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FILDEBRANDT: While the big parties have never agreed on more, Canadians have never agreed on less

“The Great Canadian Consensus of 2021 is a mirage however. The old parties may agree, but Canadians do not.”

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Canada has had divisive elections before, but those elections typically had something to be divisive about: free trade (1988), conscription (1917), etcetera.

But if we’re going to lump 2021 into the club of particularly divisive elections, it would be difficult to add any text before the bracket. That is, I don’t know what this election was about, at least as far the the big parties go.

Certainly COVID-19 and how government should handle it has been discussed a lot, but with the exception of Maxime Bernier and his PPC, the major parties have been in remarkable consensus on all of the big issues.

The five older parties all agree with rotating lockdowns and a forced vaccine passport, with minor variations at the margin.

The five major parties all agree with perpetual deficit spending, although O’Toole’s Conservatives promise some day far into the distant future that the budget will balance itself.

The five major parties all agree with a large carbon tax on both industry and consumers.

All five major parties agree that equalization is working just fine and the West should keep paying, although O’Toole says the West deserves a little respect for its contributions.

The major difference between the five major parties mostly boils down to: “We can do what the other guys promise to do better.”

The Great Canadian Consensus of 2021 is a mirage however. The old parties may agree, but Canadians do not.

Roughly half of Canadians oppose a carbon tax, but 100% of the parties in Parliament support one.

Most conservatives support a serious timeline to balance the budget, but none of the parties in Parliament do.

The overwhelming majority of Westerners — and especially Albertans — want to either reform or abolish equalization, but not a single party in Parliament wants to even discuss it.

A clear majority of Canadians — alas — support vaccine passports, but a significant minority do not. And I have difficulty believing it’s only made up of anti-vax conspiracy theorists as the legacy media would have us believe. There are rational skeptics, and folks, like yours truly, in the minority of the majority: that is, people who’re vaccinated, but do not believe in forcing others to do so.

The anti-passport/lockdown minority were left without any voice among the establishment parties. Into this fray, the PPC has played the contrarian, inserting itself into a populist-libertarian space where the other parties fear to tread.

The party’s rallies resound with chants of “Freedom! Freedom!” as Bernier plays the role of William Wallace juicing the peasant rabble up to charge the English lines.

O’Toole’s headlong rush to the nebulous ‘centre’ could well pay off in the GTA-905 belt, but it has left a not insignificant number of otherwise traditionally Conservative voters out in the cold. His only appeal to them is their obligation to vote Tory to stop the Liberals. It will work with some voters, but it’s weak. It reduces the election to a mere personality contest between Trudeau and O’Toole.

As the PPC began its rise from obscurity to 6-11% in the polls, the legacy media began to take notice. Most leftist media personalities dismissed it as an angry and dangerous fringe unworthy of Canada’s noble progressivism. Most establishment conservative media personalities dismiss it as a vane-glorious monument to Bernier’s ego. Only a handful have bothered to scratch the surface to ask “Who are these people, and what are these people so upset about?”

The lazy armchair consensus of the punditocracy is they are just angry, white, racist, rural, old, male, right-wingers upset about how wonderfully tolerant and progressive Canada has become.

But the PPC voter profile is more complex than this trope. Certainly, the PPC has taken a bite out of the Tories, but is engaging new groups that defy an easy left-right pinning of the tail on the donkey. Young people, former Green voters, and — most notably — non-voters make up most of the party’s polling gains.

PPC Freedom Rally in Strathmore, Alberta (Image Credit: Western Standard)

The party’s Freedom Rallies are a visible display of this, if the legacy media bothered to show up.

At a rally in the small town of Strathmore, Alberta — 30 minutes east of Calgary — Bernier attracted 1,000 attendees, give or take. It had the usual assortment of farmers and blue-collar conservatives; but it had the odd hippy wearing a poncho. A few punks wearing excessive eye-shadow. Some visible minorities. And young people. Lots of young people. It was not the typical small-town Alberta conservative town hall meeting of the usual suspects.

The PPC vote may well be too diluted across Canada to elect any MPs, but it will leave a mark.

Wednesday’s leader debate between federal heads of their parties was missing one candidate, and there was no sign of leadership, opines Slobodian. —photo courtesy CBC

Legacy media using a generic story image of the five other parties leaders, but exclude Bernier — despite him polling higher than two of them — will be a difficult illusion to maintain on Tuesday.

Canadians are by and large tired of the Liberals. Trudeau’s character is unbecoming of a leader of an advanced democratic country. There is a seething angry pool of voters who want change, but not just in the personality of the man or woman at 24 Sussex. Surely O’Toole can’t form a majority government by only appealing to cranks like me, but to win he’ll probably need to offer at least something.

