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FILDEBRANDT: UCP MLAs say civil war is about to get hotter

We spoke with several UCP MLAs remaining in the caucus. The war for the soul of the UCP seems unlikely to end with the expulsion of Loewen and Barnes. More likely, it is just getting started.

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It was one of the more interesting days in my time at the Western Standard as we began a real-time, play-by-play report of events transpiring inside the UCP meeting of May 13, 2021.

This was not a routine caucus meeting dealing with government business of the week; it was almost certainly the most pivotal meeting of the UCP Caucus since the last election as it met to discuss and vote on the expulsion of two rebel members.

In the first minutes of May 13, Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen published a damning letter listing what he sees as the failures of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership and, notably, calling for him to resign. He was joined soon after by Bonnyvile–Cold Lake–St. Paul MLA David Hanson.

A scheduled caucus meeting for the meeting was canceled, but by 12:25 pm, an MLA in the caucus told me it was back on, and this time it was “mandatory.”

The first item on the agenda was discussion of regular leaks from the caucus to the Western Standard. By this time, several MLAs in the caucus were in discussion with myself and others in our newsroom, giving real-time updates on the proceedings. As a policy, the Western Standard does not discuss its sources, but we can say the two MLAs who would eventually be expelled were not among them.

Soon after the meeting that discussed leaks to the Western Standard started, the Western Standard published a story about the meeting discussing the leaks. At 1:52 pm, we published an update that the story itself was then being discussed in the caucus. It was admittedly rather meta.

At 2:20 pm, sources told the Western Standard that UCP Whip Mike Ellis gave an “executioner’s speech” about the need to expel Todd Loewen, but also Drew Barnes who’d not actually called for Kenney’s resignation.

Speaking with one of the sources yesterday, an MLA (who remains in the UCP caucus) says Ellis launched a “slander campaign” against the two MLAs, accusing them of being the leaks.

If this story was being narrated by Morgan Freeman, his voice would croon, “But they weren’t the leaks.”

According to one of the actual leaks, Ellis’s evidence against Barnes was that he was close to several trouble-makers from the former Wildrose Party, some of whom are now members of the Wildrose Independence Party. In particular, the source said Ellis accused Barnes of being friends with Danny Hozack, who’d been the Wildrose candidate in Vermilion-Lloydminster in 2012 and 2015. He’s now president of the local Wildrose Independence Party constituency association.

The same source said Ellis’s “indictment” against Todd Loewen didn’t actually include any reference to his letter calling for Kenney’s resignation. Instead, it similarly focused on his association with malcontents from the former Wildrose Party. His constituency association has been a hotbed of discontent calling for a leadership review of Kenney. In particular, the source said, “Todd knows the people who started ‘Holding MLAs Accountable,’ a Facebook group run by dissident UCP members.

While the indictment against Loewen and Barnes did not include any mention of the letter demanding Kenney’s resignation, the formal motion put forward by Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie did.

Many political watchers were left scratching their heads that Barnes – who did not openly call for Kenney’s resignation – was punted, while Dave Hanson – who publicly seconded Loewen’s letter – was not.

One source in the caucus meeting tells us Hanson said, “If you’re kicking people out based on circumstantial evidence, you may as well add my name to the list.”

For reasons as yet unknown, they did not. By looping Barnes into the motion to expel Loewen, Kenney was clearly hoping for a house-cleaning purge. Why would he not then rip the Band-aid off and expel Hanson, and possibly a few others with them?

The most reasonable explanation is Kenney simply didn’t have the votes for a mass purge.

The vote itself was not a secret ballot. MLAs texted their votes to Nick Milliken, Loewen’s replacement as caucus chairman. MLAs from both sides say they trust Milliken’s integrity to count the votes honestly, but raise questions as to why the vote totals were never released.

Several MLAs told us they believed the vote to have been too close for Kenney’s comfort. One of these MLAs gave their best guess that it was 70-30% in favour of expelling Barnes, and just 50% +1 for expelling Loewen. This also while the entire cabinet (22 MLAs) were all whipped to vote with the premier, who claims he had nothing to do with the expulsion.

