The leadership race for the federal Conservatives, which ends on Sunday, comes at a time when Albertans are facing challenges on a number of fronts — from a stagnant economy and depressed oil prices to feelings of western anger and alienation.
They expressed their frustrations in last October’s federal election by completely shutting out the governing Liberals, and since that time, the Wexit movement has only grown as a way to express discontent with the federal government.
Despite overwhelming support for the Conservatives in the Prairie provinces, none of the leadership candidates hoping to replace Andrew Scheer are from Western Canada — unlike Stephen Harper, who represented a Calgary riding and served as prime minister from 2006 to 2015.
Peter MacKay, a former Tory cabinet minister under Harper, is from Nova Scotia, while Erin O’Toole is an MP from the Ontario riding of Durham, Derek Sloan represents the riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington, also in Ontario, and Leslyn Lewis is from Toronto.
As if a candidate in the Conservative leadership race itself, the central Alberta town of Drayton Valley has “Pulling Together” as an official slogan, written on a clock tower overlooking one of its main squares — seemingly speaking to the theme of unity that has often come up in the party’s leadership race.
But spend a few hours in this community, about 130 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, and you’re just as likely to meet people who see themselves drifting further apart from both the country and the federal party this province has long supported.
“They’re not helping out the people a whole lot here,” said Chris Burch, a resident of the oil town for 30 years who lost his oil-and-gas job five years ago and now relies solely on income from an a bed and breakfast.
“It just seems like nobody has a voice anymore,” he said, expressing frustration about both the federal government as well as provincial and federal conservative parties.
Burch said he has previously been a stalwart supporter of conservative parties at both the provincial and federal levels. His vote went that way last year as well, in both the Alberta and federal elections.
Now, though, Burch said he is eyeing the Wexit movement, which supports the separation of the four most western provinces from Canada — fuelled by economic decline and feelings of alienation from Ottawa.
“Look at this town, I mean, half the town is empty buildings,” he said.
The 2016 Statistics Canada census found that 8.8 per cent of Drayton Valley residents were unemployed, above the national average of seven per cent. The Alberta government says almost 300 people left the town between 2015 and last year, reducing the population to just under 7,400.
Jared Wiens said he is willing to give the country another chance, but just barely.
“Peter MacKay is the guy I’m supporting,” he said.
“We need a lot of change, but honestly, if Peter MacKay is not the man to do it, then I think western separation is our only option.”
Another town resident, Jo Stuckenberg, has a more cautious view of MacKay.
“I don’t think that his heart is in the West,” she said, adding she nevertheless thinks he has the appeal to win over most Canadian Conservatives.
“Perhaps the western premiers can get to work on him and get him to see our point of view,” she said.
WATCH | A veteran Alberta conservative weighs in on leadership race:
Quelling western anger
Wexit remains a relatively small movement in Alberta. Recent polling indicates a fifth of the population calls separation “a good idea.”
The Wexit Canada party gained official party status earlier this year, and then, in June, it received a shot in the arm when former Conservative MP Jay Hill took over the leadership.
High unemployment, a key issue for Wexit, has been a consistent story in the province for the last five years, since plummeting oil prices began wreaking havoc on the economy.
In July, Alberta’s unemployment rate sat as high as 15.5 per cent, and Premier Jason Kenney warned earlier this year that it could reach even higher, 25 per cent, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leadership candidate O’Toole “is someone who has a positive vision for the future of Canada and Alberta’s place within Confederation,” said Arundeep Singh Sandhu, who has been involved in provincial politics for years and was tapped by the O’Toole campaign to work as an organizer for northern Alberta.
The Ontario MP launched his campaign in Calgary, and Sandhu pointed to O’Toole’s credentials as the candidate who can quell western separatist anger.
“He’s got experience on the ground, he used to inspect pipelines … he’s done legal analysis with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers,” Sandhu said. O’Toole has vowed to advocate for the oil-and-gas industry to the federal government.
Prior to the pandemic, while candidates were still touring the country, Sandhu said he recalled a meeting O’Toole had with Wexit proponents in such Alberta cities as Red Deer, where he was able to calm their anxieties.
O’Toole has also received official endorsements from more than two-dozen conservative elected officials in Alberta, including the premier in March. Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party, was once a cabinet minister under Harper.
“I think any of the leadership candidates would love to have the premier’s support,” said Rick Peterson, an Edmonton businessman who was briefly in the race as the only western Canadian candidate.
