Covid-19 and Jason Kenney is MIA

Remember Nov 13, 2020 when Jason Kenney said “Covid is starting to win and we cannot let that happen…This two-week push is, I believe our last chance to avoid more restrictive measures.” 

Just for context that same day Dr Rosenblum, an Edmonton ER doc, said the healthcare system was within 10 days to 14 days of collapse.

Fast forward to Sunday Nov 22 (10 days into Dr Rosenblum’s pre-collapse period). Our covid stats are through the roof. We recorded 1,584 new cases, 319 are in in hospital and 60 of these are in intensive care. This is a new record.  

Hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary are running at 120-percent capacity (hospitals are not factories, running over capacity is not a good thing). Alberta’s contact tracers are overwhelmed, 88% of cases have no known source of exposure, 73% of the 70 ICU beds earmarked for youth covid patients are in use and our $925,000 contact tracing app tracked 19 (that’s right, 19) cases.

Mr Kenney says “knock it off!”

Albertans are looking to Mr Kenney for leadership. But he’s missing in action.

Is anyone in charge?      

Given Mr Kenney’s disappearing act Albertans are turning to other cabinet ministers for answers.

On Friday the Associate Minister of Health, Juan Luan said if the number of cases doesn’t plateau cabinet will likely receive a recommendation from Dr Hinshaw to impose more restrictive measures. He said, “Our criteria is measured against our hospital capacity to handle ICUs and hospitalizations so we’re waiting to see where that threshold will be pushed to our limit and then gradually reduce more activities that way.”  

What? We will wait to see if we push the limit (which is what exactly?) and then gradually reduce activities (no circuit-breakers) in the hope that we catch up to the spike?

No, wait, scratch that.

Mr Luan just issued a retraction saying he was “incorrect in suggesting anyone is waiting until we’re pushed to the limit” and added, just so we’re clear, that he had no business speaking to the covid  issue because he’s not involved “in any decision making around introducing new restrictions or hospital capacity,”

If a cabinet minister and associate minister of health is not involved in decision making around covid restrictions or hospital capacity, then who is? 

Well, we all know it’s not Dr Hinshaw. She made it crystal clear she only provides recommendations to Mr Kenney that he chooses to follow or not, depending on, well, whatever.   

We also know it’s not the Health Minister Mr Shandro, who declared war on doctors and front-line healthcare workers in the middle of the pandemic, but is of no help whatsoever when it comes to covid-related issues. Case in point, last week Rachel Notley asked him to provide the projected covid case number and R value for Dec 1. He told her to look at the modelling information Mr Kenney had provided last April. 

The April model? The one Mr Kenney said projected covid to peak in May? The one that no one bothered to update since?

Well, what about the R value for covid for Dec 1? Mr Shandro ducked the question, sorry folks.  

So if Alberta’s covid strategy is not in the hands of the chief medical officer, the health minister and the associate health minister it must be in the hands of the premier himself.  

All eyes turn to Mr Kenney. Sorry, he’s still missing in action. (Albertans are so concerned about his nonappearance that #KenneyIsMissing is trending Canada-wide).

Recommendations

Perhaps Mr Kenney disappeared because he has no strategy.

If so, he could ask the epidemiologists, clinicians and public health officials for assistance or maybe he could consider what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in other jurisdictions. He could impose a “circuit-breaker” lockdown of eight, six, four, or two weeks or if that’s a bridge too far, he could start small by making masking mandatory and by replacing his failed contact tracing app with the federal contact tracing app.

Or he could do nothing at all because Albertans are people of destiny, stalwart souls, who would rather die than harm the economy.  

Message from the economists

Mr Kenney lives in an ideological world made up of black and white choices. His default position is: whatever it is, it better be good for the economy. 

This black and white decision-making model led Mr Kenney to present Albertans with a false dichotomy, a choice of protecting the economy or protecting people against the virus, when in fact his government can and should do both.

Economists like Aidan Hollis say the real question is not: how do we balance economic impact against excess deaths, but rather: when should politicians act to minimize deaths and morbidity and to protect the economy. The right time to act is before covid overwhelms our hospitals, politicians must get ahead of the curve and impose restrictions now when they’re in a better position to reduce harm to the economy and reduce the number of excess deaths. Economist Trevor Tombe agrees. He says, “There can be no sustained economic recovery without controlling the virus. Period.”

