Two or three decades ago, Preston Manning's Reform Party was seen as embodying a right-wing populist movement in Western Canada that advocated for shrinking government by cutting social welfare and culture programming.

Lately, however, right-wing populism has been associated with the nationalist, anti-immigrant and authoritarian tendencies of leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Conservative leaders Jason Kenney of the Alberta United Conservative Party and Andrew Scheer of the federal Conservative Party have also been accused lately of being too tolerant of white nationalism.

None of that, however, stopped the conservative leader of Canada's most populous province from grasping the mantle of populism during an appearance on stage Saturday at the Manning Networking Conference, an annual right-of-centre gathering in Ottawa.

“People called Preston a populist when he was in politics, and they’re calling me a populist now,” Ontario's Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford told the crowd of politicians, activists and fundraisers.

“If you want to call me a populist, sure. But I call it listening. Listening to the people. Not the expensive lobbyists...not the full-time protesters, not the activists," said Ford, who received a standing ovation.

Concern about keeping climate change in check less vocal than concern about maintaining a prosperous oil industry, @ottawacarl reports from the Manning Networking Conference, an annual conservative meetup.

Ford's comments were echoed throughout the March 22-24 weekend gathering. Speakers vented their outrage at what they saw as poor treatment of the West by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A common belief — regardless of whether it was based on any evidence — was that Trudeau's environmental legislation would choke Alberta’s crude oil expansion plans.

Premier Ford linked his embrace of populism to attacking Trudeau’s plan to price the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. “If you ask me, is (attacking carbon taxes) a populist thing to do? My friends, I don’t know, but you better believe it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

File photo of Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer. He called criticism that he is not condemning Islamophobia "completely baseless." Photo by Alex Tétreault

Criticisms 'completely baseless' says Scheer

The event also featured a panel on Alberta separating from Canada. Former Harper government cabinet minister Monte Solberg argued on that panel Sunday that populism can be a “force for good.”

Solberg, who wrote in December that “Western alienation still stalks the land but now it strides on 100-foot legs,” said "it doesn’t have to be trolls on Twitter and flame wars.”

He gave as an example the Reform Party's opposition to the Charlottetown Accord as a young party. Reformers were against the accord's distinct society status for Quebec.

That was “a kind of responsible populism that I wish we could recapture today," he said.

“I think sometimes you see these extreme comments and people saying ridiculous things. As Preston always pointed out, the way to avoid that is to bring more people into the discussion, and push all the nuts to the sidelines."

Kenney's UCP candidate Caylan Ford was forced to step down after comments she made surfaced about a “demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands."

Scheer also faced criticism from Liberals after he gave a speech at a February convoy of pro-pipeline trucks that had stormed Parliament Hill, where he failed to condemn racist and anti-immigrant views that were present.

The convoy had transformed from an earlier incarnation associated with the Canadian “yellow vests.” That movement has been targeted by Facebook, which has been removing death threats and other inappropriate content from its Facebook page.

The federal Conservative leader has said that he attended the event with "yellow vests" present to “support energy sector workers” and that Liberals were trying to “distract from their own failures” by accusing him of that.

But he was then called out for not shutting down a question posed at a town hall that referenced a baseless conspiracy theory smear. Scheer said he had misheard the question.

After a white supremacist killed 50 people gathered for prayer at two mosques in New Zealand, Scheer faced renewed anger when his original response to the massacre did not mention that the attacks were against Muslims. He later issued a longer statement that did include this.

At the conference, Scheer responded to a question about criticism of his stance on Islamophobia as “completely baseless." But he initially failed to mention Muslims in this response.

"When you look at statements I've made condemning hateful ideologies, those who would promote any type of superiority of one race or religion over the others, I condemn that unequivocally," he said.

Scheer was later asked by someone in the crowd why he's never used the word "Islamophobia" and said that this wasn't true.

"I reject anyone who would speak out based on Islamophobic principles, whether or not that's somebody who is trying to lump all people of the Muslim faith in together or whether it's people who are trying to antagonize elements of society to have a more negative reaction to those who practice that faith," Scheer said.

"To me the important thing is to speak out against those who in any way give oxygen or space to those who are trying to promote one group of people over the other."

Alberta Senator Douglas Black said on a panel Saturday that if conservatives didn't work to stop Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, "generations below us" will be less prosperous. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Oil prosperity 'matters to the generations below us'

Trudeau received little credit throughout the weekend for his government's purchase of the Trans Mountain crude oil pipeline and expansion project with $4.5 billion of taxpayer dollars.

