Ms Soapbox is going on sabbatical until September (but may be tempted to post a blog or two if the craziness gets to be too much).
I wish you all a wonderful summer and look forward to more great discussions in the fall.
All the very best,
Ms Soapbox is going on sabbatical until September (but may be tempted to post a blog or two if the craziness gets to be too much).
I wish you all a wonderful summer and look forward to more great discussions in the fall.
All the very best,
Last week, the feds granted BC a 3-year exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act decriminalizing the possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal use. Judging by Jason Kenney’s response, you’d think Breaking Bad had set up shop next door.
Leaving aside Kenney’s hypocritical claim that his government supports dealing with addiction as a healthcare issue, he made a number of unfounded allegations and fear mongering statements that came dangerously close to what historian Timothy Snyder describes as the language of tyrants.
He alleged the federal and BC governments were moving forward with an agenda to “normalize drug use by decriminalizing deadly and dangerous drugs” and that the exemption was “clearly a result of the Liberal-NDP coalition and was likely demanded by the NDP as a condition of the agreement.”
Unless Kenney bugged 7 Rideau Gate on March 14, he has no idea what Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh discussed. Furthermore while their agreement addressed healthcare issues (national pharmacare, dental care for low-income Canadians, fixing the healthcare system, ensuring seniors are safe in long term care facilities) it did not mention normalizing illicit drug use.
The exemption is not the result of a Liberal-NDP plot.
Kenney said Liberal-NDP policy resulted in “de-policing” cities like Vancouver which has led to rampant disorder, crime, drug use and death.
Vancouver increased its police budget from $317 million in 2019 to $367 million in 2022. The VPD’s budget represents 21% of Vancouver’s overall budget. This is significantly higher than Calgary’s police budget (16% of the overall budget) and Edmonton’s police budget (15% of the overall budget). Also, it’s city councils, not the provincial or federal governments, who set policing budgets.
There is no Liberal-NDP policy aimed at de-policing.
Trumped up “evidence”
Kenney claimed “decriminalizing drugs will have no significant effect on the overdose crisis” because since 2017 fewer than 5 people who were convicted of simple possession and sent to a provincial correctional centre died of an opioid overdose within two years of their incarceration.*
The latest government numbers show that from 2017 to the end of 2021 there were 5250 accidental opioid poisoning deaths. Given that the Chief Medical Examiner is reviewing some of the drug poisonings recorded in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 and has warned the final numbers may change one wonders how Kenney could be certain that only 5 of the 5250 who died had served two years or less in a provincial correctional centre within two years of the day they overdosed.
Furthermore, Kenney offered no explanation as to why this was relevant.
Kenney’s statement does not appear to be relevant or founded on good data.
Kenney complained the feds didn’t consult with Alberta on the “decriminalization of drugs.”
Why should they? This was BC’s effort to address its opioid crisis.
Furthermore, Alberta could have objected in Nov 2021 when BC requested the exemption. It didn’t; perhaps because Kenney was too busy trying to save his job after the Worst Fall Ever.
This has nothing to do with Kenney or his government.
Kenney declared his government “will never allow our communities to become sanctuaries for cartels and drug traffickers.” He promised to monitor the situation and to “exhaust all options” if the exemption caused damage to Albertans.
Just what is Kenney going to do? Create an Alberta border control team to keep cartels and traffickers from sneaking into Alberta?
There is no reason why the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs in BC will create safe havens for drug traffickers and cartels in Alberta.
It’s someone else’s fault
After trashing the exemption with every cockamamie argument he could muster Kenney condemned the feds for failing to beef up the Canadian Border Services Agency to stop the flow of drugs manufactured in “black market labs and trafficked into Canada by criminals and cartels.”
From 2017 to the end of 2021 the quantity of illicit opioids seized by Canadian Border Services more than doubled, from 525,858 grams to 1,246,826 grams.
The fed’s have improved their ability to block the flow of drugs from the US into Canada.
Kenney’s statement was inflammatory. It hinted at a political conspiracy and hidden agendas that would harm Albertans. The language (cartels, black market labs, drug traffickers, de-policing) was the language of fear. It was coupled with the tyrant’s assurance that he would protect the people from an amorphous danger being inflected upon them by others.