“But it’s not the overriding decision. I don’t know one Conservative who will say, ‘Ah, the premier voted for Erin O’Toole, then I will, too.'”
Peterson cancelled his bid in March, after he unsuccessfully lobbied the party to push back a deadline on collecting signatures and raising money.
He is now supporting MacKay. “Peter has so many qualities that would make him more appealing to ridings and to Canadians that we need,” he said.
MacKay hails from the Progressive Conservative half of the two parties that merged to form the current Conservative Party in 2004, and thus he has a broader appeal in urban ridings in the Toronto region and Montreal, where Conservatives made no inroads last year, Peterson said.
“The bottom line is who is going to be the person that can help form the next Conservative majority government?”
While MacKay and O’Toole are the perceived front-runners in the leadership race, some party insiders are warning not to dismiss Leslyn Lewis’s chances.
Though many of her official endorsements are from Ontario, the Toronto lawyer has snagged the backing of some Alberta conservatives and raised $1.8 million in donations.
Social issues key for young voters
For some younger Alberta Conservatives, how the next leader responds to social issues may well play a role in whether they’ll be the right person to unseat the Liberals in Ottawa in the next federal election.
“The party will have to touch on the sensitive topics that youth seem to be swayed by,” said Payman Parseyan, who will be Peterson’s campaign manager if he wins the federal nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona. The riding is the only one in Alberta that did not vote Conservative last October, instead remaining loyal to the New Democrats.
“I think that will engage dialogue among youth,” Parseyan said.
Party member Matthew Aquiletti is more direct. “You just have to know there’s no appetite to ban abortion,” he said, referring to a social wedge issue that young conservatives and even MPs would like to avoid. Same-sex marriage is another such issue.
Aquiletti, who lives in Edmonton-Strathcona, said he remembers when he realized the Conservatives would not win in 2019.
“It was around the time they kept asking [Andrew] Scheer about gay marriage,” he said. “He just couldn’t say, you know, gay people should be allowed to get married. He couldn’t say it.”
Aquiletti said he believes these issues are viscerally close to the Canadian electorate and were more likely to turn them away from his party in October and toward more progressive choices than plans to fight global warming. “People like to say, ‘I care about climate change.’ And then they jump into their car and they drive to work every day.”
Alberta Conservatives expected to unite
Whoever gets the nod this Sunday, the O’Toole and MacKay camps say they’ll unite behind the new leader.
It is a view shared by University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas.
“There’s nothing particularly striking to excite Albertans,” Thomas said. “But there’s also nothing particularly striking to make them upset either.”
She said she believes the Wexit crowds are unlikely to swell with the selection of one candidate versus another, and, similarly, that social conservatives who still identify with the federal party are unlikely to jump ship because a progressive gets the nod.
“I actually can’t imagine what would get them to lose sight of the prize. The prize is power at the federal and provincial levels.”
Thomas said if there is any conflict, it could be among the party’s higher-ups.
Kenney’s endorsement of O’Toole could be due to the fact that the premier belongs to the social conservative tradition of the federal party and is not a fan of MacKay, she said.
“If we’re going to see any tensions like that, it’ll be between the elites sniping at each other on social media.”
Tech lifts world stocks as economy back in focus – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Danilo Masoni
MILAN (Reuters) – World shares stabilised and the dollar rose on Wednesday with overnight gains of stay-at-home Wall Street tech champions helped balance concerns that new restrictions to counter resurging coronavirus infections will hurt economic recovery.
First indications from global surveys about economic activity in September gave a gloomy picture for Europe with rising COVID-19 infections leading to a downturn in services.
MSCI world equity index .MIWD00000PUS>, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was 0.2% higher by 0821 GMT, while the pan-European STOXX 600 .STOXX> benchmark rose 1.1%.
Tech shares were the strongest gainers in Europe following a rally overnight in big U.S. tech stocks Amazon , Microsoft , and Apple .
“This strong performance on the part of U.S. stocks is likely to translate into a similarly positive open for European stocks,” said Michael Hewson, analyst at CMC Markets in London.
“However there is rising concern that in light of surging infection rates across Europe, and the beginnings of a rise in hospitalisations, that the economic rebound from the lockdown lows is set to finish the year with a whimper,” he added.
The PMI survey showed euro zone business growth ground to a halt this month as the service industry shifted into reverse, knocked by a resurgence in coronavirus cases that pushed governments to reintroduce restrictions.