While Loewen’s sin (calling on the premier to resign) was greater than Barnes’, the Medicine Hat man had been a regular thorn in the side of the government for more than a year now. And while Barnes is a bit of a lone wolf, Loewen is regularly at the centre of caucus social functions, famously making waffles for the team during late night or early morning sittings in the legislature.

A 70-30% vote hardly demonstrates to the public the caucus has confidence in Kenney’s leadership. A 51-49% vote could fairly be interpreted as quite near a non-confidence vote by the caucus. If Kenney had failed in the attempt to purge Loewen after such a high-profile (and live reported) ordeal, he would likely have been forced to resign himself.

None of this points toward things getting easier for the premier. His caucus is still full of unhappy MLAs, some of whom are demanding change, some of whom believe he must go. The most common theme amongst the MLAs I spoke to over the last several days was them consistently saying, almost word-for-word, “I have no future running under Kenney again.”

For the most part, they are focused on ousting Kenney from the leadership, reforming the UCP from within, and repairing the damage done to Wildrose-PC unity. Some believe it’s just a matter of time before Kenney falls, and others believe that there is only a small hope. One said, “Kenney must go. We will lose with him. But he would rather see the party burn around him than ever give up power.”

Most say if a leadership change and reform isn’t possible, then they will have to reexamine their options over the coming year.

The war for the soul of the UCP seems unlikely to end with the expulsion of Loewen and Barnes. More likely, it is just getting started.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher, President & CEO of Western Standard New Media Corp. He served from 2015-2019 as a Member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly in the Wildrose and Freedom Conservative parties. From 2009-2014 he was the National Research Director and Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. dfildebrandt@westernstandardonline.com

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. secondhandlion@hotmail.com

    May 23, 2021 at 8:59 am

    Alberta must secede to succeed. The only better time than today was yesterday. Kenney tried to dupe Albertans with the fair deal panel (it was nothing but virtue signaling) and to delay dealing with Ottawa; then when the results of the panel came in Kenney didn’t like them at all so has spent better part of two years trying NOT to implement the panel recommendations! That is where his troubles started then he added to it with his abject failure in dealing with the so called pandemic! There is only one way for Kenney to save his own ass & those of his MLA’s that is to do a complete 180 and do what ALBERTANS (not Ottawa) elected him to do, otherwise he is one and done and we will probably see another disastrous NDP govt in Alberta. I am willing to bet that Kenney will not do what is best for Alberta but rather do what is best (he thinks) for Kenney!

  2. Steven Ruthven

    May 19, 2021 at 9:51 am

    UCP Whip Mike Ellis, endorsed Jason Kenney in 2016 for the PC Leadership.

    Did MLA Ellis also endorse Jason Kenney’s about face on election promises?
    Did MLA Ellis know that Premier Kenney was going to travel Alberta prior to the election with campaign promises Kenney would not follow through with?
    Did MLA Ellis knowingly mislead Albertans to vote for Jason Kenney?

    Answer those questions Mike.

  3. Rick Johnson

    May 19, 2021 at 9:25 am

    Baron Not Baron, The Wildrose Independence Party Board has got to get it’s act together if it is going to run on its own merits rather that the UCP’s shortcomings.

    Josh, Alberta Health Services’s administration is holding the province hostage. When they are told they need to cut back because of decreased capital coming in from the eviscerated private sector, they slash front line positions to rile up union members enough to go on the warpath for them. Administrative positions or pay are rarely sacrificed.

  4. PEI Bob

    May 18, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    One and done-that’s you Jackie Lovely. Remember all of the seniors that voted for you and that you failed to represent once you got in. Never again!

  5. Baron Not Baron

    May 18, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    These MLAs.. Yes, BARBARA is correct.. they could have ended Kenney. I wonder, what would make these MLAs stick with Kenney? I’d say status, money, but not dignity, not moral obligation for the people they represent, nor respect.

    I DO hope they all will kick Kenney’s arse out of Alberta, and then after, quit and join WILDROSE INDEPENDENCE PARTY OF ALBERTA !!