It was a bizarre dog whistle from yesterday’s man.
Albertans deserve better.
*I think that’s what he said, this part of the press release was so garbled it made no sense whatsoever.
May 26, 2022 marked Jason Kenny’s last appearance in the Legislature as Alberta’s premier (we think).
His final week was replete with members’ statements applauding his leadership, his legacy, and everything his government had accomplished over the last 3 years.
He was especially proud of one achievement: his appearance before the US Senate Energy Committee. He said his presentation was “historic” and made the point that “Alberta can be the solution to the global energy crisis, particularly for North American energy security.” *
The solution to the global energy crisis…for North American energy security. Wow, these are lofty goals.
Despite Kenney’s historic presentation, he missed the mark. His stumble went unnoticed by his party and the press until the National Post interviewed the new US Ambassador to Canada (more on that below).
For the record, Kenney was not the only Canadian to testify before the Committee. The federal Natural Resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, Quebec’s Associate Deputy Minister for Mines, Nathalie Camden, and the CEO of Electricity Canada, Francis Bradley also made presentations.
Furthermore, the Committee was interested in hearing about all forms of energy including renewables, hydropower, hydrogen, and small modular reactors.
Kenney said Alberta could help “our American friends” who are facing record high fuel prices due to scarcity by increasing Alberta crude exports. This would entail:
He told the Committee Biden could support Alberta’s efforts by:
The Republican senators wasted considerable time vilifying Biden, slamming “ESG insanity” and expressing the hope that Ukraine and energy security “wakes up the woke.”
Kenney played along, saying he found it “passing strange” that Biden did not reach out to Alberta after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This was immediately contradicted by Wilkinson who said discussions between the Canadian and US governments and oil companies about exporting additional crude were ongoing.
As the hearing progressed, it became apparent that even the Republican senators were interested in more than increasing Alberta energy exports. They asked questions about reducing regulatory timelines, meeting climate change targets, building a hydrogen hub and transportation corridor and importing more potash for American farmers.
Unfortunately the one question they failed to ask was whether any of Kenney’s suggestions for increasing exports were feasible, and if so, how long it would take to make them operational, and most importantly what effect, if any, these measures, once implemented, would have on the global price of crude.
The only person to cast a critical eye on Kenney’s testimony was David Cohen, the US ambassador to Canada.
He disagreed with Kenney’s assertion that Canada’s existing pipeline capacity, particularly the 300,000 bbl/d unused capacity, would provide a short-term advantage and “meaningfully move the needle on oil supplies from Canada to the United States.”
He said the US isn’t interested in expanding its dependence on fossil fuels and wanted instead to expand its hydro-power relationship with Canada and its access to cleaner energies.
Then came the stinging blow.
Cohen said Kenney “of all people” should understand the dynamics of the Line 5 dispute, which Cohen characterized as primarily a dispute between the state of Michigan and Canada and Canadian interests. He implied that just as Kenney expected the feds to stay out of Alberta’s disputes, so too would the governor of Michigan expect Biden to stay out of state affairs.
Thin skinned retort
Kenney responded to Cohen’s criticisms through his proxy, energy minister Sonya Savage. She issued a news release calling the ambassador’s comments “ill-informed” and “unproductive.” She repeated Kenney’s talking points but failed to address Cohen’s key argument: that an additional 300,000 bbl/day would not “move the needle” as far as the US was concerned.
If Kenney hoped to cement his legacy in his testimony before the Senate Committee he failed. Perhaps he took comfort in Savage’s rebuttal of Cohen’s comments. Perhaps all he had left to sooth his ego was the comment made by the ranking Republican senator, John Barrasso, who said he’d told his friend Stephen Harper that Kenney was scheduled to testify before the Committee and Harper texted back that Kenney was very strong and one of Harper’s best ministers.
But Kenney couldn’t bask in Harper’s praise for long. In a delightful twist of schadenfreude, the very next day Kenney lost the support of almost half the UCP membership and was forced to resign as party leader.
With the notable exception of Peter Lougheed, Kenney’s legacy will be as hollow as the conservative premiers who preceded him.
