he crossed it is not easily discerned, but he has most certainly crossed it.

The premier announced at an early evening press conference Wednesday he was putting Alberta back under lockdown, the fourth so far. It didn’t work the first three times, but government is nothing if not a mandatory recurring set of bad ideas.

Yet he went much further than another routine lockdown this time. This time, he imposed a vaccine passport, a policy he and his party had been fundraising in opposition to just days earlier. Will the hapless UCP members who handed over their cash be refunded for these donations?

It is a nakedly authoritarian policy, designed to deprive men and women of free choice over what to do with their own bodies. Kenney’s vaccine passport will create a two-tiered, legalized segregation of society.

As the Hindu caste system did in times of old, society will be divided between the “clean” and the “unclean.” Alberta’s government will create a legally required class of untouchable people lowered to the status of second-class citizen. These Albertans will have vastly fewer rights and freedoms than do their betters.

Political disagreement too often leads to overheated rhetoric, with unjustified labels thrown around too casually. Every conservative is a ‘fascist’, and every liberal is a ‘communist,’ in Twitter political parlance.

Bad government does not always equal tyrannical government, but tyrannical governments do exist.

At what point does a government cease being merely “bad”, and become tyrannical?

Most dictionaries define a tyrant as “a cruel and oppressive ruler.”

It’s a broad definition that can admittedly be applied haphazardly. Not every ruler we strongly disagree with is a tyrant, but we know tyrants do rule.

A single act does not a tyrant make, but at some point, Alberta’s government has become tyrannical.

Was it when they sent police to beat up kids for playing hockey?

Was it when they jailed Christian pastors?

Was it when they raided and barricaded churches?

Was it when they seized small businesses that were going under for staying closed?

Was it when they outlawed rodeos and protests against the government?

Or was it when the rulers were caught on camera enjoying a nice dinner on the rooftop of the Sky Palace—in contravention of their own laws—while the ruled were locked down in the confines of their homes?

If it was not at any of those moments, it certainly must have been when Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the legalized segregation of Albertans into a new stratified class system.

A keystone marker of an authoritarian government is ‘otherism’, or scapegoating a minority.

It’s true the overwhelming majority of currently infected COVID-19 cases are among the unvaccinated, and the government is not wrong to point this out; but it’s language used to demonize the unvaccinated as a selfish, dirty, untouchable ‘other’ is dark and divisive.

The vaccine passport will have one set of rules for one class of people, and another set of rules for the other.

This is a difficult position for those of us in the minority of the majority – who support and encourage COVID-19 vaccinations – but oppose the authoritarian imposition of mandatory vaccines or vaccine discrimination. Until now, I have always encouraged my friends, family, and colleagues to get vaccinated as a generally safe and largely effective defence against COVID-19. But I only ever encouraged them to do so as a free choice.

Now, getting vaccinated is no longer a free choice, but an act of compliance with an authoritarian government. The ‘decision’ to get vaccinated has ceased to be a matter of making a good choice.

When government legislates personal morality, the act of compliance with the law ceases to be an act of morality.

Giving to the poor through charity is a moral act. Giving to the poor through mandated taxes is an empty fiscal transaction.

Getting vaccinated under threat to one’s liberties from the government ceases to be a selfless act for the good of others when compelled to do so by force.

It’s questionable that a vaccine passport will see more than a moderate increase in vaccination rates, as the vaccine-indifferent give in to forced compliance.

The refuseniks—those who range from anti-vaccination and vaccine-hesitant—now see reason to dig in. The hardcore anti-vaccination crowd will be unchanged regardless, only more entrenched in their beliefs as they are discriminated against by their own government.

The vaccine-hesitant, however, may well see a hardening of their views into a kind of conscientious objectionism.

The wife of a friend—an acclaimed biochemist—has not been vaccinated, but had every intention of doing so once she had enough time to observe the results in the general population. Since Kenney and Shandro’s announcement of a mandated vaccine passport Wednesday, she has made a decision not to be vaccinated. For her, it is no longer a matter of making a good choice, but a matter of refusing compliance with an unjust government order.

As much as I may think she would be better off getting the jab, I have a hard time blaming her.

The “my body, my choice” pro-choices are nowhere to been seen. Most of them have scurried under the rocks of paternalistic authoritarianism with nary a word to say about the sanctity of personal sovereignty.

Free men and free women–vaxxed and unvaxxed alike–have a duty to resist.

An unfree society is not one worth protecting and is deserving of resistance. A free society is worth everything we have to give and sometimes demands it by choice.

Churches should refuse to turn away worshipers. Restaurants should refuse to require discriminatory vaccine passports. Bars should refuse to stop serving beer after 10 pm. Employers should refuse to shut down their offices. Kids should refuse to stop playing hockey. Ordinary men and women should demonstrate openly in the face of oppression.

Our silence is compliance. Our compliance is surrender.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Two years to flatten the curve

“The result of the premier’s weak & indecisive leadership is that Alberta is going to enter its second year to flatten the curve, with no end in sight.”

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“Criminal incompetence” was the term used by one senior UCP member today.

“If these guys were running a business, the whole lot of them would be fired for it,” said conservative continued.

It’s been more than a year and-a-half since COVID-19 started to lap Canada’s shores.

Governments overreacted at the time with draconian lockdowns and other mandatory restrictions. That initial overreaction could arguably have been forgiven. Little was known about the virus, and the Chinese Communist Party was jailing doctors and journalists that tried to speak out. For all we knew, it was the doomsday virus of our worst Hollywood nightmares.

