When Goliath Thinks He’s David

Ms Soapbox and her daughter were admiring the statues in the Borghese Gallery in Rome when Amnesty International published an open letter expressing its concern that Mr Kenney’s decision to fund a $30 million war room and a $2.5 million public inquiry into foreign funding of environmental groups undermines and violates Canadian and international human rights.

Mr Kenney fired back with a mendacious diatribe that failed to address the issue (violation of human rights) and spewed nonsense intended to convince everyone that environmentalists were bullies and the energy sector and Albertans dependent on it were their victims. He’d promised to protect these “victims” and by golly he’d deploy the full power of the state to punish those who got in his way.

His supporters lapped it up; the rest of us were disgusted.

Which brings me back to the statues in the Borghese Gallery, specifically Bernini’s magnificent statue of David.

Bernini’s David

So here’s Mr Kenney’s problem. He’s got it backwards. He’s not David taking on Goliath, he’s Goliath taking on David and we all know how that turned out.

Those who oppose Mr Kenney’s policies on climate change, heck his policies in general, are like David, determined and unafraid. We’re gathering strength and refining our focus and one day that stone will fly and Goliath, the champion of the Philistines will fall.*

Mr Kenney’s cavalier response to a legitimate concern expressed by Amnesty International all but guarantees it.

*Ms Soapbox is not for one moment suggesting someone slingshot Mr Kenney. Like Mr Kenney’s use of the Putin/Greenpeace off-to-Siberia example, Mr Soapbox’s reference to David and Goliath is meant to be instructive, simply instructive.

Posted in Climate Change, Crime and Justice, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 35 Comments

The Magical Ms M and the Blue Ribbon Panel on Finances

When Jason Kenney asked former finance minister Janice MacKinnon “to conduct a deep dive into Alberta’s fiscal situation” he told her to deliver recommendations to balance the budget by 2023 and develop a plan to retire the province’s debt without considering the revenue side of the equation.   

Ms M accepted this cock-eyed mandate and worked her magic.   

There’s been a lot of talk about Ms M’s recommendations, but very little discussion about whether her data support those recommendations or indeed whether the Blue Ribbon Panel lost all credibility when she agreed to Mr Kenney’s wonky mandate in the first place.  

Ms MacKinnon

Half a budget

For a government that prides itself on being willing to use “all of the tools in its toolbox”, the fact Kenney prevented Ms M from considering the revenue side of the budgeting process confirms he was looking for a political report, not one based on economic logic.    

Ms M started by reassuring Albertans she understood the importance of revenues.  She defined a budget as a plan “outlining anticipated revenues and expenditures” and warned that to manage Alberta’s finances it would be necessary “to increase stable sources of revenue and decrease reliance on volatile non-renewable resource revenues”. 

That said, she began to spread the pixie dust.          

She selected three comparator provinces, BC, Ontario and Quebec—all of which have a provincial sales tax and higher personal income taxes than Alberta and factor them into the revenue side of their budget deliberations—and concluded Alberta had to cut $600 million in spending and radically change its approach to capital investment or face disaster.    

No one, not even Ms Notley’s NDP, disputes the idea that Alberta’s economy is facing “crisis” given its unsustainable reliance on volatile non-renewable resource revenues to balance the budget;  where we part company with Ms M and Mr Kenney is on how best to address it.

The magic rule:  cheapest is best, always  

Throughout the report Ms M’s tries to justify her recommendations with evidence but when the evidence isn’t in her favour she simply defaults to the magic rule: Alberta must match the cheapest province in the comparator group; and when Alberta is the cheapest province she sets the bar even lower by expanding the comparator group.          

Healthcare

Ms M said Alberta’s healthcare spending per capita ($5077) is higher than BC ($4267), Ontario ($4080) and Quebec ($4370).  She noted Alberta’s healthcare spending increased by 26% over the last 10 years but the rate of increase slowed to 3.2% (in line with the other provinces) under the NDP.  Ah, so the NDP’s plan to “bend the cost curve” was working.   

