When They Go Low: the Kenney by-election debate

On Sunday afternoon Mr and Ms Soapbox were jammed into an overheated community hall listening to five politicians explain why they were the best choice to represent the good citizens of Calgary-Lougheed in the by-election triggered when Dave Rodney stepped down to give UCP leader Jason Kenney a seat in the Legislature.

The media characterized the debate among Mr Kenney, Dr Philip van der Merwe (Dr Phil, NDP), Romy Tittel (Green Party), Wayne Leslie (Independent, Alberta Advantage Party) and David Khan (Liberal) as “boisterous”.

That’s wrong.  The event wasn’t “boisterous”, it wasn’t even a “debate”, it was a Kenney “rally” intent on heckling and jeering the NDP candidate to the point where we couldn’t hear him speak over the din.

kenney debate photo

This is deeply disturbing.  The purpose of political debates is to give candidates a chance to explain their policies, but perhaps heckling is all we can expect from Mr Kenney who prides himself on having no policies whatsoever.

What they said

Kenney blamed the NDP for ruining the economy with “job-killing” tax increases.  He promised to fix the economy by killing the carbon tax (which he said did nothing for pipeline approvals), renewing the Alberta Advantage, reigniting the economy and creating new jobs.  We have no idea how he will achieve this because he provided no details.

Dr Phil said the NDP’s policies supported Albertans through the recession and pushed Alberta ahead of the rest of the country in GDP growth.  He outlined the benefits of the climate leadership plan and said Kenney’s plan to cut spending by 20% would gut education and healthcare.

Khan said the Liberals were the moderate alternative to the extreme left (NDP) and extreme right (UCP) and promised “comprehensive tax reform” to balance the budget (is this code for a sales tax?)

Tittel reaffirmed the Green party’s support for proportional representation and suggested Alberta could turn its attention to “intellectual extraction” whereby its young, well educated work force would focus on artificial intelligence and science and technology to tackle environmental problems at home and abroad.

Leslie said he represented the grassroots and urged the implementation of recall legislation to hold MLAs accountable to their constituents.

Kenney and the hecklers  

Kenney and his hecklers focused all their attention on Dr Phil.  He took Dr Phil to task over a number of comments:

  • Kenny denied he ever said the UCP would cut spending by 20%. He promised to balance the budget by 2022 by holding spending to zero or perhaps cutting it by one or two percent.  Kenney is on record saying he’d exercise “a period of sustained restraint in spending…to get [Alberta] down to more or less [BC’s] per capita spending”…“BC spends about 20 per cent less than Alberta per capita.”  Lord only knows whether his 2% maximum spending cuts are doable given his refusal to put out a shadow budget.
  • Kenney said climate change is real, it’s caused by man, and greenhouse gases need to be reduced, but he won’t impose economic costs on Alberta industries unless other jurisdictions do so first. If this is true Kenney is a hypocrite because he’s allowing his MLAs, particularly Don MacIntyre, Drew Barnes, and Rick Strankman, to express contrary views.
  • He dismissed the NDP claim that he oversaw six deficit budgets while in Harper’s government by blaming it on the recession but rejected the NDP’s position that they are running a deficit budget because of the recession caused by slumping oil prices and the legacy of the PC’s austerity plan.
  • He rejected the NDP’s claim that the carbon tax is funding Calgary’s Green Line with the bizarre argument that he provided billions for the Green Line when he was in the federal government and didn’t need a carbon tax to do it. The federal government’s promise to deliver funding in 2015 does not diminish the fact that Notley delivered provincial funding from carbon tax revenues in 2017.  These are two separate buckets of funding.
  • He said Dr Phil called him an extremist and said 70% of the voters elected Kenney every time he ran for office, therefore Dr Phil must be calling 70% of the voters extremists. This is a perfect example of how Kenney riles up his supporters with lies.  Dr Phil said Kenney’s spending cuts were extreme, not that Kenney was an extremist.  Also, Kenney did not get 70% of the votes every time he ran for office: in 1997 he got 55%, in 2000 he got 63% and in 2015 he got 67%.

The erosion of democracy

Candidates debates are a fundamental part of the democratic process, but only when the candidates respect the rules.    

The debate organizers made numerous attempts to stop the heckling and booing but failed.  Instead of stepping in to quiet the hecklers, Kenney let his supporters run roughshod over the process.

The heckling bordered on intimidation and came to a head when a UCP supporter blocked NDP MLA Sandra Jansen twice as she moved about the hall.  The heckler posted a video of his actions on social media where it was lauded by others who called Ms Jansen vile names.

