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Opinion

ANDRUS: The Alberta disadvantage

“The current Alberta government was elected to take Ottawa head-on, and every day that goes by without any action makes the situation worse.”

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Albertans have spent the last six years watching the Alberta Advantage slowly drip away, but three significant events in the last month have left many wondering if there’s now in its place an Alberta Disadvantage.

First, at the end of March, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6-3 the federal government’s carbon tax is constitutional. 

The Canadian constitution makes clear that the provinces and the federal government are intended to be equals who each have jurisdiction over different issues, but the court’s decision has undermined this balance of power and infringed on provincial sovereignty, particularly over the development of natural resources.

The ownership and control of natural resources by the provinces, not the federal government, was enshrined in Canada’s constitution after hard-fought negotiations by then Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. Lougheed sacrificed Alberta’s interests on many fronts to obtain this concession, only to have the Supreme Court undermine it. 

The Supreme Court’s decision was the culmination of a long effort dating back to at least the 1970s by many Ottawa insiders to do away with the idea of a federal-provincial partnership and place the federal government above the provinces.

In effect, the federal government argued because the environment is a federal matter and natural resources impact the environment, the federal government should control natural resources. The court agreed the federal government could dictate whatever it liked in the name of “peace, order, and good government.” 

Using environmental issues as a backdoor, the federal government has finally found a way to regain control over Alberta’s natural resources and — crucially — in doing so, has set a precedent for future federal overreach.

It’s now only a matter of time until this ruling is used to justify further intrusions into more areas of provincial jurisdiction in the name of a big-government version of “peace, order and good government”.

To be clear, the ruling doesn’t require the federal government to impose a carbon tax on the provinces; it just clarifies that the federal government may do so.

That means a change in government at an election could save Western Canada, right?

Technically yes, but in reality, no, as Supreme Court decisions tend to have a much wider impact on Canadian politics than is implied by the legal limit of the court’s rulings.

This point was neatly made when the second major hit to Alberta came mere days after the court’s ruling, as federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole announced his party now also supports federal carbon taxes.

Now, despite the Supreme Court making it clear that a federal carbon tax is not required — just permitted — and despite polls showing about half of Canadians don’t support a federal carbon tax, every single party represented in the Canadian Parliament now supports a federal carbon tax.

While some were shocked by O’Toole’s announcement, anyone who understands the history of confederation wasn’t.

The Canadian political system favours interests in the east at the literal and figurative expense of citizens in the west.

This isn’t some new phenomenon either; this is a long-standing structural issue of confederation.

Maybe O’Toole does genuinely believe in a carbon tax. If he does, he only changed his mind in the last three weeks

But, more likely, he can count to 170 — the number of seats required for a majority in Parliament — and realizes he can’t get there without Ontario and Quebec.

Of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, 199 are in Ontario and Quebec, while just 34 are in Alberta and 14 are in Saskatchewan. 

These are just facts, and they mean that no matter which party governs or which individual sits in the prime minister’s chair, the west still loses.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, then it’s time for the west to recognize a pattern.

Speaking of patterns, earlier this week, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled the first federal budget in more than two years.

The budget tacks on an additional $101 billion in new spending and drives Canada’s debt across the $1 trillion mark – almost $30,000 of total debt per Canadian. In fact, it will reach $1.4 trillion in the not-so-distant future. 

Despite being a federal budget, this is the third clear hit to Alberta because — as we all know — Albertans will be responsible for paying back a disproportionate share of this accumulated debt over the coming decades.

Despite Ottawa’s already out-of-control spending, the 2021 federal budget introduces a massive new childcare program that is guaranteed to be expensive. Of course, the federal government only plans on paying for half of the program, requiring the provinces to make up the difference at a price tag of $30-billion.

But just like every other massive federal social program, Alberta won’t just be paying for  Alberta’s share; we’ll be called upon to do our patriotic duty and shoulder a significant portion of the cost for this enormous government program for all the other provinces too. 

Beyond the cost, the program also represents yet another intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

Yes, the Supreme Court’s carbon tax ruling opened the door for the federal government to make pretty much any policy issue a “national concern,” but even we didn’t expect them to move this quickly to erode any remaining respect for the constitution’s division of powers.

Across all three issues, perhaps the most glaring problem facing Albertans is the absence of leadership from our own provincial government.