False dichotomies and logical fallacies

While we’re on the topic of illogical arguments, let’s consider two ridiculous arguments offered in support of Mr Kenney’s refusal to take decisive action:   

  • The number of covid deaths (451) pales in comparison to the total deaths in 2018-19 (26,037). By this logic we should stop donating to the Heart and Stroke fund because in 2018 there were only 371 deaths from congestive heart failure and we can skip Movember because there were only 398 prostate cancer deaths. Covid, unlike heart disease or prostate cancer, is a highly infectious disease, the focus on the number of covid deaths arises from a concern about the impact of deaths and illnesses that increase exponentially.  
  • The risk of death is small and if our $20 billion healthcare system can’t handle the surge without shutting down shops and restaurants, the fault lies with the healthcare system, not the premier. This misses the point that the purpose of the shutdown is to stop the exponential spread of this highly infectious disease (that’s what “flatten the curve” means) because failure to do so will create a tsunami that will overwhelm the healthcare system causing needless deaths as well as shutting down the economy because people who are afraid of dying or are at home taking care of the sick and dying are not out shopping.

Consequences

Mr Kenney has jammed Albertans between a rock and a hard place.

He won’t fund the additional resources required to protect our healthcare workers, teachers and long-term care workers.  He won’t provide additional financial support to Albertans working in essential services or unable to work because they’re ill or caring for someone who is ill (Finance Minister Toews blithely tells such Albertans to access federal programs because it’s their equalization money).

Notwithstanding Mr Kenney’s promise to give Albertans a “hand up” in hard times, he won’t give them a hand up when they need it most.

Fine, Albertans aren’t idiots. They’ll remember who was in charge when the second and third wave hit and Mr Kenney will pay the political price because to paraphrase economist Aidan Hollis, no one is going to worry that the government acted too aggressively to protect its population, but they won’t look kindly on a government that let its citizens die.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 83 Comments

Premier Kenney Takes A Road Trip

On Nov 13, 2020 when:

  • The number of confirmed covid cases in Alberta smashed through the 1000 cases a day threshold and covid threatens to swamp Alberta’s healthcare system, and  
  • 430 doctors and three healthcare unions are desperately calling for a targeted “circuit breaker” lockdown, and
  • Albertans are (still) waiting for an explanation of how the “fiscally conservative” UCP government managed to screw up its books to the tune of $1.6 billion (billion!), and  
  • Mr Kenney said betting $1.5 billion (billion!) on Donald Trump winning the presidential election was “an essential hedge against [the] political risk” that Mr Trudeau would not complete the TMX pipeline…

…on this day the Kenney government issued a press release headlined: Premier’s use of RV drives down tour costs.

I beg your pardon?

Road trip!!!

It turns out Mr Kenney went on a 5-day road trip from June 29 to July 3 to visit twelve southern Alberta municipalities. He had 24 stops (defined as “announcements, events, private meetings, and media interviews”) along the way.

And here’s the good news, he saved Albertans billions, nope make that millions, sorry thousands, nope hundreds (hundreds!) of dollars by sharing a rented RV with three of his staff instead of spending 5 nights in a hotel.

Wait! There’s more!

Total expenses for the premier and the 3 staff traveling with him totaled $2866. Of this amount Mr Kenney’s personal share was a mere $103. That’s $20.60 per day. Which means the average personal expense claim for each of Mr Kenney’s staff was $184.20 per day. (I can just picture Mr Kenney sitting in the corner like Oliver Twist begging his staff for one more spoonful of gruel).

Mr Kenney

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the RV rental cost was $1500 and fuel was $268.

To say the least, this is a bizarre announcement.

 Why this? Why now?

The purpose of a government media release is to get the government’s message out to the public. The message should be about something important that the government wants the public to be aware of and to support.

Okay, what is this media release about and why was it issued on Nov 13?  

Ummm.

Well, maybe it’s easier to figure out what it’s not about.

It’s not about ensuring Albertans are aware the government has made a number of “job-creating” investments because those investments were announced separately between June 29 and July 3.

It’s not about advising Albertans that since the July 1 long weekend the number of covid cases has risen alarmingly (as of today the total case number is 38,338 with 401 deaths) and that the only way to flatten the curve is to trigger a lockdown if certain clear metrics are not met. Of course, that would require Mr Kenney to admit his admonition to “knock it off” isn’t working.  

It’s certainly not about the importance of masking and social distancing. When Mr Kenney and his staff weren’t hobnobbing with local dignitaries they were jammed cheek by jowl in a rented RV. Did they wear masks when they slept, did they sanitize the RV after returning from a hard day of glad handing? Does Mr Kenney snore? (sorry, that just slipped out, I really don’t want to know).

