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BARNES: It’s time for an Alberta Constitution

“Creating an Alberta Constitution gives us a real opportunity to defend our province’s interests, and protect Alberta’s citizens from its own government.”

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This is an interesting time in the history of Canada to be a constitutional scholar. As has been widely reported, on May 13th, the Government of Quebec introduced its controversial Bill 96 in the National Assembly. The Bill seeks to unilaterally amend Quebec’s constitution, as well as Canada’s Constitution. Since that time, both the prime minister and Alberta’s premier have indicated their support for the undertaking, so long as the amendments pertain only to Quebec.

This opens up a whole new avenue for our province to stand up for Albertans and defend Alberta’s interests. It also raises a key argument I have been making for some time: that Alberta needs its own constitution.

As many of you know, I was proud to serve on the government’s Fair Deal Panel. However, as I outlined in a letter to the premier at the time, the panel’s final report did not fully reflect the public’s frustrations, or provide enough in the way of immediate action.

I believe that the most important recommendation left out of the Panel’s final report was the creation of a constitution for the Province of Alberta.

While Alberta certainly does have a constitutional framework – first outlined in the Alberta Act of 1905 – this does not go nearly far enough in describing Albertans’ shared values, or our unique culture and identity.

The creation of a formal Constitution, including the election of an independent constitutional convention, is an opportunity to engage with Albertans from every region and build a forward-looking vision for our province as the strongest and most free jurisdiction in North America.

Done correctly, the creation of an Alberta constitution does not lead directly down a one-way path to independence. However, it would send a strong signal to Ottawa that Alberta’s days of being treated as a colonial offshoot of Eastern Canada are now at an end.

When I first raised this idea, it was entirely disregarded and even ridiculed by Premier Kenney’s team of political insiders. Yet last week, the premier (when he wasn’t responding in my quires in question period with personal attacks) finally came around to the idea.

The premier said as much in an interview with Don Braid in the Calgary Herald. 

“We are plotting out a longer-term strategy to build a stronger, more resilient and more autonomous Alberta within the constitution. One idea could be in the future the codification of an Alberta provincial constitution. Formalizing that might be a way of expressing some of the unique values that unite Albertans.”

Yes, Mr. Premier, it is a good idea. That’s why I raised it to you more than a year ago. Here are a few reasons why it is necessary. 

• Constitutions control and constrain governments: While most legislation and regulation put in place by governments is designed to restrict the freedoms of citizens, constitutions are one of the best ways for citizens to effectively restrict the powers of governments. A year and a half into “two weeks to flatten the curve,” you can see the need to retain the power of governments to do whatever they like. 

Constitutions are durable: Laws passed in a legislature can just as easily be changed or eliminated by a legislature.

Take, for example, the Klein government’s balanced budget law. It was supposed to be a game-changing victory for those who seek to constrain the size of government, but the PC government killed it four years later and went on a spending binge that has still not ended. Alberta has spent most of its savings, and is now exceeding $100 billion in debt.The only way to effectively limit the size and scope of government over the long term is through a constitution.

We can’t trust Ottawa: One of the most important freedoms we (somewhat) enjoy is economic freedom, including property rights. We rightly believe that the individual should be the primary beneficiary of their own labour and skills, and that individuals have the right to own and use their private property. Ottawa’s willingness to cede jurisdiction to international organizations that do not recognize these rights is cause to entrench them in our own constitution. 

No really, we can’t trust Ottawa: Under the Canadian Constitution, provinces have the right to develop natural resources. Clearly, the federal government does not like this arrangement, and over the past 30 years it has looked for ways to alter the deal. If Ottawa is willing to so brazenly flout the Canadian Constitution, are we Albertans not obligated to defend our own rights through our own constitution?

There is no question that Alberta – like Quebec – has many of concerns when it comes to our province’s treatment within confederation. However, unlike Quebec, we have been fighting for a fair deal with one hand tied behind our backs. If Quebec can unilaterally make changes to the Canadian Constitution, then so too can Alberta. Creating an Alberta Constitution gives us a real opportunity to defend our province’s interests, and protect Alberta’s citizens from its own government. 

Isn’t that what fighting for a fair deal is all about?