And no, Ms Soapbox isn’t being overly sensitive.  In the last few weeks Kenney and the UCP have taken civil discourse to a new Trump-like low.  They’ve said socialists eat dogs, marijuana leads to communism and Pinochet’s reign of terror was “a success story”.

The Pinochet example is particularly egregious given the UCP’s attempt to confuse the public by posting a draft version of Hansard which did not include UCP MLA Strankman’s “success story” comment as evidence that Strankman did not say what the NDP said he said.  Surely after all his years in Harper’s cabinet, Kenney knows the draft version of Hansard does not become the official transcript of what was said in the House until it’s been checked against the video and audio recordings.  (The veracity of the official version of Hansard is why lawyers use it as evidence of Parliament’s intention when the meaning of a particular piece of legislation is in dispute).

When they go low…

Kenney says he’s going to correct the record and tell the truth when the NDP lie about UCP policies.

Given the performance of the UCP leader, his MLAs, and his supporters over the last few months I say we do this for ourselves…

…and when they go low, we get the facts and hold Mr Kenney, his MLAs and his supporters accountable for their misrepresentations and lies.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Education, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 50 Comments

Stay tuned…

Ms Soapbox spent the afternoon in an overheated community hall listening to Jason Kenney (UCP), Dr Philip van der Merwe (NDP), Romy Titte (Green Party), Wayne Leslie (Independent), and David Khan (Liberal) tell us why they were the best candidate to represent the good citizens of Calgary-Lougheed in the upcoming by-election.

She’s exhausted.

Stay tuned for details tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Who’s the Real Enemy?

“You’re either with us or against us.” — Benito Mussolini

First the UCP demanded the Premier ignore the rules of the House, then they accused her of being against rural Albertans and siding with the criminals because she refused to ignore the rules of the House.

Do these guys even know the rules of the House?

Or are they so desperate to win brownie points with their supporters that they’ll incinerate any rules that stand in their way.  I’m guessing the latter but with the UCP you can never be too sure.

The set up

It was pure UCP stagecraft.

  • The UCP trundled in 100 rural Albertans to sit in the Legislature and witness the heartless government refuse to stand up for rural Albertans besieged by rising rural crime.
  • The UCP abused the rules governing Question Period and the rules governing emergency debates by asking the Premier to support the UCP’s motion for an emergency debate on rural crime before the motion for an emergency debate had been ruled upon by the Speaker.
  • When the Premier refused to go along with this stunt, they condemned her in true Trumpian fashion as being against rural Albertans and siding with the criminals.
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You’re with the UCP or you’re with the criminals

Emergency Debate

After the first round of stagecraft ended, the UCP set up its motion for an emergency debate on a matter of “urgent public importance” namely:  the increase in property-related and violent crimes in rural communities and the residents’ fear for their safety was sufficient to support a state of emergency.

Parliamentary rules allow the House to set aside regular business and have an emergency debate if the motion satisfies the “urgency test”.

The UCP argued the motion should pass because crime rates had risen sharply in some areas and rural Albertans felt unsafe.

The Government said the motion should fail because it did not meet the definition of urgency and could be addressed by other legislative means.

The Government relied on precedents.  Speaker Zwozdesky granted an emergency debate on medevac services because they were going to be relocated the very next day.  Speaker Kowalski denied an emergency debate about Premier Redford’s choice of lawyers in the tobacco litigation because the issue could be raised by other ways (eg private members’ bills, private members’ motions, and well-crafted questions in Question Period).

The Speaker denied the motion, saying Albertans’ safety and feelings of safety were of utmost importance and crime statistics were rising, but the UCP failed to meet the definition of “urgency” set out in the rules.

The UCP flew into high dudgeon.

Knowing the UCP this is understandable.  Why would they rely on private members’ bills, motions, and questions in Question Period when they can use the Legislature as a platform on which to grandstand?

But leaving aside grandstanding for the moment, what is the state of rural crime?

The UCP position

The UCP provided examples of Albertans victimized in their homes and businesses.  They set out statistics showing crime on the rise in some areas including Red Deer which ranks #5 in a Macleans survey of the most dangerous places to live in Canada.

The UCP said the Government is soft on crime.  They argued:

  • There is insufficient RCMP coverage
  • The RCMP are poorly paid, morale is low
  • There aren’t enough prosecutors and judges
  • The Government failed to promote minimum sentencing
  • Protection for rural areas should be the same as for urban areas

It would appear there is a problem with rising rural crime.  What’s not clear is the UCP’s contention that the Government failed to address it.