It appears that the purpose of this media release is to inform Albertans facing an uncertain financial future and struggling with a healthcare system in danger of collapse that Mr Kenney is doing his part: he saved Albertans hundreds (hundreds!) of dollars on the July 1 weekend by sharing a rented RV with 3 of his employees instead of staying at a Motel 6. Oh and let’s not forget he ate and drank sparingly as his personal expense account will attest.

Small mercies

On Friday Nov 13, the Energy Minister, Sonya Savage also issued a media release. She expressed her displeasure with Michigan’s decision to file a legal challenge that could force the closure of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.

Unlike her boss, Ms Savage did not suggest Michigan’s governor, Ms Whitmer and its Attorney-General, Ms Nessel were “brain dead.”

All this is to say things are well and truly bonkers out here in the land of the people of destiny, the proud people of the buffalo, or whatever it is Jason Kenney is calling his loyal subjects nowadays.

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

The Auditor General’s Report: $1.6 Billion is NOT a Rounding Error

By a miraculous coincidence the Auditor General’s report on the Kenney government’s first year in office landed smack in the middle of the American election.

Well, the election is over. Mr Biden won. Agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen can put away his MAGA hat and we can turn our attention back to where it belongs, on the Auditor General’s report which itemized over $1.6 billion (that’s billion) of accounting errors and highlighted Cabinet’s slack oversight of those responsible for implementing the government’s policies.  

It’s bad   

The purpose of an independent financial audit is to ensure the government is presenting a true and fair picture of its financial performance. Consequently, it is chilling to read this audit report which is peppered with the words “material misstatement” and “material error.”

That means it’s bad.

And it’s really, really bad in the Department of Energy (specifically its subsidiary the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission (APMC)) which is responsible for $1.5 billion of the material errors.  

Here’s a taste of what went horribly wrong.          

Crude-by-rail

Before Mr Kenney was elected he swore he’d rip up the crude-by-rail contracts entered into by the Notley government. On Feb 11, 2020 he delivered on that promise with the triumphant announcement that his government had unloaded all 19 crude-by-rail contracts. One small problem: this was not true.

APMC unloaded (or “divested” to use the AG’s term) only eight contracts. Nevertheless, APMC booked the remaining 11 contracts as if they too had been divested. APMC’s rationale was the government “intended” to divest them, so it was ok. The AG said this is bad accounting practice because it didn’t reflect “economic reality.” Fair point, we thought the government’s bean counters were supposed to reflect reality, even if it’s not aligned with what the premier said.     

Sonya Savage, Minister of Energy and Jason Kenney, Premier

In the business world, Mr Kenney’s announcement could be interpreted as a material misstatement and the APMC accounting entry reflecting Mr Kenney’s statement could be interpreted as a material misrepresentation, both of which could land the government, were it a corporation, in front of the securities regulators.

Keystone XL pipeline

On Mar 31, 2020 Mr Kenney proudly announced that like Justin Trudeau, he was buying a pipeline; okay, he didn’t mention Justin by name and he’s only buying part of a pipeline, temporarily, but you get my drift.

Mr Kenney said he’d finalized an agreement with TCPL (now TC Energy) for a $1.5B equity interest in the Keystone XL pipeline and $6B in loan guarantees. He didn’t mention that $100M of the equity investment was due that day.  

For some reason APMC (and the Dept of Energy) saw no reason to disclose the $100M even though they were required and ultimately forced to do so by the AG.     

Mr Kenney also said the $6.5B deal was a great investment because he’d sell our equity interest at a profit and the net return for this investment would be over $30B through royalties and higher prices for Alberta oil for the next 20 years. This is what’s known as a forecast under securities laws, a smart CEO would never say such a thing because he/she can’t predict oil prices 20 years out.  

The AG report says one year after the completion of the project TCPL will pay APMC the value of its equity contribution and “accretion earned thereon” and will pay out the loan guarantee fee as the debt guarantees are released.

Which raises the question, what happens if TCPL doesn’t complete the project?

Mr Biden is now president-elect. He’s promised to revoke the KXL presidential permit. Without the permit the project will never be completed and Alberta will not get its investment back.

In his statement congratulating Mr Biden on his victory Mr Kenney reminded the president-elect that “US energy security is dependent on Alberta as the United States’ largest source of oil imports [and] much of the American economy is fuelled (sic) by Alberta energy.” I suspect Mr Biden knows that 94% of America’s petroleum is produced domestically, only 3% is imported, and Canada produces 49% of that 3%. But hey, Mr Kenney has it covered.   

Sturgeon Refinery

APMC manages contracts relating to the Sturgeon refinery. The government is obligated to pay $26.4B in toll payments over 30 years. The AG said the cash flow model to value this contract was flawed because it failed to include the impact of covid-19 and the OPEC oil price war on oil prices and financial risk.  

