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 , , , | 23 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

Kenney’s Awesome Summer and Disastrous Fall

“So, no, I don’t apologize for the decision to relax public health restrictions in the summer.” – Jason Kenney

Let’s recap what’s happened since July 1 when Kenney waxed eloquent about a new day dawning and the future looking brighter because we’d “crushed” covid and were officially open for summer. On that day Alberta had 67 new cases and the 7-day average was 59.

Not bad, but by late July/early August Dr Hinshaw realized Alberta was in trouble. Our data did not track the UK data and the expected “decoupling” of covid cases from hospitalizations failed to materialize.  

So what did Kenney do? He took a 2-week vacation. On Aug 9, the day he disappeared, new cases had risen to 244 and the 7-day average was 302.

Kenney returned on Sept 1 (his 2-week vacation morphed to 23 days). By then cases had spiked to 1315 and the 7-day average was 1082.     

Kenney recognized the danger and acted decisively (sorry, that was sarcasm).

Kenney (reluctantly) reacts

On Sept 3 Kenney introduced the $100 gift card incentive to boost vax rates (it didn’t) and implemented mandatory masking for indoor public spaces and no booze after 10PM to reduce rising case numbers (they didn’t).

On Sept 9 Health Minister Shandro tried a different tack. He unveiled a policy to create more ICU beds by shuffling up to 400 long term care patients to God knows where. Apparently, the thinking was if you can’t increase the vaccination rate, put more people into ICU.   

Then finally on Sept 15 Kenney got serious. He announced more restrictions and his own version of a vaccine passport. Vaccine bookings tripled the very next day. Surprise!

But on that day we also learned all non-urgent surgeries would be cancelled to increase ICU capacity, the healthcare system was in danger of collapse and healthcare professionals were being trained to implement the Critical Care Triage Protocol.

Kenney went from 67 new cases on July 1 to 2020 new cases on Sept 17, 215 of which were in ICU. He had succeeded in pushing our hospitals to the brink and then some.    

So much for a new day dawning and the future looking bright.

Our new reality: critical care triage protocol

So here’s the thing about the triage protocol. According to Dr James Talbot, Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health, it’s not just another medical protocol, it’s a “signal you’re no longer in crisis, you’re in meltdown.”  

What does meltdown look like?

The protocol applies province-wide to all critically ill adult and pediatric patients (no other Canadian jurisdiction has a protocol for kids, so this is a first for Alberta).  

It allocates critical resources on the “capacity to benefit” principle (the likelihood of survival) in an effort to save the greatest number of lives possible.

It’s supplemented by the “formal equality” principle that “All individuals have equal moral worth.” This means if there’s no distinction between two patients’ capacity to benefit, they’ll be accepted into ICU on a first come, first served basis and if two patients arrive at the same time one will be randomly selected over the other.

Once in ICU, patients are reassessed daily and those who fail to remain eligible for critical care are transitioned out of ICU. Patients and/or their families do not have a choice or the right to consent to such a decision.

There’s a certain irony here. Those that argue vaccines and vaccine passports violate their individual rights and freedoms will, if they end up in ICU, have no say in whether they live or die; the protocol makes that decision. It seeks an outcome that provides the greatest good for the greatest number, individual rights and freedoms be damned.  

Going into the fall

Kenney’s plan to push the healthcare system to its very limits failed when he overshot the mark. With the triage protocol looming on the horizon, he was forced to reverse his opposition to a vaccine passport system.

He said he had no choice. “The government’s first obligation must be to avoid large numbers of preventable deaths…Morally, ethically and legally, the protection of life must be our paramount concern.”

It’s strange that these moral, ethical and legal considerations were not of paramount concern on July 1, Aug 9, Sept 1, Sept 3, and Sept 9. Morality, ethics and law are not mutable, are they?  

The bigger question is what can we expect from Kenney going into the fall?   

Kenney is under tremendous pressure to appease his base. His caucus is divided. At least one UCP constituency association has formally demanded an early leadership review. Will he lift the restrictions prematurely to prevent a caucus revolt and cause yet another spike in cases and deaths when the covid virus refuses to play politics?

If Kenney can avoid a caucus revolt, will he be able to focus on the business of governing knowing the sharks are circling?

Alberta is in crisis, it cries out for calm steady leadership, instead we’re being whipsawed by an incompetent premier and his power-hungry party.  

No one knows how this will play out, but one thing is certain, Jason Kenney’s fall (in every sense of the word) is going to be brutal.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Disasters, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 63 Comments

Another Covid Solution, Another Non-Plan  

Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Jason Kenney hid while Albertan’s lives and livelihoods went up in smoke.

