It’s my birthday (sort of)

I celebrated a birthday earlier this week and in the Soapbox household birthday celebrations go on forever. Which is why there is no blog today.

I’ll be back next week. In the meantime I’d like to leave you with a thought. This comes from an interesting new book called Bucking Conservatism: Alternative Stories of Alberta from the 1960s and 1970s which argues that grassroots opposition to conservatism has existed and continues to exist.  

The book describes the contributions of “defiant radicals, rabble-rousers, and heretics” who were able to make change because they had like-minded people around them.

It urges us to find our people, build our community and organize in solidarity with others, in order to “break down the myth that living in Alberta means [we’re] resigned to a past and a future of conservatism.”

The thought cheered me immeasurably. I hope it inspires you, my community, as well.

Susan

Posted in Celebrations, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 31 Comments

Jason Kenney’s Last AGM

A political party’s AGM tells you a lot about the party.

What we learned after the UCP AGM is the UCP’s big tent isn’t big enough to hold all its members.

But first a quick recap relating to the small matter of Jason Kenney’s leadership review.

The proposal to make it tougher to trigger an early leadership review failed and the 22 constituency associations that want to fast track Kenney outta here are now in position to do so while Brian Jean and Danielle Smith are standing ready to take over the reins.

Let the internecine games begin.  

What’s on the agenda?

Okay, back to the agenda.

What made it onto the agenda and what didn’t is enlightening because it signals which factions, the moderate conservatives or the right wing nutjobs, are ascendant in the party.     

The UCP powers-that-be rejected resolutions that proposed introducing a provincial sales tax and creating a revenue-neutral Alberta carbon tax to replace the federal carbon tax (hmmm, that sounds familiar). They also rejected a moratorium on new coal exploration and development on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.    

These resolutions gave way to ones calling for the elimination of Alberta’s debt and beefing up the rainy-day fund and a swack of anti-union, anti-public sector, and anti-teacher resolutions. Heaven forbid we forget who the enemy is here.

Some resolutions, like the one “vigorously opposing” the imposition of the federal carbon tax make you wonder whether they were asleep the day the Supreme Court of Canada said the federal carbon tax was okay.

Most disturbing were resolutions addressing “cancel culture” and religious freedoms/conscience rights.

Cancel culture and conscience rights

The grassroots says cancel culture threatens free speech and suppresses conservative values and opinions. They tabled 3 separate resolutions (out of 30) which called for:

  • standing with the federal CPC in denouncing actions by Trudeau (and Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook) that cancel culture (#1)  
  • protecting post-secondary students or employees from being harassed or ousted because they expressed their political opinions or beliefs (#8)
  • safeguarding “our achievements and respecting our accomplishments by addressing the threats to our history and culture posed by cancel culture and the woke temperament with their historical revisionism and vilification of individuals” (wow, that was a mouthful! #23). The rationale in support of this resolution notes that Idaho banned teaching that “any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is inherently superior or inferior” and here in Alberta the ATA opposes the new K-6 curriculum.

They’re also concerned about rules and regulations that violate conscience rights by requiring professionals to do their jobs properly and propose:   

  • to strip professional associations of the power to “discriminate” against healthcare workers who refuse to do their jobs on moral grounds by enshrining conscience rights in the law (#12)
  • to protect the right of medical professionals to refuse to give patients reasonable and timely access to MAID consultation services on the grounds of religion or conscience rights (#19)

It looks like right wing nutjobs are winning, but wait, there are also some resolutions that appear to recognize that climate change is real and Alberta will have to transition away from fossil fuels.

Diversifying the economy

Resolutions with language that acknowledge a future beyond fossil fuels were tabled. They called for the government:

  • to prepare for the “post-fossil fuel world” by developing a strategy for nuclear and hydrogen fuel industries (#27),
  • to call on the feds to impose a carbon tax on foreign imports from countries without similar carbon tax regimes, while this is a protectionist strategy it could benefit climate change mitigation (#24),
  • to support small modular reactors (SMR) because nuclear power is a viable source of clean energy and workers could transition from fossil fuel energy plants to SMR.

Covid-19

Resolutions that appeared to take notice of Kenney’s abysmal management of the pandemic called for research to identify best-practices to mitigate illness and death societal disruption, and economic damage, better care for seniors, a plan to develop Alberta-based vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and PPE. As well as a rapid response plan for public health emergencies.  

In the wrong hands these proposals could turn into a nightmare, but at least they acknowledge Kenney did a poor job.      

Who holds the pen?

