Sandra Jansen is right, there are Progressive Conservatives in Alberta

Sandra Jansen just confirmed she’s running for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party.  This is good news because her campaign will test Jason Kenney’s assertion that there’s no such thing as a progressive conservative.

Kenney is peddling the line that there are only two kinds of people in Alberta—small “c” conservatives who yearn to merge the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose into a single “free enterprise party” and a bunch of nutbars who accidentally elected the NDP.


Before everyone leaps on the NDP bashing bandwagon, let’s put our minds to leadership.


Sandra Jansen PC MLA

Jansen acknowledges the PCs demonstrated poor leadership in the past and suggests PC leadership candidates should take a hard look at themselves and figure out how they can be better leaders and better MLAs.

Which leads one to wonder why Jason Kenney, notwithstanding his high praise for the PCs under Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein, decided the best PC leader is one who buries the party, rather than rebuilds it.

Birds of a feather flock together—except when they don’t

Kenney says if Peter McKay and Stephen Harper could unite a bunch of small “c” federal conservatives under the Conservative Party of Canada banner, merging Alberta’s PCs and Wildrose parties will be a “walk in the park”.

He points to a recent report published by the Manning Centre as evidence he’s right.

The Manning report says that since May 2015 when the NDP came into power the majority of the Wildrose and PC MLAs voted the same way 90.2% of the time on legislative votes and 95.8% of the time on money votes and this demonstrates there’s little of substance separating the Wildrose from the PCs.

Aside from the fact that the Manning report is not a quantitative analysis—the issues put to vote range from inconsequential to significant and the number of Wildrose and PC MLAs voting on each issue varies from vote to vote—it fails to address two instances where the Wildrose and the PCs are sharply divided, namely fiscal policy and democratic renewal.

Fiscal policy

In June 2015 the PCs proposed Bill 201, Assuring Alberta’s Fiscal Future.  The Bill required the government to invest 25% of all non-renewable resource revenue into the Heritage Fund.  The investment obligation jumped to 50% in years where operating revenue was expected to exceed operating expense.

Every Wildrose MLA voted with the NDP to reject the PC’s Bill.


Jason Kenney Leadership Candidate PC Party

The Wildrose opposed it on principle because in their view it was “borrowing to invest”.  The Wildrose would suspend investment in the Heritage Fund until there’s a budgetary surplus in both the operating and capital accounts—something no one expects to see in the foreseeable future.*

A merged “free enterprise party” must reach consensus on fiscal policy.  If the Wildrose and the PCs can’t agree on how to balance long term savings against debt repayment how will they ever agree on the allocation of scarce resources to fund public services and infrastructure.      

Democratic renewal

In March 2016 the Wildrose introduced the Election Recall Bill.  They characterized recall as “a core western Canadian, small “c” conservative principle” which would increase Albertans’ access to democracy.  The Wildrose feel deeply about recall as a fundamental principle and have brought a recall bill to the Legislature three times in the last six years.**

Wildrose MLA, Mark Smith, was prepared to consider any number of amendments if the Assembly would simply accept the bill “on principle”.  His plea fell on deaf ears and the PCs voted with the NDP to reject the Bill.  The PCs had a number of concerns including the fear that recall drives short-term thinking and weakens an MLA’s resolve to take a stand on unpopular issues.

The primary focus of a merged “free enterprise party” is likely the economy but fundamental differences concerning the democratic process cannot be ignored.

Slogans vs Vision

Jason Kenney says Albertans are sophisticated and will be able to see through the objections to merger thrown up by naysayers.

That’s true.  Albertans can also tell the difference between a politician spouting vacuous slogans and one with a vision for Alberta that goes beyond simply getting into power.

It’s time for Mr Kenney to show his respect for Albertans by telling them what he would do the day after he’s elected premier to address climate change and convince Justin Trudeau not to impose a federal carbon tax after Kenney eliminates the provincial carbon tax and how he will ensure religious schools protect the rights of LGBTQ students…and that’s just for starters.