As it turned out, it wasn’t. It was serious, but not the Spanish flu that was feared. It may have been an overabundance of caution, but not entirely unwarranted under the circumstances.

But the actions of the Alberta government since are beyond excusable.

“Two weeks to flatten the curve” was the mantra.

It’s now more than probable that we’ll soon be entering “two years to flatten the curve.”

Premier Jason Kenney admirably recognized some of the errors of the first lockdown, like shutting down most independent retailers while allowing big box stores to continue on with only mild interruption. As summer 2020 approached and cases declined, he ended the lockdown and loosened restrictions to more-or-less tolerable levels.

And then fall 2020 approached. As the regular flu season set it, so too did a surge in COVID-19 cases. NDP Leader Rachel Notley called for a return to lockdowns and a few weeks later, Kenney did just that.

It was Lockdown Number 2.

A majority of Albertans supported it at the time, but some resisted, including one teenager who was attacked by incompetent police officers for the offence of playing hockey.

“I’ll f**king take you!” was heard as the outlaw attempted to skate away from the scene of the crime.

It lasted all the way through Christmas, with the government prohibiting most family members from visiting loved ones over the holidays. That is, unless you travelled to warm sun destinations without restrictions, as did a sizeable number of UCP MLAs, staffers, and a cabinet minister.

If we’re going to mark a moment in which the government lost its moral authority, we can draw a straight line to this event. It is at this moment that Kenney and his government began to lose the plot.

Several refusing congregations declined to shut down their churches or follow other government orders. Their pastors were arrested and jailed, while police raided the churches and took control. Real Free World stuff.

In May, a rebel farmer near Bowden, Alta. held a ‘No More Lockdowns Rodeo’ in defiance of the government.

Soon after, Kenney told his caucus, “If they are our base, I want a new base,” according to several MLAs present.

More than a dozen UCP constituency associations passed a special resolution demanding a leadership review before Kenney headed them off at the pass by having his review scheduled for soon before the 2023 election.

Then, 17 UCP MLAs signed an open letter criticizing Kenney’s handling of COVID-19 and demanded an end to lockdowns and restrictions. MLAs in the caucus told the Western Standard at the time the premier threatened the rebels with an early election if they didn’t fall in line.

It was a clear sign that Kenney was losing his iron grip on caucus.

Then on May 31, MLA Todd Loewen called for Kenney’s resignation, and was joined in his call by fellow MLA Dave Hanson. Kenney responded by having Loewen fired, alongside trouble-maker Drew Barnes. MLAs inside the caucus told us they believed the vote to be razor close, but the actual tally was never revealed. At least to them.

It was a political bloodbath, with a serious revolt against Kenney’s leadership on the move.

The revolt gained steam days later, when photos emerged of Kenney, Environment Minister Jason Nixon, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, and Finance Minister Travis Toews — along with an assortment of staffers — have an illegal dinner on the rooftop patio of the Sky Palace in clear violation of their own rules.

The revolt threatened to spin out of control, until Kenney’s announcement on May 26 that all restrictions will be lifted in stages. By July 1, Alberta would be “Open for Summer™.”

In fact, it would be the “Best Summer Ever™.”

The Tories were so confident in this that they sold merchandise with the jovial slogan plastered across hats.

The rebels in caucus weren’t quite happy campers, but it more-or-less shut them up. The caucus revolt was dead.

At some point in August, a man approached the premier at what appears to be a Stampede gathering, surreptitiously taping their conversation.

“It’s open for good. Open for good,” Kenney tells the man.

“I swear to God,” Kenney said, making the sign of the Cross.

On September 2, Notley called for Kenney to reinstitute forced-masking and impose a mandatory vaccine passport. In short order, Kenney followed the NDP leader’s demand for masking, but not on vaccine passports.

For good measure, the government made it illegal to serve beer or booze after 10 p.m. because well, you’ve got me stumped there.

COVID-19 case counts are on the up this fall, just as they were last fall. They will probably go down again when the weather gets warmer in 2022.

Hospital and ICU capacity are severely strained.

But how is that possible? How is it after one and-a-half-years of COVID-19 as the overwhelming priority of the government and massive sums of money borrowed to pay for increased spending, and 70% of the population now vaccinated, that our healthcare system does not have the capacity to handle a relatively predictable surge in cases?

How is it possible that after the suffering, sacrifice and toil endured by Albertans since March 2020, that Alberta is back under another lockdown, as of Friday.

Oh yeah, that would be Lockdown Number 3.

“Criminal incompetence.”

The UCP Caucus is bitterly divided over whether to return to lockdowns or impose mandatory vaccine passports.

Sources in the caucus tell the Western Standard that three MLAs openly said that they had “no confidence” in Kenney’s continued premiership and leadership during their emergency Tuesday meeting.

Much of the caucus is on the warpath over Kenney breaking his word that Alberta was “Open for Good™.”

Others in the caucus, like Leela Aheer, are openly blasting the premier for botching the whole thing by reopening too early, in their minds.

Kenney has tried to straddle both sides of the fence since the beginning, with predictably inconsistent results.

The mandatory-vaxers and lockdowners are furious at what they perceive as Kenney’s inaction and weak leadership. The refuseniks and anti-lockdowners are equally furious at the premier’s overreaction and weak leadership.

The result is Alberta is going to enter its second year to flatten the curve, with no end in sight.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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