The last time the UCP held an AGM Kenney said he was not bound by the policy resolutions because he holds the pen.  

That was then, this is now.

Then he was riding high in the polls and had the freedom to defy the grassroots. Today his popularity is at rock bottom, his caucus is openly hostile and his nemesis Brian Jean is openly campaigning against him.

Kenney may hold the pen, but he won’t hold it for long.  

It really doesn’t matter though.

Because by the time his replacement picks up the reins, he or she will have aligned themselves with the moderate conservatives or the right wing nutjobs, the big tent will collapse and the party will split.  

And Jason Kenney’s UCP will be finished once and for all.

Oh happy day!

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 53 Comments

The Department of Education: The Nazis were good people too (or some such BS)

This week we learned that in 2020 the Dept of Education published a document recommending that teachers discussing Nazi atrocities also include material showing the Nazi’s policies strengthened Germany’s economy.

Why? Because it’s important from a diversity and respect perspective to “reveal both the positive and negative behaviors and attitudes of the various groups portrayed.” What part of murdering 6 million Jews and 5 million Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, and disabled people don’t you understand??   

Education Minister LaGrange addressed this horrific recommendation in a Twitter thread rather than an official government press statement. (A curious omission given that 3 other ministers found time over the weekend to issue statements recognizing Metis Week, Victims and Survivors of Crime Week, and World Diabetes Day).

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange

In her Twitter thread LaGrange said:  

  • She had no idea the document existed
  • She told the Dept of Education to remove the document from all Alberta Education publications
  • It was concerning, unacceptable, and wrongheaded  
  • There is no positive side to the murderous Nazi regime
  • This has nothing to do with the curriculum review process. Under no circumstances would her office approve horrendous content like this being taught to Alberta students.
  • She thanked those who brought it to her attention, and is meeting with 3 groups to inform them of the action she’s taking to rectify the situation

Nope, not enough

The mainstream media caught up with the story after it exploded on social media. LaGrange categorically denounced it and Kenney completely disavowed it.

Lovely, but the document didn’t magically write itself. Apparently, way back in 1984 some bright-light in the government created it, their superiors approved it, and it continued to exist right up to Nov 12, 2021.

And now it’s come home to roost on LaGrange’s doorstep.

It’s not enough for LaGrange to promise to remove it from all government publications and move on (nothing to see here, folks).

LaGrange is accountable. She must examine the processes used by her department to create guidance documents in the first place, she must determine how such horrific documents are allowed to stand for so long, and most importantly she must explain why such documentation was not obliterated as part of the UCP’s government’s curriculum review process.

Because contrary to LaGrange’s tweet, this has everything to do with the UCP’s curriculum review.

If she’s being honest about never approving “horrendous content like this being taught to Alberta students” then she can’t implement the new UCP curriculum which has been universally criticized by parents, teachers, academics, and Indigenous leaders as racist and Eurocentric.  

Remember Kenney’s friend, Chris Champion, who worked on the revamp of the social studies curriculum? Champion dismissed the notion that residential schools were part of a policy of genocide and said the inclusion of First Nation perspectives was a fad. His comments are examples of the kind of “guidance” that results in the Nazis-were-good-people-too thinking.

And this is where the Pacific Northwest tree octopus comes in.

Octopus paxarbolis

The Pacific Northwest tree octopus website was used by researchers studying critical thinking and gullibility in teenage students. The research required students to learn more about the tree octopus which could live on land as well as in the water, was on the verge of extinction because it had been over-harvested in the early 20th century for use as a hat decoration, and its main predator was the Sasquatch.

Most students believed this claptrap because they were given the assignment in school, they trusted their teachers and they were emotionally involved in saving an endangered species.

Many continued to believe the lie even after they were told the website was a hoax.

If bright young students believe the tree octopus exists even after they discover it’s a hoax, how hard is it for them to believe residential schools were a blessing for poor little Indigenous children and colonialism was good for the Indigenous population, especially if these lies are presented as fact in the UCP curriculum.

Next Steps  

No, LaGrange’s Twitter promise to remove the ‘good things about Nazis’ document is not enough. She must (1) issue a press statement apologizing for the mistakes made by her department, (2) commit to removing all documents promoting the so-called positive side of atrocities, and (3) halt the implementation of the new UCP curriculum until she’s reviewed the curriculum to ensure it does not include “horrendous content like this.”

She should be able to manage (1) and (2) on her own, but she’ll need the help of a brand new curriculum review team to ensure (3) is done without political or ideological bias.  