Ms M said one would expect higher spending to produce better health outcomes but Alberta’s “outcomes are no better and are often worse than comparable provinces.”  This is not entirely true. 

Some of Alberta’s outcomes lag the comparator provinces, but others are better (eg. general mortality rates and the treatment of kidney disease) or on par with the other provinces (eg. hospital sepsis, patient readmittance to hospital, the number of family practitioners and specialists per 100,000 and wait times). 

Alberta’s supposedly poorer health outcomes do not justify reduced spending…and it doesn’t need to because the magic rule is Alberta’s spending must be as low or lower than the rest of the comparators.   Period.   

There’s no doubt Alberta needs to improve its health outcomes (all provinces do) but Ms M provided no evidence to support her recommendation that the solution lies in more privatization and picking fights with doctors and other medical professionals over compensation.    

Education

Guess what, Alberta’s K – 12 teachers are not the highest paid in the land.  They make less than Ontario teachers, and more than BC teachers, there is no comparative information for Quebec.   

The same is true for Alberta’s spending per student and the split between program spending versus administrative spending—Alberta spends more than BC but less than Ontario and Quebec.     

Nevertheless, the magic rule dictates Alberta’s education budget be reduced to match BC with no consideration of the fact that Alberta has two education systems (public and separate) while BC only has one (public).  This is so easy when you don’t have to think about it.   

The most troubling part of Ms M’s analysis is she fails to distinguish between public and private education.  By blurring the lines, she obscures the impact of her recommendation that the funding formula move away from one based solely on enrolment to one that considers outcomes including a school’s success at delivering “strategic outcomes desired by the ministry”. 

Leaving aside the uncertainty around what “strategic outcomes” means and how it would be measured, this recommendation paves the way for private schools to get more public funding than public schools whose outcomes are impacted by fewer resources and the fact they can’t screen out higher needs students.      

With respect to post secondary institutions, Ms M found Alberta spends $$36,510 per full time student, this is more than BC ($31,299), Ontario ($21,536) and Quebec ($25, 822), and less on administration than Quebec but more than BC and Ontario. 

What’s not clear is why.  (Ms Soapbox found the bubble charts and bar graphs incredibly unhelpful).   

In any event Ms M’s recommendation is clear:  some institutional aren’t as financially viable as others and should be on the chopping block.  One suspects institutions with strong UCP supporters on their boards of governors will be just fine.  The rest are on their own.  

Public sector

This is where Ms M’s logic went right out the window.

Ms M says the government grew in size from 2014 to 2019 despite the recession and growing deficit and debt.  What’s that got to do with it?  A caring government strengthens the social safety net in tough times, it doesn’t rip it apart.  (Incidentally, the increase over those five years was small, only 5.4%).

Ms M says the government is too big, but the metric she uses (# of employees per 100,000 population) shows it’s just right.  Alberta’s public service is similar in size to BC, higher than Ontario but much lower than Quebec.  It’s in the sweet spot and arguably should be left alone…but for the magic rule, cheapest is best.           

Ms M acknowledges the unions exercised “restraint” in past years but suggests a 2.5% pay hike in 2016/17 and 0% and 0% in the next two years wasn’t enough “restraint” because union employees are well paid and get other benefits.  This ignores the fact that they did not get sky high salaries and bonuses in the good times;  if they can’t take advantage of the “boom” why should they be penalized for the “bust”?

Then Ms M does an about face and recommends the pay freeze on government non-union employees be lifted.  The only distinction between these two groups is one is unionized and the other is not.        

She wants to overhaul collective bargaining by tying pay raises to salary levels in comparator provinces. This recommendation undermines the role of unions which is to negotiate the best deal for their members here in Alberta.  Furthermore, it’s inconsistent with the practice in the private sector where compensation is based on annual surveys performed by Towers Perrin and Mercers who compare salaries and benefits across the employers’ peer group in a specific marketplace.  What an oil company’s peer group pays its engineers in Calgary sets the benchmark for Calgary, no one cares what a company pays its engineers in Ontario.     