*Hansard, May 24, 2022, starting at p 1419
It finally happened.*
Despite the UCP government changing the law to allow the purchase of party memberships without someone’s knowledge or consent, the UCP executive changing the rules setting out when, where, and how Jason Kenney’s leadership review would take place and Kenney’s announcement that an approval rating of 50% +1 was enough for him to stay in power; on May 18, 2022, with a 51.4% approval rating, he conceded he lacked the mandate to continue as party leader.
The man hailed as one of the best Conservative premiers and one of the most articulate conservative voices in the country was out.
His heartbroken supporters offered numerous explanations of what went wrong for their dear leader.
You want excuses, I’ll give you excuses
Kenney’s defenders start with Covid-19, arguing that it was impossible for Kenney to satisfy the kooks and lunatics who rejected any limits on their freedom. (The fact he continually referred to restrictions as a curtailment of their Charter rights and freedoms didn’t help his case).
This argument ignores the fact that every premier in the country faced the same challenges and Kenney’s approval rating (a low of 19% in January) was the worst of the bunch.
Kenney then worsened his position by prematurely lifting restrictions so we could enjoy the Best Summer Ever only to reimpose them when we entered the Worst Fall Ever and healthcare officials, frantic about a collapsing healthcare system, announced triage protocols to determine who would live and who would die if there was a shortage of ICU beds.
Yes, Kenney’s handling of Covid-19 was a factor in Kenney’s popularity, not just for the kooks and lunatics but for all Albertans.
Alberta is ungovernable
Some argue that the steady stream of conservative premiers who failed to finish out their terms indicates that Alberta is ungovernable. Apparently, the province is packed with so many free-spirited, leave-me-alone libertarians that conservative premiers can’t make it to the finish line.
This is nonsense and ignores the fact that Albertan’s libertarians were content to live under 43 years of conservative rule. It wasn’t the conservative government they were rejecting; it was a string of conservative politicians who’d become entitled and sloppy after years of being in power.
Ah, but wait, Kenney’s supporters say, the poor man tripped over his idealized version of Westminster politics. He tolerated dissent from miscreants who should have been crushed at the first opportunity.
Sure, he tolerated caucus members who publicly demanded he relax covid restrictions and went behind his back trying to broker a deal with the freedom convoy blockade at Coutts. But he lost no time tossing dissenting MLAs out of caucus or demoting them if he thought he could get away with it without riling up the UCP base.
So what really happened?
I’m from Ottawa and I’m here to help you
Kenney blew into town with Stephen Harper’s blessing. He was the guy from Ottawa who would unite the PCs and the Wildrose to vanquish Notley’s NDP and restore the conservatives to their rightful place as Albertan’s natural ruling party.
He said all the right things: grassroots guarantee, servant-leader, bad Trudeau/bad Notley and Ottawa victimizes Alberta/Fair Deal!
He would work hard, no vacations for this man, and devote his life to Alberta politics.
Then bereft of ideas on how to turn the province around and in the middle of the third wave he went on vacation, leaving no one (except maybe the Education minister) in charge.
He flouted the rules and common sense. His MLAs took off to Hawaii when the rest of us were debating which family member to invite over for Christmas dinner. He dined al fresco on the Sky Palace patio when the rest of us were told that was forbidden. His MLAs indulged in drunken parties in their offices. His cabinet ministers were under investigation by the Law Society and an independent judicial inquiry. He was no better than the rest of them.
He didn’t apologise for his shortcomings in his resignation-sometime-in-the-future speech.
Instead he said his government had weathered three crises: the pandemic, the crash in the global economy and negative oil prices. The first two events impacted every political leader on the planet. The last one was beyond his control. Given that he did nothing to improve Albertans lives as they endured these events, one can only assume he was making excuses for his lackluster approval rating.
When Kenney was elected UCP leader, conservatives thought he’d listen and get their input on policy (through their MLAs). Instead they got an elitist who ignored their feedback.
He ruled for three years. During that time he lowered corporate taxes but created no jobs, hamstrung municipalities, wrecked healthcare and education, weakened social services and increased Albertans’ cost of living. He surrounded himself with staff who were pugilistic and divisive.
