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Alberta’s national unity politics will be harder than Quebec’s separatist crises – The Globe and Mail

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Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on July 6, 2020.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

William A. Macdonald is a corporate lawyer turned consultant with a long history of public service and social engagement.

Alberta, like Quebec, is different. Like Quebec, the province matters to the future of Canada. Also like Quebec, it needs and wants a more asymmetric Canada. Yet, in some ways, Alberta’s national unity politics will be harder than Quebec’s were in its separatist crises since the 1960s.

Great leaders make many mistakes – often big ones – but they get the greatest things right. Winston Churchill is the best political example of that in my lifetime. He got almost everything wrong during his very long political career except Hitler. Churchill likely saved Western civilization when he became U.K. prime minister in May, 1940, just before the fall of France.

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Pierre Trudeau was also a great leader who got almost everything wrong: the economy, the West and the United States, but he got the greatest thing, Quebec separatism, right. Unfortunately, the legacy of his failure in the West – and in Alberta in particular – has endured and is now a growing threat to national unity.

Quebec and Alberta share strong senses of being distinct from Canada as well as being part of it. Quebec’s differences are primarily language and religion. Alberta’s are more cultural and political.

Quebec, however, is at the centre of the country geographically and feels less distant from Ottawa for other good reasons. It has always been at the centre politically and economically. Until 75 years ago, Montreal was Canada’s largest city and the financial capital. Quebec has almost always felt it had influence.

True, the federal politics of separatism and national unity within Quebec have often been intense because of the powerful ethnic nationalism at the basis of Quebec separatism. But counterbalancing that was strong for-Canada political leadership federally and in the province.

Since 1920, pro-Canada Liberals have been in power in Ottawa three-quarters of the time, led for long periods by three strong francophone prime ministers – Louis St. Laurent, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien – and two skilled and compromise-oriented anglos from Ontario – Mackenzie King and Lester Pearson. During those governments, there was almost always a strong pro-Canada francophone Quebec provincial Liberal leader.

In the 1960s, with a powerful contingent of ministers from Quebec, Mr. Pearson was able to lay the early political groundwork before a single Quebec separatist had been elected to the Quebec National Assembly or in Ottawa. And with the help of non-Liberal Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson and Conservative Ontario Premier John Robarts, Mr. Pearson built a foundation for 40 years of successful defences of federalism in Quebec.

Alberta’s sheer distance from central Canada makes its distinctiveness different. And the province has almost always felt it has lacked influence.

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It has had just two prime ministers of Canada, and each won only one majority term – R.B. Bennett (1930-35) and Stephen Harper (2011-2015, after two minorities starting in 2006).

Alberta’s provincial politics since 1920 have also been unlike those of any other province. It elected United Farmers party governments in 1921, 1926, and 1930, then Social Credit regimes from 1935 to 1971. It then switched to Peter Lougheed’s Conservatives and, with the exception of Rachel Notley’s NDP from 2015 to 2019, the party (or variations of it) has been in power ever since. Federally, Alberta has voted overwhelmingly Conservative since Social Credit was defeated in 1971.

Bottom line: Alberta has largely followed its own political star. But this has made the province weaker in Ottawa than it should be, and far less influential than Quebec, where voters deftly play federal and provincial parties off each other.

Today, the only federal party with enough strength in Alberta to help fend off Wexit is the Conservatives. Unlike the Liberals in Quebec, however, the federal Conservatives do not have the needed federal strength beyond Alberta to match their support within it. This is an enduring advantage for the federal Liberals.

For Canada to move beyond a real Wexit risk, one of the two main national parties must find a political path that combines broad support across the whole country with federal and provincial strength in Alberta. Yet the Liberals are now hopelessly weak in the province and in the Conservatives’ recent leadership contest, not one candidate came from Alberta.

Ramsay Cook, the Saskatchewan-born historian who helped define modern Canada, passed away in 2016 after a long and successful academic career. In his latter years, he and I discussed the impact of federal tax reform in 1970 and the National Energy Program (NEP) in 1980 on Western Canadian alienation.

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I asked Professor Cook what accounted for the socio-cultural and political differences between Alberta and the rest of the West and Canada. He told me that he had never been able to figure it out, nor, to his knowledge, had any other Canadian historian.