Ms M recommends the government reduce the size of the public service by attrition (good), eliminating lower priority services and programs (let’s talk) and alternative delivery options (oh you mean privatization, we really need to talk!).   

Capital Spending

This one had poor Ms M scrambling. 

It turns out Alberta’s capital spending is low when compared to BC, Ontario and Quebec.  No problem, Ms M simply ditched the conventional way of measuring capital spending (it’s used across Canada and internationally) and replaced it with a metric that compared Alberta’s capital spending on a per capita basis with the 10-province average.  And voila, Alberta’s spending was above average for the last 20 years. 

She wants Alberta to decrease capital spending to align with the 10-province average.  Furthermore, she’s against borrowing to finance capital spending.  She wants the government to implement a long term capital plan that finances capital spending out of current revenues. 

This is contrary to David Dodge’s advice that the government should borrow to finance capital spending in times of slow growth.  He believes “attempting to maintain a balanced budget each and every year will exaggerate cyclical economic volatility and have a perverse impact on long run growth.”

So, who do we trust:  Ms M or David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, and the national and international community?   

The magic continues

Ms M expects Alberta to increase its revenues by growing the economy.  She applauds the corporate tax cut as one way to get there.  Given the fact Alberta was already the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada it’s questionable whether the $4.5 billion gift to corporations will make a significant difference.  However, any moves on Mr Kenney’s part that damage publicly funded and publicly delivered healthcare, education and other public services will negatively impact Alberta’s reputation for offering a good quality of life.   

And no amount of pixie dust will change that. 

Posted in Economics, Education, Employment, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 48 Comments

Albertans: “People of Destiny”

On Sept 1 Premier Kenney wished Alberta a happy birthday.   Not once in his video message did he mention Canada.  It was as if Alberta became a province in 1905 only to float around in No Mans Land for the next 114 years. 

He did, however, acknowledge Alberta’s connection to Canada in the official press release by noting Alberta became “a full and equal partner in the Dominion of Canada”, “Albertans have built a province that is the engine of Canada’s prosperity (actually it’s not the engine, it’s one of three engines, Ontario and Quebec both contribute more to Canada’s GDP than we do), and Alberta is “the best place in Canada to live, work, play and raise a family.” 

Both the video and the press release repeat the message that Albertans are “people of destiny”.  Given the ambiguity of the phrase (it can refer to anything from evangelical groups to pop stars) it’s important to note how Mr Kenney characterized the phrase. 

Mr Kenney said a “program” entitled “A People of Destiny” was printed to mark the day Alberta became a province in 1905.  He doesn’t tell us what the “program” said.  He does tell us that he believes generations of Albertans have lived up to the “notion of being people of destiny, that we have created something exceptional here, a culture of enterprise, of personal responsibility and strong communities.”  He asked us to remember those who helped build Alberta “while rededicating ourselves to live by the values of community enterprise and freedom in an Alberta that in the future will continue to be strong and free.”

Perhaps this is just feel good talk Alberta-style, but it’s troubling in the context of Mr Kenney’s misleading rhetoric that the feds are using the equalization formula to unfairly benefit other provinces at Alberta’s expense and his contradictory campaign promises about the purpose of a referendum—the UCP policy document says it’s to (a) remove equalization from the Constitution, and (b) use the threat of the referendum to demand changes to the equalization formula (do we want it removed from the Constitution or not?) if there isn’t substantial progress on a coastal pipeline and if Bill C-69 isn’t repealed, (so we’re okay with the equalization formula if we get Trans Mountain and Mr Scheer becomes prime minister and repeals Bill C-69?).

Mr Kenney’s sloppy language has led many Albertans to conclude that Mr Kenney will call a referendum on equalization and if the majority of Albertans say the feds should restructure the formula and the feds refuse that gives Mr Kenney the mandate to start working on Alberta’s independence.

Mr Kenney attempted to disabuse Albertans of this notion with an angry press release upbraiding Quebec Premier Legault for saying Mr Kenney was “starting to become a separatist” and reminding Albertans that it was he who insisted the UCP merger agreement include a principle of loyalty to a “united Canada” and for him “that loyalty is non-negotiable”. 