Not surprisingly the party decided it had had enough and showed him the door.
May 18 marked the ignoble end to Kenney’s political career.
*Assuming Kenney doesn’t revoke his resignation at some point down the road because an election is imminent and it’s too late to change horses in midstream.
On May 2, the Kenney government announced it would avail diabetic Albertans of newer, more technologically advanced insulin pumps. Then 10 days later it announced it was “pausing” this decision to allow for more consultation.
The decision and its reversal happened so quickly it was like a snippet of time-lapse photography; it allowed us to see the Kenney government’s machinations as it tried to push diabetic Albertans out of the free Insulin Pump Therapy Program (IPTP) run by Alberta Health Services in order to save $9 million/year (that’s less than one-third the annual cost of the War Room).
The life and death of an ill-conceived policy decision*
May 2: The whiz-bang announcement
Health Minister Copping announced that diabetic Albertans would have access to newer, more technologically advanced insulin pumps through their government-sponsored health benefit plans. Yippee!
Then the fine print:
The IPTP which provides diabetic Albertans with free insulin pumps and other supplies would be cancelled on August 1. Albertans needing insulin pumps/supplies will have to go through employer-sponsored or private plans, or “transfer” to Alberta Blue Cross. Depending on the plan, they’ll pay extra premiums and/or co-payments. But there’s a bright side, low-income Albertan will continue to receive pumps at no cost from…well…somewhere.
May 3 onwards: The public outcry
Diabetic Albertans, their families and friends, and the NDP Opposition pointed out that many companies’ health benefit plans don’t cover insulin pumps. (NOTE: Companies typically renegotiate their health benefit plans in the fall. Plan changes go into effect on Jan 1 the following year. That leaves a 4-month gap in coverage).
Alberta Blue Cross is an insurance plan. Albertans who used to receive free insulin pumps/supplies would now be required to pay premiums, deductions and copays. If they miss too many premiums their insurance would be cancelled. (Note: the Blue Cross website says coverage starts on the first of the month four months after the application is made unless exceptions are made so, someone who applied for coverage on May 3 may have to wait Sept 1 for coverage).
The premiums, deductions, and copays are not trivial. One Albertan said the elimination of IPTP would cost her around $400 in co-pays each quarter, plus an additional $1,500 to $2,250 to replace her insulin pump when the time comes.
The Opposition demands an explanation and an apology:
NDP health critic Dave Shepherd challenged Kenney to show his work to assure Albertans his expectation that they’d be just fine was well founded and to admit his mistake and apologize.
The cocky refusal
Kenney spouted a string of meaningless statistics—eg. Alberta Blue Cross nongroup coverage is only $63/month (this is an additional $756/year for Albertans who are getting their insulin pumps for free)—and assured the Opposition that the government had done consultation (he didn’t say with whom).
Later, Education Minister LaGrange said the government had been consulting and communicating with diabetic Albertans for years and numerous Albertans wrote in to ask for more options and more equity in benefits with non-pump users (whatever the heck that means).
Enter Diabetes Canada
Diabetes Canada was quoted in Copping’s press release as supporting the government’s efforts. Eight days later it published an open letter to the government retracting its support. It had been flooded by calls and emails from concerned Albertans and now opposed the government’s plan to “impose cost-saving measures on the backs of those currently enrolled in the IPTP.”
May 12, 2022: The face-saving retreat
Health Minister Copping announced the government was pausing its decision to cancel the IPTP so it could reach out to the 4000 people in the program to ensure no one was left behind. He would also set up town hall meetings for further consultation. Apparently, the only consultation the government undertook was with a clinical advisory committee.
He also apologised for the confusion.
Seems to me the only ones who were confused were Kenney and LaGrange who didn’t know how many consultation meetings had taken place and Copping who told the Legislature that the cost of the IPTP was $50 million when the press release pegged it at $20 million.
What just happened here?
So as we observed the life and death of the new insulin pump technology plan, we’ve learned that the Kenney government:
We also learned that a small group of Albertans can stop the government for dismantling our public healthcare system.
This is an invaluable lesson.