But some issues and personalities have certainly inflamed tensions. Pierre Trudeau laid the groundwork for oil-based Western hatred of the Liberals with the NEP, which capped the prices provinces would receive for their oil. Many commentators and opponents say son Justin is now co-ordinating another assault on Canadian energy.

As in Quebec during its separatist crises, in the short term at least, politics in Alberta could become more heated and divisive before they get better. Quebec was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church for decades. When that domination receded in the 1960s, a potent new mix of Quebec nationalism and separatism took hold.

It could turn out that Alberta is now in the early stages of withdrawal from oil dominance. That shift will continue to stir up strong feelings in the province. Yet it could also be the path to a stronger economic future as the global role of oil slowly recedes.

Justin Trudeau is not the cause of low global oil prices or of voter worries around the world about global warming. Those low oil prices and international worries almost certainly now hurt Alberta more than the Prime Minister does.

Albertans should also recall that under high oil prices, the province spent at a higher rate than any other government in the country. And long stretches of high prices got in the way of economic diversification.

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In the short term, however, tensions between Alberta and the rest of Canada are almost certain to rise. Three leading Alberta academics and policy makers – Jack Mintz, Ted Morton and Tom Flanagan – have edited a very timely book of essays, Moment of Truth: How to Think About Alberta’s Future. They have started a long and necessary concrete discussion about oil, climate change, Alberta and national unity. The issues will also have to include Indigenous challenges.

The authors see three basic options. First: institutional reforms that would increase Alberta’s influence in Ottawa. But it’s hard to see how this could help the oil industry and be politically acceptable in the rest of the country. The proposed increase in the province’s proportion of Senate seats failed.

Second: more policy freedom from Ottawa. Quebec has bolstered its control over federal and provincial programs over the years. But, again, would it help the oil patch if Alberta, like Quebec, had more provincial control of policy and its health care system?

Third: separate from Canada. But this would almost surely hurt oil and Alberta more than it would help. In a world where global trade is breaking down and nationalist-driven populism is getting stronger, a landlocked jurisdiction in a weakened Canada would have far less bargaining power. And things could easily go very wrong even just starting down the road to a referendum on separation, as they did in the U.K. when then-prime minister David Cameron called a Brexit vote he thought he could win.

Industry diversification is still the best way forward for Alberta and Canada, as I’ve argued in my past five Globe articles. The outcomes of future federal and Alberta elections will likely be shaped by what happens on three fronts: stronger economic growth in Alberta aided by the kind of federal policy changes I’ve outlined, the rising dangers of a troubled U.S. and its relations with the world’s other major economies, and discussions about Western alienation and Wexit that lead Alberta to feel that Ontario and central Canada are finally “getting” the province and the West better than they have before.

As for the U.S. and other major economies, all are going through identity and existential crises. The divisions evident in the U.S. since Donald Trump took office will endure, no matter what else happens over the next several months and even years.

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Whatever happens in the U.S., Canada will find itself ever more on its own. Alberta cannot afford to separate, and the rest of Canada cannot afford to let an Alberta flirting (or worse) with separatism continue to fester. One essential path forward for the province and Canada, as I’ve argued, is a national economic policy breakthrough based on stronger private-sector investment.

Even so, there will be no end of Wexit talk until the Conservatives take office in Ottawa or a post-Trudeau Liberal prime minister finds a more positive-for-Alberta way forward electorally than federal Liberal governments have been able to do since 1980.

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Paul Quassa quits Nunavut legislature after 40 years in politics – CBC.ca

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Nunavut Speaker Paul Quassa has resigned from his role as MLA for Aggu.

The news was first reported by Nunatsiaq News. Quassa confirmed his resignation to the CBC and said he is done with politics. He said he’s been thinking about the decision since the spring.

“I really cherish the time that I spent [in] my life here at the Legislative Assembly,” Quassa said.

“I knew that I could do at least two terms. And once … that term is up, I think it’s high time that we see somebody else there. And I have great confidence in in the next person that’s going to be elected.”

Quassa was elected as the Nunavut premier in 2017, but was ousted in 2018, though he continued in his role as MLA for Aggu. 

He said he stayed on because he made a commitment to represent his community.

“No matter what happens, you just continue, keep going because you were elected … you’re representing your community. You cannot just stop there just because the other MLAs don’t agree with you,” he said. 

His resignation, which will be effective as of Aug. 13, comes just shy of the end of his term, with Nunavut’s general upcoming election scheduled for Oct. 25.

