Westerners know Trudeau, Singh & Legault harbour unacceptable views (Part 2)
By J.R. Werbics
If the Trucker Convoy for Freedom taught us in Western Canada anything about the attitude of our fellow Canadians in central Canada and Ottawa about our concerns, is that they think we should model ourselves along with the old adage that ‘good little children should be seen but not heard.’ This patronizing, condescending and contemptuous attitude was on full display at the hearings in Ottawa this fall at the committee examining the use of the Emergencies Act to disband the ‘so-called Freedom Convoy.’1
The most interesting fact to come out from this committee was how fractured the protest movement that invaded Ottawa was. The second most important fact was who contributed the most to the organization, logistics and political activism that drove this movement to Ottawa. Even though there was participation from the many regions that make up Canada, most of the truckers and organizers who attended this protest came from Western Canada.
The Freedom Convoy was a culmination of many attempts over the years by populists in Western Canada to jump start their relatively dormant movement. In hind sight, it should not come as any surprise to the elite of this country who live and work in Ontario and Quebec that Brexit would re-awaken populism in Western Canada. And for a brief moment in time back in 2016, that movement was truly gaining traction with a majority of people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and rural Manitoba.
From the Wexit movement2 to the Maverick Party,3 the populists showed that there was a deep but latent interest within the general population that felt their desires and concerns were not being met in Ottawa. But as it has been well documented, this populist outburst lost traction not only with the media, it also began to bleed support to the mainstream conservative political parties in the Prairie Provinces.
Today, the populist movement in Western Canada has not only been reinvigorated, it has over taken politics out west, all due to the Freedom Convoy. In fact, the use of the Emergency Act by the federal government to disband the demonstrators only added to the momentum. Here on the one year anniversary of the Freedom Convoy, the issue of separation or sovereignty has once again presented itself as the solution to the political and economic alienation of Western Canada. For better or worse, it has always been the ‘go to answer’ that certain political ideologies and activists out west have used as a counter weight, to the political powerlessness that exists when dealing with Ottawa
But the truth of this ‘answer,’ is that it is neither Ottawa nor Quebec that wields the ultimate power in determining if the West ruptures confederation. In fact, the Truth is really a lot simpler, as to why Western separation will never happen. And that reason can be summed up with two words ‘Indigenous Canadians.’ If one looks closely at the demographics found within the four western provinces and three territories, you will find that of the 1.8 million Indigenous Canadians in Canada, the majority live here.4
If the western populist and conservative is serious about finding a real tangible, practical, strategic and lasting answer to the political problems that arise when dealing with the federal government, it would help immensely if they stopped listening to those calling for ‘separation.’ This idea is not only economic suicide, it is by all standards of rational thought, a political unicorn.
The Manning & Harper Conservative Consensus was Always an Illusion
The biggest problem facing the Conservative Party of Canada goes back directly to the progressive conservative government of Brian Mulroney in the late 1980s and early 1990s. With the failure of the Meech Lake Accord5 and subsequent ‘No’ in the referendum known as the Charlottetown Accord,6 it opened up a split in the centre right conservative vote. This split was permanently cemented into Canadian federal politics when Lucien Bouchard7 left the Mulroney government with a number of fellow Quebec MPs and formed the Bloc Québécois. What has been lost in time, is the fact that he also convinced a number of soft nationalists and conservative leaning MPs from the Liberal party to join in his cause.
This national split in the federal conservative vote forced other conservatives from other regions of the country to hastily create and build new political organizations. Undertaken at the time as a patch work of affiliations and initiatives, it ended up causing the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada to be no more - with only 2 members sitting as MPs in Ottawa.
For many in Western Canada, the Reform Party led by Preston Manning, was a political vehicle that over promised and under delivered. In the 1993 federal election, the Reform Party failed miserably. And due to this underperformance at the polls, the Bloc Québécois became Canada’s official opposition. In this unprecedented situation, a sovereigntist party with 54 MPs held Canada hostage.
As time went on, this rift within conservative circles slowly widened. To address this growing problem, some thought that the answer was to create yet another new federal political party that could build upon the gains made by Reform in the west and Eastern Canada. But in the next federal election, even this new party called the Alliance Party, failed to deliver the breakthrough political realignment that would bring back those Quebec MPs that were lost to the Bloc.