But it’s too late.

His supporters firmly believe that Mr Kenney will lead them to the promised land if the federal government fails to come to heel.

And goofy happy birthday greetings telling Albertans they are “people of destiny” without acknowledging how fortunate we are to be part of a diverse and wealthy nation called Canada only add to the confusion. 

Posted in Celebrations, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , | 62 Comments

Mr Kenney’s Announcements on TMX and KXL

This just in from the how-to-make-a-good-news-story-sound-bad department:

Mr Kenney’s government issued two press releases this week, one about the restart of construction of the TMX pipeline project, the other about the favourable ruling of the Nebraska Supreme Court on Keystone XL.  Both of these announcements are about a good result achieved by someone else.

And that’s why Mr Kenney’s knickers are in a knot. 

Mr Kenney going on about something

Good news isn’t really good news because…

The TMX press release contains just one word that’s not critical or negative.  It appears in this sentence: “The news that construction will restart on this project is positive; however there is still not reason to celebrate.” 

The Keystone XL press release contains two words that aren’t critical or negative.  They appear in these sentences: “Today’s approval is encouraging news for both Alberta and our nation as a whole.  This court victory is another step forward for this vital pipeline project after far too many years of regulatory delays and hurdles.”  No wait, there’s a third positive word, Mr Kenney expressed gratitude to the US administration (is he afraid to say the word “Trump”) for issuing the second permit for Keystone XL.

After offering those tepid “attaboys” the press releases shift into campaign rhetoric and misleading information.   

Mr Kenney promises his government will “fight” those who “obstruct progress,” and who must not be allowed to “illegally block” construction and “essentially veto a project.”  He fails to mention that TMX protestors (including Elizabeth May) who violated the injunction protecting the TMX work site in Burnaby were arrested and fined and will be arrested and fined if they violate injunctions in the future.  And that Canada has no jurisdiction to fight those who illegally block the construction of Keystone XL in the US. 

In case his rhetoric isn’t persuasive enough, Mr Kenney ends both press releases with a demand that the federal government repeal what he calls the ‘No More Pipelines’ Bill (C-69) and the West Coast Tanker Ban (C-48), but neglects to mention that neither bill has any impact on TMX or Keystone XL whatsoever and may have minimal impact in the future because some oilsands executives say Canada will have enough takeaway capacity for quite some time if TMX, Keystone XL and Enbridge Line 3 are completed.   

Mr Kenney’s references to Bills C-69 and C-48 are red herrings intended to divert our attention from the fact his government had nothing to do with TMX and Keystone XL achieving these milestones. 

Mr Kenney may argue he’s just being realistic.  If so, he should have mentioned Keystone XL and Enbridge Line 3 (and Line 5) are facing additional legal challenges in the US.  If Mr Kenney wants to get in on the action, perhaps he can aim the big guns in his $30 million War Room in the Americans’ direction.  (NOTE: “big guns” is a metaphor, Ms Soapbox is not for a moment suggesting Mr Kenney take up arms and declare war on the United States).

Where’s a stateman when you need one?

Even the former premier, Rachel Notley (NDP) and the former Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr (Liberal) were able to overcome their lack of affection for Donald Trump (nutbar) when he reissued the federal cross-border permit through an expedited presidential order that allowed Keystone XL to proceed.  They issued press releases welcoming the news.    

Wouldn’t it be nice if Mr Kenney could rise to the level of statesman instead of defaulting to cheap partisanship and misleading attacks on the federal Liberal government?

Just once?  Please? 

Posted in Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Trudeau’s Ethics Violation

It was a headline befitting the National Enquire, splashed across the top of the newspaper in four different fonts and three different colours: “The evidence abundantly shows that Mr Trudeau knowingly sought to influence Ms Wilson-Raybould both directly and through the actions of his agents.”

And boom, it turned into a media circus.      

The fundamental problem with this headline is the Ethics Commissioner, Mr Dion, also said simply seeking to influence another’s decision is not enough to breach of section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act. 

