Why Carpay’s Comment About the Rainbow Flag Matters

“History can familiarize, and it can warn.” – Timothy Snyder

On Friday Mr and Ms Soapbox attended Rachel Notley’s Octoberfest in November event.  In her speech, Premier Notley mentioned that Jason Kenney, the leader of the UCP, is still supporting John Carpay, who in a speech at a conference organized by The Rebel drew a link between a rainbow flag and flags emblazoned with a swastika or a hammer and sickle.

John Carpay is a lawyer and the president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.  He takes on cases for pro-life activists, Christian academies, parents opposed to laws forbidding schools from outing kids who join gay-straight alliances and the like.

In his speech he said, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hammer and sickle for communism, or whether it’s the swastika for Nazi Germany, or whether it’s a rainbow flag, the underlying thing is a hostility towards individual freedoms.”

His remark caused a furor in the media and he issued a statement apologizing for unintentionally drawing a broad comparison between the rainbow flag and the flags representing communist and Nazi ideologies, frankly it’s difficult to see what other interpretation he had intended.

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John Carpay is a friend and supporter of Jason Kenney and the UCP.  Kenney called Carpay’s comments vile and offensive, but demurred from revoking Carpay’s UCP membership because such decisions were the responsibility of the UCP Board.  Kenney was not troubled by his lack of authority when he ordered the UCP to revoke the membership of a party member linked to anti-Semitic and white supremacist social media messages.   Perhaps Kenney’s power as leader is inversely related to the status of the UCP member making the offensive comment.

There’s a good reason why the NDP and other Albertans won’t let this go.

Lessons on tyranny

In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder says while we’re not wiser than the 20th century Europeans who witnessed democracies slide into fascism, Nazism, or communism, we have the advantage of being able to learn from their experience.

Snyder sets out 20 lessons we can learn from the past.  It’s shocking to see three of them in play in the context of the actions of conservative leaders in Alberta and Ontario.

Lesson #1 Defend institutions:  Institutions like the courts, the media, and unions, and a respect for norms and the rule of law are essential for a robust democracy because simply having a written constitution and a strongly worded bill of rights do not guarantee the protection of our rights and freedoms.

Ontario premier Doug Ford threw respect for norms and the rule of law out the window when he announced he’d use “the notwithstanding clause” to protect his decision to reduce the size of Toronto city council.

The notwithstanding clause is the nuclear option under the Charter.  It was meant to be deployed as a last resort when due process and political solutions have been exhausted.  It is not intended to settle a trivial matter like how many city councilors should work at City Hall.

If Ford can get away with using the notwithstanding clause on a meaningless matter like the size of city council then Kenney, who supported Ford’s position, will not hesitate to invoke the notwithstanding clause to “protect the fundamental freedoms” of people like John Carpay by stripping LBGTQ+ people of the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them under Alberta’s Human Rights Act and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lesson #2 Do not teach power what it can do:  Snyder says an authoritarian leader won’t pass laws compromising fundamental freedoms unless he knows the people will support him.  The people, hoping to curry favor, show the leader in advance of him passing any laws that they’re prepared to compromise certain values or principles as long as the negative consequences of the compromise fall on someone else.

Snyder calls this anticipatory obedience.  In the Carpay example it would play out like this:  Carpay says a government that protects LBGTQ+ rights is totalitarian, therefore that government must be replaced with one that doesn’t protect such rights.  Kenney says this is a vile comment but refuses to strip Carpay of his UCP membership.  Kenney’s supporters defend his decision to keep Carpay in the party, thereby demonstrating they agree with Carpay’s position, then they go one step further:  a Rebel Media correspondent warned Kenney that if he revokes Carpay’s membership he and 600 UCP members would dump their memberships.

This is an extreme example of anticipatory obedience because the base is telling Kenney if he doesn’t fall into line it will cost him votes and maybe even the election.

This also raises a troubling question:  who is running the party, Kenney or Rebel Media and the 600?

Lesson #3 Watch for dangerous symbols:  Snyder gives two examples:  Stalin’s propaganda portrayed prosperous farmers as pigs:  pigs have no rights, they’re slaughtered at abattoirs.  Trump called women slobs, pigs and dogs and said it was okay to sexually assault them:  they are lesser beings not worthy of protection.

