Kenney’s Legacy: Lessons from Alice

Alice laughed. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I dare say you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen…’Why, sometimes I’ve believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’—Lewis Carrol, Alice Through the Looking-Glass

Jason Kenney is on the final lap of his political career. He’s working hard to rewrite his legacy. In order to succeed he’s asking us to believe impossible things.  

The most significant impossible thing he wants us to believe is that he’s not a failed conservative politician but a senior statesman sounding the alarm about the corrosive effect of alt-right anger and populism on conservatism.

At a recent event hosted by Canada Strong and Free (formerly the Manning Centre) Kenney said there’s growing anger among the alt-right fueled by social media conspiracy theories and “hypercharged” by the pandemic. He feared conservatism could “become a caricature of a kind of nasty, angry populism that will lose consistently at the polls as well.” 

In 2016 Kenney and his blue pickup truck rolled into Alberta. He was hailed as a beacon who’d lead Alberta down the path of new conservatism. Instead Alberta conservatism became more nasty, brutish and cruel. The fact that Kenney feels no responsibility for this turn of events is, as Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser.  

The soon to be ex-Premier of Alberta

Nasty, populist conservatism

Instead of looking in the mirror, Kenney blames the rise of angry conservatism on the media.

He says the liberal mainstream legacy media (CBC?) alienated the right-of-centre, pushing them into the arms of the alt-right media and social media which give the alt-right a platform and is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

His convoluted thinking suggests that decent, right-of-centre conservatives were transformed against their will into rabid, nasty populists by Rebel News and Twitter.

Let’s review, shall we.

Mainstream media

Kenney seems to have forgotten that when he united the PCs and the Wildrose and swept into office he and his brand of conservatism received favourable (some would say fawning) media coverage from Postmedia, the Globe and Mail, and other media outlets.

Sure, opinion writers presented their own views, but the coverage was not rabidly anti-Kenney or anti-conservative. So no, the media, liberal or conservative, did not turn sane conservatives to right-wing wingnuts.    

Social media

This is the pot-meet-kettle part of the blog.

Kenney blames social media for the rise of nasty, angry conservatism while at the same time failing to acknowledge that he and his staff used Facebook and Twitter regularly to criticize, insult and intimidate the Opposition, the media, and anyone who dared criticize his government.    

Conspiracy theories? Remember when Kenney retweeted a photo of empty grocery shelves, boosting fears that a food shortage crisis was imminent? Or when Kenney allowed his MLAs to post selfies with their trucker convoy buddies blockading the Coutts border?

Even now he won’t censure his Labour minister who tweeted his thanks to the truckers for having the “courage” to mobilize against “tyrannical” covid policies.

To quote Alice, “It’s no use now to pretend to be two people!” Kenney can’t be the wise leader and the supporter of conspiracy theories on social media at the same time.   

Victimhood

Kenney‘s short reign sounded only one note: Albertans were victims of Ottawa. As ‘people of destiny’ they deserved better. And Kenney would give it to them.  

This is a classic authoritarian strategy, forget the facts, excite the passions, convince the people they’re victims, point them at “the enemy” and do whatever you want with the power they’ve given you.

There was just one small snag, life in Alberta wasn’t all that bad.

We had the highest incomes and the lowest taxes rates in the country. Kenney knows this which is why he’s criss-crossing Canada, trying to convince everyone to move here.

Yes, it’s one of Alice’s impossible things, Alberta is a beacon of hope for the rest of the country, but we’re so miserable we’re prepared to chuck it all in and leave confederation.

Be that as it may, back in 2017 Kenney convinced Albertans that life was abysmal and he’d wrestle a “fair deal” out of the Feds.

The fair deal panel  

His Fair Deal panel trundled around Albert for a couple of months at the end of 2019, managing to further inflame Albertans by giving airtime to folks who didn’t have the slightest understanding the constitutional division of powers or the workings of federal programs such as the equalization program.

The panel made its recommendations. Kenney delivered on the easy ones (the chief firearms officer, the referendum on equalization), embarked on consultation–I use the term loosely–on others and parked the ones that didn’t align with the government’s strategy in the “needs further work” category.

And, surprise, surprise, nothing changed. The Feds were still the Feds and did not accede to Alberta’s demands.  

Then the pandemic struck.

Kenney was forced to implement health measures and vaccine mandates when Alberta’s hospitals were on the brink of collapse. He did so reluctantly, always pointing out that he was sorry for infringing Albertans’ Charter rights.