Drew Barnes is the Independent MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Steven Ruthven

    June 21, 2021 at 10:05 am

    Rereading this article and what Premier Kenney said in an interview with Don Braid, Calgary Herald is concerning. Mr. Barns had raised this over a year ago with Premier Kenney.

    Quote from Kenney
    “We are plotting out a longer-term strategy to build a stronger, more resilient and more autonomous Alberta within the constitution. One idea could be in the future the codification of an Alberta provincial constitution. Formalizing that might be a way of expressing some of the unique values that unite Albertans.”

    Is this quote from Premier Kenney just another Bait & Switch? Pacification of Albertans with what we want to hear, but he has no stomach to push it through.

    I DON’T trust Jason Kenney & from past experience I don’t think Albertans should either. Vote Wildrose for a conservative party who will listen to Albertans. Do give your vote to the Marxist AB NDP again.

  2. Douglas Hendrickson

    June 9, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    I disagree with Barnes on one point:
    Done correctly, an Alberta Constitution DOES lead directly down the path to Independence.
    That is, it should be the CONSTITUTION FOR A FREE ALBERTA.
    To give the people what they need DIRECTLY AND FULLY to simply sign onto in a referendum and the FEDS would have NOTHING more to say about anything in Alberta.

    Those working to construct a New Constitution could at least try for two versions – one like that proposed by Barnes, and another for a totally free Alberta. Perhaps present TWO ACTUAL CHOICES for the people’s discussion and approval.

  3. Steven Ruthven

    June 8, 2021 at 7:49 pm

    Would send a strong signal to the UCP & other former Wildrose members, if MLA Barnes made an overture to the WIPA.

    I can’t stand the UCP & I voted for Minister Savage, Calgary.

    MLA Savage is as quiet as a mouse on the BS going on. So why would I vote for her again? Sickening how Jason Kenney rules with his totalitarian style of leadership. That’s NOT Alberta – more like an Easterner dictating to Westerners again. Grrrrrr.

  4. Debbie Lawrence

    June 8, 2021 at 3:11 am

    We need to get this done. The door has been opened by Quebec’s demands. Clearly the need has never been greater. Mr. Barnes you are spot on.

  5. Baron Not Baron

    June 7, 2021 at 7:45 pm

    Mr. Barnes,

    Please join WIPA !

  6. John Lankers

    June 7, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    Right, Alberta has been financing Quebec’s surpluses for the last 5 years and counting but equally notable is the fact that Alberta’s government spending is ~30% above the national average. Both factors must be equally addressed and it takes a real leader to do this.

  7. berta baby

    June 7, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    Doesn’t matter , I won’t happen cause the UCP MLA’s like the true minions they are stand quizzering aside and continue to support the blunder we call premier Jason kenney.

    He will lose the party’s government and hand it to the socialists the UCP will be reduced to nothing and kenney will write a book that I will not read but will go to his senior citizen book signing to point and laugh

  8. Seven-Zero-One

    June 7, 2021 at 5:25 pm

    Since Justin won election in 2015.
    Quebec haves Budget surpluses 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020… Albertans are financing it’s our poverty.
    Seriously people look at mirror.Ask yourself.Why Alberta is part of this ?

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Opinion

WAGNER: The prominent Toronto political scientist who called Communism ‘democratic’

As it turns out, some members of Canada’s Left have a fairly positive view of communism.

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Some commentators have noted the silence of Canada’s Left in the face of anti-government protests in Cuba. Why the reluctance to condemn a communist dictatorship?

Well, as it turns out, some members of Canada’s Left have a fairly positive view of communism. One such prominent Canadian leftist was C.B. Macpherson (1911-1987), an internationally-renowned political scientist who taught political theory at the University of Toronto. Among other things, he was especially known for his critiques of capitalism and individualism.

Interestingly, Macpherson also defended Soviet Communism as genuine democracy in action. This can be seen in a series of CBC radio messages he delivered in 1965 that were subsequently published as a book entitled The Real World of Democracy. These lectures argued there were three forms of government that could be legitimately called democracies: the liberal democracies of the West, the Soviet bloc countries, and the one-party states of the Third World. 