Time and time again, Ottawa has brought the hammer down on Alberta, our provincial rights, and our primary industry, and time and time again our provincial government has failed to respond.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney admitted he had no Plan B, even though it was his government that initiated the court challenge.

The federal Conservative’s adoption of a carbon tax as an official party policy was met with silence by the premier. Was Kenney’s crusade against the carbon tax a purely partisan concern, only disagreeing that it was imposed by former Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP, or the Trudeau Liberals and not by the O’Toole Conservatives? 

Alberta’s finance minister simply expressed disappointment in the federal budget. He even dropped any criticism of the Liberal carbon tax, now that his federal party supports one. 

The current Alberta government was elected to take Ottawa head-on, and every day that goes by without any action makes the situation worse.

Albertans want the Alberta Advantage back, but that will require leadership and strength willing to tackle the structural disadvantages Alberta, and the West faces.

Josh Andrus is a Columnist for the Western Standard. He is also Executive Director of Project Confederation

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Douglas Hendrickson

    April 26, 2021 at 8:31 am

    Now there’s something I could get behind. ADVERTISE the Alberta DISadvantage !
    I.e. the LAST thing we need is more people !

  2. Douglas Hendrickson

    April 26, 2021 at 8:26 am

    I wouldn’t care to hear any options to ALBERTA Independence, though I could tolerate noticing. I am pretty sure they would be inferior and not really options !

  3. William

    April 24, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    If we have any option other than Western independence I’d like to hear it.

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Opinion

MAKICHUK: Reflections on a dog day afternoon in south Calgary

Sorry to preach, but truly, these are the true heroes of our society, not the atypical overpaid and worshipped athlete who soaks up the adulation but does little or nothing to give back to society.

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When I woke up, I was lying on my back in the middle of the street, surrounded by people and cars.

I was battered and bruised, blood was pouring down my face, and an Asian woman was trying to staunch it with a Kleenex.

Time froze, as I looked to my left — to my horror, my left arm was behind me, completely dislocated.

I instinctively pulled it back by my side, as if that would make a difference.

“Should I call 911,” the Asian lady said.

“No, no … please get the dog,” I pleaded. “Get the dog, her name is Georgia.”

That’s when a group of Good Samaritans, came to my rescue two weeks ago today.

I had been walking my nephews’ dog — they were on holidays — and I was dog-sitting, a task I normally enjoy, when she bolted after another dog.

Like an idiot, I held onto the leash and was rag-dolled onto the road with a terrible crash. It all happened so fast.

In seconds, a group of amazing Calgarians rallied to help.

A young couple jumped into their pickup to go find Georgia, who had taken off. The Asian woman dabbed my head wound and a fellow named Andrew helped me back to the house, dripping blood all the way.

My arm was screwed, my right thigh was aching. I had cuts and scrapes but all I cared about was the dog … please God, bring her back OK.

Thankfully, this wonderful young lady was able to corral the dog and bring her back — Georgia was sheepish, but fine.

I managed to stumble back into the house where I dumped food in Georgia’s food dish and topped up her water.

Andrew — a kind man I had never met before — said he’d take me to hospital and off we went.

On the way, I began hyperventilating and became afraid I would pass out.

“Hang on,” said Andrew, “we’re almost there.”

The folks in Emergency at South Campus could not have been more kind or helpful — the young lady who admitted me was near tears when I told her my story.

“My God,” I thought, “these people really do care. They really, really care.”

They wheeled me into a room where I immediately received pain meds. X-rays followed, and that was painful — but nothing in comparison to what was to come.

To make a long story short, it would take a team of eight to re-attach my arm.

I was a bit out of it, true, but I counted two doctors, two nurses, a couple of anesthesiologists, and two observing students.

The stage was set and I was the show!

I had asked for the “full Michael Jackson,” which drew some chuckles, and they did give me another shot of something.

Nevertheless, it seems I have a high tolerance for pain meds. I blame this on Alberta Premium whiskey. Damn that whiskey!

And so, Dr. Eileen Kabaroff worked tirelessly to pop my shoulder back, while another nurse — God bless her — held my right hand as I winced in pain.

One of my buddies later quipped: “Why didn’t you just pop it back in against a wall, like the guy in Die Hard?”

Sorry folks, it doesn’t work like that in the real world.

Let me tell you right here and now, I would not wish this kind of pain on anyone. Worst I have ever encountered since Mr. Sikora’s math class in Grade 10.

But seriously, it was bad. And then, it was over. My arm was in a sling and the excruciating pain subsided. The healing had begun.