  6. berta baby

    May 18, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    well at least a few are astute … there is no way I will vote UCP as long as kenney is in… thats you Nate Glubish.

  7. Susan Grant

    May 18, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    MLA’s are all weak-kneed members loving their payroll. Unless they are willing to walk away from Kenney they will never be voted in again! #OneAndDone as he said!

  8. Barbara

    May 18, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    We can’t rely on MLA’s . They could have ended Kenny Friday.
    They are to week for the job.
    They are just looking out for themselves and will continue to do so.
    It’s time to support the Wildrose Independent Party.

  9. Josh

    May 18, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Maybe the UCP should focus on making the quality of life better for medical professionals. I can’t imagine they are happy right now either. Maybe instead of telling us ICUs are over capacity and it’s rural Alberta’s fault get the man power to actually staff this stuff more. An emergency room closed near me recently for a night because they could not get a doctor on site. The UCP has to stop blaming Albertans for “over whelming the health care system” when they themselves make Alberta a place doctors don’t wanna work. But again it’s the chicken before the egg situation. We can’t support doctors and nurses better with out getting our economy up and running.

    The UCP government needs to remember that public health is physical, mental, economic, and spiritual and to only focus on one is a mistake. I hope MLAs will voice their people’s ideas and concerns to the caucus. I want the best for the UCP and the people of Alberta but it looks like the UCP is trying to fight a fight they can’t win.

  10. Bryan

    May 18, 2021 at 10:45 am

    So when will ‘Justin’ Kenney require UCP MLAs to swear allegiance to ‘der führer’, er, ‘Boss’ Kenney?

    What an embarrassment to Alberta!

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Opinion

MORGAN: It’s time for municipal political parties in Alberta

Conservatives had an opportunity to get a slate of small-government representatives into office and we blew it.

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The union-backed coalition of candidates in Calgary’s civic election decisively won the day. With 27 candidates running for mayor and nearly 100 candidates vying for one of 14 council seats, it was a bewildering mix of candidates for voters to choose from.

Only one candidate out of all of the races won with more than 50% of the vote. In Ward 7, the vote was so diluted, Terry Wong won the seat with only 25% support. Union endorsed candidates took nine out of 15 spots, including the mayoral chair.

The 2021 municipal election offered the largest turnover of elected positions we have seen at city hall in a generation. Conservatives had an opportunity to get a slate of small-government representatives into office and we blew it. Rather than gripe about how the union coalition took city hall, we need to learn from it. If we don’t change how we approach civic elections, left-progressives will keep winning them.

Some people have been scratching their heads over why Calgary votes so conservatively federally and provincially while so progressively when it comes to their municipal elections. The difference is the party system. Conservatives need to form a municipal political party if they want to displace the union-progressive bloc dominating Calgary’s municipal government.

Progressives may be ideologically delusional, but they aren’t stupid. They know they won’t win as many municipal seats if they actually run on a left-wing platform. They run right and govern left. Once they are in office, they can rely on incumbency and an apathetic electorate in order to retain their seats. They don’t need a large number of voters in order to keep their seats, they can simply let conservatives keep splitting the vote in future elections. That tactic kept Druh Farrell in office for 20 years despite her only winning over 50% of the vote once.

A political party will solve many of the issues leading to the chronic defeat of conservative candidates in Calgary and to some extent, Edmonton.

A political party provides for a nomination system. Prospective candidates are vetted by members in a race for the right to run. This helps expose any past scandals or other issues making candidates inappropriate for office before election time. Nomination scrutiny will test conservative credentials. It is tough for progressive candidates to slide through party scrutiny. Some contenders for office may have fantastic resumes, but be terrible campaigners or fundraisers. A nomination is a dry run and the best prospective candidates will usually rise to the top.

The vote-splitting issue will be mitigated by a single party endorsing only one candidate per ward and for the mayor. There will surely be other conservative candidates running in every race — as is their right — but when name recognition is so difficult to attain in civic politics, they won’t be able to garner more profile than a party-endorsed candidate. There were multiple progressive candidates in many of the races in the last election, but none of them outperformed the union endorsed ones with the lone exception Richard Pootmans. Again, we need to learn from them.