The Government’s position  

The Government outlined what it’s doing to combat rural crime:

  • Funding the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team after its funding was cut by Jason Kenney when he was in Harper’s cabinet (ALERT is effective, it recently laid 120 charges against 11 individuals for drug trafficking)
  • Providing $500 million for policing and paying 70% of the RCMP’s costs
  • Hiring an additional 50 prosecutors and court staff and building a new court house in Red Deer
  • Pressing the federal government to appoint more judges after Harper’s government left Alberta with the lowest number of superior court judges per capita in Canada
  • Targeting online sexual exploitation of children
  • Creating an integrated crime reduction unit to target property crime in rural Alberta

The Government also noted that some of the UCP’s complaints (RCMP coverage, minimum sentencing, appointment of judges) fell under federal, not provincial jurisdiction.

They asked the UCP to explain how it would decrease rural crime given Jason Kenney’s promise to cut the budget by 20%; this would damage the criminal justice system, not enhance it.      

The real enemy

The UCP proposed no solutions to address rural crime.  Instead they engaged in theatrics to paint the NDP Government as the enemy and themselves as the savior of rural Albertans.

But answer me this, who’s the real the enemy of rural Albertans, the Government who’s providing sustainable funding for the criminal justice system or the UCP who promise to reduce it by 20%?

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

Politics and the Debate Club

I know, I know, you’d rather watch the Grey Cup game, so I’ll make this quick.

Yesterday, Ms Soapbox and a friend judged the final round in the Sir Winston Churchill High School Debate Competition.  The competition was hosted by the Alberta Debate and Speech Association and The Winston Churchill Society and included teams from 12 schools across the city.

The students were intelligent, articulate, and passionate.

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Winston Churchill Bowlers 

And Ms Soapbox discovered (quite by accident) that everything you need to know about how to survive in Alberta’s polarizing political environment you can learn in Debate Club.

The rules of debate are simple:

  • The Government defines the proposition (say for example, NDP energy policies will result in a pipeline to the West Coast) and sets out three arguments to support of the proposition.     
  • The Opposition sets out three arguments that undermine the Government’s position.
  • The Government and the Opposition then rebut each other’s positions.    
  • Each side must let the other side ask questions but doesn’t need to answer more than a couple because the point of asking questions is to disrupt the speaker, not to gain further knowledge.
  • The most important rule is this: “The winner isn’t the one who gets the maddest or cries the most, it’s the one who is respectful, believable, witty and confident.  The winner is the one you trust.*

We could apply the rules of debate, step by step, to the NDP and UCP positions on Burnaby’s attempt to delay the Trans Mountain pipeline, but I know you want to get back to the Grey Cup so let’s cut to the chase and go directly to the last rule which defines the “winner”.

In her speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Rachel Notley said, “British Columbians have legitimate questions about this project and they deserve legitimate answers.” She said instead of threatening each other and retreating within our borders we should be reaching across party lines to support a project that serves the interest of all Canadians.

Jason Kenney is deeply critical of her approach.  He wants her to be more aggressive and confrontational.  He would threaten BC with “consequences” which include cutting off oil and gas exports from Alberta to BC if BC refuses to roll over.

Albertans have a choice.  They can support the political leader who is respectful and confident or the one who gets mad and cries the most.

Mr Kenney may understand the rules of gutter politics, but in today’s Alberta that’s not enough.

Hey Jason, maybe it’s time you joined the Debate Club.

*Comment made by a coach during Judges’ training Nov 25, 2017

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

The UCP Vote on the GSA Bill: Free Vote or Rubber Stamp?

It started innocently enough…

The NDP government introduced Bill 24, an act to prohibit teachers from informing parents their kids had joined a gay-straight alliance (GSA) unless the kids consented.   (Note: The Bill does not change a teacher’s general obligation to notify parents if there’s a risk a student might harm him/herself or others.)

All eyes turned to the UCP…

Jason Nixon, leader of the UCP caucus, said the Wildrose tradition of allowing free votes would continue under the UCP even as it considered Bill 24.

All eyes turned to the other Jason…

Jason Kenney, the leader of the UCP, said his MLAs would oppose Bill 24.

To make sure his MLAs understood his/their position Mr Kenney issued a statement saying the UCP supports GSAs, does not support mandatory parental notification, and objects to Bill 24 because teachers should have the discretion to out kids as they see fit, especially if they’re 5 years old or developmentally challenged.  Also, the amendment to section 50 of the School Act was a covert attempt to sneak sensitive subjects that normally require parental notification into the curriculum, etc.

All righty then.

A rubber stamp by any other name

We settled in for a spirited debate in the Legislature–would the “free voters” speak for themselves on this matter of conscience or would they’d cave under pressure from their new leader and toe the party line?

They caved.  Sure, some tried to argue they weren’t caving but in the end, they all caved.