Another set of X-rays to make sure my Lego arm was re-attached properly, and I was good to go. They had to wheel me out in a wheelchair and I felt like I just went 10 rounds with Joe Frazier, but I was patched up and alive.

My niece picked up Georgia and took over the dog-sitting reins. All was OK.

All I could think of was how grateful I was to fellow Calgarians who selflessly came to my aid, and the doctors, nurses and staff at the South Campus who went above and beyond.

Sorry to preach, but truly, these are the true heroes of our society, not the atypical overpaid and worshiped athlete who soaks up the adulation, but does little or nothing to give back to society.

And I’m not even talking about COVID-19 here. That’s on an entirely new level.

I’m a so-called scribbler, but even I have trouble putting into words the deepest thanks I have for attending staffers, Dr. Eileen Kabaroff and Dr. Marlis Sabo.

And to borrow a phrase from John F. Kennedy, let me say this about that:

Mr. Kenney, I implore you, please do not cut the wages or chop the jobs of our most amazing Alberta hospital workers. God forbid, one day you, or one of your loved ones, may need their help.

Maybe I’m biased, but I think we have the best medical care in Canada and I think we should maintain this high standard. If cuts are necessary one day, then let them work it out. Imposing random, top-down solutions will never work.

And, to be honest — and not everyone will like this — I would be OK with a nominal Jim Prentice-like family or individual health care premium, or any other creative solutions which would help balance the books and leave our health system intact.

If my visit to South Campus cost me $25, or even $35, I would not sweat it. 

If you’re OK with spending a few bucks to visit K-Country for a day to help fund conservation, why not for someone who might save your life?

For crissakes, I spend that in donations to Drop In The Bucket, a group that helps dig water wells for villagers in Africa, Ernesto’s Sanctuary For Cats in Syria or the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society — all great causes.

So what will I tell my buddies at The Scotsman’s Well? I was riding a bull named Blaster Jr., when all hell broke loose.

And another thing, if Rover bolts on you, don’t let it dog-sled you along the asphalt … let go of the damn leash! 

Dave Makichuk is a Western Standard contributor
He has worked in the media for decades, including as an editor for the Calgary Herald. He is also the military editor for the Asia Times.
makichukd@gmail.com

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Opinion

The Western Standard at two years old

Western Standard Publisher Derek Fildebrandt on the journey from scrappy-startup to one of the most-read media platforms in Western Canada.

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Today marks two years since the Western Standard was reestablished and returned to publication. It has been a wild ride and has succeeded far beyond my expectations.

In August 2019, I began putting together a business plan for a new media company that would speak for Western Canadians who do not see themselves reflected in the priorities of the large legacy media outfits. I wanted to build something that would carry the mantel of the old Western Standard and the Alberta Report before it.

I consulted with some of the best in the business, and while their advice was critical to launching us on a solid footing, the outlook for success was far from certain.

As the plan began to come together, the opportunity presented itself to purchase the rights to the old Western Standard brand from an employee of the original company, Matthew Johnston. The Western Standard was far-and-away my favourite magazine to read between Marxist theory classes while I attended Carleton University in the mid-2000s. I remembered Mark Steyn’s back-cover columns forcing me to the ground as I rolled in laughter.

We had a name at least, even if it had been forgotten by many.

Media is a hurting industry in Canada. Even with a generous $600 million bailout subsidy from Ottawa, legacy media are struggling to keep their heads above water. Newsrooms across Canada are a macabre, pale reflection of their former glory. How would we break into an already dying industry and succeed without accepting the federal cash? It was a daunting prospect.

The one good thing going for us was that, unlike many other businesses, an online media company could get started with remarkably little upfront capital.

With a few thousand dollars and dozens of hours of YouTube tutorials, we managed to put together the basics of the technology required.

With no other capital available, we needed an innovative way to pay reporters, columnists, and other contributors. So instead of paying a salary, wage, or for each submission from writers, the decision was made to pay them based on a combination of revenues generated by the company, relative to how many readers each received on their contributions.

Those revenues wouldn’t be very significant for some time to come. We had no investors. We had no advertisers. We couldn’t put in place a paywall and expect people to pay for something that they knew nothing about. For the first while, it would take reporters and columnists willing to do this as a labour of love.