A political party can provide the organization and training independent candidates lack. Some conservative candidates may have had excellent credentials but simply couldn’t put a cohesive campaign team together. A candidate may have a fantastic policy set but had never actually written a press release before. Campaigning is a unique set of skills. Parties provide standardized and shared campaign training to their candidates and volunteers. A party provides a support system and it allows the candidates to focus on important elements of their campaign without getting mired in electoral details party volunteers can handle.

A party can provide uniform branding for its candidates and offer a centralized advertising strategy. The union PAC in the last election had nearly two million dollars to spend on advertising for their chosen candidates. We can’t pretend the union spending didn’t make a difference on those races. A party can advertise the brand while all of their endorsed candidates benefit. TV advertising is a huge expense and is of little benefit to individual candidates for councilor. If the advertising is focused on a shared brand through a party though, it can benefit every party candidate. Only through strong and consistent advertising will candidates be able to defeat incumbents relying on name recognition.

Funds can’t be directly given to candidates by a party but there would be great cost savings in being part of a party. Candidates will be able to get together on orders for sign and literature printing which will bring the costs down tremendously due to the scale of the orders. Campaign office space could be potentially shared and many other cost-saving collaborations between candidates can happen as they work together under one banner.

There could be pitfalls with a political party as well of course. A new party would have to ensure it’s not tied in any way to federal or provincial parties. We’ve already seen how toxic branding from other levels of government can impact elections on other levels.

In bringing a slate together under one brand, not only could all candidates rise with the party, they could fall with it. If there are party missteps or candidate scandals, it could drag down every candidate in the party.

Candidates will also have to ensure they will be beholden to their constituents first and the party second. Importantly, candidates elected to council under a party banner should be free to vote however they choose, with no party whip standing over them. It can be a fine line to walk, but it has to be done. Local government is important and electors don’t want to think their representatives won’t have the ability to use discretion on issues not gelling with the party as a whole.

The only thing worse than an official political party in an election is an unofficial political party. Public service unions have created an unofficial party and it won Calgary’s civic election. If we want to change the status-quo, we will have to change the way we have been playing the game. We need a conservative party to contest the next civic election in Calgary and we need to get on organizing it soon. Otherwise, we will continue spinning our wheels while progressive councilors trot into re-election with ease.

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

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: The unions bought city hall

It’s a clean sweep that puts Calgary on a course for a more interventionist government for at least the next four years and, with Calgary’s tendency to re-elect municipal incumbents in perpetuity, potentially much longer.

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Jyoti Gondek is Calgary’s new mayor-elect. She largely represents a continuation of Naheed Nenshi’s purple reign that has led the city’s council and government since 2010, although there are hopeful signs that personality-wise she has less of the outgoing mayor’s Jupiter-sized ego and petulance.

Gondek’s victory means not only that Jeromy Farkas will not be the mayor, but he will no longer continue in his role as the unofficial leader of the opposition on council. The size of the conservative bloc on council may end up relatively similar to its pre-election makeup, but it’s influence will be much diminished.

In addition to Farkas, the conservative bloc lost Joe Magliocca, and while Sean Chu won the day, his scandal involving a minor in 1997 continues to deepen. CTV is reporting salacious new details that could make his continued position untenable. Chu denied the allegations in an exclusive interview with the Western Standard, but more evidence will need to be produced one way or another to determine who’s telling the truth. The jury is still very much out on this one.

Adding to the conservative bloc is Terry Wong, who replaced one of the most stridently leftist members of council, Druh Farrell, as well as Dan McLean, who unseated weather vane incumbent Diane Colley-Urquhart.

Centre-right former councillor Andre Chabot also returns to council, as does the swing vote Peter Demong (who was the only incumbent with no union candidate against him).

Taken together, the conservative bloc will likely be made up of four councillors — if Chu can hang on. If they can sway Demong, they can make up five votes, soaking wet, well short of the eight votes needed to win a majority on any given issue.