Over to you Adriana.

PS: Can you talk with the Energy Minister about taking steps to protect this cute little octopus that lives in the coal mines on the Eastern Slopes?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 40 Comments

Government or Frat House? Either Way Kenney Can’t Lead  

Ariella Kimmel, former chief of staff to Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer, filed a lawsuit this spring alleging the Premier’s office fostered a “poisoned work environment,” it failed to address her concerns about the sexual harassment of another employee, and she’d been fired for raising it. She’s suing for just under $400,000.

Kimmel says she raised her concerns in Oct 2020, she became the target of a smear campaign, and was fired in Feb 2021. Kenney’s chief of staff says her termination was unrelated to her insistence the government implement a robust sexual harassment policy, but Schweitzer says Kimmel was an excellent chief of staff. If she wasn’t terminated because she wouldn’t let up about sexual harassment and she wasn’t terminated for poor performance, then why was she terminated?  

Kimmel’s lawsuit referred to a specific comment made at a drinking party in (former) Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen’s office in the Legislature.

Devin Dreeshem hard at work

And boom, just like that we discovered that sometimes Dreeshen’s office functioned like a speakeasy; someone declared “shields up,” the doors were locked and out came the booze.     

At first Dreeshen brushed aside the allegation that he drank to excess (he didn’t have a problem with alcohol, he worked long hard days in the Legislature, there’s a “social aspect” to politics) but eventually he offered to resign his cabinet post saying his “personal conduct with regards to alcohol [had] become an issue for the government as a whole” and it was time for him to “focus on [his] personal health and wellness.” Premier Kenney accepted Dreeshen’s resignation.

What’s interesting about all this is that neither Dreeshen nor Kenney appeared to have a problem with Dreeshen’s “conduct with regards to alcohol” until it was raised in Kimmel’s lawsuit. Which makes us wonder whether Kenney would have accepted Dreeshen’s resignation had “shields up” not become public knowledge.

Why did it take so long?

Kenney has a reputation for micro-managing. It’s inconceivable he did not know about Dreeshen’s conduct. His principal secretary was handling Kimmel harassment complaint last fall and his chief of staff fired her this spring.  

Kenney admits to having a drink or two in Dreeshen’s office and says he’s not averse to social drinking in the Legislature as long as it’s done with maturity. The “shields up” imbroglio doesn’t sound terribly mature, so why didn’t Kenney do something about it sooner?

Well, Dreeshen wasn’t an ordinary MLA. He’s been described as an up and comer. He hails from a political family and he’s an effective fundraiser. Apparently, he raised $180,000 in the third quarter making him a powerbroker within the party.*  

No doubt it was easier for Kenney to turn a blind eye to “shields up” than take Dreeshen to task. What does this say about Kenney’s leadership?  

Other than Dreeshen, the only other cabinet minister to be demoted (outside of a cabinet shuffle) is Tracey Allard who lost her cabinet post when she went to Hawaii during the covid ban on travel. Even then Kenney didn’t demote her until the public was in an uproar over his failure to discipline Allard and the other UCP MLAs and staff who ignored the travel ban.  

It would appear nonstop carping about Kenney’s failures as a leader and policy maker won’t get you the sack unless you’re Drew Barnes or Todd Loewen. The remaining 25% of his caucus, including the vociferous Leela Aheer, Angela Pitt and Richard Gotfried, have expressed their disappointment and dissatisfaction with Kenney’s decisions and lived to gripe another day.

Kenney’s reluctance to take action over Dreeshen’s “shields up” and his hesitancy in disciplining MLAs who ignore or criticize his policies signal two things: (1) Kenney, unlike Harper, is a weak leader, and (2) Kenney’s frat house is coming apart at the seams

It’s only going to get worse if Brian Jean wins the nomination to run in the byelection in Fort McMurray.

Kenney’s demise would be welcome news but for the fact his government will be in power until May 2023 and he and his government should be focused on critical issues like managing covid and its aftermath, kickstarting the economy, and fixing healthcare, education, and other social services.

And for the record, Rachel Notley and her MLAs are putting in the long hard days at the Legislature and engaged in the social aspect of politics in their constituencies with no bozo eruptions, no cockups, and no complaints.

Just saying.

*West of Centre interview with Duane Bratt and others. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-politics-west-of-centre-podcast-kathleen-petty-1.5473933

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 52 Comments

Halloween in Alberta

In its Halloween message the Kenney government said today is a day filled with costumes, pumpkin carving, scary movies, and tasty treats. They encouraged everyone to follow the advice of our health officials so we can all enjoy the spookiest time of the year.