Quassa says he wants young people to come forward to run for leadership positions in Nunavut. (CBC)

Quassa said he wanted to give others the chance to be in leadership, and in particular, he encouraged young people to step forward and consider the opportunity of running for MLA.

“I thought this would be the right timing after talking with my family and my constituents, that it would be only right for me to step down and give other opportunities,” he said. 

“I believe that our young people should really go for it, because again, we have to remember that at least 60 per cent of our population is under 25. So, you know, that’s a big population to represent. And I think it is high time that we start getting new ideas, new challenges, and then young people can make that difference.”

Though he didn’t say specifically what he plans to do next, Quassa hinted it might be something in the public sphere.

“I’m looking forward to do something else where I can speak my mind on behalf of Inuit and Nunavut,” he said.

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N.W.T. Métis activist remembered as unfiltered politician, caring friend – CBC.ca

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A leading figure in the Northwest Territories Métis community has died.

Clem Paul passed away on July 30. He was 64.

During his entire adult life, Paul was a champion of Métis rights in the Northwest Territories, specifically in the North Slave region. He is a former president of the old Yellowknife Métis Council and one of the founding leaders and a former president of the North Slave Métis Alliance, which was formed when three Métis groups in the North Slave region merged.

Trevor Teed was a friend of Paul’s since they were Grade 1 students in Yellowknife.

“Quite often in life you’ll hear somebody say in times of trouble, ‘I sure wish I had a friend to lean on’ or ‘I sure wish I had a shoulder to cry on’ — something like that,” said Teed. “That’s an experience I have never felt … because I always had a friend, Clem. He was always there for me.”

In 1991 Paul was awarded the Governor General’s medal of bravery for hauling Teed out of the frigid waters of Harding Lake. Teed and another man, who perished in the accident, had gone through the ice on their snowmobile. Paul used his gun case to paddle his sled out across 30 meters of open water, pulled Teed in, and paddled back to solid ice.

Teed said Paul was someone who spoke his mind, regardless of the effect his words had on those they were directed at.

“Clem was involved in politics but he wasn’t really a politician because he was point blank,” said Teed. “He often told people things they did not want to hear. If you were working with Clem on a project he was engaged in and weren’t putting in the effort he thought was warranted, he’d let you know about it.”

Taking time for strangers

Paul’s softer side was evident one of the first times I met him. On a paddling trip about 20 years ago, I stopped into an area on Great Slave Lake known as Old Fort Rae or Mountain Island, once a thriving community. My paddling partner and I were surprised to find a group of men building cabins there in the sweltering August heat.

They were led by Paul. He stopped his work and explained to us that they were revitalizing the community to re-establish it as a base for Métis in the region. Paul then told us about the history of the place, how it was an ideal location for a settlement because you could dock on either side of the peninsula, depending on which way the wind was blowing. 

Paul spent the next hour giving us a tour of the remnants of the community and talking about the history of Métis in the area. He showed us where those who lived in the community were buried and talked about his plans for the place. He was obviously very busy, but took the time to show around two strangers.

Youngest certified journeyman welder in N.W.T.

Alongside his political activities, Paul initiated several high-profile court cases aimed at asserting and protecting Métis rights in the region, but his sister, Kathy Paul-Drover, said he was also very much a working man.

When he was 18, she said, he became the youngest person in the N.W.T. to be certified as a journeyman welder. He helped found Paul Brothers Welding, a longstanding Yellowknife business.

Paul-Drover said her brother got his work ethic and strong-willed nature from their mother, the late Theresa Paul.

One of Clem’s first political experiences was seeing his mother fight off an attempt by the City of Yellowknife to evict their family and others in a small Métis community that had settled in the School Draw Avenue area. The attempt happened in the mid-60s, shortly after Yellowknife was named the capital of the N.W.T.

“We had a fairly big Métis community here in the School Draw and she was the only one that maintained title to her land,” said Paul-Drover of her mother.

A difficult year

Paul-Drover said the past year has been difficult for her brother. He had fought off an earlier bout of cancer, but it returned.

“He was in and out of hospital for months, and with all of the restrictions with COVID he wasn’t able to see his grandchildren or children,” said Paul-Drover. “That was very difficult for him. That’s why he and his wife decided he should go home from the hospital despite not being able to take food or water. He was home for two days and he passed.”