It is extremely inflammatory to say the rainbow flag, like a Nazi flag or a Communist flag, symbolizes a hostility towards individual freedoms and to imply that a government that protects the rights of LBGTQ+ people is on a par with the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

The greatest danger…?

Snyder says authoritarian leaders create an emergency or exceptional situation to entice citizens to give up their freedoms for the illusion of security or stability.

There is no threat or danger that would justify the curtailment of LBGTQ+ rights so Carpay had to go big and vague.  He said the biggest danger to Canada isn’t the Alberta government or the federal government or even social justice warriors; it was “self-censorship”.  Self-censorship?   

Carpay argued “the slogans” of diversity, equity, tolerance and inclusion have been abused to undermine free society and our fundamental freedoms.  He didn’t say who was doing the abusing or how our fundamental freedoms have been abused, all he did was confirm to his audience that their pain is real and it’s caused by a totalitarian government protecting a bunch of people waving a rainbow flag.

This is garbage, but Kenney’s decision to pander to his base by refusing to chuck Carpay out of the party, and his support of Doug Ford’s abuse of the notwithstanding clause indicates that life under a Kenney government will be very unpleasant for Albertans who value their fundamental freedoms and failed to stand up for them when they had the chance.

Posted in Culture, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two Minutes on Novermber 11th

Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities in the Great War.

Canadians will mark this day as they have for the last century with two minutes* of silence.  We will remember the 61,000 men and women who died in uniform, most of whom are buried overseas in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, some so badly damaged they couldn’t be identified, their graves marked with headstones inscribed A Canadian Soldier of the Great War—Known unto God, others whose bodies were never found and who are remembered at monuments in Ypres and Vimy Ridge.

We also remember the 173,000 Canadians who were wounded and returned home to get on with their lives as best they could.

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Model of the National War Memorial on display at the Canadian War Museum 

The Armistice was signed between 5:10 and 5:20 in the morning.  It declared hostilities would cease on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

We will never know the names of all the soldiers who were killed or wounded in the intervening six hours, but we do know the name of the last Canadian soldier to fall.

George Lawrence Price, a Nova Scotia boy, was killed by a sniper’s bullet at 10:58 a.m. just two minutes before the Armistice went into effect.

Price was conscripted on October 15, 1917 and joined the 28th Battalion.  On November 11, 1918 the Battalion had moved into position next to a canal near a small town in Belgium.  At 9:00 a.m. the Battalion received word that hostilities would end at 11:00 a.m.  According to Art Goodworthy, a fellow soldier, Price and Goodworthy were worried the Battalion was exposed to enemy fire from the other side of the canal.  They decided to take a small patrol into town to search the houses and encountered German sniper fire.  Price was stuck by a bullet and died two minutes before 11:00 a.m.

Tim Cook, author and co-curator of Canada’s 100 Days exhibit at the Canadian War Museum, describes the Great War as “industrial-scale slaughter”.  We remember it in small stories of men and women who lost the chance to live and laugh, and perhaps, if they’d survived, change the arc of history.

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Nurses and soldiers enjoying a fine day — Photo on display at the Canadian War Museum 

It’s been one hundred years since they made the ultimate sacrifice.

We will never forget.

*Remembrance Day ceremonies vary, some are marked by one minute of silence, others by two.

Sources:  https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-long-shadow-of-war-100-years-later-the-first-world-war-continues/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_Day

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Lawrence_Price

Posted in War | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Hello Ottawa!

Ms Soapbox is on her way to Ottawa.  There’s a good chance she’s in the air right now squashed into a tiny little seat trying to figure out why her WestJet onboard entertainment app isn’t working (luckily, she’s brought along her youngest daughter “Mini” who will fix the glitch in no time).

We’re going to check out the Parliament Buildings, Centre Block, which is about to undergo a major renovation.  Everything from the heritage stone exterior to the copper roof and building systems is due for an upgrade.  Technology, security and earthquake protection (earthquake protection?) are also being improved.

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Parliament Buildings in the summer (not November!)

Our MP Kent Hehr helped us get tour tickets and Question Period passes.  We’re delighted because we’re sure QP in the nation’s capital is a more civilized affair than QP here in Alberta (that is really hard to say with a straight face).