Sounds nice but the rest of the government’s Halloween messages were not so benign.  

The government returned to work this week. Its conduct was more than spooky as it refused to accept accountability for its ill-conceived policies and went beyond its usual mélange of obfuscation, misdirection, and trickery.*  

Here are some highlights.

The scary ‘best summer ever’     

Notley’s Opposition grilled Jason Kenney on his “best summer ever” plan which saw covid cases skyrocket, surgeries cancelled, and ICUs burst at the seams. She said from Aug 9 to Sept 3 Mr Kenney and every single one of his ministers disappeared (she called it the David Copperfield cabinet) and called upon the premier and his ministers to explain themselves.  

Kenney responded with the usual bafflegab, every jurisdiction suffered from covid, the government did not hide the modeling on the delta variant, and he and his ministers continued to carry out their duties while he was on vacation.

Then two ex-UCP MLAs joined the fray.    

Drew Barnes asked why the premier blocked MLAs from representing their constituents by refusing to give them an opportunity to ask questions of the CMOH or support the NDP’s call for an all-party committee to investigate the government’s handling of covid. Kenney’s ministers had no answers, they stonewalled as usual.

But when Todd Loewen asked whether the justice minister, the finance minister, and the environment minister continued to support the premier given his failed policy decisions it got interesting.

All three cabinet ministers professed undying allegiance to their boss, however the environment minister, Jason Nixon, went one step further. He attacked Loewen for standing by “while thousands of Albertans die.”

This was a stupid thing to say because it reinforced Notley’s point that ministerial inaction during Kenney’s absence caused covid numbers to skyrocket and someone should be held to account. Perhaps Nixon understood that something bad happened as a result of Kenney’s absence but his attempt to evade responsibility by pinning it on an ousted UCP MLA was ludicrous.  

Halloween Message: if you want to deny accountability call someone else a monster.       

Eek! – The Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

The Opposition asked energy minister Savage to explain why the government’s War Room was still standing given the harsh criticism it received from Steve Allan. Savage deflected with the classic ‘Eek! Look over there!” tactic saying the gazillions of dollars that flowed into anti-Alberta energy campaigns might be directed to attacks on carbon capture, hydrogen, or critical and rare earth minerals in the future. She tossed around the name of climate activist Tzeporah Berman in case Albertans were looking for someone to blame for this future injustice. (None of Savage’s allegations are supported by the Allan Report).  

Halloween Message: if you have no evidence to support your scary narrative, make something up.    

Trickery and sleight of hand – equalization referendum 

Sixty-two percent of those who voted on the referendum question (should the principle of equalization be removed from the Constitution) voted yes, but this 62% was less than a third of eligible voters. Nevertheless Kenney said the referendum provided a strong mandate to demand Ottawa treat Albertans fairly.

Leaving aside the obvious point that 62% of 33% is not a clear mandate, the UCP government wound up the rhetoric in the Legislature.  

“Here we go,” MLA Miranda Rosin said. Sure, Alberta could not unilaterally change the Constitution, but it would take decisive action.  

What’s the government going to do?

According to Rosin and Nicholas Milliken, Alberta won’t settle for being treated as a second-class citizen. It won’t allow other provinces to run surpluses and “shut down” our industries. It will continue the fight, demand a fair deal, and condemn Trudeau’s appointment of Steven Guilbeault as environment minister because “we deserve respect.”

In other words it will do exactly what it has been doing all along, stamp its feet and play the victim.    

Halloween Message: If you don’t get anywhere yelling at Ottawa, call a referendum to trick Albertans into believing you’re doing more than yelling at Ottawa.     

Bottom line

The government’s Halloween message encouraged Albertans to enjoy the spookiest time of the year. Unfortunately, since the UCP were elected we’ve had to suffer through the spookiest and most treacherous era in our political history.

It’s time to turn off the lights and send those clowns home.

*Alberta Hansard, Oct 25, p 5643, Oct 27, p 5739, Oct 28, p 5815 and 5819

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government, Vacation | Tagged , , , , , , | 45 Comments

The Allan Report: Foreign Funding of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

First, we had Steve Allan’s Report on the (not so public) public inquiry’s findings with respect to the role of foreign funding into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.

Then we had the Kenney government’s press release which said the Allan Report confirmed “hundreds of millions of foreign dollars were used to block [Alberta’s] oil and gas development, affecting the lives and livelihoods of Albertans.” Not true.   

