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Makichuk: Memories of Peter Lougheed, and a different time

After the tumultuous and some might say disastrous administration of Jason Kenney’s UCP party, I feel the need to look back upon a time, when Alberta was being guided by a man with sterling character and vision.

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Randy Hill’s voice was knowing and sure as we chatted over the phone.

A good friend for, what … four decades? … he was the legendary photographer for the Calgary Sun, who covered every major story in the city.

I am asking him to recount his media relationship with one of Alberta’s greatest political leaders, none other than Peter Lougheed.

After the tumultuous and some might say disastrous administration of Jason Kenney’s UCP party, I feel the need to look back upon a time when Alberta was being guided by a man with sterling character and vision.

“My relationship with Peter Lougheed was just amazing because I knew him before he really got into politics,” said Hill, who is now retired and living in a rural area.

The Harvard grad who played two seasons for the Eskimos, who would later battle his political adversary Pierre Trudeau and the National Energy Program, who helped fortify Alberta’s infrastructure by building roads, schools and hospitals and would protect Kananaskis Country, had humble beginnings as a politician, said Hill.

“When I first met him, it was in the Lougheed building, and I was there to get a picture of him. He was stuffing envelopes — the start of his political career. My assignment for the Albertan was to photograph this guy.

Randy Hill

“So how do you get a good picture out of a guy stuffing envelopes? I had to come back with the best picture I could get.”

Hill suddenly got an idea.

He sliced open an envelope and placed his camera behind it, with a wide-angle lens, which expressed the moment perfectly. There was this guy, Peter Lougheed, stuffing envelopes, and hoping for a political career.

It would run on the front page and apparently Mr. Lougheed would remember.

So let’s fast forward to another momentous occasion — the moment when Peter Lougheed toured what is now the Kananaskis region with a pilot and photographer Hill in back.

A small four-seater aircraft was getting kicked around like a toy by the strong winds coming off the mighty peaks.

Says Hill: “All I remember was that Peter was sitting up front, on the right next to the pilot and I was sitting behind him, with a camera around my neck.

“The point,” says Hill, “was to get a picture from up there, with Peter Lougheed looking down, at whatever he was looking at.”

Hill remembers they were flying very close to the mountain peaks, coming from west to east to get a good view, when the winds picked up.

After passing a ridge, the plane literally dropped out of the sky, catching a downdraft. Hill thought the wings would tear off. He thought it was over.

Despite having seat belts on, both he and Lougheed would bash their heads on the roof of the plane, so dramatic was the fall-off. Hill’s camera also smashed him in the face, temporarily stunning him.

Thankfully, everyone made it back OK, and Hill got the photo he needed, as usual.

While the date of this flight is not known, what we do know is thanks to lobbying efforts by Calgary-based environmentalist Bill Milne and MLA Clarence Copithorne, in 1978 Lougheed would create a large protected area to preserve the magnificent ranges and valleys, flourishing forests and emerald-green waterways which we now call Kananaskis Country.

A protected, ecological reserve and recreation area, it covers 4,000 square kilometres (1,544 square miles) of formally designated wildland parks, provincial parks, recreation parks, ecological reserves and cultural zones.

However, it was not only Lougheed’s political accomplishments and visionary approach that was admired, it was also his way of doing business.

Fast forward to a dinner party in McKenzie Towne with assorted media types and I happen to be sitting next to a woman who was in Lougheed’s inner circle during that era.

I make the mistake of asking her, what was it like “being in power with Peter Lougheed.”

She was horrified by the question and told me so. But then she went on to explain why.

The staff were never, ever allowed to say or express the equivalent of the word “power” in front of Peter Lougheed.

According to this woman, Lougheed vehemently insisted, demanded that his staff understood clearly, that they represented the people of Alberta and power had nothing to do with it.

God help you if you used the word “power” she said, adding that working with Lougheed was “an amazing experience.”

It was also Lougheed who instructed his cabinet to have nothing to do with a certain high-level German arms lobbyist, who would later be embroiled in a scandal with a former prime minister and end up serving a term in a Munich prison.

Lougheed simply didn’t tolerate that kind of nonsense.

Hill would also remember a fancy dinner function that marked the purchase of the Albertan by the Sun, which was attended by bigwigs, a.k.a. carpetbaggers from Toronto and, the premier and his wife.

Hill, who was assigned to get a photo, was tossed into a corner away from the action, when Lougheed shouted across the room: “Hey Randy, what are you doing sitting there?”

He called him over to the main table, moved his wife aside, and made room for him — which stunned the Sun brass into silence.

“You know, from taking the photo of him stuffing the envelope, to the airplane flight, to these people from Toronto who didn’t know me from Adam … and here the premier of Alberta is making it seem like I’m somebody important and making a fuss.”

And we wonder why Alberta is in the mess it’s in. Perhaps we should start by looking at the people at the top.

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

Dave Makichuck is a Columnist for the Western Standard. He is a 35-year veteran journalist who has served at both the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Andrew

    October 5, 2021 at 11:26 am

    Peter Lougheed gave in to the progressives. He was a sellout premier!

  2. Left Coast

    September 25, 2021 at 9:54 am

    I lived in Alberta when Lougheed won his first term as Premier . . . still have the Edmonton Journal glasses with that front page on them.
    Lougheed was an Albertan . . . a confident, competent man, unlike our leaders today.
    Kenny, like our idiot Crime Minister and so many in the Political Realm are all “Egos” seeking personal “Power” who only come out at Election time to talk to the surfs, then go about their business of stiffing the masses.
    The last 21 months of the Wuhan Virus have made it apparent to many that our Politicians are unable to learn or react to a crisis.

  3. Andrew Red Deer

    September 25, 2021 at 6:57 am

    I am sorry to say this but Peter Lougheed was the first sellout of Alberta, he could have gone all the way and won freedom for Alberta by at the very least copying Quebecs’ playbook and ensuring the future for the province as a province with the hutzpah to challenge the Feds on every turn. He did not do that in anyway shape or form. So we are here today with his “legacy”.

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

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