Screen Shot 2021-05-07 at 11.05.14 PM

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home/forge/looniepolitics.com/wp-content/themes/loonie-politics/template-parts/content.php on line 134

All eyes are on Alberta in the wake of the federal election, and that's just the way Premier Jason Kenney likes it.

Even as the Liberal victory became apparent mid evening on election night, the hashtag Wexit started climbing the Twitter charts.  It appears western separatism, or at least western disgruntlement, is gaining traction.

The premier, who actively battled the federal liberals during the campaign, is more than happy to point out the perils.

He did so very clearly in a five-page letter instructing the newly re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on how to quell the pending national unity crisis.

"There is a very real threat to the fabric of our nation and a deep and abiding feeling of alienation felt across the west, not just in Alberta," warned Kenney.

Kenney's letter was the long-form version of a similar warning note from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe delivered bright and early the day after the election.

Moe stuck to a Coles Notes version of Saskatchewan and Alberta's main demands — build pipelines, change equalization, dump the carbon tax.  Kenney lumped in a number of other grievances and corrections he expects Trudeau to make.  Drop Bills C-48 and C-69 and don't mess with the west's resources without asking, strengthen free trade between provinces, and, oddly, drop the CMHC stress test for Alberta.

Trudeau has not responded in detail, other than to say his government is still committed to build the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.

But for Kenney, and the western separatist faction, TMX is not nearly enough.

Kenney wants a Conservative government in Ottawa.  Period.  He's had his heart set on it for months.  And he isn't granting any concessions despite the result of the election.

While Ontario's Doug Ford is making nice and Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick is bowing to the necessity of a carbon tax, Kenney and Moe are upping the anti with their first post-election remarks.

Arguably they are echoing the sentiments of the electorate in their own jurisdictions.  Conservative candidates took 70 per cent of the popular vote in Alberta and all opposition seats were wiped out by the blue tide in Saskatchewan.

But now both premiers will be dealing with the potential swing that much farther along on the continuum if Wexit really does gain a foothold.

Kenney is walking a balance beam, trying to leverage separatist discontent in his ongoing battle with the federal Liberals, without letting the pot boil over into something more serious than it is now.

There is reason to be concerned about that possibility.

A true separatist movement would be bad for business, even worse than the current bubbling unrest in the energy sector.  Big investors hate political upheaval.  While they are seriously worried about how the minority Liberals will implement carbon reduction promises, the prospect of trying to rip a landlocked province out of the national fabric would be even scarier.

Kenney has announced a blue ribbon panel to tour the province hearing form the discontented populace about Alberta's place in confederation.

"We must give those frustrated Albertans an opportunity to speak their minds," said Kenney.

That opportunity will not only arm Kenney for his battle with Trudeau, but also provide a safety valve to let some malcontents, and those who are genuinely upset with the way Alberta is treated, have an opportunity to vent.

The rub of course will be that the panel will be attracting a pretty specific segment of the Alberta population.  Many will be those who equate their interests with those of the oil and gas industry and who have doubts about the urgency of combating climate change.

And many will be able to conceive of an Alberta outside of Canada, a sentiment which isn't the majority view.

It's quite instructive to actually read the Tweets and Facebook comments citing the #wexit reference.  A surprising percentage of them are railing against the idea of separatism or dismissing it as a joke.

And CTV did an interesting story this week with the aid of H+K Strategies showing that the Wexit traffic was amplified by bots and data aggregators.

That's not to say that the sentiment isn't out there and that there aren't a fair number of Albertans feeling aggrieved by the results of the election.  The question is how leaders, both federally and provincially, should deal with those sentiments.

Photo Credit: Edmonton Journal

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home/forge/looniepolitics.com/wp-content/themes/loonie-politics/template-parts/content.php on line 134

From an electoral perspective, Canada's experiment with the People's Party was a bit of a bust.

That doesn't mean the party and its leader, Maxime Bernier, can't impact the conservative movement in different ways, but they nevertheless failed to elect a member of parliament.