Failed to include the impact of covid-19 and the OPEC oil price war? See above re: material misstatement.

Oh, and there’s the small matter of the calculation error which ran to $121M.

Canadian Energy Centre (aka War Room)

Kenney created the CEC to foster energy literacy and correct misinformation about the energy sector. (And here you thought it was all about plagiarizing corporate logos and running around pretending they’re journalists).  

The CEC relies on contractors for everything from story content to IT support. In Q1, contractors accounted for $1.3M of the $2M the CEC spent on operating expenses.

The CEC doled out these contracts on a sole-sourced basis. This is contrary to the government’s contracting policy and a violation of the CEC’s own draft expenditure and procurement policy which the AG said had not been approved by the CEC board.

The AG said the failure to implement effective contract management processes may result in wasted public funds, potential conflicts of interest and an increased risk that Albertans aren’t getting the best value for the investment of public dollars.

It may also create the perception the CEC is a taxpayer funded boondoggle for the premier’s friends and loyal supporters.   

This is not a rounding error

Any board of directors in the private sector would go ballistic if it received an audit report riddled with material misstatements and material errors totaling $1.6 billion. The board would haul the CEO up on the carpet, insist he/she fire the executive(s) in charge of the out-of-control department(s) and threaten to fire the CEO if he/she failed to carry out their wishes.

Sadly, Mr Kenney and his cabinet ministers are elected officials and notwithstanding the assistant AG’s comment that he’d never seen deficiencies of this magnitude, they can’t be fired.

However, they can be demoted to the backbench (this includes Mr Kenney if his party gets tired of his incompetent leadership).

At least back there they’d be harmless until 2023 when Albertans could vote them and the rest of their incompetent caucus out of office.  

Posted in Economics, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 83 Comments

A Halloween Tale: Jason and The Mirror

For obvious reasons the usual batch of Halloween witches and vampires, pirates and princesses did not ring our doorbell this year. So to mark a different kind of Halloween Ms Soapbox would like to tell you a story.   

It’s about a magic mirror and a provincial premier named Jason who asks the magic mirror the question that troubles him the most.  

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest conservative of them all?”

The mirror becomes misty. A voice (which sounds a lot like Erin O’Toole) says, “I’ll give you a hint—conservatives are concerned about the decline of private-sector union membership because unions are essential to maintain the balance between what was good for business and what was good for employees.”

Jason splutters, “What? My government just gutted labour protection laws, ripped up the government’s contract with the doctors (who are leaving in droves, can you believe it?) and is going to fire 11,000 front line healthcare workers, forcing them into the non-union private sector. Oh, and my party just passed a resolution to make Alberta a ‘right to work’ province. What do you mean Conservatives are concerned about the decline of private-sector union membership?”

The mirror gazes implacably back at Jason and says nothing.

Jason tries again. “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest conservative of them all? Did I mention my relentless focus on the economy and GDP growth???”  

The mirror shimmers. A voice (which still sounds suspiciously like Erin O’Toole) says, “GDP growth alone is not the be-all and end-all of politics. We must provide the right framework to create wealth so we can give back to those who need it the most, our frontline workers, our teachers, our seniors.”

Nonplussed Jason changes the topic. “Mirror, mirror, yada, yada, my energy sector is Canada’s lifeblood. I’ve created a never-ending non-public inquiry to ferret out the anti-Alberta energy nutbars, a war room that sucks at promoting the energy sector and my emissaries are traveling far and wide to tout pipelines…”

The mirror clears its throat. “No comment re: non-public inquiries, war rooms and emissaries, your energy sector contributes around 10% of Canada’s GDP and employs around 4.4% of its population, that’s not exactly the lifeblood of the country. And about those pipelines, Quebec won’t stand for it, so Energy East and anything that looks even remotely like a pipeline expecting to go through Central Canada is a no-go. Sorry.”  

Jason tugs at his collar. “Mirror, blah blah blah. What about jobs? My government will deliver jobs.”

The mirror fogs up. Voices that sound like the CEOs of Cenovus and Husky speak in unison, “Consolidation of energy companies is the future. 2000 jobs will be lost in the Cenovus/Husky merger.” An analyst adds, “Suncor expects 2,000 layoffs and Encana took Kenney’s corporate tax cut and skedaddled across the border to the USA.” A woman’s voice, Ms Savage, Kenney’s Energy minister whispers, “…heartbreaking, an unfortunate reality…”

Jason, not ready to give up, splutters. “Mirror, what about covid? I’m doing an outstanding job on covid!”