As far as the angry conservatives were concerned Kenney had crossed to the dark side. And they threw him out.

Along came Danielle Smith who decided the only way she’d win the leadership race was by kowtowing to the angry far right, and she promised to enact the Alberta Sovereignty Act so her government could reject any federal laws or court decisions it didn’t like.

Constitutional crisis? What constitutional crisis?  

Contrary to what Kenney says, this sad state of affairs is not the result of the liberal MSM letting down its right-of-centre readers. It’s the result of politicians like him, playing the victimhood card for their own political gain.

On Oct 6 we’ll find out whether Alberta has gone down the rabbit hole Kenney helped create.

Hopefully a few of the UCP’s supporters will pause to consider the words of Lewis Carrol before they mark their ballots:

It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not.”

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Pierre Poilievre and the Politics of Brutalization

“The word ‘brutalize’ is now employed quite wrongly to mean harsh or cruel treatment meted out by the strong to the weak…but in fact it means something subtler, namely the coarsening effect that this exercise of cruelty produces in the strong.” – Christopher Hitchens  

In his book, Why Orwell Matters, Christopher Hitchens explores George Orwell’s time as a policeman in Burma where he was engaged doing “the dirty work of the Empire.”

Immediately upon his arrival in Burma, Orwell witnesses a white policeman savagely kicking an Asian man which elicits murmurs of approval from a group of British onlookers.

Hitchens explains that this illustrates two forms of brutalization. The white policeman brutalized the Asian man and the British onlookers had become brutalized, coarsened, by that act of cruelty.

Becoming brutalized

We’re very aware of the first form of brutalization but are blind to the second, in fact we justify our collective brutal acts (the victim, those idiots wearing masks, had it coming) or excuse it (we’re frustrated by covid and acting out our stress).  

Before we get to the connection with Pierre Poilievre, we’re going to take a slight detour to discuss an act of brutalization that occurred in Victoria BC.

Mr Poilievre

The inner-city neighbourhood of James Bay was besieged by trucker protesters every weekend starting in January 2022. The residents, many like the man dying of cancer and his desperate spouse, were trapped in their homes, beyond the reach of ambulances, at the mercy of angry protesters who blasted their horns, gunned their engines, and screamed at them if they ventured outdoors. All this was justified (in the eyes of the protesters) because they were protesting restrictions that had been lifted months ago.  

In March the police set up blockades to prevent the truckers from entering the neighbourhood. The protesters responded by gathering on the perimeter, standing their trucks, and screaming “honk, honk” at all and sundry.  

Consider the lunacy of this.  

If James Bay had been a worksite and an employer demanded the protesters come into work on their days off and perform a repetitive, stupid task, outdoors in the pouring rain for hours on end, he’d have been cited for violating OH&S and labour laws.  

And yet, the protestors had been so brutalized, their humanity and compassion so coarsened. that they continued to intimidate the residents of James Bay (while also making assess of themselves).   

Why?

Enter Pierre Poilievre

After test driving Andrew Scheer, a social conservative masquerading as a centrist of sorts, and Erin O’Toole, a sorta-centrist pretending to be a hard-right conservative, the CPC finally elected a guy they could all get behind, the pugilistic, belligerent Pierre Poilievre.

Poilievre won by blaming Trudeau (it’s the government’s fault and if it isn’t, they’re not doing enough to fix it) and then going one step farther. He whipped up his supporters’ rage, fear, and frustration by pandering to conspiracy theorists, hobnobbing with the trucker convoy, attracting the support of extremists like Diagonal, and hitting all the right notes with the anti-vaxxers.

He appears to take no responsibility when the angry horde interprets his call to action as permission to carry on with blockades and continue to harass and intimidate healthcare workers, politicians, journalists, and ordinary people going about their daily business.

This is irresponsible and dangerous and has to stop.   

This time is different

Just to be clear, politicians of all stripes try to tap into the public’s fears to garner votes, and yes, everyone is frustrated by the years of uncertainty over covid, inflation, the high cost of food, fuel and housing, but this time it’s different.

Why? Two reasons.

One, Poilievre’s behavior is more extreme than anything we’ve seen in the past. (No conservative politician in their right mind would have been caught schmoozing with the crowd blockading downtown Ottawa, let alone arguing their case on their behalf).