Even so, it didn't take long for Conservative supporters to accuse the PPC support of sabotaging what they suppose would have been Conservative victories in seven ridings had there been no PPC candidates running there.

This is based, of course, on ridings where the PPC candidate's votes outnumber the margin between the Conservative and whoever won the riding.

One such constituency is Yukon, where Liberal Larry Bagnell bested the Conservative candidate by just 72 votes, while the PPC candidate took in 280.  Another is KitchenerConestoga, where Conservative Harold Albrecht lost to the Liberals by a margin of 365.  Had every one of the PPC candidate's 790 supporters voted for him, Albrecht would have won by 425 votes.

In these and the other five cases, there's a rather sizeable 'if' at play.  This claim relies on the assumption that everyone who voted for the PPC would have otherwise voted Conservative.  This is a difficult premise to accept.

For whatever reason, anyone who voted for the PPC didn't want to vote for the Conservative party, or else they would have.  If Bernier's party hadn't been an option, they may have voted Green or spoiled their ballots.  They might have simply stayed home.

Contrary to how people talk about votes, they don't exist until they're cast; no one owns them except those who receive them  certainly not those who might have received them in a parallel universe.

I'm not ignorant of the fact that the PPC pitched itself as a voice and a home for disenfranchised Conservatives.  Bernier left the CPC to form the party, and many of its candidates were formerly candidates, or in some cases members of parliament, for the Conservative Party of Canada.

I'm also aware that Bernier's messaging was something of a rallying cry for people who aren't fans of the Conservative party especially those who find themselves on the right of it.

Bernier was the beneficiary of discontent with the Conservatives, but I don't think he can be solely needled as the cause of this animus.

The conflicting message about Bernier from his most vocal critics is that he and his party are irrelevant, yet also, somehow, saboteurs.  It's difficult to reconcile these two narratives.

Clearly the Conservative party was, at least for a time, concerned with the PPC, as learned in the reported contact awarded to Daisy Group to "seek and destroy" the PPC by tarnishing the reputations of it and its candidates.  But in the end, Scheer's right flank was a lot more solid than he may have feared and Bernier would have hoped.

I've been sure to give the PPC its due coverage throughout the election campaign, as I have with all parties.  Its formation and campaign were and are relevant stories.  With Bernier out of office, he's able to take on a less disruptive role, if he wants to, by waging the cultural battles outside of politics  fighting for free speech and speaking out on the issues ignored by political parties and the mainstream media.

He's already been given some attention by the growing Intellectual Dark Web  the tongue-in-cheek name for the network of commentators and activists creating pro-free speech content online most notably getting support from Dave Rubin during the campaign.

As I write this I know I'll likely be hit from both sides of this fight.  People in the PPC will accuse me of being a CPC shill because I'm downplaying their significance, while those in the CPC will say I'm making excuses for the PPC.

This polarization which has been particularly dominant on right-of-centre Twitter in the last month is not going away easily, if at all.  The PPC would do well to realize that most of their goals are shared by Conservative supporters, and the CPC needs to understand why this wing of the conservative movement feels so excluded from what's always touted itself as a big, blue tent.

I don't expect a grinning photo op between Scheer and Bernier anytime soon, but it would be nice to see a cohesive and united right with an ironclad commitment to liberty.

Photo Credit: CBC News

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home/forge/looniepolitics.com/wp-content/themes/loonie-politics/template-parts/content.php on line 134

With the election safely in the (garbage) bag, many commentators and even Prime Minister Trudeau are admitting that Western alienation is a serious problem.  Which they have plans to make worse.

Perhaps "plans" is too strong a word.  In the election Trudeau promised, among other things, to give everyone a family doctor.  If he knew how to do such a thing he would of course have done so years ago.  Just as in 2015 he promised a number of things he had no idea how to do, from electoral reform to balancing the budget to harmonizing economic growth with environmental protection or, oh, I don't know, bringing us together as a nation.

Let me underline that point before going west.  The main problem with a typical politicians' pledge isn't that they have the wrong plan for getting it done.  It's that they have no plan at all.  Years ago a friend complained that as the Bond franchise staggered forward, 007 had no apparent plan beyond breaking into the super-villain's super-complex and being James Bond.  Ditto Justin Trudeau, with his government-issued licence to blither.