The mirror replies, “Yes, you’re sticking with conservative ideology, something about the people exercising their personal responsibility, but it’s not working. Alberta has roughly double the active cases per population as Ontario and is just slightly ahead of Quebec. Even Doug Ford is doing better than you.”

“Doug Ford???” Jason is aghast. “Mirror, when it comes to healthcare I’m a far better conservative than Dougie. I’m creating a two-tier healthcare system; private healthcare and health insurance for those who can afford it and a watered-down public healthcare system for those who can’t, what could be more conservative than that.”

“Maybe so,” says the mirror, “but an Environics survey taken this August says 9 out of 10 Albertans support a public healthcare system that covers everyone and is fully supported through taxes. And 6 out of 10 Alberta support its expansion.” The mirror tsked. “Jason, you’re out of step with your own province.”  

Jason is crestfallen, but puts on a brave face and tries one last time, “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the best conservative of them all?”

The mirror cackles and says, “The man who’s trying to pretend he’s a liberal, Erin O’Toole.”

Moral: the times, they are a-changing, ultra-conservatives like Jason are being left behind.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Celebrations, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Humour, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Chris Champion and the Curriculum Review

Mr Kenney handpicked Mr Champion, a historian, as a subject area expert to provide recommendations for the Kenney government’s revamp of the social studies curriculum for kindergarten to grade 4 students.

Mr Champion’s education and experience, while interesting, are utterly irrelevant.

He obtained an MPhil in International Relations from Magdalene College, Cambridge. It was the last college to open its doors to female students in 1988. He got a PhD in history from McGill. Neither degree makes him an expert in pedagogy.  

But then again, who cares.

Mr Champion’s spent 11 months as Mr Kenney’s national defence policy advisor and 5 years in Kenney’s Dept of Immigration and Citizenship. He regularly espouses his devotion to conservative ideals in The Dorchester Review, a right leaning history journal he founded.

And that’s good enough for Mr Kenney who has no problem with Laurentian elites spouting off as long as they align with his beliefs.

Mr Kenney

Cover their eyes, block their ears

Mr Champion’s recommendations are grouped under the headings of civics/politics, economics, geography, culture, philosophy, religion, and history.

He believes the earlier students are exposed to “a sequence of basic events and issues” the better their persepective on the world will be when they graduate.

However, there is a glaring exception to the “earlier is better” principle: Anything to do with the impact of oh, let’s call them settlers, on First Nations, Metis and Inuit is verboten.

Any reference to residential schools created by Christian churches and the government to assimilate Indigenous children—the last of which was closed in 1996, two years after Mr Champion obtained his degree from Cambridge—must be erased because it’s ugly, negative, and only applied to “a minority of Indigenous children.”

Mr Champion says K-grade 4 children are too immature to learn “negative material about Indigenous Peoples.”

Apparently children reach the right level of maturity at grade 9, but even then such material must be softened, downplayed, buried in a section on benign vs harsh schooling (think Dickens and boarding schools) which is “inclusive of all cultures.” (Sounds like the conservatives ‘all lives matter’ response to ‘Black lives matter’, doesn’t it?)

While he was at it, Mr Champion deleted historical references to the contribution of diverse communities (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) that shaped culture, politics, economics, health and education. Why? Surely “contributions” aren’t too negative for delicate young minds?

Happy history

Instead of cluttering young minds with an age-appropriate version of history, Mr Champion recommends teaching children they’re ruled by a Queen who lives in Buckingham Palace, and people organize themselves into systems of government and make laws in the Queen’s name. They do this by going into Parliament to “argue peacefully.”

Mr Champion assures teachers they need not be alarmed if children think of the Queen in the Pink Fairy/Blue Fairy sense. Reality check: The Pink Fairy/Blue Fairy books were written between 1889 and 1913, it is highly unlikely any Canadian child has heard of them, let alone would be confused by them.   

And there’s more

Having disposed of the spectre of residential schools and the contributions of FN, Metis and Inuit to Canada, Mr Champion presses on.

For example, in the section on Columbus, Cartier, and other explorers he says: “Yes, the First Nations and Inuit were “already there” but it is still a major discovery by Europeans and Canadians who encountered the Indigenous peoples and their cultures for the first time.”  Well, that sounds a tad defensive.

And in the recommendations around how First Nations addressed their needs and wants; he suggests children copy the painting Wolf Skin Mask (noting it’s on display at the Smithsonian). Wolf Skin Mask was painted by George Catlin, an American lawyer/artist who travelled to the American west in the 1830s. Why a painting by a white American of American indigenous people hunting buffalo is preferable to, say, a visit (in person or virtually) to Alberta’s UNESCO world heritage site, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is hard to fathom.

