Ms Soapbox has spent the last two days poring over Hansard. Now she’s sick in bed.
Ms Soapbox has spent the last two days poring over Hansard. Now she’s sick in bed.
Ms Soapbox was thinking about the fog of words when she received a mass mailout letter from someone she’ll call Mr X urging her to join him and thousands of others (who shall remain nameless because their names were not provided) in an effort to motivate Canadians to make the federal government treat Alberta better.
Mr X makes his argument in full caps, heavily bolded and liberally sprinkled with exclamation points; he claims Alberta’s relationship with Canada is a travesty. The only solution is for Alberta to separate unless we are given what is rightfully ours.
Ms Soapbox immediately thought of Harold Evans’s book Do I make Myself Clear? in which Evans tears a strip off those who intentionally or unintentionally use words to create a fog of misinformation to goad people into doing something stupid.
Here’s an outline of Mr X’s argument.
The oil price differential has narrowed, but only because the Alberta government imposed a 9% reduction in production.
The Notley government’s decision to cut production has indeed narrowed the differential, but many other factors impact oil prices. We may think Alberta is the centre of the universe but it’s not.
Canada has a ridiculous energy policy. We can’t build pipelines because we’re stopped by special interest groups largely funded by US groups and we’re forced to import evil Saudi oil instead.
Canada’s energy policy is entwined with its environment/climate policy and its investment policies so it’s unclear what Mr X is referring to here. Also, the reference to US funded special interest groups is a Kenney conspiracy theory lacking substance. More specificity please.
Saudi Arabia supplies 10% of our oil imports and all of it goes into Irving Oil’s massive refinery at Saint John, New Brunswick. Alberta oil sands oil is more difficult to process than Saudi oil and transportation costs are high because of the distance it has to travel. This is why Alberta oil is sold at a discount to Saudi oil.
Peter Tertzakian, an economist well versed in the industry, said a west-to-east pipeline was considered and scrapped in the 1940s because it was cheaper to import foreign oil by tanker than pay the additional cost of domestic supply.
Encana just bought Houston-based Newfield Exploration, Trans Canada Corporation just announced it will change its name to TC Energy and is investing in projects in the US and Mexico. Is Alberta going to lose its largest head offices?
Is Elvis still alive? Who knows, there’s no factual response to this comment, it’s speculation. However, if Mr X is worried about the influence of Americans on Canadian energy and pipeline companies, he may be surprised to learn Americans already have a significant voice in the future of Trans Canada and Encana. Trans Canada’s board is made up of 6 Canadian directors, 4 American directors and one from the Arab Emirates. Encana’s board is comprised of 5 Canadian directors and 5 American directors. Directors have a statutory obligation to act in the best interests of the corporation. If they think it’s in the best interests of the corporation to move its head office to Timbuktu, they’ll do it.
Let’s be clear, shifting a corporation’s head office to the US won’t stop it from investing in Canada. Nova Chemicals was an Alberta company that moved its head office to Pittsburgh. The company was eventually bought by International Petroleum Investment Co, an Abu Dhabi state-owned company. It recently invested $1 billion to expand its polyethylene plant near Red Deer.
The Trudeau government sent 126 people to the UN Global Warming Conference in Poland. These conferences are fake!
Oh dear. The fact 126 people went to the UN Conference is interesting but does not support the conclusion that these conferences are fake. This sentence alone destroyed Mr X’s credibility.
For the first time in three decades Alberta’s unemployment rate is relatively high compared to Canada.
This is true. Mr X’s numbers are slightly higher than those provided by the Alberta government, but he identified the trend correctly. What he failed to explain was why this statistic is relevant to his main point which he presented in a crescendo of bold print, scare quotes and exclamation points, namely…
…Canada is broken…
Canada is close to the top in any survey of country performance. For example, the US News Best Country report ranked Canada second (Switzerland came in first, the US was eighth). The Economic Freedom survey ranked Canada ninth, the US was ranked eighteenth. If Canada is “broken” the US must be pulverized beyond recognition.
…Jason Kenney’s referendum on equalization, if approved, will force the provinces and the feds to renegotiate equalization, and Alberta must put independence on the table as part of the negotiation process.
Even if Kenney’s equalization referendum passes with an overwhelming majority, Alberta can’t unilaterally force the feds and the provinces to renegotiate anything because the equalization program falls under the fed’s jurisdiction. All Alberta can do is influence the outcome. This must be where Mr X’s independence argument comes in, but his suggestion that Alberta gets leverage by threatening to leave Confederation is akin to Alberta holding a gun to its head and saying give me what I want or I’ll shoot myself.