Because a campaign built on destroying two political parties in order to unseat a third isn’t going to cut it.

*Hansard, June 22, 2015, 130

**Hansard, Mar 10, 2016, 92, Mar 14, 2016, 122 and 129

Posted in Economics, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Never Watch a Presidential Debate When You’ve Got the Flu

Ms Soapbox has the flu and missed Thanksgiving dinner last night with her family and friends.

She stayed home and watched the second Presidential debate.  It almost finished her off.

But even in her foggy state of mind Ms Soapbox couldn’t help but notice that Mr Trump is a peevish, unapologetic lout.

Sorry?  Who me?

It took a nanosecond for the moderators to turn to Mr Trump’s vulgar comments about women.  You know the ones I mean, the ones associated with Mr Trump’s droit du seigneur because he’s a TV star.


It quickly became apparent that Mr Trump was not going to apologise—he’d apologised on Facebook and made his wife say nice things about him so he was done.


  • He pointed the finger of shame at Bill Clinton. Would someone please tell Trump that “he did it too” is not an excuse used by grownups and Bill isn’t running for president, Trump is.
  • He called it “locker room talk”. This doesn’t make it any more acceptable.  What he described in his “locker room talk” is called “sexual assault” in a court room.
  • He said he wasn’t “proud” of what he said (really?) and then pivoted to ISIS chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages. Okay, I’ll give him that one:  ISIS is worse than Donald Trump.
  • He tossed in a gratuitous reference to other nations taking our jobs and our wealth…wait, what? Was that Trump’s version of yelling “squirrel”?
  • He said he has “great respect” for women…while at the same time pacing around behind Clinton, crowding her space and looming over her. That’s not a sign of respect; it’s intimidation.

They’re picking on me

Trump wasn’t just ticked off with Clinton, he was annoyed with the moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper as well.

While Raddatz and Cooper were pressing Clinton about the missing emails and what Bill Clinton meant when he said Obamacare was the craziest thing in the world, Trump was timing Hillary’s response.  He wasted minutes of valuable air time complaining that the moderators let Clinton go past her alloted two minutes.  At one point he was so disgusted with the moderators that he grumbled “It’s nice—it’s one (Trump) on three (Clinton, Raddatz and Anderson).”  No doubt this is part of the “it’s rigged” rationale he’s going to roll out when he loses.


Ms Soapbox wasn’t really on her game last night, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Mr Trump is not fit for public office.

Not to worry.  Trump has a Plan B.  The Economist recently reported Trump is thinking about starting a “mini-media conglomerate”, a cross between Fox and Breitbart News.

Oh joy, something else to watch when you’re down with the flu.

Posted in Politics, Rich and/or Famous, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

“Post-truth” Politics in Alberta

Albertans can learn a lot about the importance of truth in politics from the Trump/Clinton presidential race.

Political lies have moved beyond “misstatements” for which politicians “take full responsibility” and (sort of) apologize, to “truthiness”, a term coined by Stephen Colbert for a lie that appeals to a voter’s feelings, not reason.

A “truthy statement” is accepted as true because it feels true.  And since it feels true no one is accountable and no one has to apologize.

The best way to combat “post-truth” politics is to call out politicians who lie.

Typically this would be the media’s job.


The joke candidate looking presidential


However the transformation of Trump from a joke candidate to the Republican nominee for president demonstrates the media is ill-equipped to play its role effectively.  (It was only recently that The New York Times allowed its reporters to use the word “liar” in connection with a politician).

Alberta’s “post-truth” challenge

Albertans are at a disadvantage when it comes to “post-truth” politics because they’ve spent the better part of the last 44 years living in a petrostate.  

Alberta’s dependence on oil revenues made the industry the government’s BFF*.