As Macpherson put it, “democracy is not properly to be equated with our unique Western liberal-democracy.” Instead, “the clearly non-liberal systems which prevail in the Soviet countries, and the somewhat different non-liberal systems of most of the underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa, have a genuine historical claim to the title democracy.”

Macpherson explained the meaning of democracy has undergone some change over time. It hasn’t always referred to the kind of constitutional system common in the Western countries: “Democracy originally meant rule by the common people, the plebeians. It was very much a class affair: it meant the sway of the lowest and largest class.” Thus, Macpherson argued Soviet Communism and other one-party states can legitimately be called democracies, based on this definition. That is, he used this conception of “democracy” to describe some of the world’s most brutal and repressive regimes. 

Karl Marx’s proposed “dictatorship of the proletariat” was an expression of genuine democracy in Macpherson’s view. He noted many people would find it outrageous to consider the dictatorship of the proletariat to be a form of democracy. “But,” he wrote, “to call it democracy was not outrageous at all: it was simply to use the word in its original and then normal sense.”

Macpherson’s analysis gets even worse. Lenin extended Marx’s theory by arguing a revolution would need to be undertaken by a relatively small group of class-conscious people he called the vanguard, which is to say, the Communist Party. 

From the Communist perspective, since the vast majority of people in any society are debased by the structures of capitalism, they cannot be trusted to participate in political decision-making. To allow their participation would just perpetuate the problems of the old, capitalist society. Only the vanguard could bring about the necessary reforms. As Macpherson explains: “Lenin, building on Marx, came out for a seizure of power by a vanguard who would forcibly transform the basic relations of society in such a way that the people would become undebased and capable of a fully human existence, at which point compulsive government would no longer be needed.” 

In Macpherson’s view, this rule of the vanguard to “forcibly transform” society is democracy in action, despite the fact that it involves politically motivated executions and concentration camps. Democracy, it seems, becomes indistinguishable from dictatorship.

Macpherson evokes what he calls the “broader concept of democracy” to legitimize the Marxist-Leninist state: “Wherever the circumstances are such that no motion towards this kind of society is possible except through the action of a vanguard, then the vanguard state, so long as it remains true to its purpose, may be called democratic.” Thus, in his view, an outright communist state can be legitimately called a democracy. Many of the most brutal, bloodthirsty, and repressive regimes in the 20th Century were democracies in this sense. Who knew?

Using a similar line of argumentation, the one-party dictatorships of the Third World can also be justified as democracies. Invoking Rousseau, Macpherson wrote one-party states can be legitimately called democracies because “there is in these countries a general will, which can express itself through, and probably only through, a single party.” As a result, “opposition to the dominant party appears to be, and sometimes actually is, destructive of the chances of nationhood. In such circumstances opposition appears as treason against the nation.” Thus, a one-party state, where opposition to the ruling party is punished as “treason,” can be a legitimate form of democracy. (Don’t tell Justin Trudeau.)

Macpherson was an internationally known and respected political scientist. The views he expressed were not the rantings of a black-clad activist running wild in the streets. Some elements of the intellectual Left truly believe that a Marxist-Leninist state (or any other Left-wing single-party state) is a genuine democracy. Despite the inescapably violent and murderous nature of communism, some Canadian leftists view it favourably. 

The lessons of the 20th Century have not been learned. Ideas that inspired inhuman tyranny – what C.B. Macpherson happily calls the “broader concept of democracy” – seem to be making a comeback.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

MORGAN: COVID has shown the need to overhaul Canada’s health care system

“We need to stop pretending the American and Canadian models of health provision are the only ones on earth. In fact, only two other countries on the planet explicitly ban private health care insurance: Cuba and North Korea.”

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After his retirement, Ralph Klein was quoted expressing regret for having backed down on his “third-way” health care reform plan. We are paying the price today for the government’s lack of will of yesteryear.

Canada’s health care system has long been considered a sacred cow. We have been taught since childhood that it’s the best health care system on the planet; it’s the very thing that defines what it means to be Canadian. Any efforts to reform the system are immediately framed as potentially moving us towards the dreaded American system.

The most politically expedient way to deal with health care challenges has been to blindly toss more money into the system without changing how anything is being done. Government reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our finances and exposed massive shortcomings in the health care system. Both these problems are good cause to undertake a serious overhaul of the status quo.