On Oct. 23, 2019 we launched. It was just two days after the federal election that saw Justin Trudeau re-elected with a minority government. Westerners were incredulous that a self-righteous woke Liberal could be returned to power after a flood of pictures showing him in racist blackface was made public. Overnight, the WEXIT movement caught fire as many Westerners — especially Albertans and Saskatchewanians — began to believe Canada was a futile project designed to serve the interests of the East. With particular insight into what was driving these people — and who these people were — the Western Standard was in pole position to cover the movement.

Within our first week, Dave Naylor joined the team as news editor. It was a fateful moment for our growth as an organization. Dave brought with him 30 years of experience as a respected newsman at the Calgary Sun. From there, he built a small but mighty news division in the organization that would break a disproportionate number of exclusive stories and put the Western Standard on the map.

By January 1, 2020, we were already on track to be one of the most-read media platforms in Alberta, with promising signs that we could replicate this in the other Western provinces.

2020 was a long, hard year for us. We continued to slog away at delivering a high-volume of news and opinion content, but on a shoestring budget. We were still too new and unproven to attract major advertisers, and we had only a voluntary donation option to receive support from readers. Reporters, columnists and other contributors were all chronically underpaid, we worked from home, and had little in the way of a budget to professionalize our operations.

Some of the Western Standard staff in the Calgary Office, September 28, 2021

All of this began to turn around in December 2020. Advertisers began to take notice of the Western Standard. Readership reached new heights. And investors began to show interest.

March 2021 was the decisive month when the Western Standard began to move from a scrappy startup, to a professional media platform capable of challenging some of the biggest players in the Western media market.

Firstly, we implemented a soft paywall for readers. That is, we allowed readers to continue to consume a high volume of Western Standard content, but would eventually require those readers to pay if they read a lot. We were extremely hesitant to do this. There was no way that we could grow to where we wanted to be without asking readers to contribute towards our editorial work, but we wanted to keep our content open to as many readers as possible. That’s why we settled on a “soft-paywall.” The results were incredible. Readers signed up in huge numbers, and we reinvested every dollar back into professionalizing our editorial and operational capacities.

Those operational capacities included investments into our website (ending the constant crashes whenever we posted big breaking stories), renting sufficient office space, and building a professional studio to provide high-quality video and podcasts.

Investment in our editorial capacity was also significant. Staff and freelance contributors were actually paid fairly for their work. This incentivized them to provide content of a higher quality, and at a higher volume.

Daily Readership, October 2019-September 2021

The result was a continuing increase in Western Standard readership. In the period between January 1 and Sept. 30, 2021, the Western Standard had 9.5 million readers, triple that of the same period in 2020.

Much of this is driven by our focus on issues and angles that are too often ignored or not understood by the older legacy media. Our news division is professional and includes several veterans of the industry, but it looks at stories from perspectives not shared by a majority of reporters.

Probably the most obvious example of this is in our coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legacy media have almost exclusively taken the view that governments must — as a default — exercise extraordinary powers to eliminate the virus through the imposition of lockdowns, forced-masking, vaccine passports, and other coercive measures. Those concerned with retaining their liberties are portrayed as a bunch of cranky, conspiracy theorist hillbillies.

The Western Standard took a different approach. We have taken COVID-19 seriously and covered government and medical pronouncements as fairly and objectively as we can, and we have had a zero-tolerance policy for giving credibility or a platform to conspiracy theories. But we have also not drank the Kool-Aid of accepting everything the government tells us. We have applied a critical lens to government actions and their justifications for them. We have done our very best to provide readers with a perspective that simultaneously takes the science around COVID-19 seriously, as well as the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As we complete our second year of operations, I’m immensely grateful to our staff, freelance contractors, advertisers, and individual members who have allowed us to get this far. We have gone from an idea on a piece of paper in 2019, to a well-read garage startup in 2020, to a professional media outlet that we can all be proud of in 2021.

We have big plans for 2022, and I hope that you will be a part of that journey with us.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher, President & CEO of Western Standard New Media Corp.

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Opinion

MORGAN: Albertans need real recall legislation now

“The UCP needs to bring their recall legislation back to the legislature, correct the flaws in it, and proclaim it into active law as soon as possible.”

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Nobody should have the ability to remove an elected official from office aside from the electors who put them there in the first place. Recalling a politician should never be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible either.