Until recently, the industry supplied 30% of the government’s revenues.  The government never forgot its friends and rewarded them with light-handed regulation and low taxes and royalties.

The election of the NDP in 2015 burst the PCs’ bubble but the petrostate mindset endures.

Two generations of Albertans are convinced the oil industry is essential for the good life, booms and busts are par for the course and if the government would simply leave everything alone Alberta would return to prosperity.

The Wildrose and PCs are stoking this belief in anticipation of the 2019 election by embedding a couple of “truthy statements” in the heart of the electorate.

“Risky ideological experiments”

The Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives denounced the government’s plan to hike personal and corporate taxes and increase the minimum wage as “risky ideological experiments” that will crash the economy.

It’s an interesting phrase with multiple meanings.

For the Wildrose “risky ideological experiment” is code for “the NDP are socialist commie pinkos.”  They’re not shy about putting their Red Scare rants on record in the Legislature.

Hansard includes speeches by Wildrose MLAs calling Notley’s staff “Soviet-era communists” and declaring that Bill 6 (farm safety) is the first step in the implementation of the Regina Manifesto of 1933 which will replace free-enterprise farms with “socialist economic planning.”

The PCs use the phrase in a less inflammatory way to indicate that such policies disrupt the efficiency of “trickle-down economics.” As if that’s been a smashing success.    

This resonates with Wildrose and PC supporters who agree with Stephen Harper:  all taxes are bad, period.

Anti-oil activists

The second “truthy statement” undermines any actions taken to address climate change.


Mr McIver (PC) and Mr Jean (WR)

At first it was difficult for the Wildrose and PCs to attack the Climate Leadership Plan which was supported by Suncor, Cenovus, Shell Canada, Canadian Natural Resources and CAPP, however they quickly zeroed in on the carbon tax as a job killer which looped back to the first truthy statement—more taxes will kill the economy.

But that was just the lead-in.

When Tzeborah Berman was appointed co-chair of the Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG) the truthiness meter went berserk.

OSAG was formed to implement the Climate Leadership Panel’s recommendations.

Berman has a well-deserved reputation as an effective anti-oilsands activist.

The truthiness argument is Berman was appointed to sabotage the process…and what?  Kill the oilsands?

Berman is one of 18 OSAG members. She shares the co-chair duties with Melody Lepine, a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Dave Collyer, a former Shell executive who was the president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) for six years.

The industry is represented by Canadian Natural Resources, Statoil, Cenovus, Shell, MEG Energy, Suncor and ConocoPhillips Canada—all major oilsands players.

Climate change advocates are represented by Pembina, Environmental Defence and STAND.

The Wildrose and PCs are asking us to believe that eight heavy hitters from the oilsands will be cowed by Berman, three environmentalist, two municipal administrators, two First Nations representatives, one Metis representative and a corporate lawyer who sits on the board of the Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society.  Really?

Anger, fear, prejudice 

Politicians who play “post-truth” politics are dangerous because they whip up fear, anger and prejudice in order to win.

Trump’s supporters are angry and fearful because they’ve been left behind by globalization, technology and income inequality.  Their prejudices have been sharpened by the lie that others (non-whites) are stealing advantages that rightfully belong to them.

Albertans are a little different.  They’re angry and fearful because two years ago they had it all, then oil prices collapsed and now it’s gone.

They want someone to blame and the Wildrose and the PCs are serving up the “socialists” and the “environmentalists” on a silver platter.

Combating “post-truth” politics

Albertans get their news from PostMedia newspapers and talk radio hosts.  Right leaning analysts from The Fraser Institute and the U of C School of Public Policy figure prominently in political analysis.  It’s unlikely that Alberta’s media will be effective in examining the lies generated by “post-truth” politics.

So we have to do it for them.

Yes, Alberta’s economy is suffering.  Oil prices crashed and we failed to develop other economic sectors to offset the drop in oil revenues.