It turned out that the holy grail of conservative politics in this country, was to merge the Alliance Party with the old Progressive Conservative Party. At the head of this new party was a new and pragmatic leader, Stephen Harper. Within a few years of its formation a majority government was secured in 20011. But after that, this Conservative Party of Canada has lost three straight elections to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
It is from this current political environment that you can see that the ideas that both Preston Manning and Stephen Harper promised to Western Canadian populists and conservatives alike, were never going to be achievable. Now, it is true that the CPC was able to deliver to prairie farmers their freedom, with the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board. But, from the perspective of the Reform Party and the many ideas it brought to Ottawa, many if not most of these policy positions still remain unfulfilled here today in 2023.
The Senate is as unaccountable to the people as it ever was. Senators remain appointed and unelected. Even Stephen Harper’s signature criminal reform legislation has either been repealed or overturned by the courts.8 More importantly, to Western Canadian populists and conservatives – the west is still outside looking in with little or no influence in the Senate or parliament. And, as for that long awaited goal of welcoming a sizeable number of Quebec MPs into the conservative fold, it is still impossible to convince Quebecers to vote for the CPC.
In yet another attempt to address this problem, just this past September the Conservative Party of Canada voted in Pierre Poilievre as their new leader going forward. But within the statistics that embody his victory, there are a number of facts that are not only disconcerting, but very problematic for the electoral chances of the CPC in Quebec.
The most glaring of these facts is the poor showing of Jean Charest in his home province of Quebec during the leadership race for the CPC. His moderating tone and style, along with his openness to the idea of a ‘big tent party’ fell mostly on deaf ears. Another troubling fact that involves Quebec, is that there are only 58,437 CPC members in a province with a population of 8 million people.9 Taken together, these two facts show that this rift within conservative circles have not yet healed.
Which brings us full circle to the greatest failure or unfulfilled promise made by Preston Manning and Stephen Harper to conservatives. They both assured voters that the CPC would be competitive in every province in Canada and be within striking distance of a majority government at the drop of every federal writ. As recent history has shown, the CPC can’t garner more that 36% of the votes in English Canada, and a far lower percentage when it comes to the Quebec electorate. Ironically, this fact has produced a number of unintended consequences.
Perhaps the best example that something has irrecoverably changed within conservative politics is out west, with the ousting of Jason Kenny from the Premiers office in Alberta. It would seem that not even Stephen Harper’s right hand man who served in cabinet during their majority government in Ottawa from 2011-2015, could not see the coming wave of populist sentiment.
As for the problem of the ‘Quebec veto’ that still exists here in 2023, it is hard to see from a Western Canadian populist perspective, why the average Quebec voter would switch to the CPC instead of still sending Bloc Quebecois and Liberal MPs to Ottawa. But for the moment, let’s give the charismatic Pierre Poilievre the benefit of the doubt.
However, with the recent resignation of MP Alain Rayes, the CPC’s Quebec lieutenant, and Mr. Poilievre’s demand that he resign from his seat, and then couple this with his current dismal showing in today’s Quebec polling numbers, it is hard to see Pierre Poilievre resolving this split anytime soon.10
In a political confederation as Canada is, the motto ‘live and let live’ is a fundamental principle. But Western Canadian populists must face facts, a ‘Quebec veto’ that politically marginalizes and even penalises Western growth and prosperity, is one of the main driving forces behind the resurgence of the populist in Western Canada. That said, it would seem that in certain conservative circles there is no incentive to resolve these political problems with those out East.
A Memorandum of Understanding, the Alberta Sovereignty Act and Fake Populism
For nearly 30 years, populism in Western Canada was a non-starter. Then the Reform Party burst onto the scene in the 1980s. And as happened so often with other political movements in this country, the momentum and energy slowly ebbed away.
Then came the Freedom Convoy.
With the Emergencies Act Committee and subsequent hearings all wrapped up, certain conclusions can be made. When looking at the leadership of the Freedom Convoy, despite all the publicity that this enquiry offered them and their most adherent supporters, this political movement is still not something that a majority of Canadians are willing to support.11 The reasons for this disconnect are too numerous to mention in this short essay. So let’s confine this essay to one glaring issue. And that is the Memorandum of Understanding that was used to drum up support in the early days of the convoy as it was working its way from the west to Ottawa.
In the beginning of the protest, the leaders who were the architects of this political manifesto, touted it to the media as a legitimate way of changing governments. The point in truth and what is also a documented fact, is that the leadership understood and knew that it had no legal basis and that it was a sham document. Their own legal counsel told them as much.12 If it was their intention to simply use it as a propaganda tool to rally their supporters – it showed that the leadership of the Freedom Convoy had a complete misunderstanding of what a proper and effective publicity campaign looks like.