Here’s how they did it:

The outraged abstainer:  Leela Aheer was all over the map.  She was comfortable with 80% of the Bill but objected to the amendment of Section 50 of the School Act implying it was part of a grand conspiracy to sneak god knows what into the curriculum.*

Ms Aheer used most of her allotted time making a speech about…Ms Aheer.

She’d been bullied by the government.  People who suggested she’d been directed to vote against the Bill didn’t know her very well.  She was upset because constituents and loved ones couldn’t understand why she refused to support the Bill.  She was an ally of the LBGTQ+ community, how dare anyone say her actions suggested otherwise.  She dared the government to tell her to her face, here and now, what they thought of her.  Oh my.      

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Leela Aheer and the other former WR MLA who missed the vote

The puppet MLA:  Mark Smith didn’t need a “free vote”, he didn’t even need a voice.  He was content to use his allotted time reading Jason Kenney’s statement into the record and then summarizing them in case we missed the point the first time around.**

The parrot MLAs:  Most of the MLAs regurgitated one or two talking points from Jason Kenney’s statement.  They offered lots of criticism but no suggestions for amendments other than the elimination of the change to School Act section which would render Bill 24 useless.

At the end of the day

The purpose of Bill 24 is to protect students and allow them (and no one else) to determine if, when, and to whom they want to disclose their sexual identity because the  consequences of premature disclosure can be devastating.

The allegation that the amendment to Section 50 of the School Act is a precursor to something more sinister is red herring.  Section 50 requires parental notification when the curriculum deals primarily or explicitly with human sexuality or religion.  GSAs like other extracurricular activities are not part of the curriculum, they’re clubs, however some people have tried to justify outing kids by interpreting Section 50 to include GSAs. The amendment in Bill 24 addresses this by making it clear that the obligation for parental notification does not apply to GSAs.

Whether or not we protect LBGTQ+ students is a question of morality, not politics.  It is shameful that under Jason Kenney’s leadership former Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs traded the right to exercise a free vote for the safety of being a rubber stamp.

The rubber stampers should be proud of themselves, I’m sure their leader is.

*Hansard, Nov 15, 2017, pp 1921 – 1924

**Hansard, Nov 15, 2017, pp 1926 – 1927

Posted in Education, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Question Period? Really?

How much longer do we have to put up with this nonsense?

The Alberta Legislature has been in session for eight days and the UCP is using Question Period to test-drive political slogans.

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Jason Kenney UCP leader

Ms Soapbox’s personal favourite is the UCP’s claim: “We lead, they follow”.

The UCP’s “lead” translates into something you’d hear from an unimaginative cheer leading squad: “Go Alberta, Fight! Fight! Fight!

Lead already!

The UCP wants the NDP to follow its “lead”, particularly with respect to pipelines.  It wants Premier Notley and her ministers to:

  • insult and threaten the federal government and other provinces. And this is effective, how?
  • punish Burnaby for delaying the Trans Mountain pipeline by convincing Telus to move to Alberta. Telus opened its global headquarters in Vancouver (not Burnaby) in 2015.  It’s a $750 million LEED platinum standard building.  Any CEO who sauntered into a board room and said: “Guys, let’s blow this pop stand and move to Alberta” would be fired on the spot.  But hey, Brad Wall tried it so it’s got to be a good idea, right?
  • retaliate against BC by putting tariffs on Alberta’s interprovincial exports. This would have the same impact as an unexpected tax hike, reducing expected returns for Alberta producers and creating unnecessary uncertainty.  It would also violate the New West Partnership Trade Agreement between BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba which created the largest, barrier-free interprovincial market in Canada.  Nice move UCP. 
  • sue the feds, sue BC, sue somebody, anybody over pipeline delays or cancellations. It’s unclear what the UCP wants to do other than hire a flotilla of lawyers to start a bunch of law suits that would cost a fortune and drag on for years, however this didn’t stop the UCP from trying to take the credit when Alberta intervened in support of Trans Mountain’s application asking the NEB for a constitutional ruling on whether Burnaby could delay construction at the Burnaby and Westridge Marine terminals.  The intervention involves the doctrines of interjurisdictional immunity and paramountcy.  It’s a little presumptuous to assume the government was not planning to intervene simply because it didn’t do so immediately.           
  • take an aggressive stance on renegotiating equalization when it expires in 2019. This is a tad ironic given that the GDP growth rate rule which was introduced under the Harper/Kenney “lead” in 2009 will give Ontario an additional $360 million and Quebec an additional $215 million than they would otherwise receive.*  Frankly, anything the Notley government does on this file will be an improvement.