But the economy is not crashing because:

  • We’ve raised taxes—Alberta’s taxes are the lowest in the country (we don’t have a sales tax) and Alberta has twice as much investment per capita as the other provinces.
  • We’ve raised the minimum wage by a dollar—this increase applies to 3% of the lowest paid segment of the population.
  • We’ve implemented a carbon tax—more than 60% of the population will receive a full or partial rebate and Brian Jean says he’d consider imposing a carbon tax similar to the one in BC.
  • We’re pushing ahead with the Climate Leadership Plan—it allows carbon emissions to increase by 30% and the industry to expand by 50%. No wonder they like it.

So here’s your assignment.  Stay informed and speak up when someone is spouting something that feels right to them but has no basis in fact.

If nothing else it will make for an interesting conversation over the Thanksgiving turkey.

*For readers without teenagers, that’s Best Friend Forever

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Air Horn Politics

“We’re all seriously suffering from a kind of Trump derangement syndrome…he uses up so much of the oxygen and it’s like having…a big air horn installed in your head and you just can’t get away from it.”— Garry Trudeau, the Pulitzer Prize winning creator of Doonsbury  

Sadly, Albertans have their own version of air horn politics and it’s interfering with our ability to understand the economic challenges we face.

But we can try.


Donald Trump: He’s YUGE

Let’s start by reviewing the big (or in Donald Trump’s vernacular “yuge”) news of the week.

Saving the economy 

Finance Minister Ceci anticipates a modest recovery in 2017 (the Conference Board of Canada agrees with him) and announced more loans to small businesses through ATB Financial.

Rob Horricks, CEO of Blush Lane Organics is grateful for the government’s help and says “this is the perfect time to be opening new stores and new businesses.”

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrant says Mr Ceci is nuts.

He says (cue the air horn) ratings agencies won’t have confidence in Alberta unless the government gets over its concern that “cutting a single dime of public spending” will be catastrophic to the economy.


Recently the government cut spending by $3 million (that’s a lot of dimes) by not mailing reminders to people whose vehicle registrations were expiring…and was lambasted by car owners who got fined for driving with expired vehicle registrations.  So much for getting rid of the “nanny state”.     

More importantly, Mr Fildebrant ignored the fact that on Sept 7, 2016 DBRS expressed its confidence in Alberta by confirming its bond rating at AA high (stable).

DBRS said Alberta has “moderate flexibility” at this rating and with these oil prices to withstand even more “economic and fiscal deterioration” and that Alberta’s “debt burden is expected to remain relatively low” when compared to the other provinces.


Derek Fildebrant: not quite so YUGE

The point Mr Fildebrant should put his mind to is DBRS’s conclusion that if oil prices don’t recover and stabilize Alberta may need to make further spending cuts and impose higher taxes.

Fildebrant’s solution to the economic downturn is (cue the air horn) (1) roll back personal and corporate tax hikes, (2) ditch the carbon tax and (3) stop the minimum wage hike to $15/hour by 2018. Apparently these three measures will rescue the economy.

Which brings us to the Western Feedlots example.

Western Feedlots

Western Feedlots Ltd (WFL) will close its doors in 2017.

WFL’s CEO says the carbon tax and Bill 6, the farm safety legislation, are “prohibitive to competitiveness”.

Oh, and precipitous drop in cattle prices over the last year didn’t help any.

It’s difficult to get detailed financial information about WFL because it stopped filing public documents when the majority shareholders bought out the minority shareholders in Aug 2000.   However we do have access to the PwC valuation report* which provides a snapshot of the business up to that time.

WFL buys cattle, feeds them and markets them to beef packers, primarily Cargill Ltd.  It also feeds and markets cattle owned by ranchers.  Its profits are “extremely sensitive to fluctuations in feed, calf and finished cattle prices.”   In 1998 sky-rocketing feed costs cut gross margin to 5.5%, roughly half the gross margin of the previous year.  (5.44, 5.45 PwC Report).