A second element is required.  Mr Dion had to find that “Mr. Trudeau, through his actions and those of his staff, sought to improperly further the interests of SNC-Lavalin.” 

Mr Dion said both elements were satisfied; however Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional and international law, says Mr Dion appears to have misinterpreted “his own act and his jurisdiction” and  we need a “more in depth discussion of the accuracy of this report among government, the media and…the public.”

Mr Trudeau

Sadly, the media is not interested in a thoughtful discussion about the Report.  It’s perfectly happy running amok, cherry picking its way through the Report and blasting out the juicy bits to boost readership.       

Media Spin I: Improper interference in a criminal proceeding

The media says Mr Trudeau breached the Act by trying to get JWR to “interfere” with a criminal prosecution.  This ignores the fact the AG has the discretion to intervene and if she chooses to exercise her discretion she’s not “interfering” with a criminal prosecution, she’s “intervening.”  (And remember Mr Dion said Mr Trudeau trying to get JWR to do anything doesn’t violate the Act).

Media Spin 2: The women vs the old boys club    

The media says JWR led a group of women (Ms Roussel, director of public prosecutions, Ms Prince, her chief of staff, Ms Drouin, her deputy minister, former Liberal MP Ms Philpott and maybe even former chief justice Beverly McLachlin who “had her own reservations”) in a fight to fend off the “Old Boys club” (comprised of Mr Trudeau, some SNC executives and senior government officials, and maybe even two former Supreme Court justices, Frank Iacobucci and John Major) who were trying to get JWR to “interfere” with a criminal prosecution.

Have they read the report?

Ms Drouin, JWR’s deputy minister, was the first to propose bringing in an outside expert.  She said the Attorney General (JWR) could issue a directive instructing the Prosecution Service to give the outside expert enough information to ensure the “public interest criteria had been properly weighed”.   JWR rejected her deputy minister’s advice. 

With respect to Ms McLachlin, JWR said she’d talk with the former chief justice, then changed her mind.  Ms McLachlin was prepared to meet with JWR, Ms McLachlin’s so-called “reservations” were that she was no longer a lawyer and couldn’t give legal advice, she needed a proper briefing and she’d need to be retained by the AG not the government. 

No matter how the media spins it, this wasn’t a battle between the women and the Old Boys club.        

Media Spin 3: Rushed remediation agreements  

Discussions about whether Canada should adopt remediation agreements (also known as deferred prosecution agreements) had been ongoing since May 2015 when SNC engaged in discussions with the Harper government.  Talks stalled and were suspended pending the outcome of the federal election in Oct 2015. 

The Trudeau government revisited the idea in Feb 2016.  It held public consultations from Sept 25, 2016 to Dec 8, 2016 and found the majority of the participants supported the idea.  It introduced amendments to the Criminal Code in the omnibus Budget Bill that was tabled on Mar 27, 2017.  The Budget Bill was reviewed by the House Standing Committee and several Senate committees before receiving assent on June 21, 2018. The Criminal Code amendments went into effect on Sept 19, 2018. 

JWR complained that the consultation process was rushed and refused to lead the memorandum on the Criminal Code amendments to Cabinet, speak publicly or speak before parliamentary committees about it. 

Was the consultation rushed? 

There are no rules setting out how long public consultation should last.  Consultations range from three weeks for input on national historic sites, to three months for input on the agenda for Canada’s Sustainable Development Knowledge, to three years for input on the implementation of the Species at Risk.  JWR didn’t say how long the consultation should have been, but she was so unhappy with the process she boycotted it.      

Media Spin 4:  It’s all about Quebec votes

Mr Trudeau had direct contact with JWR once, in a meeting in Sept 2018 that included Mr Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council.  Mr Trudeau said he understood the decision was JWR’s to make and she’d made it.  He said he wanted to find a “solution” and when she agreed to talk further with Mr Wernick and her own deputy minister (who’d suggested bringing in an outside expert and reaching out to the Prosecution Service) he thought she was prepared to revisit the issue.