Last Thursday Health minister Shandro and Drs Hinshaw and Yiu unveiled the government’s latest non-plan to get Alberta through the pandemic.

Alberta’s ICUs are at 130% capacity when surge capacity is excluded (87% capacity with the temporary beds are included).   

So the government will spend $36 million (slightly more than the War Room’s annual budget) to boost wages and hire more continuing care staff so we can shuffle 400 people presently in hospital (because there’s no space in continuing care and they can’t go home) into continuing care or back home.  

Shandro, Kenney and Hinshaw

Move ‘em out

Shandro says his decision is guided by a report issued in May 2021. That report set out 42 recommendations to improve the quality of care for residents in continuing care, not one of them suggests using continuing care to offset a crisis in ICU.   

Shandro says he could move 200 of the 400 out within a week or two.

Where’s he going to put them? The Report calls for an immediate halt to new admissions to rooms that already have two residents, and more stringent measures to prevent overcrowding so Shandro certainly can’t triple and quadruple bunk them.

Maybe he’s sending them home. Is two weeks enough time for AHS to hire and train enough aides to care for those who require continuous monitoring and assistance with medications, hygiene, meals, and laundry?

The only way pushing 400 people out of regular hospital beds will alleviate the pressure on ICUs is if those beds are converted to ICU beds. Which leads to the next question, does Shandro have the personnel and the resources to create 200 to 400 more ICU beds?

What’s the plan?

Kenney and Shandro say increasing the vaccination rate will decrease the number of people hospitalized and reduce pressure on our ICUs. However their plan to boost vaccination rates through lotteries, prizes and bribes failed.

Now AHS has to postpone or cancel scheduled elective surgeries, including some pediatric surgeries, cancer surgeries and transplant cases to relieve the pressure on ICUs.

How did it come to this?

Looking back, it’s apparent Kenney had a plan. It was revealed in dribs and drabs by his hapless caucus members.    

In Nov 2020 UCP MLA Jason Luan said (then retracted) that the government intended to push hospitalizations and ICUs “to the limit” before it gradually introduced restrictions.

In July 2021 UCP MLA Nathan Neudorf said (then retracted) that the government expected a rapid rise followed by a rapid decline in case numbers as covid raced through the unvaccinated population, and this would allow the government to avoid further restrictions.

Then last Thursday Shandro said the government knew all along its Open for Summer plan and the removal of public health measures would cause cases to rise, but the government expected the rising case count to “decouple” from hospitalizations. In other words, a lot more people would get sick but fewer would be hospitalized, and we’d avoid further restrictions.

Like so many of Kenney’s bad bets, his plan blew up in his face.

Case counts are rising, but they haven’t “decoupled” from hospitalizations. Consequently our hospitals and ICUs are on the verge of collapse. Hence the need to push 400 people out of hospital to make way for the incoming.

There is another way

Shandro said his government was exploring “all options to ramp up capacity.” Instead of ramping up capacity his government should do more to ramp up the vaccination rate. It should introduce mandatory vaccine passports for non-essential services.  

The reporters, bless their hearts, pushed Shandro on this question: Are mandatory vaccine passports on the table if things get worse?  

Um, well, er, good question, Shandro said.  

He lavished praise on the businesses and sports teams that showed “great leadership” by requiring vaccination passports. Then he blathered about the government working on a QR code or a “printable card” that could be proof of vaccination for anyone who chooses to present it to whomever chooses to require it.

Then he turned the question into a metaphysical exercise. “You’re asking how certain we can be about the future.” What?  

It was like listening to a tarot card reader.

Never mind, we’ve got the picture. Based on what Shandro, Luan and Neudorf said it appears the plan was to push the healthcare system to the max before introducing restrictions (check) and lifting the restrictions as soon as possible (check) in anticipation of the vaccines wiping out covid (fail).  

Reason for failure: Jason Kenney. He confused and alienated so many Albertans with all his talk about covid being a flu, only fatal if you’re old and sick, restrictions violating freedoms, and the pandemic being over on July 1 when he declared Alberta Open for Summer, that too many Albertans refuse to get vaccinated.

And here we are in the middle of a fourth wave.

Albertans are sick and dying. There’s no room for them in the ICU so others who need non-covid care are being pushed out. The majority of Albertans and the business community are begging for mandatory vaccine passports but his own party is fundraising against them. It’s a frigging mess.

Which brings us back to Nero.    

The fiddler

The Great Fire that ravaged Rome destroyed 70% of the city and left half the population homeless. Nero was out of town at his villa. Rumour has it he didn’t fiddle but sang as he watched Rome burn. Many Romans believed he started the fire, this belief was reinforced when he built the Golden Place and pleasure gardens on the scorched land.