This is not an effective negotiation strategy, it’s insanity (on the upside we could hold a referendum on our new name, Ms Soapbox is partial to Bert).
Mr X is an educated man, but he’s succumbed to sloppy political language that, in the words of George Orwell, have as much substance as a prefabricated henhouse.
Mr X’s letter cobbles together words and phrases that are whipping through Alberta political environment like a virus. He thinks his letter is a call to action, but it’s a chimera, a delusion that enflames the emotions while offering nothing of substance.
2019 is an election year. Surely, we can do better than this.
The historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari says we’re living in the Age of Bewilderment, the old stories have collapsed and the new stories have not yet been written.
Ms Soapbox thinks some politicians are trying to bridge this gap by pretending it doesn’t exist. They hope to turn this unsettling time into the Age of Nostalgia. Unfortunately, nostalgia is not a satisfactory response to climate change, technological change or cultural change, in fact it is prone to nasty backlash when insecurity and a sense of alienation enflame xenophobia.
We recognize nostalgia politicians, people like Jason Kenney who want to restore the Alberta Advantage (whatever that means) by scrapping the carbon tax, propping up coal companies, and setting up war rooms to beat down oilsands critics with bellicose jargon.
More enlightened politicians, like Rachel Notley, meet uncertainty head on with bold new strategies that make life more stable for those they govern.
Notley kicked off her first term in office with a climate leadership plan intended to transition an economy dependent on fossil fuels to renewables while at the same time generating enough revenue to keep the ship afloat until we got there.
Unfortunately, the economy took a beating when oil prices plummeted and the Notley government reacted by becoming more strident in its support of the energy industry, almost to the exclusion of everything else.
It’s time to regroup.
Yes, the energy industry is important to Alberta, but the industry like everything else is in transition. It will never roar back to its former glory. Albertans know this and are in desperate need of politicians who are prepared to offer a bold, new vision for the future.
A friend once told me if we want Albertans to forgo their conservative ideology we must set out its flaws and then present a superior progressive vision to replace it.*
Notley’s NDP have done a good job of demonstrating the economic and social flaws in Kenney’s conservative ideology, however instead of merely rebutting Kenney’s narrative and becoming trapped in the language of the Age of Nostalgia, it’s time for the NDP to present a bold optimistic vision for Alberta.
This vision should be based on the progressive ideals that shook up the conservative halls of the Legislature in Notley’s first term. It should include providing quality education throughout our lives (how else will the workforce retool to address shifting demands), improving access to quality healthcare, continuing to overhaul taxation (a serious look at a provincial sales tax would be a good start) and strengthening our efforts to mitigate climate change.
Such a vision would be well received by Albertans who recognize that it’s practical optimism not nostalgia that puts bread on the table.
The AOC factor
We’re just a few months away from the next provincial election. Is it too late for Rachel Notley and the NDP (or any progressive party for that matter) to communicate a realistic and optimistic vision for the future?
No, not if our politicians take their cues from politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as she’s known on social media).
Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic socialist and the youngest woman to be elected to the US Congress. She supports progressive policies like universal healthcare, free university tuition, job guarantees and gun control. As part of her effort to mitigate climate change, Ocasio-Cortez is co-sponsoring a bill to introduce taxes of up to 70% on incomes of $10 million or more (the top .05% of the population) to fund the Green New Deal.
The Republicans are apoplectic. Not only is it heresy to increase taxes on the super wealthy, but Ocasio-Cortez and some of her college friends were caught on tape doing a dance sequence from The Breakfast Club. Oh, the shame of it all.
Here’s what’s so magnificent about all this: (1) Ocasio-Cortez’s tax proposal is bold and consistent with her progressive beliefs, (2) it’s been endorsed by economists like Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman and (3) she responded to the GOP’s horror at her dance video with another clip of her dancing in the hall outside her congressional office. Take that you dinosaurs.
A compelling new vision presented by smart articulate politicians could lead the NDP to victory this spring; in which case may I be the first to post a video of the Notley crew dancing in the corridors of power?
And if the dance analogy (take that you dinosaurs) doesn’t do it for you, remember what Wayne Gretzky said: Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.
*With thanks to DD
Two remarkable things happened this week. One remarkably good, the other remarkably bad.
Let’s start with the remarkably good.
Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, got married to journalist and communications specialist, Christopher Brown, this week. Premier Rachel Notley officiated at the wedding and had the privilege of declaring them “husband and husband”.
Minister Miranda was a little hesitant about going public with his engagement to Mr Brown but said “Visibility is very important to the community. We’ve seen, unfortunately, even here in the province, a rise in hate crimes. And it takes us back to a time I don’t want to go back to.”