A service will be held at the Yellowknife River on Thursday starting at 2 p.m. with a final viewing held shortly before. The gathering will then move to Lakeview Cemetery for the burial. Then it will return to the Yellowknife River for a celebration of life.

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How politics is tearing families apart | Cupp – Chicago Sun-Times

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The year was 2004, and a month after Barack Obama would make his national debut at the Democratic National Convention, another Democrat made news — at the Republican National Convention in New York City.

Georgia Democrat Zell Miller — a former governor who won with the help of longtime Democratic adviser James Carville, who had addressed the 1992 DNC waxing nostalgic for FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Carter, who endorsed Bill Clinton and opposed George H.W. Bush — was now standing at the podium at the Republican National Convention, about to endorse George W. Bush.

“Since I last stood in this spot, a whole new generation of the Miller family has been born,” he said. “They are my and Shirley’s most precious possessions.”

As he explained it, “My family is more important than my party.”

It was a powerful moment, and one that seems nearly impossible to imagine today, when bitter partisanship and party loyalty threatens to supersede our not only our commitment to our country, but to our families.

Nowhere is this corrosive effect more acute than inside right-wing politics, where loyalty to party and, more specifically, to Donald Trump, have managed to corrupt so many important democratic institutions — our elections, for one — but worse, institutions as fundamental as the family, what Pope John XXIII called “the first essential cell of human society.”

Under the presidency and post-presidency of Donald Trump, families have found themselves more divided, disaffected, even estranged, in some startling — and in some cases, very public — ways.

This weekend, three siblings of Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar penned a pointed op-ed at NBCnews.com slamming their brother for a history of political abominations, from birtherism to anti-Semitism, and from downplaying COVID-19 to inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They got personal.

“Maybe your lifelong, insecure need for the approval of others caused you to sacrifice your common decency and integrity to satisfy Trump and his followers in order to keep your seat,” they wrote.

They’ve long been publicly critical of their brother, even pushing for his expulsion from Congress.

Gosar has previously responded to their laments without much affection, telling CNN in 2018, “These disgruntled Hillary supporters are related by blood to me but like leftists everywhere, they put political ideology before family. Lenin, Mao and Kim Jung Un (sic) would be proud.”

The Gosars are hardly alone.

The Conways, matriarch and former Trump adviser Kellyanne, patriarch and Never-Trumper George, and teenage anti-Trump activist and “American Idol” contestant Claudia have been embroiled in a very public, hard-to-watch family conflict for the past two years. Recently Claudia has said her relationship with her parents has improved, thankfully.

Planning for the Gaetz-Luckey wedding might be difficult, as the future sister-in-law of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has taken to social media to slam his “weird and creepy” behavior with women in the wake of allegations of sex crimes. Gaetz’s fiancée has clapped back, “My estranged sister is mentally unwell.”

What once might have been kept behind closed doors is now being aired out for all to see, perhaps even in the hopes that public shaming will have some kind of behavior-changing effect.

But more tragic than these public figures’ public spats are the stories of average American families devastated by politics, conspiracy theories, and extremism. They’re not hard to find.

One NPR report recounts a sub-Reddit group called “Q Casualties,” made up of users who could no longer communicate with their QAnon family members — people like “Tyler,” who was despondent when he learned his dad had gone to the Capitol on Jan. 6 with loaded guns in his camper.

In another story, a woman going by “Caroline” told an Iowa news outlet that she was “married to a QAnon believer and lived in fear.” “QAnon has destroyed my life,” she said. “I live with someone who hates me.”

There’s the story of Rosanne Boyland, whose family was worried by her increasingly conspiratorial political ideas. She was one of five people who died at the Capitol insurrection, effectively giving her life for a false cause despite, according to her family, never even voting before 2020.

COVID-19 has brought another kind of political estrangement — over masking and vaxxing. There’s the story of two Chicago sisters whose mother stopped speaking to them after they defied her wishes not to get vaccinated.

There are countless more stories of families torn apart by politics in the last few years — by the politics of Trump, the cults of conspiracy groups like QAnon, the extremism of groups like the Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, and the new politics of masks and vaccines.

What these destructive elements have done to divide our country and turn American against American is well-documented and horrific. But even worse is what it has done, and is still doing, to our families, isolating us further and further from the things that matter most. If we don’t correct this soon, we’re in for a very dark and lonely future.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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