Two, we’re at a point in history unlike any other. The country is coming out of a  pandemic that upended the global economy. Russia is fighting what appears to be a losing war with Ukraine, making Putin even more unpredictable. The EU is under stress, the UK is reeling, the US is on the verge of a major meltdown and authoritarian governments are on the rise around the world.

This is the time for Canadian politicians to pull the nation together so we are prepared to meet the challenges facing us; this is not the time to brutalize its citizens and enflame us with half-truths and conspiracy theories.

Because unlike George Orwell, who escaped the brutalizing effect of colonial Burma, we have nowhere to go. Canada is our home and we cannot allow Poilievre or anyone else to brutalize its citizens in a ruthless quest for power.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 73 Comments

Danielle Smith and the Free Alberta Strategy 

We’ve been so focused on the unconstitutionality of Danielle Smith’s central campaign promise, the passage of the Alberta Sovereignty Act (ASA), that we’ve forgotten that the ASA is part of the Free Alberta Strategy’s grand plan to renegotiate our place in Confederation—to “free” Alberta from “intolerable” abuse at the hands of the federal government—failing which we walk.

Let me repeat that: WE WALK.

Smith appears to have embraced the Free Alberta Strategy (FAS) without reservation. The fact that she hasn’t addressed what the FAS describes as “The Final Resort: National Independence” boggles the mind.

She’s running to be Alberta’s next premier. If she intends to follow the FAS to the bitter end, she should tell us.  




Danielle Smith

The FAS proposal

The FAS sets out a number of “reforms” that must be addressed to achieve provincial sovereignty, and if the feds fall short, then bonus! the FAS’s “reforms” will “better prepare Alberta for national political sovereignty.”

Why? Because we’ll have already done the legwork to consolidate most of Alberta’s “economic, environmental and resource governance, revenue collection, social services, law enforcement, and judicial powers,” while also expanding our provincially regulated financial institutions and intergovernmental affairs.

Sigh.

Here’s what the FAS proposes:*  

  1. Enact the Alberta Sovereignty Act to give the Alberta government the right to ignore federal laws and federal court decisions. An act that is unconstitutional and upends the rule of law and the role of democratic institutions. Great start.    
  2. Replace the RCMP with Alberta Provincial Police so the federal government and courts can’t enforce federal laws. But the APP isn’t enough so the ‘cut red tape, small government’ strategy proposes a bunch more legislation and government ministries.     
  3. Enact the Alberta Independent Banking Act to create more provincially regulated financial institutions like the ATB and credit unions for the sole purpose of preventing the feds from enforcing federal laws, eg if the feds fine a garage owner for failing to collect and remit carbon taxes they won’t be able to garnishee the business’s bank account because he banks with the credit union. If you’re a corporation like Suncor and you don’t want to bank at a credit union you’re out of luck.    
  4. Enact the Equalization Termination and Tax Collection Act to create the Alberta Revenue Agency to collect provincial taxes and the Alberta Public Services Employer to issue paycheques to Alberta public employees and remit federal withholding tax to the Alberta Revenue Agency which will decide how much to send Ottawa after it deducts what it believes it is owed. All this is founded on a fundamental misunderstanding of how equalization works.
  5. Incent (pay) private companies to bank with ATB and credit unions so they too can remit their employee’s federal tax deductions to the Alberta Revenue Agency. This will magically protect a company from federal prosecution for failure to remit federal income tax because the fed’s beef would be with the Alberta Revenue Agency and the Alberta Public Service Employer. Right, good luck with that. Also, remember the last time your employer under-collected federal taxes. You got hit with a bigger tax bill than you expected and you still had to pay.
  6. Opt out of federal transfer and other programs (like $10/day daycare) that influence areas of provincial jurisdiction. Demand “no strings attached” transfers or tax points. Hands up everyone who trusts the UCP to do this right.
  7. Enact the Alberta Pension Plan and Alberta Unemployment Insurance because Alberta’s younger population has contributed more to the federal equivalents of these programs than it’s gotten back. Yep, it’s the I-don’t-have-kids-why-should-I have-to-pay-school-taxes argument.
  8. Enact the Alberta Judicial Independence Act. The current judges and justices can keep their jobs but all future appointees to provincial court, Kings Bench and the Court of Appeal will be appointed by the Alberta government. This presupposes that all future judges will cast aside their legal training (and the common law) and issue decisions in favour of government policies. NOTE: When a government controls the courts, it’s tyranny.  
  9. Be independent in international relations and trade and have the power to ignore international agreements signed by the feds, if Alberta thinks they harm its interests. I see, Canada can come to the international bargaining table and enter into agreements that binds all of Canada except Alberta. Yeah, that’s going to go over well.