He often seems to have a "00" IQ despite being quite clever, because he has so little idea what's going on.  But he's now promising to, well, be Justin Trudeau and all will be well.  And if you'll believe that…

"The central issue for me," the PM just said post-election, is not what dumb stuff he did that he shouldn't do again.  It "is how do we move forward in a way that responds to the concerns that Albertans and Saskatchewanians have clearly expressed."  Well, OK.  What are those issues?  Despite the windup I do not direct this question to Mr. Trudeau, whose ears are so finely attuned to what he himself is saying that all else is noise.

As my National Post colleague Matt Gurney rightly noted, the problem with Trudeau and the West isn't that he ignored them.  It's that he went around the east insulting them and thought they were too dumb, deaf or distant to notice.  For instance campaigning against "big oil" and "les petroliers" who support Jason Kenney and Doug Ford, while his party's official Twitter account railed against "dark oil money".  Just two years ago, Gurney reminds us, Trudeau promised to phase out the oil sands.  For such a person to lament growing divisiveness gives us a pretty fair idea of how useful he's going to be.  But the rest of us can do better.  If we want.

So while you're pondering what issues "Albertans and Saskatchewanians have clearly expressed" I'll offer my take.  Within the rather tight limits of a modern electorate, and recognizing the diversity of opinion even in places with strong partisan leanings, these westerners want less government.  Especially less government of the kind that squashes prosperity.  And the good news here is that less government would benefit everybody.  It's not only about the west.

Just because people in central and eastern Canada want more government, and by and large they do, does not mean more government will make them happier.  It might be called a plan, with some generosity given the lack of details.  But if so it's a bad one.  If they got what they don't want, smaller and more accountable government, they would like the result more than they're going to like what they're going to get from big government.  Including worsening Western alienation.

I realize the problem is a complex one.  One of the most remarkable facts to emerge post-election, courtesy of Vancouver journalist Justin McElroy, is that Canada has 65 federal ridings with at least 2,500 people per square kilometre and the Tories didn't win a single one.  When I wrote that the Conservatives ought to try conservatism if they're sick of losing, somebody sneered back on Twitter (but I repeat myself) "The Conservatives will never get anywhere in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver until they dump the hillbilly insurance salesman."  An attitude finely calibrated to exacerbate the problem by adding snobbery to policy disputes.  But I maintain that the real problem is that they didn't make their case clearly and boldly, not that they did and hip urbanites went "Oh yuck, get away from me."

As always I am unimpressed by politicians and pundits who as always think to win nationally the conservatives must move left, since only Tim Hudak and John Tory win in Ontario, not Doug Ford or Mike Harris.  But whatever feeble partisan merits the suggestion may have, it certainly won't help the West feel more represented.  Nor, probably, would moving to PR, even if I must concede that Andrew Coyne, who can't change his mind and won't change the subject, just suggested that by bringing more Western seats within the Liberals' reach and more Ontario ones within the Conservatives' it might do some good.

See?  I'm being open-minded even if it hurts.  On which spirit let me invite you to the Economic Education Association of Alberta conference in Red Deer on Nov. 15 and 16 on "Meeting the Challenge of Western Separatism".  We will not, I assure you, place our hands on your person, stand waaaay to close to you and gaze hypnotically into your eyes.  Even if one might, stretching a point, call such behaviour a plan, Trudeau already did it, to Jody Wilson-Raybould and the West, and it failed.

We also will avoid the plan of ranting and raving until the steam from our ears blasts the paint off the walls.  Instead, we will try to explore intelligently the truth that Western complaints about how Canada is run are not driven by bigotry, rustic ignorance or "big oil".  They are sensible worries from a part of the country that, generally speaking, appreciates the merits of free enterprise and individual liberty better than those currently running it.

Taking those concerns seriously is a plan for fixing western alienation that just might work, leaving us all better off.  If you don't have a better one, mark your calendar.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.