*Alberta Hansard, May 5, 2022 starting at p 1192, May 9, 2022 starting at p 1204, May 12, 2022 starting at p 1390
Have you noticed how corrupt and mediocre our government has become?
Yesterday we learned that Elections Alberta is investigating the bulk buying of UCP memberships—4,000 new memberships were purchased by six credit cards sometime before March 19—this was roughly two weeks before Bill 81, The Elections Statutes Amendment Act (2021) No 2, came into effect, so it appears this bulk buying was illegal.
Justice Minister Madu (as he then was) touted Bill 81 as a way to remove big bucks, domestic and foreign, from Alberta politics and to close the Alberta Federation of Labour “loophole” which supposedly allowed the AFL to funnel piles of money to the NDP.
What Madu didn’t mention was the tiny little change on page 123 that allowed a person to buy memberships for others without their knowledge or consent.
This is significant because bulk buying of memberships was one of the many allegations of wrongdoing that landed Kenney’s 2017 leadership campaign in hot water. One individual told the Election Commissioner that they’d spent as much as $6000 buying 1200 UCP memberships on behalf of others so they could vote for Kenney as the leader of the UCP.
Never mind, Bill 81 rectified the illegality problem with an amendment that allows someone to buy a party membership for someone else without their knowledge or consent. The impact of this change is twofold:
Bill 81 was so flawed that the government filibustered its own caucus, then closed debate to avoid addressing amendments proposed by its own MLAs. In the end three UCP MLAs, two former UCP MLAS, and the NDP, opposed it.
Bill 81 was passed just before Christmas but didn’t go into effect until Mar 31. This was two weeks too late for the person(s) who bought 4000 UCP memberships in anticipation of Kenney’s upcoming leadership review, but just in time to kick off yet another investigation into Kenney’s leadership review irregularities.
Which leads us to the leadership review.
It’s true that a pollical party can set its own rules, but the whack-a-mole circumstances surrounding Kenney’s leadership review leave a lot to be desired.
Last year Kenney repeatedly ignored calls from his own MLAs to hold an early leadership review. The United Conservative Party executive ignored a formal request by 22 UCP presidents to hold an early leadership review. Eventually the executive acquiesced but insisted on an in-person vote on April 9 in Red Deer. When 15,000 people registered for the event, the executive changed its mind. They decided to hold a province-wide mail-in ballot, this decision was made after the deadline for buying memberships had passed.
To say that the entire leadership review process was a gong show would be an understatement.
But one thing is crystal clear. Kenney will declare victory if he manages to scrape by with a bare majority because, as he says, that’s all it takes to win in a democracy.
True, but we’re not talking about a leadership race where there’s a winner and a bunch of losers, we’re talking about a performance review, where the party members get a chance to grade the performance of the party leader.
Unlike past PC leaders who said they’d step down if they got less than 70% support, Kenney is adamant that the party should be satisfied with his leadership if he is rated at a hair above 50%.
Newsflash: 50% plus one is not a ringing endorsement. It’s a sign of mediocrity. If this were a score at an Alberta university it would be a very low D.*
What’s really interesting here is that Kenney has convinced UCP members that a low D is good enough and that a mediocre leader deserves to stay on even if almost half of people who voted think he’s unfit for the job.
The leadership review results will be released on May 18. If Kenney gets a tremendous approval rating many will question the integrity of the process given what happened in 2017, what is now permitted under Bill 81, and the flaws in the leadership review process itself.
If Kenney gets a low approval rating but still clings to power, Alberta will be stuck with a mediocre premier who is poorly equipped to grapple with the tumultuous times ahead.
Surely even Kenney’s supporters will figure out this is a lose/lose for Alberta.
*Under the Alberta universities grading system Stelmach and Redford would have scored B+.
While Jason Kenney is running all over the province trying to convince UCP members he’s there for them, the actions of his government in the House last week tell a different story.
But before we go there, let’s play a game. I’ll say a word and you say the first thing that pops into your head.
Nothing? You don’t even know what it means? You didn’t demand Kenney get you some when he got elected?
Okay, let’s try another one.