If the Feds don’t cave

The FAS is clear. If Canada rejects Alberta’s terms, we walk.

The FAS will set up a panel for secession. The panel will present proposals on an Alberta Constitution, judicial/legal system (which will retain the rule of law—hah!), monetary policy/currency, social programing, border protection, and taxation. Albertans will have a “full year” to debate these proposals and then we’ll vote in a referendum: in or out.

If 60% vote to leave. We’re out.

We’ll become the Republic of Western Canada. According to the authors of the FAS, we can continue to call ourselves Canadians—Western Canadians if we wish, because Central and Easter Canadians don’t have exclusivity rights of Canada’s history, culture or name.

Let’s make this interesting

Danielle Smith is confident the ASA will be drafted through the lens of constitutional law and protect us from federal interference with no downside. The authors of the Free Alberta Strategy assure us Alberta will come out ahead if it adopts their proposals.

If they’re so convinced of the merits of their plan, they can put their money where their mouths are.

They can give Albertans their personal guarantee—a legally binding personal guarantee, not some political puffery—that protects us from economic harm.

Because we’re the ones who are at risk here.

*If none of this makes sense, it’s not you, it’s them.

Posted in Uncategorized | 60 Comments

Danielle Smith & the Alberta Sovereignty Act

In June 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta, agreeing to terms that enshrined the principle that no one, not even a king, is above the law.

And now 807 years later Danielle Smith is prepared to turn her back on the rule of law and other fundamental democratic principles by enacting the Alberta Sovereignty Act (Act).*

The Act

The Act is described in the Free Alberta Strategy policy document as a law that gives the legislature the power to refuse to enforce any federal law or federal court ruling it deems to be a federal intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction.

In response to rising concerns about the Act Smith said it would not be used to “arbitrarily” strike down a federal law it doesn’t like.

Oh?

No, it will be “used entirely through the lens of the law” (whatever that means) and serve as a “tool” to stop the feds from violating Alberta’s “sovereign powers” as set out in sections 92 to 95 of the Constitution (NOTE: section 93A only applies to Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick so how the feds could violate Alberta’s sovereignty by violating section 93A remains a mystery).

Smith fails to mention that the Constitution Act gives the feds the jurisdiction to pass laws over the matters itemized in section 91. And the courts have upheld this right even where such laws conflict with provincial policies (eg carbon tax).

Danielle Smith UCP leadership candidate

She also fails to mention—and this is the critical part—that by granting the Alberta legislature the power to declare federal laws passed in accordance with section 91 inapplicable in Alberta, the Act is “fundamentally incompatible” with the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the constitutional division of powers between the feds and the provinces.*

The Rule of Law

King John learned the hard way that no one, be they king, queen, prime minister or premier can run around doing whatever they damn well please because, need we say it again: No one is above the law.

So when Smith promises to enact a law allowing Alberta to ignore federal laws and court rulings, she’s placing herself and her MLAs above the law.  

Separation of Powers

The rule of law depends on the separation of powers among three branches of government: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Here’s a quick refresher of their respective roles:

  • Legislative branch (all the MLAs): debates policy, makes new laws, manages the money  
  • Executive branch (the premier and his/her cabinet ministers): administers the laws with the help of the public service
  • Judicial branch (courts): maintains the rule of law by interpreting the law to ensure everyone, including the government, is acting in accordance with it

One branch of government cannot carry out its role if it is hamstrung by another branch.

So when the Act elevates the legislative branch above the judicial branch by granting the legislative branch the power to exercise the courts’ role in determining the validity and applicability of federal laws it violates the separation of powers.

Constitutional Division of Powers

In a nutshell, the jurisdiction of the federal government and the provincial governments is set out in sections 91 (feds) and 92 and 92A (provinces) of the Constitution Act, 1867 and 1982.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that neither order of government can cross into the other’s jurisdiction, but the feds may enact laws that impact provincial policies as long as such laws fall within federal jurisdiction.

There is nothing in the Constitution that gives Alberta the jurisdiction to pass a law that invalidates federal laws or renders them inapplicable in Alberta.*

It’s no surprise then that legal scholars have characterized the Act as “a damaging blow to the rule of law and the basic building blocks of democratic governance.”