Alberta has 11,120 physicians and 32,000 nurses. We have 161 hospitals and spend more per capita on health care than most other provinces. At the peak of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds was just over 500 people. Why did this volume of patients seemingly bring our system to the brink of collapse? If we don’t ask ourselves some tough questions and begin to make some serious changes to our system, we could find ourselves vulnerable to a true systemic meltdown if a more serious pandemic hits us down the road.

In the event of a widespread medical crisis, a system needs to be able to pivot in order to meet sudden new pressures. Our socialized system has led us into centralizing our treatments and procedures into hospitals. Many services and procedures are being performed in hospitals when they could have been done in outside, specialized clinics. When something like a pandemic occurs, entire wings of hospitals can be closed off while large blocks of staff are placed under quarantine. This leads to procedures deemed as being non-essential being deferred which leads to long backlogs of medical procedures which could take months, or years, to catch up on. If we had more health facilities outside conventional hospitals, our hospitals could focus on acute health care needs while elective and non-urgent procedures continue unhindered in clinics.

In order to get these specialized clinics, we will need to allow more private investment into health care provision. We have to set aside that ingrained prejudice against profit-based models in health care provision. Private clinics for general practitioners haven’t crushed the system. Private facilities for everything from hip replacements to dialysis won’t either. This is not a matter of reinventing the wheel. Most European nations allow for private health provision within a publicly funded, universal model. Entire private hospitals are integrated within public systems. We need to stop pretending the American and Canadian models of health provision are the only ones on earth. In fact, only two other countries on the planet explicitly ban private health care insurance: Cuba and North Korea.

Many other systems are outperforming Canada’s in both outcomes and in cost. It does not deserve the status of sacred cow.

We will also need to take on the public sector unions. Organized labour has traditionally battled every form of health care reform every step of the way. How many years have we battled back and forth over something as simple as the outsourcing of hospital laundry services?

How many stories have we heard about nurses who game an incredibly generous overtime system to the point where some have earned over $200,000 per year? Alberta’s nurses are the highest paid in Canada yet they immediately started rumbling about striking when the Kenney government proposed a modest 3% pay reduction. We are in an economic crisis as well as a pandemic. If we can’t even get modest concessions from unions in times like these, we won’t be able to sustain our service levels for much longer. Seniority systems and contract clauses make it difficult to schedule staff based on surges leading to sporadic shortages and over staffing at times. It’s going to take some strong will and it will take some labour disruptions, but the union stranglehold on health care provision needs to be ended.

We need to look beyond the politics of envy and let people pay out of pocket for enhanced services. They wouldn’t be jumping the queue. They should be jumping out of one queue, and into another, allowing both to receive quality services faster.

Let’s face it, people have been leaving the country in order to “jump the queue” for decades. These people aren’t always rich, but they are desperate. If a person is given a choice between suffering or potentially dying on a waiting list for treatment or selling their home and seeking treatment in another country, most will sell the house. Let’s keep those dollars here and have regulated pay-for-service models that allow for private insurance. It will lead to shorter wait times for all. Don’t look at it as if it is a person cutting the line ahead of you, look at it as if a person wants to spend their own money in order to shorten the line for all of us.

Canada’s health care system is rigid and obsolete. The pandemic has shown us we are always teetering on the brink of overrunning our capacity despite constant increases in health care spending. Our economy is in shambles and government deficits are unsustainable. If we want to have a strong, universal health care system we can rely upon during times of crisis, we need to dramatically reform our current one. There’s no better time than right now to begin that process. Let’s hope our political leadership can find the will and courage to take on this difficult but essential task.

If they can’t stand their ground on a modest wage reduction for nurses, they won’t be able to do what really needs to be done in the long term.

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

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Opinion

CONROY: Biles did the best she could under the circumstances

Simone Biles has just as much of a right to take a break, step back, or make any other choice for her career which she sees fit.

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Simone Biles’ choice to withdraw from the remaining Olympic events is respectable when you look at her reasoning.

Characters like bombastic TV personality Piers Morgan would disagree, but Biles’ choice to withdraw from the remaining gymnastics competitions in this year’s Olympics is not only honourable but, sadly, predictable. The lives of professional athletes have always been caught up in a sporting culture that has only grown more and more toxic with the years.