Speaking of going back in time, this brings Ms Soapbox to the remarkably bad thing that happened last week.
In his year-end interview with the Calgary Herald, UCP leader Jason Kenney said he didn’t think stories about his socially conservative political history, including voting against same-sex marriage, would be an issue in the upcoming election because Albertans are focused on economic issues, not social ones.
He dismissed the “a few hundred agitated people on Twitter” as not reflecting the real political debates going on in Alberta, noting he’s done over 20,000 events in the last two and a half years and these “so-called divisive issues” didn’t come up.
(Interestingly, Mr Kenney refused to say whether he’d repeal Bill 24 which prohibits parental notification if kids join gay-straight alliances in schools, so it’s safe to assume this issue is a little more “divisive” than Mr Kenney lets on.)
Dignity cannot be prioritized
Mr Kenney argues that all Albertans want is a fair shake from Confederation, so they can work in decent jobs and pursue their lives with dignity. This is the “give us a hand up, not a hand out” argument, although truth be told the distinction between a “hand up” and a “hand out” was lost on Ms Soapbox when Albertans took to the streets to tell the prime minister what he could do with his $1.6 billion relief package—it was a basket of loans and financing initiatives (a “hand up”), not the promise of welfare cheques (a “hand out”) yet Albertans could hardly contain their righteous indignation.
Mr Kenney is wrong to frame the political debate as a choice between economic issues or social issues, with economic issues taking priority over social issues because, as the UCP put it, in order to be a compassionate, caring province, we must be prosperous first.
This “first one, then the other” characterization obscures the fact that we live in a civilized society. Civility is based on respect. Respect requires us to treat each other with dignity because we’re all human beings and as such deserve it.
There never has been and there never will be a time when we can’t afford to treat each other with dignity and respect.
It is impossible to carve up dignity and respect like Solomon’s baby and bestow it on the population in good economic times and withhold it from the population in bad economic times while we anxiously wait for the economy to improve.
And yet that’s exactly what Mr Kenney is saying when he says he would prioritize economic issues over social issues.
The problem with this argument (aside from it being immoral) is exacerbated when one considers Mr Kenney’s position on same-sex marriage.
After decades of opposing same-sex unions Mr Kenney said he supported a 2016 motion to defeat the Conservative Party policy that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman because there had “…been a change legally, politically and in public opinion and [he would] accept the consensus”.
Mr Kenney did not say he was fine with it because the country had moved forward economically and now had the capacity to address social issues like same-sex marriage. He did not say that a decade after the highest court in the land legalized same-sex marriage he’d come to terms with it.
The tipping point for Mr Kenney appears to be that political and public opinion finally caught up with the law, (although one suspects it was the other way around and the law finally caught up with political and public opinion), the consensus favoured same-sex marriage and Mr Kenney could lay down his objections and go with the flow.
Mr Kenney’s muddled rationale does not bode well for Albertans who believe everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of the state of the economy or prevailing political and public opinion.
Albertans have a right to be treated with dignity and respect because civility puts a higher value on people than things and requires members of minority groups to be treated with as much dignity as members of majority groups and, believe it or not, children to be treated with as much dignity as their parents.
Next year is an election year. Let’s focus on electing outstanding leaders like Rachel Notley who are not afraid to treat all Albertans with respect and dignity regardless of which way the political winds blow.
While we’re here, Ms Soapbox would like to raise her glass to Ricardo and Christopher and wish them a future filled with happiness! Clink clink!
The politicians are on break and so are we.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Soapbox family.
Wishing you and yours the very best for 2019!
Oh, and here’s the newest addition to the Soapbox family…meet Rudy the rescue dog!
How many books and articles have we read about the rise of Donald Trump in America, Doug Ford in Ontario and Jason Kenney in Alberta?
How many more historians, political scientists and armchair experts do we need to tell us how we got into this mess and how to get out of it?
Only one it turns out—his name is William Shakespeare.
Tyrant, Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt is a remarkable book about a remarkable playwright who tackled the rise of tyranny at a time when it was treasonous to refer to a ruler as a tyrant.
To be clear, Ms Soapbox is not suggesting Jason Kenney is Richard III writ small, only that Shakespeare’s insight into the rise of ruthless politicians in troubled times is still relevant today.
The black storm
The villain in Shakespeare’s plays is often a cunning nobleman determined to become king by doing away with his rivals. This requires the nobleman to unleash what the Duke of York describes as a “black storm” to enflame the public, making it ripe for manipulation.