The “double-dog dare”  

In a recent leadership debate Smith said the Act is important because it gets us in a “sovereign frame of mind,” where Alberta would stop expecting Ottawa to build economic corridors for rail, power, broadband and pipelines. Instead Alberta would work with other provinces to run such corridors to Churchill, Thunder Bay, Tuktoyaktuk and Prince Rupert. And she “double-dog” dared Ottawa to take Alberta to court if it started building a pipeline with its FN partners.  

Perhaps someone should point out to Smith that pipelines are usually built by corporations, not the government, and a corporation proposing a pipeline that crosses provincial boundaries would file permit applications with the federal regulators not the Alberta regulators because—need we say it again–interprovincial pipeline infrastructure falls under the fed’s jurisdiction under section 91 of the Constitution Act.

How will this end?

Smith is now on the defensive.

When the Lt-Gov Salma Lakhani was asked to comment on the Act she said she’d review the proposed legislation to ensure it did not violate the Constitution before signing it into law (btw: this is the Lt-Gov’s job).

Smith demanded a retraction.

Jason Kenney called the Act the “anarchy act” and said a conservative constitutional scholar called it “the Alberta suicide act.”

Smith accused Kenney of brazenly interfering with the selection of his successor.

The pressure is mounting and Smith has promised to provide further details of her key campaign promise after the Labour Day long weekend.

Can she walk it back from a hot mess to something that doesn’t undermine the fundamental principles of democratic governance?

Somehow I doubt it.

*With gratitude to law profs Martin Olszynski, Jonnette Watson Hamilton, and Shaun Fluker. Please read their excellent ABlawg blog post on this critically important issue.

Posted in Uncategorized | 59 Comments

Sabbatical

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).

This is not Rudy the dog, but he’s close

I wish you all a wonderful summer and look forward to more great discussions in the fall.

All the very best,

Susan

Posted in Vacation | Tagged | 42 Comments

Jason Kenney’s “Breaking Bad” Press Release

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.  

Conspiracy?

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.

Jason Kenney

The exemption is not the result of a Liberal-NDP plot.  

Misinformation

Kenney said Liberal-NDP policy resulted in “de-policing” cities like Vancouver which has led to rampant disorder, crime, drug use and death.

Really?

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.     

Victimhood

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.

Savior

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.

Bottom line

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.  

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Crime and Justice, General Health Care, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 47 Comments

Mr Kenney Goes to Washington

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.

Mr Kenney

Furthermore, the Committee was interested in hearing about all forms of energy including renewables, hydropower, hydrogen, and small modular reactors.

Kenney’s testimony

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:    

  • Utilizing unused capacity on existing pipelines (300,000 bbl/day)
  • Pipeline optimization (400,000 bbl/d)
  • Shipping crude by rail (200,000 to 250,000 bbl/d)
  • Finishing TMX in Q3 2023 (590,000 bbl/d)

He told the Committee Biden could support Alberta’s efforts by:    

  • Demanding the Governor of Michigan not decommission Enbridge Line 5
  • Treating Canadian energy as if it were US energy by adding oil and gas to Title 3
  • Developing a North American Energy Alliance
  • Derisking (ie providing government funding) for a second KXL pipeline  

Senators’ reaction

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.

Reality Check

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

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 44 Comments

51.4% (the end of Jason Kenney?)

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.  

Jason Kenney: Is he really gone?

His heartbroken supporters offered numerous explanations of what went wrong for their dear leader.  

You want excuses, I’ll give you excuses

Covid-19

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.  

Westminster politics

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.

Posted in Politics, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 45 Comments

Kenney’s Insulin Pump Debacle

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 two Jasons–Kenney and Copping

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:

  • Will attack diabetic Albertans to eliminate a piece of Alberta’s public health care system and save itself a measly $9 million/year.
  • Will say its decision is founded on years of public consultation when this isn’t true.
  • Will pretend a free public health program is essentially the same as one that requires Albertans to pay premiums, deductions and copays.
  • Will draft a press release so confusing that those who support it publicly retract their support.

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

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 46 Comments

More on Kenney’s Leadership Review (God, it never ends)

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.  

Corruption  

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.  

Jason Kenney

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:

  • Those with deep pockets can stack nomination meetings in favour of the preferred candidate.
  • Those who have the means to do so can circumvent campaign financing rules. If you sell 400 memberships and not one of those 400 people show up at a nomination meeting, the money you’ve spent on their memberships is not returned, it stays in the party’s coffers.

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.

Mediocrity

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+.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 56 Comments