The union super-PAC (political action committee) Calgary’s Future swept the table. Their candidates took the mayor’s chair, and eight council seats, although their leftist bloc will likely be joined by the non-union endorsed Richard Pootmans. That brings the union-progressive bloc to 10 votes.

Ten union-progressives, four conservatives, and one swing. It’s a clean sweep that puts Calgary on a course for a more interventionist government for at least the next four years and, with Calgary’s tendency to re-elect municipal incumbents in perpetuity, potentially much longer.

Could Farkas have won?

It’s always an error to add up the votes of the “also ran” candidates and add them to the total of the runner up as if a party or candidate has any kind of ownership over them, but let’s just do it for the sake of the hypotheticals.

Since well before the official campaign period kicked off, Jeromy Farkas was the clear conservative standard bearer for the mayor’s chair. He led the conservative bloc on council, sometimes as a vote of one on more controversial issues. He led every poll in the race until the very end, and other centre-right(ish) candidates never came close to catching him. On election night, he polled 30% of the vote to Gondek’s 45%.

Jeff Davidson ran in the mould of a business conservative, promising a more enterprise-friendly environment, but not going to war with the city’s administration. The card-carrying Conservative polled a respectable 13% on election night.

Similarly, Brad Field ran a semi-conservative, business-friendly campaign, pulling down 5% of the vote.

Together, the 18% of the vote earned by these two candidates could theoretically have put Farkas over the top. Of course, that’s bad math. Just as federal Tories have no right to votes of the PPC, or the federal Liberals have no right to the votes of the NDP or Greens, Farkas has no inherent right to the votes of Davidson and Field. The only people with a right to someone’s vote, are voters themselves.

But it is worth asking why there were three credible centre-to-right candidates on the ballot, but only one credible left-progressive. In the absence of a municipal party system, big-money PACs have filled the void, effectively picking candidates with their war chest. On the union-progressive side, Calgary’s Future had an incredible $1.7 million to spend on its slate, effectively clearing the field of nuisance progressive candidates for clear front-runners to emerge for the mayor’s chair, and in most of the wards. Progressives like former federal Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr saw the writing on the wall soon after he declared. This effectively consolidated the vote behind a single candidate, allowing them to stand out from the pack, and in 10 of 14 races, win.

The conservative side of the fight was much less clean cut. There was no single, dominating super-PAC able to effectively bankroll a slate of candidates and clear the field. Until very late in the game, big business and the conservative establishment were hesitant to get behind Farkas. He may have been a conservative, but he was not their man. Farkas was a libertarian who hailed from the old Wildrose Party, and a protégé of Preston Manning. He opposed major corporate welfare projects often supported by much of the business community. They tended to prefer more moderate conservatives less likely to throw a hand grenade into the council chamber.

But Farkas had built up enough public profile and locked in a solid base of support before the conservative establishment could anoint their own candidate. As reported in a Western Standard exclusive one year ago, a party insider said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney himself was on the hunt for a more amenable conservative mayoral candidate, who’s name was not Jeromy Farkas.

The usual Tory establishment voices pleading for “unity” and to not “split the vote” were seldom to be heard beseeching Davidson and Field to get behind Farkas.

The outsized role of union money in the campaign is curious, not so much because they tried (and succeeded) in buying a majority on council to sign their contracts, but because it was allowed to happen at all.

The Alberta UCP government introduced stiff new legislation curtailing the ability of unions to collect money from their members for use in political purposes without their direct consent. The legislation would require that unions bosses obtain the sign-off of individual union members to opt-in to using their dues for political activity, rather than just spending it without their consent, as is historically been the case.

Most curiously, Kenney never proclaimed the legislation into law, even though it has long passed all stages of the Legislative Assembly. The union bosses took note, and raised more money than ever for their candidates.

In the place of political parties running our civic elections, Calgarians have woken up to a council bought and paid for by the government unions.