Finally we had the press conference with Energy minister Savage who declared Albertans had a right to be upset and she was mad. Good, let’s have a tantrum.       

Steven Allan

The whole thing was like watching Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in a Pink Panther movie, one stupid misstep after another.

The Findings

It took Mr Allan two years and $3.5 M to determine that:

  • Some environmental nonprofit/charitable organizations (ENGOs) participated in anti-Alberta energy campaigns (AAEC) and
  • Between 2003 and 2019 some of these ENGOs may have received foreign funding in the amount of $54M (that’s an annual average of $3.4 M, or slightly less than the cost of this public inquiry and roughly one-tenth the annual cost of the War Room).    

Mr Allan concluded foreign funding for AAEC was “significant.”

Really? Charitable giving in 2020 was $169B. Of that 2% or $3.38B went to environmental causes. Mr Allan, a forensic accountant, and his million-dollar team from Deloittes tracked $3.4M/year to foreign funding. That’s hardly “significant.”   

Mr Allan also found that:  

  • Participation in AAEC is not illegal or improper, and such conduct is not to be impugned. Indeed, it’s an exercise of one’s freedoms of expression, assembly, and association and AAEC are lawful and protected in our democracy.     
  • AAEC may have played a role but were not the sole cause of cancellations or delays of some oil and gas developments because much of the reduced investment was due to natural market forces and the economic loss was impossible to quantify.   

At this point Mr Allan could have declared mission accomplished and moved on. Instead he continued for hundreds of pages and found:    

  • ENGOs work together “in concert” and are like “an industry unto themselves.” This sounded ominous until Mr Allan said ENGOs are wise to work collaboratively and to seek to be financially sustainable.
  • Land conservations polices arising out of Agenda 21 (a 1992 UN environmental summit treaty to which Canada is a signatory) were designed to protect forests and marine life, however ENGOs used them to “block” oil and gas developments. Could it be that “blocking” development in conservation areas protects forests and marine life?      
  • Initiatives like the Great Bear Rainforest, the Tanker Ban, the Mackenzie Valley 5-year Action Plan and the Boreal Forest Plan “ring-fenced” Alberta. This is not entirely true given that these initiatives impact the west, north-west, and north-east and have no impact on oil and gas developments to the east and south of Alberta.
  • The Wetlands Restoration Program (Ducks Unlimited) did not stop development. Coincidentally Premier Kenney’s former principal secretary became the CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada this summer.
  • $103M in foreign funding went to First Nations but Mr Allan did not investigate this funding “due to the complex nature of First Nation issues.”
  • Foreign funding was directed to litigation and political activism. Mr Allan did not provide any examples involving Canadian ENGOs.  

And then Mr Allan really slipped his moorings.

The Clouseau bits  

Mr Allan’s report is replete with innuendo, speculation, and non sequitur.

For example, he says extremism is dangerous, Canadian society is becoming polarized, and trust in institutions is at an all-time low. True, but what does this have to do with the subject of this public inquiry?  

Then there’s Mr Allan’s exposition about the Strategy. Apparently, the Strategy evolved from a focus on the oil sands to a global drive to wean the planet off fossil fuels. It sneaked up on governments and the industry and caught them off guard. This allowed the Strategy to “grow and develop.” By the time you’re finished reading this section you’d swear Mr Allan was talking about the Borg.  

The Allan report is padded with reprinted news stories, lengthy book excerpts from environmentalists and pop-star statisticians, screen shots from Twitter, Facebook and various websites, and anecdotal reports of Al Gore TED talks. None of which could be considered probative.  

It sinks to a new level of whacky when Mr Allan describes a report (complete with illustrations) explaining that NGOs can be characterized as sea creatures. They’re sharks, orcas, sea lions and dolphins. Greenpeace is a shark; Pembina is a dolphin. What this has to do with the foreign funding of AAEC is anybody’s guess.

The best Clouseau moment comes when Mr Allan shoots Premier Kenney in the foot with a scathing attack on the War Room which he said lacks credibility, is almost universally criticized, and may be damaged beyond repair. On that we can agree.  

Recommendations

Mr Allan set out six recommendations. One calls for greater transparency and accountability for ENGOs and would involve rewriting parts of the Canadian and US tax acts to “level the playing field” so industry and the government could keep up. The others are simply a rehash of recommendations that have appeared elsewhere.

And two years and $3.5 million later we’re left wondering is that all there is?  

Because if this was the best Mr Allan and the team at Deloittes could come up with we’d have been better served by Inspector Clouseau. At least he’s funny.