The modern world of competitive athletics places values of unachievable proportions onto its athletes. Theories have been offered pointing to the rampant doping in athletes being largely because of unrealistically high expectations for their performance. These unrealistic expectations can lead people on both sides to do crazy things.

It’s no secret larger organizations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — an entity historically known for openly partaking in corruption — not only allow these smaller entities to get away with abusing their athletes, but go so far as to create a culture encouraging it. The IOC has long since been turned from an organization valuing athletics over all else into a business seeking profit.

In 2018, Biles bravely came forward saying she had suffered abuse at the hands of Larry Nasser, the former doctor for the American women’s national gymnastics team. Biles was among dozens of other gymnasts who accused Nasser of sexual abuse. He later pleaded guilty and is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence.

Biles said the abuse she suffered under Nasser during her teen years left her with trauma and thoughts of suicide. The athlete was told by her coaches and superiors at USA Gymnastics to trust Nasser, which is why she rightfully places the blame on USA Gymnastics for the suffering she went through.

It wasn’t Biles who let the team, the Games, America, or anyone else down, it was Biles who was abandoned by the establishments meant to protect her.

Simone has handled this situation with a level of grace and maturity very rarely seen in someone so young. It’s amazing to watching her take on criticism from the likes of Morgan and others who feel entitled to her and her career.

They seem to be taking it as a personal attack of sorts because Biles has chosen to put her mental health above her career for seemingly the first time ever. Biles has recently been open about her history of sexual and other forms of abuse during her athletic career.

With an autobiography already under her belt, word she will be attending virtual college soon for business administration, and even placing fourth on a season of Dancing with the Stars, Biles is already more accomplished at 24 than most of her critics can say at twice her age. She deserves to pursue whatever she wishes to, and while gymnastics maybe her passion it is healthy to maintain a sense of well-roundness.

Biles has competed in five gymnastics world championships and games already, and won four gold medals at the 2016 Rio Games alone. Biles holds an impressive portfolio and is objectively known as the most accomplished American gymnast in the world right now.

Achievement like that doesn’t come cheap. Athletes like Biles give up every other aspect of their life in order to put the full focus, energy, and time into their sport. She switched from public school to homeschooling in 2012, allowing her to up her training hours from 20 hours to 32 hours weekly.

She currently maintains a schedule of full seven-hour practices Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and allows herself half practices on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Gymnastics is one of the most dangerous sports one can compete in. With increasingly intricate moves now being completely banned by many athletics organizations for their potential to cause damage to the person performing them, completing many of these tricks requires full mental engagement. When one’s head isn’t in a positive, stable enough place to engage fully, disaster can easily strike.

The vault routine incident many believe led to Biles’ withdrawal from the team and other remaining events have been described by those in the community as Biles “losing herself in midair.” This short drop in focus apparently almost ended tragically, she failed to complete a double and-a-half turn which could have left her with “career-ending” and “life-threatening” injuries according to former gymnast Andrea Orris.

Biles’ choice was probably one of the most difficult of her life, and for the world to weigh in and criticize what she believes is best for herself is entitled and ridiculous. For Biles to receive such aggressive backlash for openly choosing to honour her mental health and take what she believes is a needed step back from her career is disappointing in a day and age where mental health is touted as the latest buzz words.

At the end of the day, Biles’ gymnastics career is just that — a career, a job. Just because the general public has been let into her life to watch her perform and compete, she’s still completing a job which, like any other career, allows one to leave it if the situation becomes undesirable.

Biles has just as much of a right to take a break, step back, or make any other choice for her career which she sees fit. Perhaps social media has played a large part in allowing people to believe they do have the right to offer their opinions to someone they’ve never met before.

Is this what we as a society want? To watch someone for solely our own amusement — it’s not like any of us have stakes in Team USA — even if it means the person is mentally breaking herself just to perform?

Biles has obviously accomplished so much in gymnastics by her own volition and desire, but now it should be left in her very capable hands to decide what she’ll do next.

She doesn’t need career advice from anyone right now.

Jackie Conroy is a reporter for the Western Standard
jconroy@westernstandardonline.com

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