Whoa, steady on! You don’t like the fact your premiums have jumped 10, 20, 30% or that the insurance companies pulled in $385 million more in premiums than they paid out in 2020 or that they made over $1 billion in profit last year.
Right, hold that thought while we take a brief look at reinsurance. The thing no one heard about back in Kenney’s promise, promise days.
Reinsurance and Bill 16
The Kenney government says oil and gas companies and the industrial sector are having trouble accessing reinsurance. So last week they tabled Bill 16.
Big companies buy three levels of insurance: primary insurance which kicks in first, excess insurance which tops up primary insurance when primary isn’t enough and reinsurance when both the primary and the excess insurance limits are exhausted. BP’s Deepwater Horizon well leak is the kind of loss that would be large enough to trigger a reinsurance payout.
Reinsurance is provided by a number of insurance companies who are collectively responsible for the coverage. There are about 50 such companies around the world and with the Big Five (companies like Lloyds of London and Swiss Re) taking the lion’s share of the market.
The Kenney government says these companies are less inclined to offer reinsurance to oil and gas companies because of the risks posed by climate change. Supply is scarce, prices are high and rather than let Adam Smith’s invisible hand determine how this will shake out, the government proposed Bill 16.
Bill 16 will (1) give the province the power to license reinsurance companies, (2) make it easier for Alberta insurance companies to access unlicensed reinsurance companies, (3) change the tax rate on premiums and (4) allow companies that have captive insurance companies elsewhere (these are a form of self-insurance) bring their captives back to Alberta.
The government hopes that as a result of Bill 16 the excess capital circulating in the oil and gas sector will be pooled by oil and gas companies to create local reinsurance companies.
One thing is for certain, Bill 16 has given Alberta’s insurance industry a new shiny toy.
Which brings us back to our little game: Q: car insurance, A: Grrrr.
We don’t know whether oil and gas companies that are enjoying windfall profits and benefiting from a 8% corporate tax rate will, as the government puts it, pool some of this capital to form their own reinsurance companies. We don’t know whether Alberta insurance companies will go hog-wild trying to be one of the global players in the reinsurance marketplace.
However we do know that the government went to considerable time and effort to create legislation that will give them the tools they need to seize this opportunity if they so desire.
The only stakeholder (to use the government’s vernacular) that the government did not take into consideration when it comes to insurance was ordinary Albertans.
Notwithstanding a deluge of emails from Albertans complaining about the increase in their car insurance premiums, the Kenney government did nothing to lighten the insurance burden for Albertans who are struggling with car insurance premiums that jumped by as much as 30%.
The NDP raised this issue in the House, pointing out that only 10% of the auto insurance companies requesting rate changes had asked for a rate reduction. The NDP asked how many more increases it would take before the Kenney government finally changed course.
Mr Toews ignored the question about the harm the UCP’s elimination of the cap has done to Albertans, stating that the NDP’s 5% rate cap would have led to the collapse of the auto insurance sector, allowing the NDP to nationalize it.
This echoed Jason Kenney’s comment that the NDP wanted to implement a “Soviet-style insurance system.” When NDP MLA Shannon Phillips told Kenney the conservative governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba had public insurance systems, Kenney responded with some nonsense about Justin Trudeau’s (non-existent) truck tax.
Leaving aside the partisan rhetoric, actions speak louder than words. This week the UCP government demonstrated it will take care of big corporations and the insurance companies. The rest of us are on our own.
Perhaps we need better lobbyists. Does anybody have Nick Koolsbergen’s number handy?
The Soapbox family is not terribly religious but we do love our traditions. Last night we gathered to colour eggs. Mr Soapbox bought a couple of egg colouring kits, we filled six mugs with warm water and vinegar and plopped in the colour tablets that wouldn’t dissolve completely no matter how much we mashed them with a spoon. Nevertheless, we managed to create a dozen lovely eggs including these beauties.
This year Ramadan, Passover and Easter overlap. All over the world families and friends are celebrating a special time in their own unique way.
To all of you, everywhere, we wish you joy.
The Soapbox family
Two people were fired this week.