Nero was a cruel and ineffectual leader in a time of great crisis.

Need we say more.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Disasters, Politics and Government, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 64 Comments

Kenney’s $100 Solution

At the end of May Jason Kenney unveiled an aggressive reopening plan that would lead to the best Alberta summer ever and on July 1 he lifted all but a handful of Covid-19 restrictions.

Two months later we crashed.

On Sept 3 we had 1401 cases, 515 Albertans were hospitalized, 118 of them were in ICU. Our ICUs are at 95% capacity, elective surgeries have been postponed, our healthcare professionals are burned out and our healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.

Why? Because 30% of eligible Albertans are unvaccinated and the Delta variant is running wild.

Not to worry. Jason Kenney has a plan.

After scouring the globe for solutions (he’s open to “any promising new option”* and left “no stone unturned”) and spending two whole days in cabinet reviewing the recommendations of Dr Hinshaw and AHS and Alberta Health officials, he emerged with what he said was a simple message: “if you’ve been holding out, you just haven’t gotten around to it, it’s now literally worth yourwhile” to do the right thing.

He’s going to pay unvaxxed Albertans 18 years and older $100 for their first or second jab.   

Kenney justified his plan with the argument that if it comes to a choice between (1) a sustained crisis in our hospitals, (2) widespread restrictions, or (3) finding a way to get the attention of vax “latecomers” he’d choose (3).  

But there’s a fourth alternative he didn’t consider. A way to boost the vaccination rate that doesn’t punish those who don’t have to be bribed into doing the right thing. It’s called a vaccine passport, a system that requires proof of vaccination before people can go to restaurants, gyms, cinemas and bars.

Health writer, Andre Picard, says vaccine passport systems are necessary and beneficial because:  

  • They reward those who got vaccinated with more freedom.
  • They induce the unvaccinated to get their shots (BC’s vax appointments tripled and Quebec’s went up 50% after their governments announced their programs).
  • They provide clear rules that benefit businesses and the general public, thereby avoiding further lockdowns.

77% of Albertans support a vaccine passport system.

Four provinces, BC, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba have adopted such programs, but Kenney ignored these Canadian examples, choosing to follow in the footsteps of Colorado. He is going to gamble $20 million in an attempt to raise Alberta’s vaccination rate by 5 percentage points by giving unvaccinated Albertans over the age of 18 a $100 debit card.  

Colorado?

On Aug 23, Colorado announced it would give a $100 Walmart gift card (while supplies last) to any unvaccinated Coloradan aged 12 and up. At the end of two weeks, Colorado boosted its vax rate by 1%. The rate for one shot went from 62.6% to 63.5% and the rate for two shots went from 56.1% to 57.2%.

Kenney’s plan doesn’t include all eligible Albertans, only those 18 and up so it will be harder to reach the target, but the supply of pre-loaded debit cards appears to be limitless.  

However if Colorado is anything to go by, we’ll be lucky to get a 1 percentage point uptick in our vaccination rate. Seems to me the $20 million would be better spent on nurses’ salaries and covid protection for children in schools.  

Money vs morality

The most troubling thing about Kenney’s $100 plan is it’s mercenary.

No one should be paid to “do the right thing,” paid to stop exposing their families, friends and communities to the risk of illness and death and driving our healthcare system into the ground.

This is immoral.

But we are not surprised. We live in Kenney’s Alberta. Our faith in our democratic institutions, our public service systems, even ourselves, is severely strained.   

We are now at the point where we debate how to rid ourselves of the anti-vaxxers requiring medical attention. Should they be pushed out of ICUs when beds become scarce? Should they be treated in field hospitals by unvaccinated medical staff? Should they be forced to pay a premium for healthcare?  

These are ethical questions that challenge the principle of universal healthcare, the medical profession’s duty to provide care and our duty as citizens to see beyond our own selfish needs and support the greater common good.

These questions will not be answered by issuing a $100 government debit card to someone who is otherwise able to get a vaccination against covid-19.  

Instead of kowtowing to the vocal minority, it’s time Kenney acted in the interests of the majority of Albertans who did the right thing to protect themselves, their families and their communities. He must implement a vaccine passport system to move us closer to the post-pandemic normal.

Anything less is immoral.

*All quotes from the Kenney press conference Friday Sept 3.

Posted in Uncategorized | 76 Comments

The Marieval Residential School

This weekend Ms Soapbox was going to write a breezy little blog saying she was taking the summer off. She was going to wish everyone a safe and pleasant summer and ask them to check back here on September 5, 2021, to resume the battle of trying to stay ahead of the Kenney government’s ill-conceived policies.