We will be visiting as many museums and art galleries as we can; if you know of a special place you think we should see, let us know.

Talk to you next week!

Posted in Culture, Education, Politics and Government, Uncategorized, Vacation | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Razzle Dazzle ‘Em: Part Two


Last week Jason Kenney unveiled his Fight Back Strategy.  No longer would Alberta be apologetic about the energy industry.  From now on Alberta, the federal government and the industry were going to fight back.

Kenney

Prepare to be razzle dazzled!

  1. War Room

Kenney will set up a war room in the Ministry of Energy to respond aggressively and in real time to lies and myths about Canada’s energy industry “through paid, earned (?) and social media”.  If necessary, the war room will include satellite offices (war roomlets?).

The war room will be funded by Alberta taxpayers. They have the right to ask how much it will cost and more importantly whether it will be incrementally more effective than the Notley government’s campaign which includes cross country tours, meetings with industry and government reps, media campaigns, etc.  If not, it’s a PR stunt.

 

  1. Use legal tools to attack foreign-funded political activists masquerading as charities

Kenney’s lawyers will put together an “evidentiary case” alleging that charities like the David Suzuki Foundation are in flagrant violation of charities laws.  They’ll send the case to the Canada Revenue Agency and the feds.  If CRA and the feds don’t take action, Alberta’s Attorney General will sue for mandamus forcing them to act.  

Same question as #1.  How much will this cost?  Will it be effective?  Even if AG gets CRA to consider the case that doesn’t mean CRA will rule in Kenney’s favour.  And if it does, so what.     

  1. Financially support pro-development lawsuits, including those brought by pro-resource aboriginal groups

Kenney will create a litigation war chest to fund First Nations who want to be “partners in prosperity” but have not been contacted under the duty to consult.

There’s a reason these FN have not be contacted.  They’re not owed a duty to consult;  expanding the duty to consult beyond those to whom it is owed is lunacy.    

Kenney asked why the courts and media focus on the minority of FN who oppose pipelines, instead of consulting with groups like the Eagle Spirit consortium who he said should have been consulted before the government vetoed Northern Gateway.  He said the FN who opposed Trans Mountain at the Federal Court of Appeal were funded by Tides (were they?) but the Eagle Spirit consortium had to crowdsource funds to hire lawyers.

This is so garbled it will take some time to sort out.

First, the “Eagle Spirit consortium” is not a First Nations group.  It’s owned by Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd, a corporation backed by a number of FN and the Aquilini Group, a diversified group of companies founded by Luigi Aquilini who emigrated to Canada from Italy.  Aquilini is involved in property development, construction, management, hospitality, sports and entertainment, technology, renewable energy and agriculture. 

Second, the “Eagle Spirit consortium” includes a number of FN who “staunchly opposed” Northern Gateway because they want their own pipeline (which is expected to open in 2020) to proceed.

Lastly, Kenney did not explain why the “duty to consult” should be extended to corporations or FN who opposed Northern Gateway, nor did he explain why Alberta taxpayers should fund lawsuits brought by corporations owned by multi billionaires.   

  1. Put pressure on political leaders who block Canadian energy, including potentially cutting off oil shipments

Kenney would initiate reprisals against BC ranging from periodic safety inspections on products passing through Alberta and the “ultimate sanction” of periodically reducing energy shipments.

Reprisals may make Kenney feel better, but they’ll have no impact on the Federal Court of Appeal which suspended Trans Mountain because the NEB failed to consider the impact of marine traffic and the federal government failed in its duty to consult.

Kenney would petition the federal government to declare Trans Mountain “for common advantage” under section 92(c).

Kenney acknowledged such a declaration would be purely symbolic and would have no effect so why is he still talking about it?   

  1. Equalization referendum to address unfairness of transfers to provinces blocking Alberta’s resource development

Kenney said Alberta has been “tremendously generous to Confederation” but if politicians try to block Alberta’s resources, he’ll trigger a referendum on Section 36 of the Constitution requiring the federal government to change the equalization formula now, not five years hence.

Kenney admits triggering the referendum doesn’t guarantee Alberta will get the desired outcome but he’ll do it anyway to “elevate Alberta’s demand for fairness to the top of the agenda”. 