Posted in Climate Change, Crime and Justice, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 45 Comments

Minister Toews and the AUPE: A Shift in the Balance of Power

“Strikes are only one measure of unrest.” Todd Vachon, an assistant professor and director of labor education at Rutgers University.

Did you catch it, that shift in the balance of power?

Last Wednesday Finance Minister Travis Toews issued a statement announcing the government and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) had received the mediator’s recommendation to settle the ongoing contract negotiations. Mr Toews said the government was looking forward to the results of the AUPE’s ratification vote.

That was it. A three sentence announcement. Unusually terse, even for Mr Toews.

The less said the better

What Mr Toews didn’t say was the mediator rejected the government’s proposal calling for a 4% salary rollback and significant reductions in overtime pay and other benefits (it’s all part of Kenney’s plan to cut the public service by $1 billion by 2023-24 from 2019 levels).

Finance Ministe Toews saying as little as possible

The Kenney government argued the wage/benefit reductions were warranted because:

  • Alberta spends more per capita on the public service than the other Canadian provinces (as per Kenney’s lopsided MacKinnon Report)  
  • Alberta’s economy was hit hard by covid and the oil price collapse (a decent covid mitigation plan and a sincere effort to diversify the economy could have helped, no?)  
  • Unemployment is the highest it’s been since the 1980s (see second bullet)
  • Albertans in the private sector lost their jobs or took pay cuts and public service employees must share the pain (perhaps they’d be prepared to share the pain if they were allowed to share the gain; oh wait, government employees don’t get bonuses and stock options),
  • Alberta’s government is seeing decreased revenues, increased expenses, higher than anticipated debt and record high deficits (see second bullet).

The mediator disagreed and recommended a one-year salary freeze followed by a 1.25% increase effective Jan 1, 2023, with additional increases to come down the road.  .  

This was not the first time a mediator or an arbitrator rejected the government’s arguments for wage cuts.

A quick review of the AUPE website for 2021 shows wage rollbacks proposed by ATB, eight Alberta colleges, Alberta Pension Services, and other institutions were tossed out in favour of modest wage hikes.

One would think the Kenney government, perennially antagonistic to the unions, would wave the MacKinnon Report like a flag and charge into battle. Instead it folded. Why?

Perhaps it’s because the premier’s popularity is at such a nadir that he can’t risk triggering a strike or lockout.

Or perhaps Albertans (including the thousands who work for the government) finally realized that even the biggest bully backs down when their victims fight back.  

Or perhaps covid, like WW1 and WW2, has changed things forever.

Economist and policy advisor Robert Reich says the pandemic was the last straw for many workers who’ve quit for good or are refusing to return to work until their wages and/or working conditions improve. This created a shortage of replacement workers which has given union and non-union workers real leverage.    

The Kenney government made a dog’s breakfast out of contract renegotiations before the pandemic took hold; now almost two years into the pandemic government workers are burned out and frustrated…and the Kenney government offered them even lower pay and fewer benefits. The mediator was clear, this isn’t good enough.  

The balance of power has shifted to the unions and if Kenney pushes them too far, they’ll walk. But here’s the interesting thing, the level of unrest in Kenney’s Alberta is so high that if the unions walk many Albertans will be right there with them on the picket lines.  

No wonder Mr Toews decided to say as little as possible.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Employment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 42 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving…?

I was composing a short Happy Thanksgiving blog when a UCP government press release appeared in my inbox.  

Today is World Mental Health Day and Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Mike Ellis, said “Right now it might seem like a lot of things are out of our control, and this may be contributing to feelings of stress and anxiety.”

Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
You’d rather look at a turkey than Mike Ellis, right?

Well, duh. Things seem like they’re out of control because they are out of control and this lack of control is definitely contributing to our stress and anxiety, especially if we work in or require healthcare thanks to this pathetic, ideologically driven government.

Ellis says it’s appropriate that World Mental Health Day falls on Thanksgiving weekend “because the act of practising gratitude can be a helpful tool to improve mental wellness.”  

I have no idea what practising gratitude over the Thanksgiving turkey would entail, but here’s a suggestion, the government could practice what it preaches and show its gratitude to the overworked and understaffed healthcare professionals who are desperately trying to keep us alive.

It could (1) listen when they beg for a firebreak and other tools (especially in schools) to stop the spread of the virus, (2) implement and enforce a real vaccine passport system (no more exemptions for those who’ve tested negative over the last 72 hours), and (3) support the healthcare system with additional resources and funding now so it doesn’t collapse before we’re through the worst of this.