The federal court of appeal quashed the government's approval of the project in August 2018. Yet Trans Mountain was seen by many speakers as indefinitely stalled precisely because of Trudeau's inability to take a stronger stance on pipeline construction.

Nor did his government's billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil and gas companies make much of a splash.

Concern about keeping climate change in check were also less vocalized throughout the weekend than were concerns about maintaining a prosperous oil industry.

When Alberta Senator Douglas Black urged the crowd to think about how “this matters to the generations below us," he wasn't talking about how climate change threatens the future living standards of Canadians, as hotter conditions spread disease and blunt harvests, sea level rise drowns coastlines and more frequent floods and wildfires trigger sky-high repair bills.

He was referring to receiving less benefits from the fossil fuel industry. “I can assure you that my kids and my grandkids will have nowhere near the level of prosperity that my generation enjoys, because we’re asleep at the switch,” he said.

Two pieces of federal legislation, Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, were repeatedly vilified throughout the weekend. Black, for example, asked the crowd to “become extremely active on 69 and 48," by which he meant protesting their implementation.

The former would overhaul Canada’s environmental assessments of natural resource projects, while the latter would ban oil tankers off the north coast of British Columbia.

Both bills are in their last stages of parliamentary approval before becoming law, having passed the House of Commons and made it through several meetings of their respective Senate committees.

Former Harper government cabinet minister Monte Solberg argued on a panel Sunday that populism can be a “force for good.” Photo by Kamara Morozuk

'The union becomes irrelevant'

The event also featured a panel discussion on Alberta's independence from Canada.

It came the same weekend that Alberta’s United Conservative Party announced that half of Albertans in a survey they obtained supported secession.

UCP leader Kenney, who is on the campaign trail ahead of a provincial election on April 16, said there was “a real tension that runs through the hearts of many Albertans” provoking this separatism.

The panel discussion also came on the heels of a new separatist political party in the province, the Alberta Independence Party, becoming official and declaring it had 46 candidates.

The party promises to hold “an immediate referendum for the clear question of separation” upon election. Its platform is also against putting a price on pollution.

Edmonton Sun senior political columnist Lorne Gunter said the secession sentiment stemmed from the attitude of Trudeau government ministers toward the West.

“It’s very obvious every time a federal minister — even the federal ministers from Alberta — talk, is that they don’t understand Alberta’s culture,” he said.

“We wonder how it is that people who make fair trade pour-over coffee with their man buns, are going to replace the money that Alberta contributes to confederation?”

Gunter and Solberg made it clear they didn’t support separatism outright, but that they understood the frustration.

But Beryl Wajsman, editor-in-chief of The Suburban, an English-language weekly in Quebec, who was the third panelist said “if it takes pushing the exit button to shake up this country again, let’s do it.”

He said he felt that Quebec’s 1.1 million anglophones have had their language rights violated repeatedly, and that anglophone Quebecers could find common cause with Alberta separatists.

It isn't clear whether this view was based on the reality of anglophones living in the French-speaking province, and their access to numerous healthcare and educational services.

Under Trudeau senior Canada became a divided nation. Under Trudeau Junior, "Canada is no longer a nation and has no core values." Yes, divided again.
Monday October 21, 2019.

It isn't Trudeau. Lay the blame right where it belongs. We've become a culture of selfish, grasping, greedy and entitled people. One person isn't responsible for that. It's easy to hate. It takes no effort whatsoever. To care about others requires some work. You need to be willing to open your heart and do some work. Apparently we're too lazy to do that now.

David, your comment belies your age: no one under 60 refers to Mr. Trudeau as 'Junior'.
The NEP was a long time ago, and maybe if you reflect honestly on the situation Alberta is in today, parts of it weren't that bad an idea after all. You may have had, for instance an East-West pipeline by now. Similarly Ontarians may have been able to enjoy cheaper Hydro, provided by Quebec for our mutual and collective benefit. But the past is the past and that is all water under the bridge at this point.

If you pop your head outside of your filter bubble, you may notice that you are in fact dead wrong: the nation is less divided than it has ever been.

"The nation is less divided than it has even been"? On what do you base this claim?

I guess it really depends on how one defines "united". I guess I'd sort of meant to say 'politically united'.

With that in mind, going for the obvious - think about the state of Quebec politics - it's a generational change. That said 'ever been' is a long time .. I should have maybe said in the last 40 (or so) years.

Another bit of low hanging fruit - in some ways, one might call Mr. Trump a great uniter of Canadians. Regardless of political stripe, all the premiers and the feds have been singing from the same songbook since his election in 2016.

