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What Joe Biden's win can tell us about Alberta politics — and where it might be going – CBC.ca

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While it will still take time to complete ballot count reporting in multiple U.S. states, Joe Biden has reached the 270 electoral college votes needed to become the 46th U.S. president.

For Alberta politicians, the immediate question in the wake of Biden’s victory is obvious: What’s the best route forward to work with the incoming U.S. administration?

But deeper than that, political scientists say there are lessons to be learned in Alberta — namely, parallels between the election results and new data that suggests that more than half of Albertans believe the province’s best days are behind it.

Jared Wesley, a political scientist at the University of Alberta, told CBC’s West of Centre podcast that many of his colleagues are comparing the politics of Alberta to the battleground states in the U.S. Rust Belt, where many workers have seen their livelihoods challenged.

  • Listen to this week’s full episode of West of Centre here:

West of Centre42:59Finding common ground


“[With] the broader economy transitioning, how did they behave in this particular election?” Wesley said. “What types of appeals worked for them?”

Those kinds of lessons — which, in Wesley’s view, may see Alberta shift from the “Texas of the north to the Wisconsin or the Pennsylvania of the north” — can help to contextualize the province’s shifting political reality in a time of downturn.

The ‘Rust Belt’ of the north

The so-called Rust Belt includes U.S. swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — all three of which were crucial to Biden’s electoral college victory, and all three of which are typified by industrial decline and population loss.

In areas where economic prospects decline, there is a corresponding perceived loss of status in society, Wesley said — a strong sense that one’s “best days” are behind them.

“Where people’s economic livelihoods were being threatened, their own political identities started to shift as a result,” he said.

“And that can make for some pretty turbulent or unpredictable behaviour.”

Such data is explored in research briefs from Common Ground, a research initiative at the University of Alberta.

Some massive shuttered factories in Pennsylvania have been left to decay. (Alex Shprintsen/CBC)

The most surprising part of that research, Wesley previously told CBC News, was that more than half of Albertans feel as though the province’s best days are behind it.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, told West of Centre that there’s a form of pessimism in the province he hasn’t seen before — even on the unpredictable roller-coaster of oil prices.

“This seems different. And it seemed different for a number of years, that, you know, the glory days are not going to come back,” Bratt said. “It doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to get better.

“But the days of, you know, 2007 and 2013, I don’t think most people believe it will come back.”

Responding to malaise

Though the 2020 election didn’t turn out exactly the way some pollsters thought it might, Biden did carry the Rust Belt — states that rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016 and instead embraced Donald Trump and his promise to resurrect the struggling coal and steel industries.

Wesley said the broader question for Alberta politicians in the years ahead will be to decide which approach to take when it comes to the province’s own beleaguered oil and gas industry.

“You can double down like Trump did, and promise people that the jobs are coming back, and then face the music when they don’t,” he said. 

‘Trump digs coal’ was a popular slogan on signs at pro-Trump rallies when the Republican candidate campaigned in Pennsylvania in 2016. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

The alternative, Wesley said, would be to strike a chord much like Biden did in the final debate — telling Pennsylvania voters in particular that the oil and gas industry would not be around forever, and transition needed to be considered.

“I think our research, the combination of our survey research and our focus group research, suggests that Albertans cognitively understand this in a way I’m not sure people in the Rust Belt and coal country got,” Wesley said.

“So I think they understand it. Whether they’re ready for politicians to have a frank conversation with them about it remains to be seen.”

The politics of grievance

Common Ground’s research found that Albertans are more willing to work on the province’s relationship with Canada and found declining support for the Wexit movement.

Wesley said there was a sense among those surveyed that there was nothing that the provincial government could do, despite its ongoing efforts to pursue proposals that emerged from its so-called “fair deal” panel.

“[Those surveyed feel] it’s not really Ottawa that’s holding it back. There’s something bigger going on here,” Wesley said. “They don’t use the term peak oil, but they talk about [global] forces and environmentalism.

“And they don’t speak as if those forces are wrong. They just feel like those forces are changing their world.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the so-called ‘fair deal’ panel on Nov. 9, 2019, as a stated effort to claw back political autonomy from Ottawa. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Through his conversations and research with Common Ground, Wesley said he found that those affected by changes in industry didn’t especially feel inclined to embrace old grievances.

“I’m not sure whether people in those communities are going to appreciate more and more tax dollars, more and more investment, and more than that, more and more attention being paid on trying to prop up old-line jobs,” he said.

“They want to start this transition, and they want to rebuild their communities.” 

Common Ground’s research found that a majority of Albertans oppose replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force, exiting the Canadian Pension plan and replacing the Canada Revenue Agency — all considerations of the “fair deal” panel.

Despite that, Bratt said there was still positivity surrounding exploring these issues in the UCP government.

“There was a series of motions at the last AGM just a couple of weeks ago,” Bratt said. “And it wasn’t quite unanimous, but it was pretty darn high.

“So the most active members of the party, the government, really believe in these things. But Albertans don’t.”

Seeking paths forward

It’s an open question whether Premier Jason Kenney pivots on the measures being proposed, considering past and future movement from Ottawa on issues like orphan wells and the fiscal stabilization program

But as the U.S. election season draws to a close, Wesley said its conclusion can teach Alberta politicians new lessons — especially as the so-called “Alberta Advantage” as a symbol of Albertan exceptionalism begins to lose its lustre.

“People [are starting] to feel like Alberta is falling behind the rest of the world and the rest of Canada and the United States,” he said.

That’s similar to the mythic “American Dream,” Wesley said, a sort of unifying common myth, challenged in many parts of the country for reasons like the economic transition.

“So the big challenge for politicians in that kind of environment, in Canada and United States, is to try to build that common ground,” he said. “That common set of values that makes up their political culture.”

  • Listen to the complete West of Centre podcast series right here.

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U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang

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The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.

“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.

In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”

While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.

“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”

She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.

“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.

Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.

“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings

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Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.

In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The charity later walked away from the contract.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.

Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.

Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.

No fines or penalties were levied.

Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.

Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.

In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”

The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.

($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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