During this meeting Mr Wernick mentioned the upcoming Quebec election and Mr Trudeau said he was a Quebec MP.  JWR asked Mr Trudeau if he was politically interfering with her role.  He said no and never mentioned politics again, unfortunately some of his staff did in their meetings with JWR and her staff.

Professor Mendes and others say the Shawcross doctrine precludes an AG from considering political interests in a criminal prosecution.  But here’s the kicker.  Professor Mendes says the Shawcross doctrine does not apply in a consideration of section 9 of the Act and the Ethics Commissioner misinterpreted the Act and his jurisdiction when he applied it.    

Media Spin 5:  This is about ethics

Mr Dion said Mr Trudeau attempted to influence JWR’s decision not to intervene in the SNC prosecution on four occasions:    

  1. At the Sept 2018 meeting when he said he was an MP for Quebec.  Professor Mendes says the Commissioner inappropriately applied the Shawcross doctrine and misinterpreted his jurisdiction when he did so.
  2. When PMO and Privy Council staff asked whether the AG could intervene in SNC’s application for judicial review to expedite the hearing or get a stay pending the outcome of discussions about the remediation agreement.  Does staff asking the question amount to “influence”?
  3. Suggesting to JWR that she seek external advice from “someone like” former chief justice Beverly McLachlin when SNC had legal opinions from two former Supreme Court justices and shared them with the government and these opinions were prepared for the “sole purpose of persuading [JWR] to reconsider her opinion.”  This is highly insulting.  Ms McLachlin is not a puppet on a string.  She would have formed her own opinion which may or may not have agreed with that of the two former Supreme Court justices.     
  4. The “final and most flagrant attempt to influence” JWR was her conversation with Mr Wernick where he asked her to reconsider.  The irony here is palpable.  The Ethics Commissioner is relying on a conversation JWR secretly taped (most people would call that unethical, but the Ethics Commission calls it an “audio recording”) to condemn Mr Trudeau for things Mr Wernick said.          

Mr Dion said these four instances tick the box for “seeking to influence.”  He then embarked on a mushy discussion of the “national public interest” to demonstrate Mr Trudeau sought to improperly further SNC’s interests. 

Mr Trudeau said he was trying to save 9,000 jobs.  Mr Dion said this was improper because a prosecutor cannot consider the “national public interest.”  Mr Trudeau’s lawyer argued “national public interest” as defined in the Criminal Code is modeled on the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the former Secretary-General of OECD said it was never intended to include job loss so a prosecutor can consider it .  Mr Dion rejected this argument.

And Mr Trudeau was done. 

When its all over

Yes, the Report contains evidence of discussions between Mr Trudeau and his staff and JWR and her staff, but these discussions are not enough to find Mr Trudeau in breach of the Act.  To cross that bridge Mr Dion applied the Shawcross doctrine, perhaps in error, and relied on a definition of the national public interest which may be incorrect.  The Report requires more in depth discussion.     

Not that it matters to the media who are guided by the maxim: what would the National Enquirer do?

Based on what we’ve seen so far, the National Enquirer would be proud. 

Posted in Crime and Justice, Feminism, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 44 Comments

Patriot Games

“Patriot:  the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.” Mark Twain

Last week Mr Kenney joined the patriot squad.  On August 4 and  August 7 he released two odious videos on social media.  Let’s call them “Patriot Games One” and “Patriot Games Two.”

Patriot Games One

The gist of Patriot Games One was that Mr Kenney is a Canadian patriot who comes from a long line of Canadian patriots and is descended from people who fought for Canada even before it became a country (um, wouldn’t that make them British patriots?).  Mr Kenney said Alberta is getting a raw deal from the other provinces and the feds, Alberta is paying the bills and getting no respect, but fear not Mr Kenney will not let Justin Trudeau “push us out of our country”.  Mr Kenney said instead of focusing on Alberta separating from Canada, Albertans should focus on “separating” Justin Trudeau from the prime minister’s office. 

Message:  Be a patriot.  Vote Conservative because Trudeau is trying to push Alberta out of Confederation.           