In other words, Kenney is proposing a plan that will enrich the lawyers, pull on government resources and distract Albertans from the fact that Kenney signed off on the equalization formula when he was a member of Harper’s Cabinet.  This is a waste of government resources and tax dollars.      

The strategy Kenney is no longer talking about

Okay, here’s the sequins in your eyes part.

When Kenney initially set out his fight back strategy he said as premier he’d call up the CEOs of major energy companies “to discuss a new approach to social license”, namely replicating the litigation strategy of Resolute Forest Products which sued Greenpeace and others for defamation and violation of RICO laws.  The lawsuits started in 2013 and are proceeding in fits and starts on both sides of the border.

Having served as General Counsel for two large publicly traded companies I know Canadian companies detest litigation.  They’re distracting, they drain the company of time, money and resources that could be better spent elsewhere, and they frustrate the heck out of the company’s directors and shareholders who just want it all to go away.  Such lawsuits are called SLAPP suits, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, they make companies look bad and increase sympathy and support for the NGOs.

This is a Trumpian idea:  Kenney thinks he has the right to tell corporations what to do.    It’s utterly inappropriate in a modern democracy.  Someone must have told Kenney he’d crossed a line because while he raised it in his speeches it does not appear in his five-point strategy meme.

Summary

Kenney’s fight back strategy boils down to diverting taxpayer dollars to fund a PR campaign and a litigation war chest while at the same time threatening reprisals against those who cross him.  Markham Hislop rightly summarized Kenney’s strategy as vengeance, not vision.

Kenney is fond of saying we can’t spend our way out of a recession, it’s time someone told him we can’t sue our way to recovery.

Anyone who believes otherwise has sequins in their eyes.

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 34 Comments

Razzle Dazzle ‘Em: Part One

“Give ‘em the old Razzle Dazzle…how can they see with sequins in their eyes?” —Richard Gere as a corrupt criminal lawyer in the musical Chicago

Prepare to be razzle dazzled!

Jason Kenney spoke at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and the Energy Relaunch conference recently.  This post will cover the Chamber speech, tomorrow we’ll consider the Energy Relaunch speech—both were chock a block with razzle dazzle.

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Richard Gere razzle dazzles ’em

 

Kenney started the Chamber speech with a litany of all that’s wrong with Alberta’s economy, blaming NDP policies like the carbon tax, increased personal and business taxes, the increased minimum wage and “massive new regulations” for making the economy worse.

Kenney said these policies created a “crisis of investor confidence” and reduced investment in the energy sector, citing the cancellation of Northern Gateway, the “killing of Energy East”, the “surrender to President Obama’s veto of Keystone XL, and the failure of the feds to assert jurisdiction over Trans Mountain as examples.  NOTE: none of these were caused by the NDP.

But here’s where it got interesting.  Kenney said these were not “isolated incidents” but rather “the culmination of a long and largely foreign funded campaign of defamation of Canadian energy.”

Wait, what?  The “crisis in investor confidence” is the result of a plot by fake US charities to destroy Canada’s energy industry?

Cue Alex Jones…

Kenney supported his conspiracy theory by referring to a meeting cohosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Hewlett Packard Foundation 10 years ago with two dozen NGOs.  The purpose of the meeting was to plot the “tar sands campaign” to bottleneck Alberta’s resources.

Kenney cited “independent researcher” Vivian Krause as a source for his allegation that hedge fund billionaires and fake charities like the Tides Foundation are undermining Canadian energy.  (Vivian Krause is a nutritionist cum spokesperson for the energy industry.  She’s been discredited by tax and charity law expert Mark Blumberg.  Also, a significant part of the $425 million that US foundations donated to Canada over the last 15 years went to the Great Bear Rainforest, a project in partnership with the Harper government).

Kenney said the plotters chose Canada, (“a soft target”), because they knew they couldn’t stop oil production in the US, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russian, Qatar, and Iran.  By keeping Canadian oil landlocked it would sell at a discount.

The logic is hard to follow but I think it’s this:  Tides funds protesters; regulators and the courts ignore the law and cave to protesters; oil companies move their investments to other jurisdictions like the US, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russian, Qatar, and Iran and oil production continues apace.

Razzle Dazzle ‘em!