Question Period

Ms Soapbox and about 10 other people across the province are keen Question Period observers.

We know QP is adversarial:  the Opposition will fly into high dudgeon and play “gotcha”, the government will spar with the Opposition, correct “misstatements” and make speeches.  We get that, but we do expect a bit more substance from the UCP than we’ve seen to date.

The expression “we lead, they follow” may be a cute political slogan, but as a UCP Opposition tactic it’s coming across as “we have a tantrum, they press on”.

*Hansard, Nov 8, 2017, p 1823

Posted in Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 55 Comments

Who will fight a bear for you?

The forces at play in the upcoming 2019 provincial election are reflected in how you react to this banner.

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The banner is a part of Calgary’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.  Some people loved its edgy, self-deprecating message, others didn’t get it…at all.

Okay, hold that thought while Ms Soapbox tells you about the future…

Economic Summit 2018

Mr and Ms Soapbox attended the annual economic summit luncheon last week and discovered that Alberta’s future is much brighter than Jason Kenney and the UCP would have you believe.

We learned:

  • Alberta is out of the recession. Growth is expected to be 4.2% this year and 1.9% next year.
  • We’re heading in the right direction, but–and this is a very important but–we need to break out of our old mind-set and recognize that the energy sector no longer drives Alberta’s economic growth.
  • Energy is still important, but it’s more like a backbone supporting other sectors like technology, agri-business, financial services, renewable and clean energy, travel and tourism, logistics, and transportation.
  • The biggest threat to our economy isn’t fluctuating global oil prices but the impact of a certain unpredictable American president on NAFTA.
  • The biggest uncertainty we face is technology. Technological progress unlike industrial progress is non-linear and moving at lightning speed through three spheres: the physical world (eg 3D printers), the digital world, and the virtual world (eg self driving cars).

Bottom line: we need to keep the backbone (energy) strong while we fan out and diversify.  We must adapt or we’ll be left behind.

Who is adaptable and who isn’t     

Rachel Notley strengthened Alberta’s energy sector by creating a regulatory framework, the Climate Leadership Plan, which was critical to getting federal approval of two interprovincial pipelines.  She continues to support the industry by advocating for it and intervening in applications to allow pipelines to go ahead without unwarranted interference from other jurisdictions.

Jason Kenney promises to scrap the Climate Leadership Plan, eliminate the carbon levy, and sue the feds when they replace the provincial carbon levy with a federal carbon tax, thereby creating uncertainty around the rules of the game.  The UCP responds to jurisdictions interfering with pipelines by threatening to cut off oil shipments (good luck trying to convince pipeline companies and oil producers that’s a good idea) or create new tariffs which will increase the commodity price and reduce industry profits which are already low.

Notley listened to economists who warned that big energy companies won’t be the big job creators of tomorrow and is working to diversifying the economy.

Kenney is oblivious to this warning.  He promises to “stand up” for the energy sector, including coal, by bringing back the Alberta Advantage (ie. lower taxes), but has yet to explain why the Alberta Advantage would incent energy companies to hire back the thousands of workers they laid off in 2014-15 when it failed to prevent these companies from undertaking massive layoffs from 1992 to 2006 when Ralph Klein, the father of the Alberta Advantage, was premier.

Notley understands that some Albertans have not yet recovered from the economic downturn.  She created retraining programs and strengthened the social safety net to support them and their families.  Kenney’s UCP tweets “We understand that in order to be a compassionate, caring province, we must be prosperous first.”  In other words, those left behind will just have to wait.

Who will fight a bear for you?

Are you still holding on to that thought about “fighting a bear for Amazon”?

The Amazon bid package included typical bid information about crime rates, fibre networks, office vacancies, schools, airline flights, and our strong STEM workforce.  It was wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket (how traditional is that?), but it was supported by an edgy marketing campaign intended to impress Amazon executives and employees in the 25 to 35 year range because Calgary, once the centre of the energy industry, knew that it was competing for the jobs of the future.

Those who reacted positively to the banner understand the future is now.  Those who didn’t need to catch up.

While Jason Kenney is making meaningless threats to “protect” the energy sector, promising to cut taxes and revitalize the Conservative movement provincially and nationally, Rachel Notley is working to revitalize Alberta for all Albertans.

Or to put it in terms Calgarians would understand: Rachel Notley would totally fight a bear for you.

*This blog incorporates comments made by Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development, Glen Hodgson, senior fellow Conference Board of Canada, Todd Hirsch, ATB Financial chief economist and Mayor Naheed Nenshi at the 2018 Economic Summit held in Calgary on Oct 30, 2017.  Political commentary is mine alone. 

Posted in Economy, Employment, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 31 Comments