Did the new carbon tax sound the death knell?

In a recent tweet U of C economics prof Trevor Tombe (@trevor tombe) compared the impact of the carbon tax with the 25% drop in prices.  The impact was less than $1 per one hundred pounds of cattle ($1/cwt).

$1/cwt is small compared to the drop in price, but is it small in absolute terms?

PwC says WFL charged cattlemen a fee of $1/cwt to participate in a program to get better prices from Cargill for better beef (more marbling for example).  The program was called Value Based Marketing (VBM).

The purpose of VBM wasn’t to make a profit.  It was more like a loss leader to give WFL information about the quality of the herds running through its feedlots so that WFL could make better cattle buying decisions in the future.  (para 5.18 PwC Report).

If the $1/cwt VBM fee didn’t break the bank in 2000 it’s unlikely that the $1/cwt carbon tax would do so now.

What about expenses related to Bill 6?

Economics and agriculture prof Sven Anders says the government’s decisions (like Bill 6) will increase expenses but the real problem is that two large beef packers, Cargill and JBS USA Holdings, dominate the market leaving feedlot owners with very few options when prices fall.  This structural problem is very much like Alberta oil being at the mercy of one major buyer, the US. 

The challenges facing Alberta’s economy are complex.

They deserve a better response from the Official Opposition than simply cranking up the volume on the air horn and blasting whoever comes within range.

*The PwC report report is available at

Posted in Economy, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Another Fine Mess: Thanks Stevie

It turns out the famous Laurel and Hardy phrase “here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into” is a misquote.  What Oliver Hardy really said to the hapless Stan Laurel was “here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into”.

At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter if it’s a “fine” mess or a “nice” mess.  It’s still a mess.

And that’s what we had last week when protesters shut down the NEB hearings into the TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline—a mess.


Laurel and Hardy

Wildrose leader Brian Jean seized upon the incident as proof that Rachel Notley’s Climate Leadership Plan (CLP)—a cap on emissions, carbon tax and phase-out of coal fired power plants—was a tax grab that would never get “social licence” from “these people”.

Retired TransCanada executive Dennis McConaghy said Notley’s process was “naïve” and “ass backwards”.  She should have used the CLP as leverage, making its implementation conditional on getting pipelines approved.

Both arguments are poppycock.

“Social licence”

When Notley rolled out the CLP she said its purpose was to make Alberta “one of the world’s most progressive and forward-looking energy producers.”  She did not say it was intended to gain “social licence” or promise that once it was introduced opposition to pipelines would melt away.

Notley was wise to avoid the term “social licence” because no one has the faintest idea what it means.

Ed Whittingham, executive director at Pembina Institute says the term emerged around 2011 and morphed into a “mythical beast” like the yeti or Bigfoot and is just as elusive.

Kai Nagata, energy and environment director at the Dogwood Initiative, doesn’t use the term at all.  He says it’s vague and nebulous.  He prefers to look at social licence in terms of the rule of law, noting that Canadian courts command more respect than its politicians.

Nevertheless it continues to be bandied about by politicians and oilsands CEOs who agree public perception and opinion has to be considered in order to get an energy project approved.

While community engagement is critical to the success of any project, getting “social licence” is not a prerequisite to project approval in any provincial or federal regulatory process.

If the Notley government, Pembina and the Dogwood Initiative have no use for the term one wonders why politicians like Brian Jean and Jason Kenney continue to give it street cred.


The conservatives’ attempt to discredit the NDP for failing to get “social licence” is simply political grandstanding.

However when business executives inflame the discussion by suggesting the ND government should issue an “ultimatum” to the rest of Canada something is seriously wrong.

Dennis McConaghy, a retired TransCanada executive, derides Notley for failing to make the implementation of the CLP conditional on getting pipelines approved.