Racists?   

In the Legislature, Rachel Notley referred to comments by Mr Champion: he said that teaching First Nations perspectives is a fad, residential school survivors are preoccupied with victimhood and the blanket exercise brainwashes children into thinking of themselves as settlers stealing the land.

She asked Mr Kenney to denounce this attempt at genocide and to commit to keeping residential schools in the curriculum.

Mr Kenney replied, “You call everyone you disagree with “racists.”

Given that Ms Notley isn’t making a wing-nut request; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked provincial governments to make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, and Indigenous peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for K to 12 students; it’s fair to ask whether Mr Champion’s recommendations and Mr Kenney’s support of those recommendations are indeed racist.

But naming the problem won’t solve it. We need Mr Kenney and Mr Champion to know they’re violating the TRC call to action.

Please make your voices heard by signing the petition that appears at this link.    https://www.thelearningteam.ca/shred_it?utm_campaign=scrap_it_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_source=albertateachers   

Posted in Crime and Justice, Culture, Education, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

UCP AGM 2020: Awards Night

The UCP AGM is such a bizarre event.

Sure, there were the typical UCP policies to create an Alberta Pension Plan, collect Alberta taxes here in Alberta, replace the RCMP with a provincial police force, “so there” referendums to show the Feds Alberta is miffed about transfer payments, and policies to further privatize healthcare and undermine unions.

But they also passed a number of policies that fly in the face of their government’s stated objective of cutting spending and reducing debt and/or are just plain loony to boot.

In recognition of the off-the-wall policies we’d like to present the following awards:

The UCP Leader at the UCP AGM 2020

The Big Spender Award goes to …

The three policies are under consideration for the Big Spender award are:      

  • Policy #4: Facilitating pipelines, energy corridors and infrastructure developments “with a view to domestic security and global access.” The words in quotes are new, and one suspects may have been added to provide air cover for Kenney’s facilitation of Keystone XL by locking Albertans into a $1.5 Billion equity stake and $6 Billion in loan guarantees, as well as any additional gifts he intends to bestow on corporations here and abroad.   
  • Policy #21: Creating a strategic petroleum reserve and expanding existing storage capacity to provide Albertans with “domestic energy security and enhanced price stability” and prepare Alberta for the next “natural disaster, global crude oil price war, market disruption or pandemic.” Oh, and the US has a strategic reserve that’s 10 times bigger than ours.  Excuse me? The US created its strategic reserve after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo to alleviate oil shortages. When did “energy insecurity” become an issue for Alberta? Also price volatility is a marketplace risk that should be borne by the producers and their shareholders, not Alberta taxpayers.
  • Policy #26: Use natural gas to encourage the downstream development of the petrochemical industry. How? Kenney has already cut the corporate tax rate and is stripping away environmental regulations, what more do the natural gas and petrochemical companies want?   

The BS Award goes to …. (drum roll) …. Policy #21 for its audacious attempt to obscure the real reason for a multi-billion dollar gift to the energy sector and the cliff-hanger last sentence in its rationale which states “Given the magnitude of the investment required, its long term”  Its long term what…?

The Most Bizarre Rationale Award goes to …

The Most Bizarre Rationale Award goes to Policy #16 (replace the RCMP).

This rationale states the RCMP should be replaced because notwithstanding Alberta’s visceral attachment to the RCMP and their “freshly washed vehicles” its “federal mandate and allegiance with Ottawa are cause for concern. The RCMP can be viewed as a relic of Alberta’s colonial past when Upper Canada and Lower Canada decided what was best for Central Canada and how the resource-rich West could be mined.” Alberta had a provincial police force from 1917-1932 and eliminated it as a cost cutting measure, nevertheless the rationale’s focus on “visceral” attachments, “freshly washed vehicles,” and the conflating of a non-existent  “colonial past” with the mining of the resource-rich West pushed Policy #16 way over the top.    

The Most Reprehensible Policy Award goes to …

And here we get serious.

The Most Reprehensible Policy Award goes to Policy #11, (privatization of healthcare).

Policy #11 landed with a squishy 53% in favour notwithstanding the objections of the UCP minister of Service Alberta and others who said Policy #11 is contrary to the UCP’s founding policies and its 2019 election platform which expressly stated its commitment to publicly funded and universally accessible healthcare, and it violates the Canada Health Act which could result in a dollar for dollar reduction in federal health transfers.