Patriot Games Two

Patriot Games Two came out three days later.  Apparently, Albertans continually ask Mr Kenney about separating.  He says he’s a Canadian federalist, always has been, always will be…but he understands Alberta’s angst.  Alberta contributed $600 billion to Canada over the last six decades and Trudeau “killed” and “surrendered to a veto” on Northern Gateway (I guess killing it wasn’t enough), he “killed” Energy East, he “bungled” Trans Mountain, he’s “threatening us with a punitive carbon tax,” he brought in the “no more pipelines” law, he attacked Alberta oil exports off the northwest coast and did other bad things to Alberta.  But Albertans are “proud Canadians”, we should fix the problems with the federation by electing a conservative federal government. 

Message: Be a patriot.  Vote Conservative because Trudeau is hurting Alberta.   

Here’s where Patriot Games Two got really interesting.  Kenney said, “I believe we Albertans are patriotic Canadians we believe in Canada even if we’re frustrated with how the current federal government has been injuring our economy and I’m trying to isolate the frustration on a series of federal government policies that have injured our economy, the only alternative is for me to pretend that this frustration doesn’t exist and when political leadership ignores that level of frustration, that’s where things can go in the wrong direction.   (Is he going to “isolate the frustration” by magnifying it? If he ignores the frustration what direction will it go? Car bombs and kidnapped politicians?)

The Patriot

He ends the clip by repeating his claim that he’s a proud Canadian patriot who wants Alberta “to be a key member” of federation, contributing to the rest of Canada. 

Message:  I’m not a separatist, I just sound like one because I’m isolating your frustration.    

Patriot or Nationalist

There is so much wrong with Patriot Games One and Two it’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start by defining terms.  Merriam Webster defines “patriot” as someone who loves and supports his/her country.

Mr Kenney says he’s a patriot, but his actions aren’t those of someone who loves and supports his country.     

A patriot does not spend years maligning federal institutions (like the equalization formula) or telling Albertans they’re getting a raw deal and “no respect” from other provincial governments and the federal government.

A patriot does not pretend the language of separatism is an effort to “isolate” frustration and he has no other alternative.  Mr Kenney could try working with Mr Trudeau to gain his support like Ms Notley did when she convinced Mr Trudeau to buy Trans Mountain and increase unemployment insurance benefits for Albertans, or Mr Lougheed did when he engaged with Pierre Trudeau on changes to the 1982 Constitution Act.  These fine premiers found an alternative that did not suggest the federal government was trying to throw Alberta out of the country. 

(As an aside, why would Mr Trudeau push Alberta out of Canada when he just spent $4.5 billion on a pipeline to transport Alberta bitumen to tide water?)    

Lastly, a patriot does not use the language of patriotism in a crass partisan pitch for the federal Conservatives coming to the people directly from the premier’s office and the lobby of the Alberta Legislature no less.  Does Mr Kenney seriously think Albertans will vote for anyone else?

The historian, Timothy Snyder, said a patriot sets a good example of what the country means for generations to come.       

George Orwell said a nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge” tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.”

Mr Kenney may say he’s a patriot, but his actions suggest otherwise. 

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

What Do They Want?

When Ms Soapbox read the “open letter” to Canadians published by three oil executives she was reminded of Sigmund Freud.  Freud spent 30 years asking himself: what do women want?   

After 70 years of riding the boom/bust roller coaster with the energy industry Canadians are wondering the same thing:  what do they want?          

The answer is contained in the “open letter”. 

Here’s the letter as it appeared in 30 newspapers.  (Ms Soapbox’s comments appear in italics).          

What do they want?

The Open Letter  

We have big decisions to make as a country, and there is an opportunity for each of you to influence the outcome.  (How will you vote in the federal election?)

Canadians want to know what the energy sector is doing to address the global climate change challenge while working to strengthen our economy. (True).

As energy company leaders, we believe Canada is ideally positioned to do its part to both positively impact climate change and ensure a strong and vibrant economy for the future. (Good).

This is not an ‘either’ ‘or’ conversation, it’s an ‘and’ conversation.  (Got it).