Oh, and a little bonus to nurses like the ones being offered by Quebec and BC wouldn’t hurt, because at this point in our covid experience platitudes and links to mental health resources in press releases simply don’t cut it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Celebrations, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , | 34 Comments

Jason Kenney the Anecdotal Policy Maker   

“Anecdotal” (anəkˈdōdl) adjective: an account not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

And the gong show continues.

On Sept 30, we learned Jason Kenney puts more weight on random anecdotal stories than the expert opinions of healthcare professionals.   

At last Thursday’s press conference Kenney announced he’d asked the federal government to provide Alberta with the Janssen (J&J) vaccine because “a growing number of Albertans [who’d rejected the Pfizer, Moderna and AZ vaccines] are willing to receive it.”

When asked to explain how he came to this conclusion Kenney said he’d received anecdotal reports from some rural MLAs and local leaders to that effect.

One wonders who these rural Albertans are and how they and their nameless MLAs came to have more sway of Kenney than a flotilla of medical experts, the Alberta Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association who’ve been begging for a short, controlled lockdown (firebreak) of schools and non-essential services to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing completely.

Other than an announcement that the 25,000 people employed in the public service will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative covid test or go on to unpaid leave there was nothing new.

Dr Yiu said (again) that the hospitals are under “unprecedented pressure,” ICUs are under “immense strain” and healthcare workers and their families are suffering incredible mental and physical strain.

But no there will be no firebreak lockdowns to relieve the pressure on our healthcare system.

Why not?

Wait, wait, and wait some more

Because Kenney wants to wait and see whether the previously imposed measures are working and besides the case numbers appear to be plateauing.

Um, the previously imposed measures were an easily forgeable vaxx passport, the proof of vaccine/negative covid test for AHS workers (and now public servants) and the reinstatement of various confusing restrictions.

Given that the majority of AHS workers and public servants work in urban areas and the majority of unvaccinated Albertans reside in rural areas, how, pray tell, are any of these measures going to reduce the pressure on our hospitals and ICUs?   

And please Mr Kenney, take no comfort in the case numbers “plateauing.” They’re plateauing at more than 1000/day. At this number all elective surgeries have been cancelled, our hospitals and ICUs are at breaking point and the triage protocol is lurking just around the corner.    

Blah, blah, blah

To distract us from the sound of our lives going down the drain, Kenney reiterated that his government would use every tool at its disposal (well, except the firebreak) to keep our hospitals and ICUs from collapsing.

He’ll continue to provide these tools too late and in such a slipshod way—oh you want a QR code reader app along with your QR code card, well you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks—that they’re pretty well useless.

He’ll download these tools onto municipalities, school boards and businesses creating even more chaos and confusion. The head of the Calgary Hospitality Association wasn’t kidding when he said the vaccine passport was a “disaster.”  

Kenney will lead by example as long as you don’t ask him to impose a proof of vaccination/negative covid test policy on his own MLAs. That, he says, would violate a “legal constitutional principle.” Apparently, this career politician was unaware that this so-called obstacle could be overcome by a simple majority vote of the MLAs. Let’s see, all 24 NDP MLAs are vaccinated, so all Kenney needs is to call the vote and get 20 of his own MLAs to support it. Voila, leading by example!   

He’ll reassure us once again that we’re no worse off than other jurisdictions and trot out irrelevant information like Ontario’s record in the first wave (we’re both in the fourth wave and Ontario is doing better than Alberta) and Manitoba’s experience at Christmas (it is now October and Manitoba is doing better than Alberta). He’ll make ominous allusions to Australia which suffered God knows what “negative consequences” after having “the hardest lockdowns in the democratic world” (Alberta has one-sixth of the population of Australia and had twice as many covid deaths, so what’s your point?)  

It doesn’t matter. Kenney is going to wait to see whether the J&J vaccine and the public service proof of vaccine/negative test policy will save the healthcare system from collapse.

But hey, don’t despair, I’ve heard anecdotally that if Kenney breaks our healthcare system he’ll resign.*

*Sorry, I’ve heard nothing anecdotal or otherwise (shakes her head). Pity.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

On Liberty and Alberta’s Covid Crisis

This is for the woman who yelled “Do you feel safer now?” when my daughter stepped off the sidewalk to give the woman and her rambunctious dog room to pass. Do you feel safer now? My daughter stepped off the curb to give the woman and her dog some space. The woman took this as a challenge to her anti-whatever beliefs.

