Thursday, January 05, 2006

Standing Up for Canada

Here's a Conservative who is standing up for Canada. From here
Jon Lord
Western separatism based on lies
Albertans pay more in federal taxes because they have higher incomes

As a former Conservative politician and Calgary MLA, I was often attacked by the far right within my own party – dissed as a "Joe Clark Red Tory," labelled a socialist for speaking up on topics like increased income for AISH recipients and affordable housing for young people, or for staying in homeless shelters in disguise. It got worse when I helped advocate (successfully) for increased gay rights, and when I became the only Conservative MLA in Alberta to point out possible Kyoto benefits. Not surprisingly, many Conservatives didn’t support me in the last election, so I got fired.

Nonetheless, I’ve always been inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln: "He serves his party best, who serves his country first." So, at further risk to my reputation, I am going to speak against a subject that many hold dear: western separation.

According to a recent poll in the Western Standard, young people are leaning more and more towards separation. If this trend and that poll can be believed, I would find it deeply disturbing – even if the usual propaganda touted as the benefits of separation were actually true, but even more so because they are not. At best, the separatist arguments tell only half the story; at worst, they are downright misleading.

Let’s start with that oft-repeated statement about Albertans sending $3,500 more per person to Ottawa each year than we get back – that we have been pillaged to the tune of billions in subsidizing the rest of Canada. Obviously, a compelling argument, especially if you have already been indoctrinated into the fold, or just don’t know what questions you ought to be asking.

You might view it differently if you were to realize that this $3,500 figure is actually just discussing the "government transfer" side of the ledger, and not private sector wealth transfers, which actually flow massively in the other direction. The reason Albertans pay more in income taxes to Ottawa is because a large number of us have much higher average incomes than the rest of the country does – not because we are Albertans. And the reasons that many Albertans have much higher incomes on average is because they benefit from the oil and gas industry, and the rest of the country has to send us increasing truckloads of money to buy all that oil and gas. Much higher incomes equal higher income taxes, whether you are in Quebec, Halifax or Calgary, and guess who is gathering up by far the most money per capita in Canada after taxes? So we send a little back, but look what they are sending us!

I would further challenge that $3,500 figure with the following questions: Who did the measuring and what did they include in the accounting? Did that $3,500 figure include our share of National Defence spending as a "benefit" to Alberta – or is that deemed a subsidy from us to the rest of Canada? Are civil servants who live in Ottawa, but who work full-time administering Alberta pensions and taxes, counted as a "benefit" to Alberta or an expense? How much of each dollar that we send to the City of Calgary do we "get back" in goods and services, knowing that 70 per cent of each dollar goes to civic employee salaries and wages? Does this mean we only get 30 per cent back? Or 100 per cent?

Let’s take a look at some other wealth transfers. What is the value of the brain drain of hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest Canadians from coast to coast moving to Alberta, bringing their incomes and bank accounts and family savings and expensive educations along with them, and who are now paying provincial income taxes to this province instead of Quebec or elsewhere? Alberta is the beneficiary of probably the largest interprovincial net wealth transfer in Canadian history on a per capita basis – into, not out of, the province. Puts a bit of a different spin on the "orphan child of Confederation" the separatists keep talking about, doesn’t it?

I could go on and on. I could talk about the first national energy policy (the one where we did it to them). It was called Diefenbaker’s National Oil Policy, and it forced easterners to buy only our oil, at well above prevailing world oil prices at the time, and among other things it decimated Quebec’s petrochemical industry, which used to be at the forefront in Canada. (Dief also did that Avro Arrow thing, so no wonder easterners would never vote for a western prime minister ever again – er, until 39-year-old Joe Clark came along and proved it could be done, thus disproving that separatist claim as well.)

As for the National Energy Program in the 1980s, which is claimed to have cost Albertans $80 billion – can anyone show me any such cheque? Facts are the $80 billion is mostly just estimated additional profits that didn’t get made, and probably wouldn’t have been made, and if they had been made, they would have mostly gone south if they hadn’t gone east anyway, because the oil industry was 80 per cent American-owned at the time. I was here – and I think it was the then-prevailing 22 per cent interest rates that did the most damage to our real estate values – and those sky-high rates were doing the same thing all over North America, not just Alberta. Further (at the risk of really getting people mad at me here), for every single distressed seller back then, wasn’t there a risk-taking buyer, who got one heck of a deal and actually got richer as a direct result of the NEP? In other words, didn’t a lot of entrepreneurial people actually end up buying the fleeing American oil and gas assets, at fire-sale prices, while others snapped up prime real estate all over Calgary for pennies on the dollar? Why don’t we ever hear a single word about that side of the equation?

But moving on, who did what to whom first, and engaging in tit for tat against "foreigners" from outside Alberta, isn’t a productive exercise. A little local pride is a good thing, but when it turns into tribal hate mongering against perceived "outsiders," well, that is another thing entirely.

Anyone who has built a successful company knows that to really succeed, you must first start by building a great team. To build a great team, it is vital to attract a very diverse group of talent, since there are many completely different jobs that need doing. It’s nice, but not necessary, that this group of people get along with each other on a personal basis. In fact, they may intensely dislike each other, but that is not important, as long as the job gets done right, which requires professionalism, mutual respect and tolerance. In fact, a team is usually strengthened, not weakened, by a large diversity of thought, opinion and expertise amongst its members – and conversely, any organization that only recruits "like-minded" individuals soon begins to suffer.

Now apply the same philosophy to building a great political party, and then building a great nation. I am really tired of hearing how other Canadians outside Alberta are "different" than us, and that therefore we should separate. Having continually and thoroughly insulted Ontarians and virtually all other Canadians, how can we expect them to vote for a party that is often viewed as representing only Western demands? This is not the type of thinking that builds great nations.

I certainly am not suggesting that you vote Liberal –their well-meaning policies usually result in the exact opposite of what was intended. However, they have managed to be perceived, at least, as being the only party standing up for a united Canada (although, as usual, their baggage has had precisely the opposite effect). But I think the Conservative Party is also badly embarrassed, and is badly held down in the polls nationally, by some of our members who only seem to stand for the West getting a better deal – or else!

O Canada, indeed.

P.S. Note to separatists: Save the angry abuse – one of the advantages of not being in public office anymore is that I can’t be threatened with being "taken out" in the next election.

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