Alberta’s version of the “black storm” is a faux political crisis—we’re victims, we’re suckers, we’ve been used and abused by the other provinces and the federal government which is particularly devious by pretending to support pipelines while actually hating them and manipulating Harper’s equalization formula to rip us off (insert Alex Jones rant here).
Albertans are desperately trying to make decisions under what Greenblatt describes as “unbearable pressure…conditioned by emotional currents beyond their rational control.”
In other words, they’re being manipulated by a big fat lie.
Kenney ratchets up the “black storm” with a laundry list of Trudeau transgressions, everything from the border “crisis” to Trudeau’s apparel on his last trip to India, in an effort to cement his role as savior of the province.
Albertans are angry, some want to separate from Canada. This is beyond ridiculous. The last thing Kenney would do is let Alberta leave Canada and jeopardize his chances of becoming Canada’s next prime minister, but hey, Alberta separatism fuels Alberta rage, right?
Like the Duke of York, Kenney is happy to let others do the dirty work, some like John Carpay compare the Pride flag to a Nazi flag and launch lawsuits characterizing gay-straight alliances as “ideological sex clubs”. Kenney issues mild rebukes and Carpay continues to hold his UCP membership.
Greenblatt asks why people are drawn to leaders unfit to govern. He examines why “evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty” isn’t a fatal disadvantage but a lure, attracting ardent followers.
Greenblatt calls these supporters “enablers”.
Some are dupes and victims, too small to play a significant role in politics. In Alberta many of them are our neighbours who are so busy earning a living and raising their families they “don’t have time” for politics.
Others don’t believe the tyrant is as bad as he seems, trusting that at the end of the day things will revert to normal. They believe there will be “enough adults in the room to ensure promises will be kept, alliances honored and core institutions respected”. In Kenney’s case they’re blind to the fact that his trusted advisors are in a bunch of sycophants who march out of debates en masse rather than risk offending their leader and that Kenney is on record saying he, like Doug Ford, would invoke the “notwithstanding clause” to suspend Albertans’ Charter rights in the appropriate circumstances (leaving us to speculate what those circumstances might be).
Greenblatt says some supporters simply lose focus and provides the example of Richard III. “They know he’s a pathological liar and he’s done this or that ghastly thing, but they have a strange penchant for forgetting, as if it were hard work to remember just how awful he is”. Greenblatt’s reference to “ghastly things” reminds us of Kenney’s proud description of the role he played in defeating a proposition that would have granted same-sex couples hospital visitation rights at during the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. In 1992 AIDS became the number one killer of American men between the ages of 25 to 44. Instead of excusing Kenney’s “ghastly” behavior by saying he’s evolved, Kenney’s supporters should have demanded he beg the LBGTQ community for forgiveness.
Some of Richard III’s supporters expected to get rich from his rise to power, convinced they could stay one step ahead of him along the way. This is the only possible explanation for Kenney supporters who stand by him because he promises economic prosperity notwithstanding his shameful record on pro-choice and LGBTQ rights. Apparently, the promise of tax cuts is sufficient to justify what Greenblatt calls taking a “moral vacation”.
Finally, there’s the hoi polloi who carry out a tyrant’s orders simply because they enjoy “the cruel game of making his targets suffer…” The viciousness of Kenney’s supporters’ attacks on Sandra Jansen and Rachel Notley springs to mind.
What’s it going to be?
Shakespeare pulls no punches when he describes what happens when a tyrant ascends to the throne.
Everything descends into chaos.
The tyrant is wary and suspicious. Fearing traitors and double-crossers he surrounds himself with “fat, sleek-headed” sycophants who are of no use to him. He’s restless and prone to failure because he lacks the diplomacy and administrative skills to govern well. His promise to unite the country goes up in smoke because the public, polarized by his rhetoric, sees no reason to cooperate to make things better.
But all is not lost.
Despite this bleak prognosis, Shakespeare believed in “the sheer unpredictability of collective life, its refusal to march lockstep to any one person’s order. He thought “the best chance for the recovery of collective decency lay…in the political action of ordinary citizens.”
Which brings us back to where we started.
Albertans are not subjects of the realm but citizens free to vote on how our story will unfold. We can choose a politician who inflames our fears or we can choose a politician who cares about all Albertans regardless of where they come from, who they worship and who they love.
Chaos or caring government.
I know what Shakespeare would advise.
The Up Series is an amazing documentary that follows the lives of 14 British children over five decades. The children were interviewed every seven years starting in 1964 when they were seven years old. The next instalment, 63 Up, will be released in 2019.
The children came from the working class, middle class and privileged classes. Michael Apted, the director, believed that who they were at seven would dictate who they’d become as adults.