What makes Policy #11 reprehensible is it provides a cover of legitimacy to actions Mr Kenney has already taken to move ahead with his privatization agenda. He’s tabled Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act which changes nine statutes to provide more private options for doctors, clinics and those who can afford to pay to get to the front of the line and he’s destabilizing public healthcare by driving physicians out of the province and announcing 11,000 in job cuts and layoffs in the middle of a pandemic.  

Why anyone bothered to debate a foregone conclusion in the first place is a mystery.

It’s a wrap

The virtual UCP AGM will wrap up next weekend. If these policies are anything to go by, the gong show known as Kenney’s government is going to get much worse.

Sources: https://www.ucpagm.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2020-Policy-and-Governance-Booklet_sept2820.pdf

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 36 Comments

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Ms Soapbox and her family would like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

To say that it’s been different this year would be an understatement, but we can all be thankful for the people who give us joy.  

I’ll be back next week to pick up where we left off. Until then Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

PS: Does anyone have a really good brussels sprouts recipe? 

Posted in Celebrations, Uncategorized | Tagged | 43 Comments

Speaker’s Corner

Ms Soapbox is working on a project that will keep her busy for the next couple of weeks. Rather than allow The Soapbox, a virtual Speakers’ Corner, to fall silent, she’d like to invite her thoughtful readers to share their views on issues of concern; God knows, there are enough of them.

Perhaps you’re worried about the UCP government’s assault on democracy with Bill 1 (criminalizing peaceful protest) and Bill 10 (using the covid crisis to give ministers extraordinary new powers), or its failure to address climate change, or its campaign to undermine public health and public education.

Maybe you’d like to see meaningful support for Albertans struggling with the impact of Covid-19 (no, we can’t wait for the Feds to pay for it all), or maybe you’re just tired of Kenney’s hypocrisy—how can he sing the praises of Erin O’Toole who said there will be no Energy East pipeline ever but refuse to give Trudeau his due for rescuing Alberta’s energy sector by buying TMX (estimated cost: over $12.6 billion)?

Or maybe you want to talk about federal politics or … Donald Trump?

Tell us what’s troubling you the most and why. Ms Soapbox promises to read your comments and respond (albeit a little more slowly than usual).  

Welcome to Speakers’ Corner. The Soapbox is all yours.

Posted in Uncategorized | 68 Comments

Thoughts on the Death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday Sept 18, 2020 at the age of 87. She was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and had been battling cancer in one form or another since 1999. She vowed to remain on the bench as long as she was capable of doing her job “full steam”. Sadly, she ran out of steam last Friday.

Her intelligence, wit and empathy will be greatly missed as the Supreme Court tilts even further to the right (Republican appointees will outnumber Democratic appointees six to three after President Trump appoints her replacement).

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Americans are right be deeply distressed by this harsh reality, but Canadians are equally upset.

Why?

It’s not as if the decisions of the US Supreme Court are binding on Canadian courts (contrary to what some Canadians think, Canada’s Constitution is not a pallid reflection of the American Constitution).

Something Chimed

To my mind, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death chimed in our hearts because she personified the last line of defence against slippery governments that promise prosperity, but deliver pain in the name of free market ultra-conservative ideology.

Even Canadians who weren’t paying attention finally understand there’s a catch when a conservative politician says ‘in order to be a caring society, we must be prosperous first.’

Actually there are two:

First, some people will never be prosperous enough, they’ll always want more.

Second, no matter what the government does to “unleash” the economy; be it lowering taxes, gutting environmental and O&S protections, hobbling unions, privatizing healthcare, education and public services, stripping women and minorities of their rights and eliminating public criticism by making peaceful protests illegal, prosperity continues to elude us and most citizens are worse off.

The only way to change these oppressive laws (assuming there’s no election on the horizon) is to challenge them in court.

Legal challenges take time and money. They bounce from one level of court to another and at each level those fighting to protect the people, the environment and our democratic institutions take their chances with whoever is sitting on the bench. If their case is heard by a panel of judges who are predisposed to rule in favour of corporations and their wealthy owners then all is lost.  

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death reminds us just how bad things can get if such governments remain unchecked. Historian Nancy MacLean’s term “Kochtopus” (to describe Charles Koch’s influence over America’s democratic institutions) comes to mind.

None of us is a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but every one of us can do something to ensure our next government is not a bunch of free market conservative ideologues. Pitching in a few bucks or some volunteer time to support a party that values public services, the environment and our rights and freedoms is a lot cheaper than having to fall back on our last line of defence, the courts.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government, Rich and/or Famous | Tagged , , , | 49 Comments

Decision Day for Dr Day

Mr Justice Steeves’ decision in Cambie Surgeries Corporation v. British Columbia (Attorney General) reads like a Scott Turow novel, albeit at a slower pace.