Kenney’s Solution

Having exposed the conspiracy to bring Alberta’s energy sector to its knees, Kenney then turned to his solution.

First, he reminded the audience of his messianic mission to recreate a “common sense, broad, mainstream free enterprise coalition” (translation: join the UCP).

Second, he promised the UCP would deliver on the following broad commitments if elected.  They would:

  • “hit the ground running”. Kenney will convene a summer session of the Legislature to repeal the carbon tax, reduce business and personal taxes and restructure and/or reduce the minimum wage hike.
  • “untie the regulatory knot/lightening regulatory red tape”. Kenney will appoint a minister to reduce the regulatory burden by one-third and hire people to help draft Orders in Council to eliminate/replace regulations across all sectors, not just energy.  Cabinet will adopt these OICs in the week they’re sworn into office.  He cautioned that his government would be “constrained” with respect to fiscal stimulus and will “overcompensate” for this constraint “on the regulatory side” (ie scrap regulations, unleash the free market!)
  • engage in a “fight-back strategy” to address the international conspiracy to landlock Alberta energy. We’ll explore this in greater detail in Razzle Dazzle ‘Em:  Part 2  

Rule of Law

Kenney is taking advice from Sir Roger Douglas, New Zealand’s (Labour) Minister of Finance from 1984 to 1988.  Sir Roger urges speed in order to make structural change in the public sector because speed creates momentum and makes it harder for opponents of reform to obstruct it.

Okay, hold that thought while we take a quick look at the Rule of Law.

The World Justice Project says the Rule of Law is founded on four universal principles:

  • Accountability: the law applies to the government as well as private actors
  • Just laws: laws are just, clear, publicized, and stable. They’re evenly applied and protect fundamental rights
  • Open government: the processes by which laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient
  • Accessible and impartial dispute resolution: justice is timely. Delivered by competent, ethical, neutral and independent representatives who are accessible, have adequate resources, and reflect the communities they serve

The principle that is relevant here is Open Government.

Government is made up of three branches.  The Legislative branch, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch.  The Legislative branch makes the laws and the Executive branch (Cabinet) implements them.

Kenney says he has no time for consultation, so he’ll hire people who’ll beaver away behind closed doors drafting Orders-in-Council to eliminate or replace regulations across all sectors.  These OICs will be adopted by Cabinet in the week the cabinet ministers are sworn into office.  Any laws that cannot be quietly erased or circumvented by OICs will be repealed in the summer session of the Legislature (assuming the UCP has a majority) and voila, this will send a message to global and domestic capital markets that the UCP government is a government of action, not one paralyzed by process.

Sadly, it will also send a message to Albertans that the UCP government is a government that does not believe in the Rule of Law because he’s prepared to violate the principle of Open Government.

OICs change the law.  They are not published before they’re adopted by Cabinet, they appear after the fact in the Alberta Gazette. The public won’t know which laws are changed or how they’ve been changed until it’s too late to do anything about it.

The Open Government principle requires the process of law making to be accessible, fair and efficient.  While it’s “efficient” to change laws behind closed doors by drafting OICs to be rubberstamped by clueless Cabinet ministers with very little understanding of their own ministries let alone the ministries of their fellow cabinet ministers; and it’s “efficient” to jam laws through the Legislature in the summer when no one is paying attention, this is neither “fair” nor “accessible”.

The need for speed

Kenney met Sir Roger in 1993 when Sir Roger came to Alberta to meet with the Klein government.  He described Sir Roger as spearheading the most ambitious and successful reforms of any modern government.

Really?

According to Murray Dobbin, after four years of “Rogernomics” New Zealand’s agricultural sector was in ruins: farm income dropped 40%, farm land value dropped by 50%, and a policy paying 3,000 farmers a $45,000 incentive to leave was in place.  Unemployment shot up from 4% before Douglas’s reforms to over 12% a year later.

Kenney may venerate Sir Roger but it’s difficult to see why Albertans should do so.

In his Chamber of Commerce speech Kenney told Albertans he believes in conspiracy theories and his government will not observe the Open Government principle of the Rule of Law.

And he told us all this in a blaze of razzle dazzle.

Which brings us back to Richard Gere who said, “What if your hinges all are rusting?  What if in fact you’re just disgusting?  Razzle dazzle ‘em.  And they’ll never catch wise!”