Dr Yiu was fired without cause on Apr 4. Jason Kenney is being ‘fired’ in slow motion, his dismissal will be confirmed on May 18, 2022 when the mail-in ballots are counted, or a year later on May 29, 2023 when the results of the next provincial election are in.
Let’s start with the bewildering dismissal of Dr Yiu.
Of with her head
Dr Verna Yiu was the CEO of Alberta Health Services. It’s a large, complex organization employing more than 108,000 direct employees (including about 10,000 doctors) and offering services at 900 plus facilities across the province.
By all accounts she was a good leader.
In 2020-21 AHS was recognized for the fourth consecutive year as one of Canada’s top 100 employers, Canada’s top employers for young people, and Alberta’s top employers. It was also recognized for the third consecutive year as one of Canada’s best diversity employers.
Dr Yiu led AHS through the horrors of the pandemic, speaking out in press conferences to—oh, how should we put this, to “clarify” something Jason Kenney and his officials had just said—and ensure the public was fully aware of the devastating impact government policy was having on AHS and its ability to deliver healthcare to Albertans during the Covid-19 crisis.
The pandemic is not yet over but Dr Yiu has been fired because, in the words of Health Minister Copping, “It’s time to move forward with an ambitious agenda to improve and modernize the health system, and renewed leadership at [AHS] will support delivering those changes.”
The need for renewed, supportive leadership was so important that Copping repeated it at the end of his press release, leaving Albertans with the impression that Dr Yiu would not have supported what the Kenney government has in store and Kenney was prepared to pay $573,841 in severance to get her out of the way.
Now contrast Dr Yiu’s leadership with that of Jason Kenney.
Finally, a leadership review
Kenney has been UCP leader since 2017. Over the last 5 years UCP supporters have been asking themselves: who is the real Jason Kenney, the servant-leader who toured the province in a blue pickup truck or the Ottawa-top-down politician?
Their consternation came to a head last fall when they forced the party into an early leadership review.
And with good reason.
Under Kenney’s leadership party membership plummeted. In 2018 it was 200,000 (or 160,000 depending on who you believe), today it’s around 57,000.
In 2020 the UCP and the NDP were neck and neck in political donations of around $5 million each. Last year the NDP outpaced the UCP, raising $6.2 million while the UCP dropped to $3.8 million.
Kenney’s approval ratings slipped from 61% in May 2019 to 30% in Mar 2022. Notley now sits 10 points ahead at 40%
His party is still under investigation by the RCMP over allegations of fraud in the last leadership race.
A number of his cabinet ministers have been disgraced. Devin Dreeshen and Tracey Allard were demoted. Tyler Shandro and Kaycee Madu are still in cabinet.
His caucus is in turmoil and his MLAs have been signing letters demanding his resignation for over a year.
Only I can save you
Kenney puts this dissension down to complaints about his handling of covid. He says he’s not perfect, he’s not God Almighty and everyone makes mistakes.
But this level of insurrection is more than mere frustration over Kenney’s covid policies. Even Doug Ford who’s been severely criticized for mishandling the pandemic and the Ottawa occupation has an approval rating 13 points higher than Kenney’s.
Kenney is fighting for his political life. But instead of addressing his supporters’ complaints about his policies and his top-down leadership style he’s asking them to believe that without him, they’re facing a dystopian future because only he can save the party from the lunatics who are trying to take over the asylum and those grumps like Brian Jean who want to split the party, perhaps destroying it forever, and only he can save Alberta from Rachel Notley and the dreaded socialists.
This is what historian Timothy Snyder describes as a self-deifying claim of an authoritarian who demands faith, not reason, from his supporters. For this reason alone Kenney deserves to be jettisoned.
Yiu vs Kenney
Yiu complied with her employment contract which required her to faithfully serve AHS, act in the best interests of AHS, perform her duties professionally, obey all applicable laws, standards and rules of conduct and refrain from publicly taking positions that conflict or are in opposition to AHS.
Kenney, as party leader is obligated to promote the party, its policies and principles. When he won the last election he promised that help was on the way and hope was on the horizon. The UCP membership will decide whether he’s delivered on his promise.
Yiu was fired for doing her job. Kenney is still here, but not for long.