It includes all the major elements of a legal thriller: a law suit with white hats and black hats, ordinary people desperately searching for ways to alleviate their pain, entrepreneurs seeking financial gain, a constitutional battle that may forever change Canada’s universal public healthcare system, all of which lands before a wise and thoughtful judge who meticulously considers the evidence presented in a trial lasting 194 days which included the oral and written testimony of 36 physicians, 17 patients, 40 experts and 75 witnesses, and delivers an 880 page decision in support of public healthcare.

The characters

The plaintiffs are Dr Brian Day, the Cambie Clinic, the Specialist Referral Clinic which provides assessments and referrals to Cambie, and some physicians and patients associated with those clinics.

Dr Day founded the Cambie clinic. He’s a staunch advocate for private healthcare and doesn’t come across as a sympathetic character.  

Dr Day

Dr Day’s argues it’s unconstitutional to deny patients, who can afford to pay, the option of obtaining private healthcare in the face of lengthy waits for such care in the public system.   

He is not advocating for reducing wait times or increasing funding in the public system. And he admits that allowing patients to pay for medical services at private clinics will not reduce public wait times.  

The defendants are the BC government, the federal government, and doctors and other advocates who argue laws which preserve the universal public healthcare system and ensure that access to care is determined by need, not the ability to pay, are not unconstitutional.

They also argue that allowing a parallel private healthcare system to emerge would undermine the public healthcare system by increasing costs and reducing capacity, and would exacerbate the inequity of access.

Law prof Lorian Hardcastle posted an insightful blog on the constitutional aspects of the decision this morning.

For a quick Soapbox take on the case read on.    

The business of private clinics

Private healthcare clinics are a lucrative business that chew up a lot of resources.

Dr Day testified that 100 surgeons are affiliated with the Cambie Clinic. They’re supported by a staff of 95 employees (nurses, front office staff, cleaners, etc).

The Cambie Clinic charges patients a facility fee that covers salaries, overhead and operating costs. The facility fee goes into general revenue, and a payment, similar to a dividend, is made to the doctors affiliated with the clinic. This payment is in addition to whatever the doctors receive from the BC government for their work in the public sector.

Doctors working at the Clinic and other private sector clinics earn two to four times more for procedures they perform in the private sector than for those same procedures in the public sector. One doctor said that in 2016/2017 he earned $240,000 in government billings compared to approximately $950,000 in private clinic billings.

Not surprisingly, some doctors say they’ve reduced their time in the public sector to spend more time in the private sector.

The details of how doctors’ work is tracked and how their payments are calculated remain a mystery. Dr Day, the man in charge of Cambie, was unable to provide an explanation or documentation showing how this was done.

Not all experts are the same

Justice Steeves noted that experts for both the plaintiff and the defendant strayed beyond their areas of expertise at times, however he highlighted a number of serious concerns with many of Dr Day’s experts that resulted in their opinions being given little or no weight.  

Dr Day took it upon himself to communicate with four of his experts in a way Justice Steeves said amounted to “counselling them to ignore, if not violate, their primary duty” as experts (namely to assist the court and not be an advocate for either party). Dr Day’s communication with these experts “so tainted their evidence” that Justice Steeves gave their reports and testimony no weight.  

Similarly Justice Steeves gave no weight to some of Dr Day’s healthcare economists because their reports were (1) simply commentary prepared for CD Howe, (2) consumer information prepared for the Frontier Institute or (3) reports prepared for the Fraser Institute by someone who was “minimally” qualified as an expert on health policy and whose work suggested a “very narrow philosophical interest.”

Interestingly, Justice Steeves noted that Dr Day himself was evasive and argumentative and rejected the doctor’s evidence where it was contradicted by other witnesses or documentation.

Suffering

While it is true that elective surgeries are not, by definition, treatment for life-threatening conditions, the challenge facing patients attempting to access diagnostic and surgical procedures is fraught with physical and mental distress and cannot be ignored.

The testimony of patients appearing for both the plaintiffs and the defendants was heartbreaking.

The longer we fail to address the issues caused by a lack of timely access to the public healthcare system, the more desperate people will become and the more willing they will be to latch on to a private healthcare solution.

The sequel

Dr Day says he’ll appeal Justice Steeves’ decision. And if he loses at the next level, he’ll likely appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Everyone who supports Canada’s public health system should thank their lucky stars that the decision the Supreme Court of Canada will be reviewing will be the magnificent 880 page decision issued by Justice Steeves.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economics, General Health Care, Law | Tagged , , , , , , | 43 Comments