For the most part he was right. Wealthy seven year old boys who went to prestigious boarding schools and Oxbridge became successful lawyers, journalists and teachers. Less affluent children who attended comprehensive schools and did not go to university became cab drivers, labourers and office workers.
The seven year old child of 1964 foreshadowed who and what they would become in later life.
Right, so what does this have to do with Jason Kenney?
The child becomes the man
While we don’t know who Kenney was at seven, we do know who he was as a student at the Jesuit University of San Francisco and the president of the pro-life group where he made headlines for bitterly opposing his Jesuit professors who allowed pro-choice activists on campus. He argued this destroyed “the mission and the purpose” of the university. (A more hysterical version of his comments appeared in the student newspaper where he said if the school gave a platform to pro-choice groups in the name of free speech, it would have to do the same for pedophiles and the Church of Satan).
We know who Kenney was at 21 when he helped defeat a proposition that would have granted same-sex couples hospital visitation rights and bereavement rights in the middle of the San Francisco AIDS epidemic, ensuring that many AIDS sufferers who were shunned by medial staff and their own families would die alone.*
We know who Kenney was at 31 when he proudly referred to the proposition as one of the “battles” he fought in San Francisco which brought him “closer to the heart of the Church in the spiritual sense.”
People change…or not
Now hold on, his supporters say, people change, evolve, mature, something, mumble, mumble, something.
When asked about his role in promoting the San Francisco proposition Kenney said sure, there are things he’s said and done that he regrets, and this was one of them; but it’s not clear whether he regrets the actions of the 21 year-old Kenney who led the effort to defeat the proposition or the 31 year-old Kenney (by then a federal MP) who referred to it with pride, or the 50 year old Kenney who is stuck with explaining it away today.
As evidence that he’s changed he referred to his time as a federal MP in 2003, 2004, and 2005 when he was 35, 36, and 37 and supported “domestic partner arrangements for dependent couples regardless of sexual orientation”. It’s not clear what he’s talking about, because in 2002 Kenney is on record saying enshrining rights on the basis of sexual orientation “opened the door” for “polygamists” and “advocates of incest” and in 2003 he voted in favour of a motion declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman.
In any event, he firmly closed the door on any further discussion with comment, “That has been my long-standing public view.”
If that (whatever “that” is) is Kenney’s “long-standing public view”, what pray tell is Kenney’s “private” view? Is his “private” view any different from his “public” view? And how will his “private” view impact his actions as a public servant?
Private views vs public views
Research by Professor Robert Entman of Duke University shows that a politician’s “private political philosophy” will significantly impact how he votes.
This is certainly true in Kenney’s case. His record as a federal MP is studded with examples of Kenney voting in alignment with the positions he took as a young man in San Francisco.
For example, he voted against same-sex marriage in 2005, he voted to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage in 2006 and he voted in favor of a motion to reopen the abortion debate in 2012.
The line between Kenney’s personal ideology and his public views became more blurred when he left federal politics and became the leader of the UCP.
He led his entire caucus in a walkout on the debate on legislation putting bubble zones around abortion clinics to keep protestors from harassing women requiring their services and he’s intent on undermining legislation compelling schools to allow the formation of GSAs by insisting schools notify parents if their kids join GSAs.
What are we to make of a man who says his “public” views have evolved when a review of his “public” record indicates that they have not?
Public Policy and the Notwithstanding Clause
Public policy is created after a period of lobbying, educating supporters (and opponents) and mobilizing allies on specific issues. Public policy is supposed to be the result of thoughtful compromise; it is not a sermon from the Mount.
Jason Kenney made it clear he holds the pen. He tells his MLAs and his supporters what they can do and not do. Sometimes he lets the party act by revoking an embarrassing supporter’s membership, other times he does not. He makes the rules.
His personal ideology on LGBTQ+ issues and women’s issues is cruel and out of step with modern society.
And now, thanks to the liberties Doug Ford has taken with constitutional norms, Kenney has a tool with which to turn his ideology into law. Kenney said he’d use the notwithstanding clause (section 33 of the Charter) where appropriate. One look at Kenney’s record makes it clear he thinks it would be appropriate to address LGBTQ+ rights and women’s issues.
The boy foreshadows the man.
If the UCP forms government in 2019, the shadow cast by this man will be long and terribly dark.
See Kyle Morrow for an excellent overview of Kenney’s anti-gay record https://www.facebook.com/notes/kyle-morrow/jason-kenney-refuses-to-apologize-for-cold-callous-treatment-of-aids-patients/373052353504460/