This is a bizarre argument because:

  • Conditional legislation, particularly in the energy industry, creates uncertainty and drives away investment
  • Leverage only works when the party being pressured can deliver what you want.  Who is Notley supposed to be holding for ransom?  The protestors? The Mayor of Montreal? The provinces of BC, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick?  All of them can intervene in the NEB process but none of them can approve a pipeline. The only one who counts is the federal government.  Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will consider the NEB’s recommendations and make the ultimate go/no go decision.
  • Leverage that smacks of blackmail—approve this pipeline or Alberta will continue to pollute—will not sit well with Justin Trudeau who could easily do an end run on Notley by imposing federal climate change legislation.  Notley’s so-called leverage would evaporate in a puff of smoke, leaving her and all Albertans looking ridiculous.
  • Conditional leverage can only be used once.  What’s Notley supposed to do after the first pipeline is approved and the next pipeline or LNG project comes along?  Roll out even more stringent conditional environmental regulations?  While this would make Alberta the most climate change friendly jurisdiction on the planet it would drive uncertainty to hysterical levels and investment would vapourize.
  • Suggesting that Alberta should pass provincial laws contingent on the feds approving a pipeline messes with the division of powers set out in the Constitution Act of 1867.  Peter Lougheed would certainly come back from the grave to see if Rachel Notley had lost her mind.

The fatal flaw with the leverage argument is that Notley enacted the CLP to make Alberta a world leader in energy production.  She did not intend to use it as a bargaining chip in a business negotiation and she’s not about to blackmail the feds into approving pipelines by holding Albertans and the energy sector hostage.

A fine mess

All this is not to say that the angst around the pipeline review process isn’t real.

The Montreal protesters had no business creating a ruckus inside the hearing room and the NEB panelists had no business meeting with former Quebec premier Jean Charest when he was advising TCPL on its application.

But none of this is Notley’s fault.

Politics - Stephen Harper - CP- may 2 2012

Stephen Harper

This fine mess is the direct result of Stephen Harper’s decision to “streamline” the process in order to guarantee the outcome.

Harper weakened the environmental review process which eroded the public’s trust in the NEB.   Calling environmentalists foreign-funded political radicals and telling Obama that approving Keystone XL was a “no brainer” didn’t help.

Harper politicized the NEB by stripping it of the power to approve or reject a pipeline application.  The NEB is limited to making recommendations to the Prime Minister and cabinet.  This may have been happy news to the industry when Harper was in power but it scares them silly now that Trudeau is sitting in the PM’s office.

(Perhaps Harper should have made the PM’s right to approve pipelines conditional on the Conservatives being in power forever).

Stephen Harper got us into this “fine” mess and Rachel Notley is trying to get us out of it.

Anyone who doesn’t understand that should stop wasting our time and check out a few Laurel and Hardy movies.



Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 35 Comments

Who should govern in times of significant disruption?

Chris Kutarna says this is the best time in history to be alive.  We’re healthier, wealthier and better educated than at any other time in history…so why are we so miserable?

Kutarna is a Fellow at the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University.  He argues we’re experiencing a second Renaissance—an amped-up version of the first Renaissance which swept through Europe from 1450 to 1550.

The Economist isn’t quite so dramatic; it says we’ve entered the Third Industrial Revolution, the age of digital manufacturing.

I prefer Kutarna’s characterization because it recognizes we’re in the throes of significant social, technological, economic and political disruption.

We’ll bring this conversation back to Alberta politics in a second, but first a little background.       


The first Renaissance started in Florence in 1450.  The second Renaissance started around 1990 and isn’t tied to a specific geography, being fueled by events like the end of the Cold War, the emergence of the World Wide Web and globalization.

The Gutenberg press revolutionized the speed with which ideas could be communicated across Europe but the speed and breadth of communicating via the internet leaves Gutenberg in the dust.