French business activity slowed to a four-month low in September, while Germany’s private sector continued to recover from the coronavirus shock.
Earlier, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS> rose 0.2% for its first gain this week, but the mood was hardly bullish. Japan’s Nikkei .N225> returned from a two-day holiday to slip 0.1%.
Nasdaq futures remained near Tuesday’s highs, up 0.1%. S&P 500 futures were 0.3% higher.
In foreign exchange markets, the standout mover was the gaining dollar, which was up 0.10% against a basket of six major currencies .DXY> at its highest level since July 27.
“Risk aversion on the back of new COVID-19 infections affecting Europe more directly remains an important factor this week,” UniCredit strategists said in a note. “This means that the USD is likely to remain firm in its role as preferred safe-haven currency.”
Meantime the euro hit a seven-week low and was last down 0.12% at $1.1693, on concerns about coronavirus infections and after the tepid European surveys.
Commodities were also weighed down by the robust dollar and worries linked to economic impact of a second wave of COVID-19.
“A resurgence in cases could prove to be a stumbling block for the demand recovery, although any lockdowns moving forward are likely to be more targeted and localised,” said ING commodity strategists Warren Patterson.
Brent crude futures were last down 0.2% at $41.64 a barrel and U.S. crude futures slipped 0.3% to $39.69.
Gold prices touched a six-week low as the dollar strengthened. Spot gold fell 1.2% to $1,875.7 per ounce.
In bond markets, Italy’s 30-year bond yield fell to a record low as the country’s debt remained supported after local elections reduced the risk of a snap election.
U.S. bonds were steady, with the yield on benchmark 10-year U.S. debt US10YT=RR up less than one basis point at 0.6724%
(Additiona reporting by Tom Westbrook in SINGAPORE; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)
Italy’s Chance of a Lifetime for Economy Could Yet Be Squandered – Yahoo Canada Finance
(Bloomberg) — No Italian government has ever had so much cash at its disposal as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte — enough possibly to transform the region’s laggard economy.
But if that fiscal hoard swelled by European Union rescue funds and central bank-backed cheap borrowing is spent unwisely, it could become the biggest missed opportunity of a generation.
Avoiding that outcome is the test confronting Conte and his finance minister, Roberto Gualtieri. While targeting a revamp of the economy, they face pressure to throw funds at protecting existing jobs rather than investing in new ones, expanding the role of the state despite a troubled history of such policies in the country.
“In Italy, too many people think that any kind of public expenditure can boost output,” said Riccardo Puglisi, economics professor at the University of Pavia. “This increases the risk that recovery-fund money is not used properly and efficiently.”
The fiscal windfall that Italy’s governing class is about to sink its teeth into is staggering. Gone are the days of haggling over 0.1% budget deviations with Brussels officials concerned about burgeoning borrowings that are now well on the way to exceed 150% of gross domestic product.
The country stands ready to receive as much as 209 billion euros ($248 billion) in EU aid funded by jointly issued debt to help its post-coronavirus reconstruction.
Further bolstering its public finances are European Central Bank efforts to keep borrowing costs low. That help allowed Conte to spend 100 billion euros in stimulus on a battered economy that analysts anticipate may contract as much as a 10th this year. The yield on Italian 10-year bonds has more than halved since the peak of the pandemic in mid-March.
“Italy will have billions in its pockets,” said Paolo Pizzoli, a senior economist at ING Bank. The government “needs to show it is not only able to access European Union funds, but also to focus spending effectively to ultimately boost growth.”
With strict strings attached to EU money, officials intend to use it to boost growth to at least 1.6% a year and increase employment by 10 percentage points from the 2019 tally of 63.5% to bridge the gap with regional peers, according to draft guidelines seen by Bloomberg.
The plan is to invest in digitalization, a unified ultra-broadband network, innovation, education, more efficient infrastructure, a green economy, and also reforms of the judicial system and state bureaucracy.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to exit a long period of stagnation,” Gualtieri told lawmakers last week.
That ambitious growth agenda is pulling in one direction, while the government’s own spending plans for the rest of its budget are pulling in another. Conte’s coalition of the left-wing Democratic Party and the populist Five Star Movement — newly emboldened after holding its ground in local elections this week — is increasingly tending toward state aid and government intervention.