Thinking about out west, Alberta and British Columbia have NDP governments and have cooperated with the Federal government on a range of issues, including climate. That may change in Alberta in the next month or so, but Mr. Kenney is not as personally popular as Ms. Notley, and though I wouldn't have thunk it even a month ago, stranger things have happened.

The current Ontario government is admittedly a bit of an outlier, but that is the fault of the Ontario PC party and I don't think it really reflects that most folks there simply looked past "Ford Nation" and were simply voting for the party, not Mr. Ford, in hopes for a change. Will the PCs rue the day that Mr. Ford was chosen leader? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.

So those are a few points to consider. I'm interested to hear your views.

Utter nonsense....conservative commentators talk as if political disagreement....or any departure from their take on the universe merits the dissolution of the country....this nation is founded on stronger principles than that....and not always getting your way does not mean you can take your marbles and leave the union.

Grow up.

Congratulations Canadians. You're working hard to become as selfish and greedy as Americans and you seem to be succeeding. How foolish was I to think we had empathy for others?

Why empathy is a bad thing? I wouldn't even waste my eyes reading that kind of phony BS...great humanitarians have empathy, most children have empathy (the studies have been done), its psychopaths who lack empathy..and for sure, if you want to run a big corporation, or build equipment with AI that kills people (have some empathy for the passengers and pilots taken down by a piece of money saving software why don't we?)...empathy may get in your way.

But the lack of it is going to take us all to where Mozambigue is today, because we're too stone dead to fellow feeling that we don't get what human suffering tries to tell us...till its our kids washed away in the flood.

If you're really looking for a bad thing.......try Cruelty. It's been the hidden elixir in our hierarchical testosterone driven culture.......for generations....

Good luck with that. Ford Nation will not survive if the wealthier provinces separate. Besides, the stronger provinces have better ties with the left.

Even Alberta is worth a mention. It was the first province to RE-ELECT a democratic socialist party in 1926 (which they did again in 1930), which shook things up early on so that future Albertans didn't need to be as concerned about losing money. And of course, as of 2015, the Alberta NDP is a major party and will remain that way. I think the Alberta Social Credit party might have made room for "libertarian socialist" policies too.

Wow. Perception is reality. Filter bubble. I suppose if we can, collectively, suspend disbelief and embrace god in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we really can, again collectively, learn to believe .. anything .. without regard of what is directly in front of our noses.

These folks probably have no idea of the extent to which they're willingness to believe is being exploited and twisted by the fossil fuel industry. Climate change is not an ideology, and yet they act as though it is. We are not above nature, we are part of it. And all of the wishful thinking in the world will not change that.

Though a lot of their comments seem less guarded in a setting like this, I fear that what these folks whisper may be far more frightening than what we actually can hear them say. In that regard I do appreciate Preston's appeal to get these ideas out in the open so that they can be debated. The problem with events like this is that it seems like only one side shows up for the debate. And that seems the intent of those who wish to indoctrinate and not enlighten. So then you end up with discussions around how good populism really is. Or, the carbon tax is worst of all the taxes. Or anglophone quebecois should ally themselves with Alberta separatists. Or whatever idea-even-crazier, based on a stack of false, unchallenged premises. And forum itself lends credibility to the insanity, hardens positions and shuts down real, honest, intellectual debate.

These Albertans Black, Solburg, Kenny are nothing more than a bunch of whiners. Why do they feel they have to destroy Canada? Joining confederation Alberta had a struggling economy which was proped up by federal dollars. Then along came the discovery of oil and all hell breaks loose over who should get what share. Like drunken sailors ( no offence to drunken sailors) they could not stand prosperity and lived large for the day but saved little for the future. Today we have a heavyly subsidized O&G industry yet they still whine for more.

Exactly....but as pathetic as their behavior is, is must be widespread for Scheer to be pandering to it....and the likes of Ford and Kenny working hard to re-establish their little fiefdoms.

Oh my, things change - but always stay the same! Not even the very real threat of extinction for the "generations below us" seems to dent the convictions of the old guard who count industrial success built on the extraction of Canada's natural resources, the raw materials shipped offshore for the benefit of other, cannier, nations, as the supreme achievement of the Canadian economy. It all started with beaver skins, fish and timber. It continues today with fossil fuels.

Somehow Canada has survived: despite the fact that beaver skin hats fell out of favour, just in time to prevent the extinction of the species, and despite iron ships replacing wooden ones just as North America's old growth forests disappeared, and painfully, as the teeming fish stocks of the Grand Banks crashed to near oblivion.