Instead, he offers Trudeau without the blackface. I suppose it’s an improvement.

Like 2019, this should be the Conservatives election to lose. If he comes up short tonight, O’Toole will be tempted to blame others, namely Jason Kenney and Maxime Bernier.

Kenney is no doubt playing a less than helpful role, and will quite possibly be held responsible for flipping a few seats in Alberta to the Liberals and NDP. But his disastrous leadership of the province will not be the decisive factor if the Tories lose.

And Bernier himself is unlikely to be the primary spoiler. He’s the key driving force behind the PPC’s populist insurgency, but it was the polarization around vaccine passports — and O’Toole’s middling response to it — that has driven that party’s ascendance.

O’Toole may well pull this one out, but by squeezing the sunlight out of the space between himself and Trudeau, he has not helped his chances.

Derek Fildebrandt is 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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Red Deer

    September 20, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Done and Done PPC gains strength

  2. Cosmo Kramer

    September 20, 2021 at 11:46 am

    A very good analysis. I would like to add that the UCP/PC has not been conservative for quite some time. Most candidates (particularly in the West) do not have any political ideology or are really Fabian Socialist (like the liberals) and run as UCP in that it is the party they feel they have the best chances of winning with.

    A political party or organization that his not explicitly conservative will wind up left wing. Conservatism is a highly developed and intellectual ideology based on natural law and proven principals. The 2 mutually compatible schools are Paleoconservatism and Libertarianism. Most UCP members either have not heard of these or shun them.

    I voted PPC in 2019 and will do so again today for reasons covered in this article but also because it is the only ideologically true conservative party that we have.

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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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Opinion

SLOBODIAN: Maskless Maintoba ministers get free pass from top health doc

However, since 99.999% of Manitobans don’t get to go to a ball, let’s look at other indoor situations they regularly find themselves in. 

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Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin essentially leapt to the defense of three cabinet ministers — including the health minister — who appeared maskless at a recent ball.

Roussin gave the ministers a pass for taking a photo wearing no masks at last weekend’s event held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

“For the most part, that mask should be on. There are brief periods where it’s reasonable for it to come off,” said Roussin. “If it was simply to remove a mask for the purposes of getting a photograph, and then you put it back on, then … that’s in keeping with advice we’ve provided.”

Well, it wasn’t quite ‘simply’ that. 

Unmasked Health Minister Audrey Gordon, Minister of Families Rochelle Squires and Minister of Sport, Culture, and Heritage Cathy Cox posed for a photo with three other women. 

Squires posted it to her Instagram page. (Do you think the other two are still talking to her for outing them? Maybe eating at different lunch table at the legislature shooting glare darts in between bites?? Did they unfriend her on social media yet?)

Yes, yes, Gordon and Squires said they were really, very sorry. Gordon and Cox adamantly said they had removed their masks to eat, then spontaneously jumped up only to take the photo. 

Hmmm … is that really the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

It isn’t.

Manitoba COVID-19 public health orders require mask use in all indoor public places, with some exemptions, including temporarily removing masks to eat, drink, give a speech or receive a service that requires them to be removed.

On Monday, Roussin issued a dire prediction that all harsh rules will likely remain in place through to spring.

Roussin said he wasn’t familiar with all of details of what transpired at the ball, so let’s enlighten the good doctor.

Squires posted another photo. She was seated at a table. Gordon and Cox, Winnipeg city Councilor Marcus Chambers, and several other people were standing behind her. No masks. No social distancing. None of that.

Roussin didn’t specifically elaborate on mask protocol while standing and socializing at balls. 

Thankfully, Manitobans can follow the health minister’s lead on acceptable guidelines.

However, since 99.999% of Manitobans don’t get to go to a ball, let’s look at other indoor situations they regularly find themselves in. 

An indoor venue is an indoor venue, right?

Surely the same rules apply to both politicians and regular folk in all indoor situations.

So, go ahead, be like Gordon. If you’re at the grocery store and see people you know, or even people you don’t know, by all means, rip off those cumbersome masks, stand really close, and visit — chat up a storm as long as you like. 

Same applies for acceptable mask protocol in Walmart, Home Depot, the gas station, school hallways, drug stores, the kid’s hockey game, etc.

And if the mask police descend and try to give you a $298 ticket — just whip out a copy of the photo of the health minister doing exactly that at an indoor event when tough COVID-19 mask restrictions are in place.

Remind them in a reasonable, calm manner the ministers have not been slapped with such silly fines. So, you shouldn’t be either.

And go ahead, post photos of the visits on Instagram, Facebook, wherever. Squires did that. So, there’s apparently nothing to hide.

The defense rests, your Honour. 

The only problem is — unlike the cabinet ministers — you probably wouldn’t get a pass.

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

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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.

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