The premier has pushed for the creation of a single broadband network company, halting the sale by Telecom Italia SpA of a minority stake in its network. He has also pressured the Benetton family’s Atlantia holding company to sell its 88% stake in toll road operator Autostrade per l’Italia. Meanwhile Gualtieri has publicly favored a sale of the Italian Stock Exchange and its MTS bond market to a European company.
The government wants the state-backed lender, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, to take stakes in all three enterprises, and it has also set up a new publicly controlled company to run failed airline Alitalia SpA. Italy has seen such measures before, but not for a while.
Not the Solution
“The successful Italian economy of the 1950s, which was a mixed system — with strong government involvement in companies through a vehicle called IRI — worked for a time but degenerated quickly into cronyism and wasting public funds,” said Giovanni Orsina head of LUISS University’s School of Government in Rome. “Regenerating that system for all the wrong reasons is not the solution.”
The Institute for Industrial Reconstruction — known as IRI — was a state company established by the fascists in 1933. It helped rebuilding after the war, constructing roads and the phone network, and was once Italy’s biggest employer.
If Cassa Depositi becomes a revamped version of that, it would ultimately turn back the clock, reversing decades of economic policy since IRI was dissolved during a sell-off of assets in the 1990s.
“We hope the government will use the funds to boost competitiveness with a market approach rather than acting as a nanny state,” said Paolo Magni, parter at Alpha Group, a private equity fund with 2 billion euros of assets under management in Italy.
For Orsina, such an outcome would prolong Italy’s history of failing to deliver on economic reforms, hampered by special interests and a political cycle with frequent elections.
“Politicians gain very little from long-term planning and very much from spending on solutions that increase their power and popularity,” he said. “The country is condemned to short-termism.”
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GUEST OPINION: Trails can stimulate the economy in Atlantic Canada – SaltWire Network
There are many things that this pandemic will have taught us, however for many it has reinforced the value of trails and greenspaces.
As a trail professional of nearly 20 years I’ve always valued trails and greenspaces, however in this fast-paced world with ever-changing technologies, many people began to take the great outdoors for granted.
With limited activities to do during the pandemic and many people stuck in the house most of the day, the opportunity to get outside and breathe some fresh air is now becoming something that is vital for their well-being.
These days I’m inundated by Facebook posts, tweets or Instagram posts of people relishing in the outdoors and thankful to have access to trails and greenspaces. As we begin to become accustomed to a new normal, it’s time for us as a society to start thinking about getting back to some of the more simple things in life and how these things can act as both a social and economic catalyst for communities. Many of these things don’t need to be complicated, but can have a tremendous impact as we begin to come back from the ramifications of COVID-19.
One of these opportunities is to foster the development of a trail economy. Many countries have capitalized on the trail economy; however Canada and Atlantic Canada have not come close to realizing the potential it has in developing a strong economy based on greenway trails. The trail economy is the idea of generating both indirect and direct revenue through the development and promotion of trails as a product.
This however is not a “build it and they will come” scenario; it requires significant engagement between trail managers working hand in hand with outfitters, business owners and community leaders to ensure that there is a strong integration between all stakeholders. What it doesn’t require, however, is significant investment of funds to get these relationships developed.
Prince Edward Island is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the trail economy and is in a unique position as an established tourist destination. The Island is well known for their hospitality and many people consider P.E.I. as a premier vacation destination.
The Confederation Trail provides tourists and residents alike with a 450-km trail that spans the province and provides access to many of the most scenic coastal regions on the Island. A feature that the Confederation Trail has over many of its counterparts is the relative short distance between communities thus allowing trail tourists with good access to food and beverage, accommodation and other critical amenities to ensure that they have a memorable experience.
It’s now time for these communities and the provincial government to take advantage of this feature and ensure that they are properly equipped to take on the task of welcoming these tourists to their beautiful towns and villages. The development of programs such as Trail Towns, where the business community and other key stakeholders work together to assess their attributes and work together to fill in their service gaps in the next key step of the development of the Confederation Trail as a tourism product.
Trails and greenspaces connect us to the land, the people and histories of our communities. With many people staying close to home this year and perhaps in the years to come, let’s take this time to get better connected, learn more about the region, create a stronger and healthier population and a more vibrant economic outlook for Atlantic Canada.
Jane Murphy-McCulloch is a principal at Terminus Consulting and was national director of Trail with the Trans Canada Trail, developing 10,000km of land and water trail along with road cycling infrastructure to ensure the successful connection to the national trail system in 2017.
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