Maybe, but most Albertans don’t have sequins in their eyes.

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

How a Party’s Nominees Reflect a Party’s Values

Racists, homophobes and xenophobes do not feel at home in the New Democratic Party consequently NDP nomination meetings are not derailed by bozo eruptions and do not attract much media attention.

This radio silence means many Albertans are uninformed about the quality of the nominees the NDP considers of sufficient character to represent the party in the 2019 election.

If the two nomination meetings Ms Soapbox attended last week are any indication, the caliber of NDP nominees is outstanding.

On Thursday Janet Eremenko was acclaimed the NDP candidate for Calgary-Elbow and on Saturday Anne McGrath was acclaimed the NDP candidate (replacing Stephanie McLean who is stepping down) for Calgary-Varsity.

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Janet Eremenko NDP candidate Calgary-Elbow

Both women are stellar candidates with much in common.  They have a long history of community service, Janet works in poverty reduction in Calgary and has a strong sense of civic duty (she ran in the last municipal election).  Anne has been active in politics and social justice for decades.  She was Jack Layton’s chief of staff before becoming Rachael Notley’s principal secretary.  They’re both married with children and are deeply committed to making Alberta work for all Albertans.

They’re eloquent speakers who can clearly articulate the Notley government’s accomplishments including $25/day daycare, the $15 minimum wage, and increased support of public healthcare (the Cancer Clinic will be completed ahead of schedule), and public education and infrastructure.

They’re in the enviable position of running for a party that knows what it stands for; and is led by a leader with a reputation for intelligence, integrity, compassion and wit.

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Anne McGrath NDP candidate for Calgary-Varsity

Janet and Anne’s supporters packed the venues;  Janet’s event was held at a popular restaurant, Anne’s took place in a community hall.  There was barely room to move let alone hear each other as lawyers, doctors, business executives, entrepreneurs, teachers, nurses, electricians, welders, union reps, seniors and university students pressed close to hear what everyone had to say.  They were noisy, optimistic and generous (both candidates raised thousands of dollars).

And why shouldn’t they be upbeat, they’d just won the trifecta.  Voters decide on how they will vote based on three things:  the party, the party leader, and the local candidate.  If they’re lucky they’ll nail two out of three, but rarely do all three elements line up like three cherries on a slot machine.

Until now.

NDP voters in Calgary-Elbow and Calgary-Varsity are over the moon because they like the NDP party, they like Rachel Notley, and they like their local candidates.  Compare this to the dilemma faced by UCP supporters who are still waiting to find out what their party stands for (their leader holds the pen and will tell them when he’s good and ready), who are concerned about their leader’s position on social issues, and who are being asked to support local UCP candidates who may have zero influence on the party’s leader and the party’s policies.

Janet and Anne’s supporters are well aware the 2019 election will be a hard slog, but they’re up for the challenge, looking forward to the chance to put Rachel Notley and their local candidate up against Jason Kenney and the UCP candidates.  They’re confident that most Albertans don’t want to drag the province backward to the Klein era, economically and socially, and would prefer to move forward into the 21st century with confidence and resolve.

A supporter summed up their position with a Notley quote:  “We’re not afraid of the future.  We own it!”

So yes, the NDP nomination meetings don’t get much media coverage, and for good reason.  The NDP field quality nominees while the UCP is plagued with racists, homophobes and xenophobes.

If you’re still not sure whose vision, Notley’s or Kenney’s, best reflects your Alberta, take a closer look at the NDP and UCP nominees, that’ll tell you all you need to know.

NOTE:  this post is about the quality of the people running for nomination for political office in Alberta.  If it reads like a puff piece for the NDP that’s because I’m comparing certain NDP nominees to certain UCP nominees.  

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Political Discourse in Alberta: Seen through Orwell’s Lens

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”—George Orwell

It was fascinating to consider Jason Kenney’s comments on two issues that arose this week in the context of George Orwell’s commentary on political discourse.

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George Orwell

The first issue was Mr Kenney’s response to the latest bozo eruption, the second issue was his plan to save Alberta’s energy industry.  Mr Kenney’s comments illustrate the political bafflegab Orwell calls a “catalogue of swindles and perversions”.