It is humanity's job to adapt, or die. Canadian fossil fuel extractors are themselves fossils, no longer capable of adapting, frozen in times of false plenty, subsisting on the subsidies of taxpayers to prop up a business model that has piled up a mountain of liabilities it will never pay off! None of this features in their fear fuelled outrage of course. Any more than answering (let alone asking) the question of who will subsidize or buy their dilbit when they secede from Confederation?

As a party, Conservatives are probably misnamed. I'm sure there is a term for "Those who look behind", if not in English, then perhaps in one of our indigenous languages?

It is so predictable. When humans face a truly existential challenge, their social and political structures fall into disarray while we all flail around looking for scapegoats to blame for our woes, as well as praying to false gods, aka dictators, to save the day. The inevitable result of this loss of intelligence which is supposed to be our birthright; is the descent into chaos, and, too often, into bloodshed.

Reading the comments prior to mine is discouraging to say the least. Andrew nails the "echo chamber" effect that occurs as the self-described victims of everyone else's conspiratorial manipulations throw out ever more unrealistic scenarios.

In the no doubt outmoded phrase of the generation that is going to have to clean up after the bumbling clods and clowns of the current crop: "take a chill pill guys!"

Instead of yelling "the skies are falling!" start listening to those subversive whispers "the climate is changing!" - and start building your arks....

The Conservatives aren't really misnamed. They're afraid to spend on the essentials, so they are saving their money...and missing out on a hell of a lot of benefits.

Well put and I agree completely...will only add they must be shameless. Because for the average Canadian, their woes don't look like real suffering at all. Ask the folks in Ontario who signed on to the guaranteed income experiment that Ford summarily gutted after a single year. They know what misery is, since over half in the one town make 30,000 or less a year.

But entitled dinosaurs of extraction and as you noted, essentially 'rip and ship' sell offs, can't imagine how they look to folks who are really struggling. It's all about them....they're worth it, they deserve it, they're the 'wealth creators'!!!

Goddess help our future generations if more of us don't stand up to them, insist their party is over, and some serious work has to commence transitioning out of their prosperity for the few, austerity for the many, mindset.

"Those who look behind" is an apt description for a gang that claims to be moving forward while looking in the rear view mirror. If they have their way we'll see climate apocalypse long before the oil riches return.

The concerns of conservative populists seem to me to be those of dinosaurs fighting their inevitable extinction. We want more help for an industry already heavily subsidized by Canadian tax dollars, but 0 support for confronting climate change; we want to express our ethnic insecurities and sense of failed entitlement, but deny there's any bigotry to that, we want to gut environmental regulations and go to war against institutes that study environmental effects of extractive industries, and if we don't get our way, we plan to succeed from the nation.

Time to just call it the stupid mean spiritedness that it is. Trudeau bought them a pipeline, and he gets accused of treason (no evidence necessary), Alberta has enacted some of the best transition programs in the country but Notley is accused of destroying the economy; over 42 schools have been built or refurbished, but all that will be reversed under Jason Kenny, and it goes without saying, affordable day care (which will bring in money to provincial coffers if studies out of Quebec have any merit) is too expensive, and women who need to work will have to park the kiddies wherever they can find a cubicle. the war on the poor we can more than afford; a fair and prosperous society for all just isn't in the cards.
I happen to think it would be wonderful if all of them would leave Canada. I just can't think of a penal colony or uninhabited island we could give them. And if they think their scare tactics of threatening confederation are going to bring them in more goodies from scared governments.......they are dreaming in psychedelic.

So they don't want Quebec to be a distinct society, but they themselves DO want to be a distinct society. Consistency is never a strong suit with conservatives.
For truth in advertising, they should call it what it is: "Prairie Separatism" or perhaps just "Alberta Separatism". As a British Columbian I'd like to point out that we're further west than the cowboy hat oil brigade, and we have nothing to do with this nonsense. And again, of course, it's an utterly inconsistent idea. What they seem to actually want is to be able to dictate how the rest of the country is run--so like, BC has to accept their pipelines, has to accept as many tankers in BC waters as are useful to Alberta and so on. But their response to getting only partial control is, they want to secede? Yeah, like we'd ever let their pipelines through if they were another country. Never mind new ones, we'd charge tariffs on the old ones! Their influence would be zero. To be fair, it seems like it's not so much they want to separate, they just think the threat would be effective blackmail. Nice. Don't let the door hit your rear on the way out.