Who’s to blame is a debate that needs to be had in earnest.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

SLOBODIAN: Manitoba cabinet ministers are maskless belles of the ball as pastor arrested

Is this like one of those cases where the criminal is crying to get caught?

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In a photo that surfaced on social media, Manitoba’s Health Minister Audrey Gordon looked lovely all dressed up for the ball. 

But something was missing in that photo snapped at Winnipeg Art Gallery’s annual fundraising gala held last weekend.

Pretty dress. Check! Earrings. Check! Big happy smile. Check! 

Hold on…big happy smile? Uh-oh. No mask.

Who was that other unmasked woman standing to her far right at the indoor public event? Why, it was none other than Minister of Families Rochelle Squires. 

And the other one? Minister of Sport, Culture, and Heritage Cathy Cox, also sans mask.

The damning photo outing them for violating a COVID mandate — masks must be worn at indoor public events — dictated by their PC party, was posted to Squires’ Instagram page. 

Is this like one of those cases where the criminal is crying to get caught?

Of course, after catching flak for the mask faux pas, the ministers were filled with remorse for violating one of the harsh mandates inflicted on other Manitobans, some of whom don’t get to go to work, never mind fancy balls.

Apparently, they were at the table, maybe munching on cake, when someone hollered something like “photo time.”

“I got up and joined the group in the photo, neglecting to wear my mask. It’s unfortunate and it was wrong, and it should not have happened and for that, I deeply apologize,” said Gordon. “I do believe as minister of health, I should be held to a higher standard, and I have always upheld that standard.”

Gordon said she’d “gladly” pay a fine should one be issued. 

Chances are zip of a motorcade of police and health officers showing up — like they do for other mandate violators — to hand the ministers hefty tickets.

The law’s too busy hunting down other delinquents. And they’ll be doing that for some time. It’s still too risky to wander around not wearing masks and such, says the province.

In fact, the gala barely wrapped up when Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin told Manitobans they’ll likely have to endure tough COVID-19 restrictions in place well into spring.

Hours later a Manitoba pastor was arrested for violation of health orders.

Tobias Tissen, minister at the Church of God Restoration in Steinbach, was picked up Monday night on an arrest warrant issued during the summer for defying health orders. 

“Tobias will be kept in custody overnight and is scheduled to appear before a magistrate tomorrow where he will most likely be asked to sign conditions to obtain his release,” it said on a Twitter account in his name.

Tissen and the church have been slapped with several fines for violating in-person gatherings.

If Tissen had just gone to the ball instead of standing in the pulpit trying to save souls, he wouldn’t have landed behind bars.

Meanwhile, the day before the ball Gordon met with health officials in the province’s southern region. They had to figure out a plan for looking after seniors at care homes in case of staff shortages when Monday’s vaccination deadline for frontline workers arrived. 

Whether Gordon wore a mask at the meeting remains unknown. 

Two personal care homes scrambled last week to alert families they might have to come in and care for their loved ones or take them home, as part of a worst-case scenario contingency plan when unvaccinated workers were shut out and suspended without pay.

Family members were told only days before they might be called upon to do laundry, brush teeth, feed, dress, and clean their elderly relatives in care at Salem Home in Winkler, and Taber Home in Morden.

Apparently staffing levels at these homes were fine the first day of the crackdown. Things may change when more unvaccinated workers can’t work shifts. 

However, the province said 30 health care workers were sent home for not being vaccinated and refusing to comply with COVID-19 testing. Expect that number to rise. More than 1,800 health workers have refused the jab based on religious, medical, or freedom of choice concerns.

No one should begrudge ministers Gordon, Squires and Cox for wanting to doll up and head out on the town. People need to have a little fun.

People need their jobs, too.

People need the right to freedom of choice. 

You don’t get to violate provincial orders when others are punished by being thrown in jail or forced to choose between a paycheck and being injected with a vaccine they oppose.

The ministers are really, very sorry for not wearing masks. They apologized. Their remorse is misplaced. Perhaps they should reflect more on the lives the province is callously messing with, instead of what they didn’t wear at the ball.

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard
lslobodian@westernstandardonline.com

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