Then it happened again. 751 unmarked graves containing the remains of Indigenous children and adults, were discovered on the site of the Marieval Residential School at Cowessess.

These will be added to the 215 unmarked graves discovered at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School and thousands more yet to be discovered.

We should have been prepared for the sheer horror of these discoveries, but we were not.   

Marieval Residential School

We ignored and downplayed the stories of the survivors, we refused to acknowledge this part of our history as an act of genocide, and we’ve been complicit with the governments and churches responsible.

We continue to have divisive arguments about statues when we should be joining forces to compel governments and churches to provide the access and funding necessary to locate all the graves so missing and murdered children can be identified and properly honoured.

We need to support Indigenous communities and take meaningful action to eliminate systemic racism, discrimination and injustice. We need to demand the federal and provincial governments act more quickly in implementing the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, including a papal apology here on Canadian soil.

Yes, I’ll be taking the summer off from the Soapbox. But there is much to do, and we need to do it together.

So be safe. Take care of yourselves. And I’ll see you in the fall.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Culture, Politics and Government | Tagged , , | 92 Comments

Kenney and the Autocrat’s Handbook

The Alberta Legislature ended the 2021 Spring Session on a particularly disturbing note.

Members of the Opposition asked Jason Kenney to apologize for his role in pushing the niqab ban, a policy that contributed to growing Islamophobia, while he was a federal cabinet minister.

Instead of an apology, Kenney stood up and flatly denied he’d ever supported the niqab ban.

We’ve all seen the news clips and Hansard transcripts where Kenney banned the niqab at Canadian citizenship ceremonies. Over the years he’s said the niqab “reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept in Canada.” It was “a medieval tribal custom” and he “was proud to make that decision” because he believed “people taking the public Oath of Citizenship should do so . . .with their faces uncovered.”

The denial

This week Kenney added that it is “entirely reasonable that when people are making a public oath in a court, when they’re testifying, when they are providing identification, when they’re boarding an airplane, they should do so with their identity available and their faces uncovered.”

None of Kenney’s examples of “reasonableness” are relevant. Citizenship ceremonies do not take place in court. They are held at CIC offices, schools and community halls. The oath or affirmation is not giving testimony in court and the certificate of citizenship is not an identity or travel document.

He could have apologized like his former MP colleagues Tim Uppal and Michelle Rempel Garner, instead he chose to lie. Why?  

Characteristics of an autocrat

The answer lies in historian Timothy Synder’s analysis of autocrats.*

Autocrats lie. Even in the face of concrete evidence to the contrary. Putin lied about the invasion of Ukraine and Trump lied about winning the 2020 election.     

And Kenney lies. He said the coronavirus was the flu, then denied he’d said it. He violated the restriction against outdoor patio dining, then denied it, then admitted it.

Autocrats like to win. For them winning isn’t about getting the most votes, it’s about getting away with whatever it takes to get into power.

The UCP leadership race that resulted in Kenney becoming the leader of the UCP was fraught with shady practices. The Election Commissioner imposed thousands of dollars in fines for illegal donations but was not able to finish his investigation because Kenney fired him after he came to office. (The RCMP investigation into voter fraud and identity theft is still ongoing).  

Autocrats have a disdain for democracy.

Kenney displayed his disrespect for the democratic process very early in his tenure by distributing earplugs to his fellow MLAs so they wouldn’t have to listen to the Opposition MLAs who (let’s remember) are charged with the responsibility of holding the government to account and voicing the concerns of their constituents.  

He shut down debate 29 times in two years, contrast this to the NDP who shut down debate 5 times over four years.

When covid struck he declared with Churchillian bravado that his government would stay open no matter what, then suspended the Legislature for two weeks at the height of the covid crisis to avoid questions about spiking covid numbers and to hide from a brewing caucus revolt.

He enacted public health restrictions then adopted a “do as I say, not as I do” approach allowing his  MLAs and staff to travel over Christmas and treating his cabinet ministers and staff to an outdoor patio dining experience on the 11th floor of the Sky Palace.  

He passed legislation to curtail Albertans’ right to protest but was slow to act when evangelical clergymen held illegal church services and anti-maskers took to the streets to illegally gather in protest of his public health restrictions.   

He announced important policies on Twitter and Facebook to avoid tough questions from the media. And at traditional press conferences he sneered at reporters when they asked legitimate questions or sought clarification about inconsistent or contradictory policies.   

These examples of autocratic behavior are disturbing, but none are as destructive as Kenney’s focus on past grievances.

Timothy Snyder explains that instead of creating possibilities for the future, autocrats place their country (or in our case our province) at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood where they dwell on the wrongs done to them by others (the federal Liberals).   