The great mistake the leaders of the Freedom Convoy made was that they were not fully informed about the laws that govern Canada, and thus came off looking like fools. But this speaks to a much larger problem, and that is the inability of Canadian populists in general to create a viable and sustainable social movement over time.
For many populists here in Western Canada, Brexit was the catalyst that they saw as signalling a shift in political direction here in the Western world. Yet, what most populists here do not realize, is the drive to leave the European Union began decades before. It required a politically sustained and intellectually driven movement that eventually led to the creation of a political party called Ukip that was headed by Nigel Farage. If it were not for this social movement that spent years engaging with the citizens of the United Kingdom, it would still be a member of the European Union to this very day.
For many, the next phase or stage in this populist revolution came with election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States in 2016. But here again, many do not understand that Trump’s victory was only possible by piggy-backing on the shoulders of the Tea Party. First elected to Congress in 2010, the Tea Party had a vast and well-coordinated political machine across all of America.
For the first time in American history, the legacy media was not the first choice of Americans when asked about where they got their news. This political machine or social movement was completely housed within the Internet, or digital estate.13 If you googled Tea Party in the early years of the 2010 decade, you would find thousands of groups that were formed in every Congressional district that elected representatives to the Congress in Washington D.C.
Because of this digitally constructed organizing structure and the fact that they were also well financed, the Tea Part was able to take over both Houses of Congress by 2014. And, it was this vast network within the Internet that the Trump campaign and organization tapped into, that made his election victory possible. For many Western Canadian populists, especially those who are trying to organize, this knowledge of how to go about creating winning political movements is not understood.
Which brings us to the Alberta Sovereignty Act,14 a document that was much discussed during the recent leadership campaign of the UCP in Alberta. And for Danielle Smith it proved to be the winning issue that propelled her into the Premiers chair.15 There are many questions that have been raised about her 6th ballot win with just over 50% of the votes cast. But the one that stands out front and centre, is just how popular is this legislative endeavor?
If looked at closely, the Sovereignty Act as originally written by Bob Anderson, Barry Cooper and Derek From,16 is simply a political document. When referencing this document, some talk about having or wanting the same rights that the Quebec government has when it comes to dealing with Ottawa. However, there are many more supporters of this document that see it as a way to forge a new nation within a nation. The mistake these people are making, is that simply ignoring constitutional law within a provincial boundary as Danielle Smith sees things, does not constitute nor define one as a nation.
Quebec is a nation within a nation due to their French history, culture and language. These three attributes are just the beginning of what defines them as a nation. It must also be stated that their legal system founded upon the French Civil code, differs fundamentally from the English Common Law system that governs the rest of Canada. These fundamental cultural, social and historical facts form a foundation or a bond that exits between all Quebecers. In essence, what the Alberta Sovereignty Act lacks is a social contract.17
Without defining the social contract that exists between all Albertans, as the original document did, it creates an endless series of political, social and legal problems. A social contract in one form or another, is the base from which all societies are governed. In political philosophy the basic idea seems simple: in some way, the agreement of all individuals subject to collectively enforced social arrangements shows that those arrangements have some normative property (they are legitimate, just, obligating, etc.).18
Now that it is law in Alberta, the Alberta Sovereignty Act simply defines the association between the people of Alberta as merely a series of regulations and legal challenges that in turn would be the defining characteristics of the nation of Alberta. For most, this simplistic definition reveals its limited appeal. In the mind of the progressive, this law smacks of colonialism. For those who identify as a liberal democrat, it places far too much unchecked power in the hands of a legislature. And for the libertarian, it looks at best as an exercise in virtue signalling and at its worst, nothing but fake populism.
In many respects, the Alberta Sovereignty Act jumps the shark as they say.19 In one sense, if it is a social contract and now that it is legally implemented, only a very small portion of the Alberta electorate will view this document as one that defines them. Those in government will be bound by its rules and compact, but his compact specifically ignores the true General Will that exists between the people of Alberta.