“Making lies sound truthful”

Last week three UCP nomination candidates running in an Edmonton riding posed for pictures with the Soldiers of Odin, a white nationalist, anti-immigration group originating in Finland with links to neo-Nazis in Europe.

Two of the candidates said they didn’t know who the SOO were.  The third candidate knew exactly who they were but gave them the benefit of the doubt because they were polite.

Jason Kenney’s response to the incident was, umm, creative:

  • The SOO “crashed” the event (they RSVP’d in advance and checked with the venue to make sure they could wear their colours)
  • The SOO could have been mistaken for a baseball team or motorcycle gang (or they could have been recognized as the SOO from their regalia)
  • The incident was “an act of political mischief” by the Alberta Independence Party who apparently associate “with various kooky organizations.” (google the AIP, there’s no reference to the SOO or their ilk; the AIP supports the LBGTQ+ community but shares the UCP’s belief that parents should be aware of any extracurricular activity (including GSAs) their children participate in).
  • Premier Notley was wrong to say the fact the UCP allowed eight people who expressed racist or homophobic views to run for nomination indicates a “pattern of behavior” that shows the UCP is open to extremists. Kenney said this is “gutter politics” (gutter politics is rooting around in someone’s personal life to dig up dirt to discredit them, it is not the same as stating a fact, namely that eight UCP candidates expressed extremist views and the party continues to attract extremist supporters like the SOO).
  • Notley should have “stood in solidarity” with the Aboriginal candidates who were the “victims of this situation” (why? because they’re women? because they’re Aboriginal? because they were duped? because they’re standing for a party that attracts extremists?)

Orwell says politicians who speak without precision: (1) have a meaning but can’t express it, or (2) inadvertently say something they don’t mean, or (3) are “almost indifferent as to whether [their] words mean anything or not”.

Given that it’s not true the SOO “crashed” the event, there are no facts to indicate the AIP set it up as an act of “political mischief”, a white nationalist, anti-immigration group can be described as many things but “kooky” is not one of them, and Mr Kenney’s attack on Premier Notley is based on an incorrect understanding of the meaning of “gutter politics”, one can only assume Mr Kenney is “almost indifferent” about whether his words mean anything at all.

“Giving the appearance of solidity to pure wind”

When Mr Kenney wasn’t dealing with bozo eruptions he was telling the business community he’d fix Alberta by “hitting the ground running” and sending a message that “Alberta is open for business again”.

He says his government will be a champion of the energy industry.  He’ll move from “being on the defence” to a “fight-back strategy” (I guess that’s supposed to be an offense strategy but fighting-back sounds defensive to me).  He’ll set up “a well-resourced war room in the Ministry of Energy to respond in real time to every lie and myth told about our energy industry here in Canada or around the world.”  He’ll set up satellite offices if necessary.

Orwell calls this “pretentious diction”.  It’s used to dress up a simple statement, namely that Mr Kenney intends to increase the bureaucracy by hiring more people to man a “well-resourced war room” in the Department of Energy and its satellite offices to respond to “lies and myths” wherever they arise.

How will they respond?  Presumably by writing papers and op-eds, attending speaking engagements, and monitoring and responding to comments made in the mainstream media and social media by other governments (including First Nations) and special interest groups.  It is unclear whether the plan includes showing up at conferences and demonstrations to deliver the energy industry’s message to those that oppose it.

It’s a nice piece of corporate welfare but it’s just talk and will have no impact on the federal regulators and courts that approve interprovincial pipelines or international organizations like OPEC that impact global supply and thus prices.

Orwell warns that hackneyed phrases are meaningless; this is particularly true when they’re code for hiring staff to do something that will have no impact on Alberta’s economy.

Orwell’s message

George Orwell made his comments about political discourse in the middle of WW2 while “highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”  Alberta’s situation is nowhere near as dire, but Orwell’s observations are still relevant.

Albertans deserve more than political language designed to make lies sound truthful and give substance to meaningless fluff.

Jason Kenney’s off-hand dismissal of the SOO fiasco and his promise that a UCP government will send the message that Alberta is open for business simply doesn’t cut it.

This week Mr Kenney said nothing more than what Orwell described as a string of hackneyed phrases “tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”

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