Renaissance 1.0 saw advances in science and technology that changed the way Europeans viewed the planet (hello New World), the heavens and themselves.  The second Renaissance pushed the frontiers of science and medicine, automation and robotics to the point where we no longer treat the human body we transform it at the molecular level; we no longer view the night sky with telescopes we map the universe with computers and digital cameras.


Girolamo Savonarola

The first Renaissance saw the rise of charismatic leaders like Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar who came to Florence with a plan to make Florence great again.  He promised that pious living and a renewed belief in God would oust the corrupt Medici, save Florence from the Turks to the East and the French to the West and deliver to each of his followers wealth and power beyond their wildest dreams.

I don’t need to draw you a picture, do I.


We can’t keep up with the changes brought by Renaissance 2.0 but we do know the gains and losses haven’t been equally distributed.

Those who own the banks and the factories win, those who don’t lose.   The computer technology that enhances our lives is used by the state to limit our freedom.

We’re 26 years into the cycle and we’re fed up.  We refuse to do what’s expected of us.

Britain chose Brexit.  Germany, France, Belgium and Austria rejected the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership.  The Republicans chose Trump and many Democrats prefer Bernie Saunders.

Canadians rejected the status quo as well.  They chose Trudeau over Harper and Rachel Notley over Jim Prentice (remember him?)       

Who is in the best position to govern?

It’s been a little over a year since Albertans replaced the Progressive Conservatives with the New Democrats, but many Albertans think they’ve made a colossal mistake and want to unite the right in order to reinstate the Good Old Boys and bring back the Good Old Days.

If we are indeed embarking on the second Renaissance this would be a terrible mistake.

Here’s why.

Alberta’s government needs a clear vision and exceptional courage to meet the challenges of fundamental global change.

The Notley government has been in power for just over a year.  It’s demonstrated it has the vision and discipline to take the long view.

It shored up the energy sector by implementing forward looking policies like the Climate Leadership Plan to reduce greenhouse gasses and repair the sector’s reputation.  At the same time the government cut the industry some slack on the Royalty Review.

The government offered incentives to value-added industries like petrochemicals and plastics and encouraged the development of the renewable energy sector.

It’s diversifying the economy by supporting other sectors.  The food industry recently overtook refined petroleum products as the largest manufacturing sector in the province.

It turned the conservative tax model upside down by increasing corporate taxes and introducing a progressive income tax regime favouring middle and lower wage earners.

It increased the minimum wage.

These strategic changes will improve Alberta’s economy over the long run while insulating Albertans from changes imposed on Alberta’s economy by forces beyond its borders.

What has the Opposition done?

The Wildrose spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing the ND’s economic and social policies but has yet to produce any viable alternatives.  They lack a long term strategy and their short term policies are incoherent.  (For a scathing review of their beer policy, the “6-Pack Plan for Alberta Beer Producers and Consumers” policy, check out this blog by beer industry insider Jason Foster).

The Progressive Conservatives wisely refuse to support the Wildrose’s antiquated social policies, choosing instead to criticize the ND’s economic policies.

Both parties repeat the same mantra—“cut taxes, balance the budget”.


Good Old Boy Ralph Klein

This isn’t a vision for the future, it’s a return to the status quo which fails to address the challenges Alberta faces today—a one-trick pony economy and deficits in healthcare, education and infrastructure.

What can we do?

The second Renaissance is happening right before our eyes.

Luckily Alberta elected a radically different government with the foresight to address 21st century challenges with 21st century policies which will ensure the benefits and the losses created by rampant change are borne by all Albertans.

Now is not the time to reinstate the Good Old Boys and bring back the Good Old Days.  They failed to deliver when they were in power and there’s no reason to expect anything has changed.

Kutarna says there’s a long and interesting history waiting to be written.  Let’s make sure we’re the ones writing it.


Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Brian Jean Makes a Joke

Two things happened this week that reflect very poorly on the judgment of Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and his supporters.

The first was The Joke.  The second was his apology for The Joke.

Let’s take them in turn.

The joke…

You all know the story.