If some of the allegations against embattled Calgary City Councilor Sean Chu prove to be true, there will be little the constituents of Ward 4 will be able to do about it, other than ask him to step down. Chu doesn’t face any criminal charges nor has he been convicted of any, which would be required for any legal by other councillors to expel him. It would be up to Chu to decide if he wants to continue to sit as city councilor until the end of his term or not.

Even if Chu can provide proof exonerating himself of the acts he has been accused of, a terrible flaw in our electoral system has been exposed. Alberta needs viable voter recall legislation. Citizens need to be empowered to fire elected officials before the end of their term in exceptional circumstances.

Recall legislation was a key promise made by Jason Kenney and the UCP in the last election. While the government did table a form of recall legislation in the last legislative session, it was an anemic, nearly useless bill, and the government hasn’t bothered itself to formally proclaim it into active law yet.

Even if the new recall legislation was active right now, it couldn’t be applied in Chu’s case. The legislation doesn’t allow a recall to be initiated until at least one and-a-half years after the most recent election. While this clause was built in to prevent people from trying to frivolously recall politicians the day after an election, it leaves a gaping hole in the intent. In both Chu’s and Liberal MP George Chahal’s cases for example, allegations of wrongdoing surfaced literally within days of their having been elected.

While the need to recall elected officials is thankfully rare, it happens often enough to demonstrate a need for viable legislation. The Alberta Party had not one, but two of its former candidates convicted of child sex crimes. What would have happened if they had been elected? In 2018, former Wildrose MLA Don MacIntyre was charged with heinous child sex crimes. MacIntyre resigned and was subsequently convicted of sexual interference. Had MacIntyre refused to resign however, the constituents of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake would have had to endure being represented by a convicted and imprisoned child sex predator until the 2019 election.

Many Albertans can remember the bizarre saga of Lethbridge city councilor Dar Heatherington. Heatherington made international headlines when she disappeared from a conference in Montana. She later surfaced in Las Vegas and claimed she had been abducted and raped. An investigation later found Heatherington had fabricated the entire episode along with other stories of a fictional stalker. Heatherington was eventually convicted of mischief which allowed the Lethbridge city council to have her removed from her seat. The issue began with rage, but later turned into pity as it became evident Heatherington was suffering from serious mental illness. Recall would have been an act of mercy for her and her family were she not convicted.

Kenney’s recall legislation is an unworkable bill modeled to pay lip service to the principle of recall but is built in such a way it will likely never be used. The bar for petitioning is set too high, and the timelines for petitioning are far too tight. Even in the most egregious of cases, it would be exceedingly difficult for any elected official to be recalled.

Kenney’s reticence in providing viable recall legislation to Albertans has managed to come back to haunt him. Pressure is being put upon both Kenney and Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver to intervene and somehow block Chu from taking his seat on council. There likely is little the provincial government can do in this case since Chu hasn’t been criminally charged, much less convicted of anything. Chu’s sanctions were from within the police force, not the justice system. Kenney could have taken the pressure off himself if he had given Albertans recall legislation as he had promised. Kenney could have pointed to it today and said the issue was in the hands of the voters of Ward 4.

Adding salt to the wound, is the fact that Kenney has allowed the Recall Act it sit in legislative limbo, unproclaimed into active law despite being long ago passed by the legislature. The cynics among us may suspect he may fear its use against him and his caucus.

We need a mechanism to remove elected officials from office before their term is up if they prove to be unfit for office. We can’t put that power into the hands of other elected officials who would inevitably abuse it. Do we really want to see the premier able to fire elected mayors and councils in Alberta? In looking at how vitriolic and tribal some municipal councils are, could you imagine what would happen if these councils and mayors had the ability to fire each other? Former Calgary Mayor Haheed Nenshi and his gang on Calgary city council likely would have had Jeromy Farkas kicked out of city hall within his first year in office for being a nuisance.

The UCP needs to bring their recall legislation back to the legislature, correct the flaws in it, and proclaim it into active law as soon as possible. The wheel does not need to be reinvented here. Workable recall legislation exists in many jurisdictions. Electors deserve nothing less.

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

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Petition: No Media Bailouts

We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

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No Media Bailouts

The fourth estate is critical to a functioning democracy in holding the government to account. An objective media can't maintain editorial integrity when it accepts money from a government we expect it to be critical of.

We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

**your signature**



The Western Standard will never accept government bailout money. By becoming a Western Standard member, you are supporting government bailout-free and proudly western media that is on your side. With your support, we can give Westerners a voice that doesn\'t need taxpayers money.

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