The world needs more energy to sustain a growing global economy that is expected to lift three billion people out of poverty in the decades ahead. We need more wind, solar and hydro, but oil and natural gas remain a large part of the mix too. This is true in even the most optimistic scenarios for the worldwide adoption of renewable energy. (Lifting three billion people out of poverty involves geopolitical and macroeconomic issues as well as climate change, but okay).

The world also needs to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But shutting down Canada’s oil industry will have little impact on global targets. In fact, it could have the opposite effect, with higher carbon fuels replacing our lower emissions products.  (This is not an excuse for doing nothing, Canada can set an example.  It’s called moral leadership).   

A healthy Canadian oil and natural gas industry is vital in leading the way to a lower carbon future.  (Not if “healthy” means “profitable” and “profitable” means minimal GHG reduction).

Made-in-Canada technologies that reduce emissions at our oil and natural gas operations could be adapted for sharing with other industries worldwide. We are already making meaningful progress developing those solutions.  (True).

We’ve reduced the emissions intensity in the oil sands by about 30% over the past two decades, and a number of oil sands operations are producing oil with a smaller greenhouse gas impact than the global average. We’re working to get those numbers even lower. 

(Actually, Suncor says it’s reduced emissions by 50%.  Is Suncor sharing its technologies with you, if so, why are you at 30%?)

And Canada’s energy companies are the country’s single largest investors in clean tech. Through organizations such as Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) and the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) we are continuing to work on – and share – breakthrough technologies.  (Good, but you don’t get brownie points for doing the right thing).

But we can’t do it alone.  (Here it comes…)  

And that’s why we are writing this letter.  (Wait for it…)  

As we head into the upcoming election, we are asking you to join us in urging Canada’s leaders of all political stripes to help our country thrive by supporting an innovative energy industry. One that can contribute to solving the global climate change challenge and play a significant role in creating future energy solutions by developing our resources in the cleanest most responsible way possible today. 

(So you want to elect a government that will support the industry.  According to 80% of the investors and industry executives who attended the 2019 ScotiaBank Conference, the biggest issue facing the industry is lack of egress/takeaway capacity—only 10% thought regulatory issues were the biggest challenge—the Trudeau Liberals bought Trans Mountain to fix the egress problem.  The holdup is Charter challenges in the courts.  A change of government won’t “fix” the courts. 

The Conservatives say they’ll repeal the carbon tax.  This will put more cash in your pocket.  How will you invest it?  85% of the ScotiaBank guys said they’d buy back shares or pay off debt (ie. give the money to shareholders or banks), 0% said they’d invest in growth (ie. more jobs).  So why should Canadians support the Conservatives?   

The choices we make will determine the quality of life we create for ourselves and future generations. These choices will impact our ability to fund schools, hospitals, parks and the social programs that we as Canadians so deeply value.  (Canadians also value the environment).

This isn’t about any particular pipeline, policy or province. This is about the future of Canada. 

(So let’s talk politics.  The ScotiaBank guys were asked who’d win in the fall election:  11% predicted a Conservative majority, 5% predicted a Liberal majority and 75% predicted a minority government of some sort.  A CBC poll showed 35% of Canadians support the Conservatives, 31% support the Liberals, 13% support the NDP and 11% support the Greens—this foreshadows a non-Conservative minority government).   

Signed by the Presidents of CNRL, Cenovus, MEG Energy 

(And not signed by the presidents of industry giants like Suncor, Husky and Imperial and mega pipelines like Enbridge and Trans Canada). 

Instead of publishing an open letter asking Canadians to elect a government that won’t push the industry on GHG emissions and supports less regulation, these three executives should have paid attention to economist Peter Tertzakian who told the ScotiaBank crowd in order to succeed the industry must: (1) lower its costs, (2) pay more attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and (3) do the best job it can to get the highest value markets because politics in Canada and the world are unpredictable.

To paraphrase Freud’s question:  What do these industry executives want?  Answer: a government that gives them everything.  

Is this what Canadians want?  We’ll find out in October.

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