Mr Jean was at a Wildrose forum in Fort McMurray.  He responded to a complaint about the lack of government support for seniors in Fort McMurray with this:

“Let’s be honest. I’ve been beating this drum for 10, 11, 12 years now, so I will continue to beat it, I promise. But it is against the law to beat Rachel Notley, so …”

The audience broke into laughter and applause and he couldn’t finish his sentence…thank god.

Mr Jean quickly apologized for his joke—many times as it turned out—but the public, which split into two camps, won’t let it rest.

One camp is horrified that the leader of the Official Opposition would make a joke about violence against women.

Stephanie McLean, ND Minister for the Status of Women said the joke was “totally unacceptable” and “out of touch” with what Albertans expect from their leaders.

PC MLA Sandra Jansen said politicians are elected to solve these issues not make light of them.  She said that in 2015-16 more than 10,000 abused women and their children ended up in shelters and 8,076 women and 8,283 children were turned away due to lack of space.

The other camp says it was just a joke, lighten up already.

A Facebook comment suggested if women wanted to be treated like men they’d have to “take it on the chin”;  bringing to mind The Honeymooners, a 1950s sitcom in which Jackie Gleason always got a laugh for waving his fist in his wife’s face and saying:  “One of these days Alice—POW. Right in the kisser!”


Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden 

Why are we so fussed by all this?


Sociologist Rose Coser says humour and laughter “are among the strongest signals of social solidarity and togetherness”.

Cultural sociologist Giselinde Kuipers says humour sets out moral and social boundaries—its pulls some people in and shuts other people out.  “He who laughs belongs,” she says, “He who doesn’t is excluded.”

And that’s why we can’t let it go.

The leader of the Official Opposition gathered his supporters to him and created a sense of “solidarity” by making a joke about beating up a woman, not just any woman but the most powerful woman in Alberta.

Those of us outside of the Wildrose circle were dismayed while those inside the circle rushed to Mr Jean’s defense and blamed the outsiders for not having a sense of humour.

If this is all about having a sense of humour then Mr Jean and his supporters should remember that the TV audience quickly tired of Jackie Gleason and his tag line “POW, right in the kisser”.  The sitcom was cancelled after one season having lost the ratings war to the crooner Perry Como.

If “POW, right in the kisser” didn’t fly in 1955 it certainly won’t fly 61 years later because no matter how you try to dress it up, jokes about beating up women are never funny.

The apology…

Mr Jean quickly apologized for the joke.

He gave Ms Notley full credit for the steps she’d taken on the seniors file saying:

“Now I have to compliment that woman and I shouldn’t have said what I said because I truly admire her for that…[it was] not necessarily in her best interest, because she could have easily just let that go as it was and blamed the previous government.  She did not, so I think Rachel Notley deserves a round of applause.”

Think about that for a moment.

In the space of five minutes Mr Jean admitted he’d made little progress on seniors’ issues in 12 years (this encompassed the entire time he was an MP in the Harper government).  He implied the Notley government wasn’t doing enough for seniors when he knew this wasn’t true* and then he flip flopped  saying he admired Rachel Notley for the way she tackled seniors issues even though it wasn’t in her best interest to do so.

To cap it off he prefaced his praise of Notley by calling her “that woman”—a phrase made famous by Bill Clinton when he denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.


Brian Jean Official Leader of the Opposition

The Joke shows Brian Jean in an unscripted moment.  He reached out to his supporters with a deeply troubling joke that would do the 1950s era Jackie Gleason proud but left the rest of us wondering what it will take to move the Wildrose Party into the 21st century.

*See for example Hansard May 25, p 1148, May 10, p 869 and May 3, p 801 where Seniors Minister Lori Sigurdson describes additional government funding to repair and replace seniors housing, add 2000 long term care beds, home modification programs to let seniors “age in place” and a pilot project providing seniors with transportation so get groceries and see their doctors.    

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