Due to this glaring omission of a ‘social contract,’ the one problem that tops all and one that will always rally more people against full implementation of this law, than vote for it and offer any support - is that it has the potential to undermine Indigenous and minority language rights that are guaranteed in Canada by Canadian Constitutional Law, First Nations Treaties and the Supreme Court of Canada.20
Furthermore, if this issue of infringement is not politically and socially resolved, the Alberta Sovereignty Act makes a mockery of the recommendations that formed the basis of the ‘call to action’ that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated are absolutely necessary for a healthy and vibrant Canadian society to exist.21
Today, Western Canada and the Territories face an existential threat from the Trudeau & Singh government in Ottawa. In just a few days, the ‘just transition’ legislation will be tabled in the House of Commons. From there, it is only a matter of months before it is awarded Royal Assent and implementation. This gives Western Canadian & Territorial populists and conservatives little time to prepare a proper political response.
If anything, the Alberta Sovereignty Act sheds light on a major political problem that one is confronted with when discussing Western Canadian and territorial alienation with Ottawa. If Alberta should see themselves as distinct as Quebec does, and that they believe they are a nation within a nation, what does that say about Saskatchewan,22 Manitoba and British Columbia?
The idea that there are four distinct nations out here in Western Canada is another false reading of history. Instead of seeing each provincial boundary as a line in the sand that defines a distinctly Canadian definition of the word nation - it is time to open one’s eyes to what really exists.
Before joining Confederation in 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were part of an enormous expanse which Canada called the North-West Territories.23 The inequality of the West’s place in Canada was acutely displayed when the North-West Territories’ first premier, Sir Frederick Haultain, sought provincial status for this large western territory, which he called Buffalo. The federal government feared this would concentrate too much power in one province and grow to rival Quebec and Ontario. Despite Premier Haultain’s efforts, Alberta became a province separate from Saskatchewan on September 1, 1905.24
What constituted or forged the foundation of this original concept called Buffalo, was the idea that it was a homogenous people that shared the same values and principles. What it accurately stated then, and what is relevant today, is that the ‘Just Transition’ legislation that is coming hard and fast down the road, will affect everyone west of the Manitoba/Ontario border.
When it comes to staving off this ‘Just Transition’ legislation from Ottawa, most of the energy for a new deal for the west emanates from Alberta. But, as recent populist movements like the Reform Party have shown, the west is stronger when the western provinces work as one and in lock step together. A geographically united region, or a nation called ‘Buffalo’ that sees Western Canada & Territories not as a region comprised of four separate provinces and three independent territories, but as one united and diverse peoples will make implementation of this new legislation that much harder.
And just like yesteryear, today’s Western Canadian and Territorial people continue to exhibit a spirit of allegiance and a harmony that unites all. And despite what some would say is an untruth, Whitehorse and Yellowknife do have more in common with Edmonton and Winnipeg, then they do with Ottawa. And what of those who live in rural British Columbia, or the urban centres of Vancouver and Victoria? Surely Ottawa must come across to them as some far away jurisdiction with little interest or knowledge in regard to their desires and wants.
What all this says, is that a new social contract will be required if the West and Territories wish to unite behind a new political philosophy to challenge the coming ‘Just Transition’ legislation. It will have to be a political philosophy that exits without boundaries, but remains true to each person and their specific and individual desires. This new concept must also be rooted around the belief that with all working together in a common cause against those who wish to destroy the values, principles and economic aspirations of those who call Western Canada & Territories home, a better political and economic life is possible without Ottawa holding all the cards.
In closing, with the digital revolution now in its second decade, the ability to bridge the physical divide between Western provinces and territories that has existed since Confederation is no longer an obstacle, but a virtual reality. And beyond uniting a region and its people around the idea of a virtual nation called ‘Buffalo,’ this digital revolution also allows for this new social contract to be realized.25
The next essay will detail three novel provincial legislative initiatives that can build upon the populist momentum that the Convoy for Freedom unleased in Western Canada. This provincial legislative agenda should also make those in Ottawa pushing for this ‘Just Transition’ to think twice about imposing their will on the west.
Centered around the areas of municipal government, Section (15) of the Charter and the provincial jurisdiction of education, it will be shown how the notwithstanding clause (Section 33) can be used not only to keep Ottawa out, but how this law can be used to create new Natural Rights and Freedoms26 that all can benefit from, wherever they live and work in Western Canada and the Territories.
Coming next: Westerners Know Trudeau, Singh & Legault Harbour Unacceptable Views (Part 3): Embracing John Locke’s Definition of Freedom in Western Canada & Territories
J.R. Werbics is a filmmaker, author and a member of the Canadian Philosophical Association.
13 The Thoughts of a Peasant Philosopher, Vol. I, Politics Anniversary Edition, 2014, p.138