“Unfortunately, our politicians are not only contaminating the minds of the public but poisoning our democracy at the same time.” Gary Mason, Globe & Mail columnist commenting on the two Conservative MPs who accused Prime Minister Trudeau of running a jackboot dictatorship.
A quick check of Hansard this week demonstrates that Gary Mason’s words are equally applicable to Alberta.
Over the last three years we’ve become numb to Kenney’s disrespect for the business of government–one of his first acts upon becoming premier was to distribute earplugs to his MLAs to spare the poor dears the hardship of listening to the NDP debate a government bill–but last week the government’s lack of civility and decorum boiled over into something more worrisome.
Into the gutter
The week started with Rachel Notley asking Kenney a question about the ongoing RCMP investigation into allegations of fraud in the 2017 UCP leadership race: Why didn’t the premier and his ministers who are under investigation step aside in accordance with “long-standing parliamentary tradition” to avoid the real or perceived opportunity to interfere with the judicial system?*
Kenney could have responded by saying (1) her question was irrelevant because he and his ministers were not under investigation or (2) she was mistaken in her understanding of long-standing parliamentary tradition (assuming she was, which I doubt).
Instead he launched into a tirade about NDP “fear and smear” tactics, the “politics of personal destruction” and the use of “defamatory attack(s).” He concluded by asking “Why doesn’t [Notley] understand that every time she goes into the gutter, all she does is lower the tone of Alberta politics?”
The hypocrisy of that statement defies belief, but sure, let’s talk about the tone of Alberta politics.
The tone of Alberta politics
We’ll start with the exchange between Jason Nixon, Kenney’s environment minister (and government house leader), and Todd Loewen, a former UCP MLA who was booted out of caucus for disagreeing with the premier.
Earlier in the week Loewen criticized Kenney’s leadership. He said polls showed most Albertans want Kenney to resign. He said Kenney calling his opponents “bugs” and “lunatics” was disgraceful and closed by saying Kenney had failed to deliver on platform promises like the citizen’s initiative bill, recall legislation and the fair deal agenda.**
Nixon sprang to Kenney’s defence saying the “lunatics” comment was aimed at racists and people who do hateful things. He attacked Loewen’s character saying he was engaging in junior high politics and supported the Brian Jean-NDP alliance (?).
A couple of days later, Loewen tabled several newspaper articles, videos and pages from Hansard to support his argument and rebut what he called “outright misinformation” on Nixon’s part.
Nixon exploded, saying “Mr. Speaker, the guy just called me a fucking liar in the middle of the damn Legislature.” A few minutes later he said, “What a joke. That’s why your career is over, Todd.***
The Speaker rebuked Nixon for using unparliamentary and wildly inappropriate language and for using Loewen’s name, not his proper title. He also scolded Loewen for using the word “misled” and made both MLAs apologize.
Why we need to pay attention
We could dismiss this brouhaha as the UCP having a meltdown, but we shouldn’t.
Why? Because Nixon also said something extremely disturbing to anyone who values democracy. He alleged Loewen had misused the tablings process and threatened to “bring a standing order package back here right after the break to make sure [Loewen] can’t use tablings like that no more.”
This is critically important because Standing Orders are permanent written rules under which the House regulates its proceedings. If the Speaker thought Loewen had misused the tablings process he would have said so, but he didn’t.
That the Government House Leader would threaten to turn the tabling process on its head to silence an MLA critical of Jason Kenney and himself is undemocratic.
What Albertans saw last week in the House is not normal parliamentary behavior. It’s the last gasp of a party struggling for survival and a leader who’s prepared to let his acolytes burn the place down to stay in power.
The historian Timothy Snyder said it’s a mistake to assume that those who came to power through democratic institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions. Snyder also said it’s up to the people to protect democratic institutions because they can’t protect themselves.
Those are our marching orders.
We need to call out the Kenney government’s undemocratic behavior and work as hard as we can to replace the UCP with the NDP in the next election.
It’s the least we can do to protect democracy in Alberta.
*Hansard, Mar 29, 2022, p 475
**Hansard, Mar 28, 2022, p 427
***Hansard, Mar 31, p 593