It’s time for the anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-restrictions (“Antis”) to come to terms with their decision to reject life-saving vaccines and defy public health restrictions while at the same time demanding the state save them from the consequences of their ill-informed decisions.*

It’s also time for the Kenney government to rectify the mess it created by pandering to the Antis.  

First let’s recap.  

In Alberta

We have over 20,000 active cases, over 1000 in hospital with 243 in ICU. More than 2,600 Albertans have died.

We’ve doubled our ICU beds from 173 to 350. Non-ICU nurses are being redeployed to ICU, retired nurses and doctors who haven’t set foot in an ICU since medical school are being asked to pitch in. All non-urgent surgery for adults and children (including transplants, tumors, and cancer) have been cancelled. Nurse to patient ratios are out of whack, standards of care have been “relaxed” and the rates of hospitalization, ICU admission and death among unvaccinated Albertans are between 8 to 60 times higher than in the fully vaccinated population.

Jason Copping and Jason Kenney

The only reason AHS hasn’t triggered the triage protocol is the number of ICU deaths is keeping pace with the number of ICU admissions.

The Kenney government put us in this position ostensibly to protect the Antis who believe their right to exercise their freedoms trumps our right to avoid illness and death.  

There is no philosophical basis for this position (more on that below) so one can’t help but think this is Kenney’s heartless way to keep the libertarians and misinformed onboard.   

On Liberty  

This feels unfair and it is.

A quick read of John Stuart Mill’s treatise On Liberty illustrates why.

Mill set out two maxims to address the exercise of individual freedoms within society. The first states the individual is not accountable to society for his actions if his actions concern no one but himself. The second states that individual actions that are “prejudicial to the interests of others” may be subject to social or legal punishment.  

As the political theorist Theresa Man Ling Lee put it: individuals are free to do whatever they want unless and until their actions pose a threat to others. At that point the state can intervene to stop them.  

How does Mill’s treatise play out here?

Maxim #1: The Antis refuse to get vaccinated (okay), but it is unacceptable for them to refuse to comply with public health restrictions and threaten, deride, and assault others who do.    

Maxim #2: The Kenney government failed to intervene to protect Albertans against the Antis who endangered their health by violating Maxim #1. Kenney’s restrictions were too little, too late. Cases spiked. When he finally reintroduced public health restrictions, they were confusing, and included an easy-to-forge vaccine passport that shifted the burden of enforcement from the province to municipalities and business owners.  

Finally he fiddled with the health ministry, swapping Jason Copping for Tyler Shandro. Nothing new came of this.

Copping announced three priorities. Two (increasing baseline hospital capacity permanently and preparing the healthcare system to “more adequately respond to potential future waves of covid”) do nothing to address the immediate problem. The third (educating vaccine hesitant Albertans to get immunized by speaking with experts) is ineffective at boosting vaccine rates when compared to mandatory vaccine passports.

The only effective government intervention—imposing additional firebreak restrictions—isn’t in the cards.  

So we’re back where we started.

Most Albertans are doing the right thing, but a minority are exercising their individual freedoms without taking responsibility for their actions and the Kenney government refuses to intervene.

Some questions  

Given that we’re heading full steam ahead into the crisis, it’s appropriate to ask Kenney and the Antis to defend their positions. John Stuart Mill’s two maxims are helpful here.

First, to the Antis who preach the sanctity of individual choice, will you accept responsibility for your decision, stay home and observe public health restrictions when you go out? No? Then how about this, if you become ill with covid or a loony internet remedy, will you stay away from the hospital—you chose to run the risk of getting covid, you’ll have to tough it out—so the rest of us can access the medical care we need.  

Second, to Health Minister Jason Copping. Surgeries were cancelled across the board to make room in ICU for covid patients, the majority of whom are unvaccinated, will you work with AHS to convert 173 ICU beds back to non-covid ICU beds and start scheduling the surgeries that have been cancelled. That will return AHS to its pre-covid position and still leave 177 surge beds for covid ICU patients who you can triage to your hearts content. While you’re at it, could you pay all nurses a covid bonus, say $15,000, to ensure we’ll have some nurses left to deal with this crisis and its aftermath.

And lastly, to Jason Kenney, will you please for the love of God, focus on the covid crisis and forget, for just one moment, the internecine battles threatening your leadership.

Really, is that too much to ask?

*NOTE: these comments relate only to those who could get vaccinated and comply with restrictions but choose not to do so.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Crime and Justice, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 85 Comments