The autocrat promises to redress these ills. So per the autocrat’s handbook Kenney promised to “stand up for Alberta” against shadowy foreign funded special interests and get a “fair deal” from Canada.

He dragged Albertans into a whirlpool of studies, panels and inquiries including the never-ending and oh so secret Anti-Alberta Energy Public Inquiry, the utterly useless Energy War Room, and the divisive Fair Deal Panel.

Kenney convinced Albertans they were virtuous “people of destiny” who suffered injustice at the hands of the Feds. Instead of developing a clear understanding of the present reality and creating policies to give us control over our own future we’re stuck nursing our grievances and wallowing in self-pity.    

Snyder points out that a society obsessed with victimhood runs on inflamed emotions. Consequently, tribalism and polarization increase.

A premier who not only refuses to apologize for actions that fuel Islamophobia and flat out denies what he’s done when all we have to do is google “Kenney niqab ban” to confirm he’s lying only makes things worse.    

But it doesn’t matter to Kenney because all he cares about is staying in power.

As Timothy Snyder said, for an autocrat winning is everything.

*The Road to Unfreedom

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 66 Comments

Fighting Racism in Kenney’s Alberta

Sometimes it pays to sit through a 53 minute 42 second Kenney press conference because something unexpected will happen at the very end. In this case it happened at the 46:24 mark.

Last week in the wake of the horrific attack on the Afzaal family in London, premier Kenney and justice minister Madu held a press conference at the Al-Rashid Mosque to announce three anti-racism measures. These were:

  • The appointment of a community liaison to connect with minority groups to provide the government “with a range of perspectives and expertise on how [it] can tackle hate-motivated crimes and incidents,”
  • The creation of a Hate Crimes Coordination Unit to work with law enforcement to improve crime mitigation efforts and facilitate training, intelligence gathering and investigation.
  • The implementation of a security infrastructure program to provide funding for security training and facility upgrades for groups that are targets of hate crimes.

The premier characterized these initiatives as “concrete actions” to keep Albertans safe.

Leaving aside the fact that there’s nothing new here (in 2019 Notley’s government created a special unit to fight hate crimes and provided millions to train grassroots groups fighting racism and the feds have provided funding for security infrastructure since 2007) none of these measures address the real problem: how to prevent racism from arising in the first place.

Press conference at Al-Rashid Mosque

Relationships?

Nevertheless, some reporters asked Kenney for his thoughts on how to attack the root cause of hatred in Alberta.    

Kenney said he’d reflected on this question in the 15 years he’d been the federal minister for multiculturalism and immigration. He concluded “the single most powerful weapon against hatred is simply relationships.”  We can have all sorts of government programs but “hatred comes from the heart. The most effective way of changing someone’s heart from hatred to respect to love is through relationships…”   

This is a jarring statement from the man who as a federal cabinet minister promoted the barbaric cultural practices hot line and banned Muslim women from wearing face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.

Later a reporter asked the question again, this time it was directed to Aumer Assaf, spokesperson for the Canadian Islamic Centre.

Kenney responded (under the mistaken impression the question was meant for him) saying people don’t need government programs or government funding to get rid of racism. “It’s got to come organically, naturally from the community.” Government can set the tone but the informal outreach has to come from the community which is why he asked his MLAs to check in with Muslims in their constituencies.   

When the reporter clarified the question was intended for Mr Assaf, Mr Assaf said while he agreed that relationships are very important, “I will challenge the notion that it’s organic.”

Mr Assaf described being a schoolboy and learning that Canada was a mosaic where everyone was equal under the law. He characterized Canada as an exceptional country which has its blemishes but is moving towards goodness, and said the way to move towards goodness is by “trusting one another” and by getting “a really good education at a very young age.”

Education

Which brings us back to the idea of concrete action.  

Last week the Kenney government released the recommendations of the anti-hate crime advisory council (another initiative started by the Notley government).

The advisory council calls for the decolonialization of education and the development of a curriculum with a focus on anti-Indigenous racism, systemic racism, and other forms of discrimination which disrespects the human rights of BIPOC Canadians.

If Kenney truly wants to take concrete action he should scrap the UCP curriculum review and re-examine the curriculum bearing in mind the advisory council’s recommendations and Mr Assaf’s observation that racism can be rooted out by a really good education at a very young age.    

Or Mr Kenney can spin around and around in the vain hope that by some miracle hatred will turn to respect and even love while religious minorities apply for funding to turn their places of worship into fortresses to protect themselves against those who reject their right to exist.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Culture, Education, Law, Politics and Government, Terrorism | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments