Jason Kenney Reverses Peter Lougheed’s Coal Policy

Remember 2017 when Jason Kenney continually invoked Peter Lougheed’s name in his quest for the UCP leadership?  

Well, it’s 2021 and Mr Kenney isn’t wrapping himself in Mr Lougheed’s mantle any longer. He’s ripping it to shreds.  

Next week the Kenney government is going to court to defend its decision to rescind Peter Lougheed’s Coal Policy (which has been in effect since 1976) and open the eastern slopes, the Rockies and the foothills to open-pit coal mining.

What would Peter Lougheed say?

Open coal pit-mining in the headwaters of three major rivers, the Red Deer, the Oldman and the South Saskatchewan, are you kidding me?     

The Coal Policy

Mr Lougheed’s government raised the Coal Policy in the Legislature in the spring of 1976. It became policy in June 1976. Mr Lougheed took his Cabinet on a road trip, two actually, over the summer recess—they visited 32 communities in June and 27 communities in September—getting feedback on the Coal Policy and four other priorities.  

On Oct 14, 1976 Mr Lougheed updated the Assembly on the government’s progress on these priorities.*

With respect to the Coal Policy, he said the decision to impose restrictions on coal mining was controversial, but his government had achieved “a very good balance between development and protection of the environment.” It had set “aside many key areas of land use where environmental or recreational features can be maintained and neither exploration nor development will be permitted.” He noted “other areas were set aside…in which there would be no development unless there could be full assurance of satisfactory reclamation.”

He called the Coal Policy a bold and dramatic decision, made after considerable thought, and acknowledged it hadn’t been easy, but it would serve Albertans well.

In the coming months Mr Lougheed and his Cabinet answered many questions in the Legislature about the impact of the Coal Policy on proposals to supply coal to Ontario Hydro, on royalty negotiations with Japanese corporations and on projects proposed in the Genesee, Sheerness and Sundance areas.

They tabled reports and studies on future world markets for non-coking coal, the cost-benefit analysis of coal development in Alberta, and the present and future outlook for Alberta coal in selected world markets. They responded to requests for detailed information on the cost of compensating coal mining companies affected by the Coal Policy, who held the leases, and where they were located.

The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Mr Getty, carefully explained the process, he wanted to take the time to go through it properly because it was new. He outlined a three-step process:

  • The company would provide the government with “preliminary disclosure” and the government would indicate “on a preliminary basis” whether there were any problems in principle with the project.
  • Then the company would do “disclosure to the public” and hold “a public meeting in the area most affected by the development”  
  • Then, and only then, was the company allowed to proceed to the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

The Coal Policy was controversial and raised many questions, but the Lougheed government was steadfast in its commitment to the preservation of agricultural and recreational land and the environment for Albertans.    

Under Covid Cover

Fast forward from 1976 to 2020.

Mr Kenney cancelled the Coal Policy without any consultation by posting an information letter on the Department of Energy’s website on the May 31 long weekend.

You remember that weekend, the first long weekend of covid, when we were battling through the first wave and trying to figure out how to cope with everything from working at home, masking, and whether or not we were eligible for federal or provincial (hah) relief.   

Fast forward again to January 2021. In the midst of attacks on the Capitol, globe-trotting UCP MLAs, bewildering lockdown restrictions and exceptions, concerns about new covid variants, and contradictory reports of vaccine shortages, Albertans finally figured out what Mr Kenney did to them in on the May 31 long weekend.

And they’re furious.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Instead of hiding behind lawyers who will argue the government has no duty to consult when it’s rescinding a policy, Mr Kenney could have followed Mr Lougheed’s lead and been upfront and transparent about what he intended to do.

But transparency highlights Mr Kenney’s problem.  

Unlike Mr Lougheed who stood up to protect Albertan’s agricultural and recreational lands and environment in the face of strong opposition from the coal industry, Mr Kenney betrayed Albertans’ trust by selling Albertan’s agricultural and recreational lands and environment to the coal industry.

Which brings us back to where we started.

In 2017 Mr Kenney proudly presented himself as the right leader to carry on Mr Lougheed’s legacy.

In 2021 Albertans know that Mr Kenney is not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Mr Lougheed, let alone stand alongside him.

*Hansard, Oct 13, 1976, starting at p 1449

Posted in Disasters, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 62 Comments

What Albertans Can Learn From the Attack on the Capitol

Federal Judge Damon Keith said democracy dies in the dark, but as we’ve learned over the last four years, it can also die in broad daylight if it is abused by power-mad leaders like Donald Trump and, it should be noted, equally determined leaders like Jason Kenney.

Trump tried to kill democracy with brute force. Kenney is more insidious—his actions are hidden under a veneer of legality.  

The Capital

Consider what Kenney has accomplished thus far.

Eroding democratic norms

It started with the ‘ha-ha’ moment when Kenney distributed earplugs to his caucus, signaling that no one needs to listen to the Opposition as they debate proposed legislation. It escalated as Kenny buried the Opposition (and the public) in a blizzard of bills and curtailed debate so no one could understand the impact of the laws his government was passing. And it continues day in and day out as his government and its employees attack Albertans in the Legislature and on social media if they dare criticize government policy.

This is not normal and yet here we are.

Eroding democratic freedoms

Authoritarians use crisis (real or imagined) to push through anti-democratic legislation. Trump’s use of the threat of foreign terrorists to impose the Muslim travel ban is a good example.

Likewise, Kenney used the Wetʼsuwetʼen railway blockades, only one of which occurred in Alberta, as an excuse to pass Bill 1 which criminalized Albertans’ right to peaceful protest.

He used Covid-19 to pass Bill 10 which gave ministers the power to create new laws and offences without allowing the Legislature to debate or vote on the matter. This was such an egregious abuse of power that one of Kenney’s major supporters, lawyer John Carpay, challenged the Bill in court calling it an affront to democracy and a violation of the rule of law.

And yet Kenney shows no signs of stepping back from his anti-democratic agenda.

Normalizing autocratic measures

In Alberta it is okay for the government to hunt its enemies. Oh sure, the hunt is camouflaged as an effort to promote the energy sector (War Room) or to protect the sector from anti-Alberta energy campaigns (Public Inquiry). These multimillion-dollar gong shows have not delivered on their stated purpose. They exist only to warn Albertans to get out of the way as Kenney fiddles around trying to bring an economic strategy rooted in fossil fuels into the 21st century.

Analysts and academics have written extensively about this abuse of power to no avail. The War Room and the Public Inquiry continue to exist, draining time and resources away from real issues like diversifying the economy, improving public education and public healthcare and addressing climate change.  

MAGA Alberta Style

Kenny, like Trump, galvanized his supporters by telling them they were right to feel aggrieved. He gave them an enemy, the federal government (pretending he himself as a Conservative MP had no role in creating the “inequities” he’s now condemning). Kenney rode their anger into office with the promise of a magic bullet (“jobs, economy, pipelines”) that failed to materialize.  

Never mind, he kept Albertans distracted with a traveling circus (the Fair Deal Panel) which gave Albertans a forum to air their grievances and a range of remedies that would do nothing to resolve them.  

The promise of prosperity was enough to convince Albertans to look the other way while Kenney chipped away at democracy because, well, everyone knows you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right?

Trump incited his supporters to storm the Capitol with the big lie—the Dems had stolen the election. Kenney is pushing a different lie. He’s convinced Albertans they’re special. They are people of destiny. Fate (in form of the fossil fuels beneath our feet and our down-home western something or other) decreed we would be prosperous beyond our wildest dreams.

When this failed to materialize because the world won’t play its part in the lie, he pointed Albertans in the direction of Ottawa. It’s someone else’s fault. It’s always someone else’s fault.

And then something strange happened. Over the holidays Albertans discovered that members of the Kenney government and staff were globe trotters. They were just as elitist and hypocritical as those other guys they’ve been condemning for the last few years.  

Trust was damaged, but not yet broken.    

Where do we go from here?  

If we’ve learned anything from the attack on the Capitol it’s this: When a charlatan promises something he can’t deliver in order to get elected, he may be prepared to destroy democracy to stay in power.

Kenney has created an unstable and unsustainable situation. The good old days are gone forever. Destroying our democratic institutions will not bring them back.

But allowing the Kenney government to erode democracy while promoting Albertans’ exceptionalism will end badly.

Because democracy is not a plaything to be tossed about at a politician’s whim. It is fragile and if abused will end up in pieces on the floor.

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

Jason Kenney: A Failure to Communicate?

On Jan 1, 2021, Jason Kenney held a press conference to respond to the alarming news that some of his MLAs, political staff and senior government officials decided it was just fine to fly off to places like the UK, Mexico and Hawaii over the holidays notwithstanding the federal and provincial advisories against non-essential international travel.

Mr Kenney said this was okay because…wait for it…he failed to clearly communicate his expectation that they should comply with his government’s policy against non-essential international travel.

Here’s how he justified giving a pass to his traveling MLAs, political staff and senior government officers (let’s call them the Travelers).

Mr Kenney being crystal crystal clear

On Dec 29 he learned MLA Tracy Allard was in the US and immediately asked her to return to Alberta. While she was away Allard continued to work answering the phone and participating in a virtual cabinet meeting.

Just to be clear, Ms Allard was in Hawaii celebrating Christmas. It’s a tradition she and her family have enjoyed for 17 years.  

Allard is the vice-chair of Kenney’s covid committee, one would certainly hope that during her vacation she could squeeze in the occasional phone call and zoom meeting, particularly in light of the fact her colleague Health Minister Shandro failed to meet his promise to vaccinate 29,000 healthcare workers by the end of the year and AHS says it will not start vaccinating the general population until Fall 2021. That’s nine months from now.

He’s become aware that a few Travelers went abroad and is assured they complied with all relevant public health orders and legal requirements.

The issue isn’t whether the Travelers complied with public health orders and legal requirements, it’s whether their international travel was “essential travel” because the federal government and Kenney’s own government issued a global travel advisory telling Albertans to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.  

Nevertheless, he recognizes that those in positions of public trust must maintain a higher standard in their conduct than is expected in the general population.  

Yes, people in positions of public trust are expected to maintain a higher standard, however this is not a breach of a higher standard, it is a breach of the same standard that applies to all Albertans; namely no non-essential travel outside Canada during a pandemic. If we can comply, they can comply.     

He takes responsibility for failing to clearly communicate a policy against international travel for senior decision makers in government.

Really? We’ve entrusted Kenney’s senior decision makers to get us through this pandemic. If they can’t understand a policy the rest of us can figure out by reading nine words on the government’s website, we’re doomed.

But, he’s not in the habit of tracking or regulating what the people who work for him do on their own time.

Interesting, because he’s fine with regulating what people who don’t work for him can do on their own time—he’s told them they must wear masks, maintain physical distancing and can’t have more than two singletons over for Christmas dinner.

Or maybe he’s just not in the habit of reading that little form MLAs fill out when they’re going to be away, the one Allard filled it out making Ric McIver her substitute.  

Lastly, if Kenney really believes government should be run like a business, he should be aware that a CEO knows when his VPs are going on vacation and not once in my entire career in the private sector did a member of the management team go on vacation in the middle of a crisis. Not once.  

He believes the Travelers acted in good faith and complied with the legal requirements…

Stop right there.

It doesn’t matter what Kenney believes. It doesn’t matter that the Travelers didn’t technically break the law. What matters is they refused to comply with a policy designed to limit the spread of covid.

…but he’s issuing a “clear directive” to MLAs, political staff and senior executives not to leave the country for the foreseeable future unless it is absolutely required for government-related business.  

I see. The existing laws, public health orders, policies, and evidence of strain on the healthcare system and the economy, to say nothing of the rising death toll, isn’t enough to compel the MLAs and senior decision makers to act responsibly, but Kenney’s “clear directive” which simply repeats what the non-essential travel advisory says, will do the trick.  

He takes responsibility for not being “absolutely clear” about the expectation there be no non-essential international travel, but he can’t sanction people who complied with the law and public health orders, and traveled safely.

In other words, it was simply a failure to communicate. Move along. Nothing to see here.

No, what we have here is not a failure to communicate; it’s a failure of leadership on the part of MLAs, political staff and senior government officials who chose not to comply with a government advisory against non-essential international travel.

And a colossal failure of leadership on the part of Jason Kenney who chose not to hold them to account for noncompliance with a policy designed to limit the risk of Albertans becoming sick and dying in a global pandemic.  

Some of us believed there were no exceptions to compliance, no amount of status or privilege that suspended the rules.

On January 1, 2021 Jason Kenney proved us wrong.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 134 Comments

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

The politicians are on break (thank god) and so are we.

The Soapbox family and Rudy the rescue dog would like to wish you and yours a peaceful and happy holiday.   

Those of you with a discerning eye will notice Rudy the rescue dog is plumper and furrier this year. But then again, aren’t we all.

See you next year!  

Posted in Celebrations, Uncategorized, Vacation | Tagged , | 51 Comments

Kenney’s Restrictions: A Jekyll and Hyde Story

A couple of months after Mr Kenney lost control of Covid-19, he lost control of his party.

Consequently on Dec 13 Albertans find themselves here: our covid testing system is overwhelmed, contact tracing has collapsed, hospitals are at 120% capacity, ICU beds are filling up, the Red Cross and hospital field tents are on standby and anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-you-name-it protesters are demonstrating all over the province.  

Lovely.

What went wrong

Kenney’s demise started in the spring when he decided to deny or soft pedal the virulence of Covid-19 to support the myth that he could control the virus with a “balanced approach” that would protect “lives and livelihoods.”  He opted for half measures to fight a virus, the likes of which we had never seen before.    

On Nov 25 when it became apparent that “balance” was not within reach Kenney implemented restrictions so pathetic that health writer, Andre Picard, called them “inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending otherwise.”

Not surprisingly our covid infection rate and death rate continued to climb.    

Then on Dec 8 Kenney imposed restrictions he said were necessary but would destroy the hopes and dreams of brave Albertans and violate of our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.     

Finally, when Kenney was asked whether he accepts any responsibility for his government’s inept response to Covid-19 he lashed out, characterizing criticism as “Alberta bashing” and “drive-by smears on Alberta.”

Let’s stop there for a moment.

The allusion that criticizing Kenney is criticizing Alberta—namely “Kenney is Alberta” and “Alberta is Kenney”—echoes tactics adopted by dictators and tyrants across the globe to silence critics. It also reinforces Kenney’s identity politics which are divisive and the antithesis of democracy. (Arguments over who gets what in a democratic context can result in compromise, not so in identity politics where arguments over who we are prevent compromise because compromise is viewed as betrayal.)*

Jekyll and Hyde

What makes Kenney’s position so unstable is he turned himself into Jekyll and Hyde in order to placate his base. Dr Jekyll said he is imposing restrictions to protect Albertans from the virus; Mr Hyde said these restrictions will destroy Albertans hopes and dreams and violate their Charter rights.

It didn’t work.

Moderate conservatives have been drifting out of the UCP tent for a while. Many of the hard right bolted last week. Before they left they flooded Kenney’s Facebook page and various websites with stinging comments. They are angry and disappointed. They made it crystal clear Kenney betrayed them and they would never vote for him again.

This creates an opportunity for other UCP members who are circling like vultures, waiting for the right moment to take the premier down.

One MLA who springs to mind is Drew Barnes. He has repeatedly challenged Kenney’s policies. On the heels of Kenney’s Dec 8 announcement, Barnes issued an “open call to the premier and cabinet” to let gyms, massage therapy, and hair salon businesses stay open.  

Barnes cited an article issued by the University of Virginia in support of his position. He said the article stresses the importance of cardio in fighting the virus (cardio in a hair salon?). Unfortunately, the link to the article would not open. However, it’s important to note Virginia is in the covid red zone. It appears to have twice as many covid cases and three times as many deaths (when adjusted for population) as Alberta. The government will ignore Barnes’ suggestion which is fine by him, he’s not really speaking to the government but his cadre of supporters.  

Now what

So where does that leave us?  

The Legislative Assembly adjourned on Dec 8, and will not return until sometime in Feb 2021. Over the Christmas break the UCP caucus will get an earful from their constituents including the rural UCP MLA who said his constituents would be okay wearing masks until the government told them it was mandatory then they’d rip them off because they’re freedom loving Albertans, or something like that.     

Kenney will spend the break dreaming up ways to deflect the outrage directed at him by offering his supporters another enemy to focus on (cue Trudeau’s carbon tax increases).   

The rest of us will try to hang on until the vaccine arrives.

2021 will be a harrowing year.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sensible premier like Rachel Notley, who has the interests of all Albertans at heart, instead of one who morphs back and forth between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

*The Economist Nov 28, 2020 p10

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Politics and Government, Science | Tagged , , , , | 67 Comments

Kenney: Rights and Responsibilities During a Pandemic

Last week when Alberta’s covid infection rate spiked to record highs, the positive-test rate climbed to 10.5%, and doctors across the province begged for more restrictive public health measures to avoid the refrigerator trucks, Mr Kenney appeared on Facebook to answer questions about the restrictions he had imposed on Nov 24.  

He appeared to be particularly proud of this exchange:  

K.C. asked: “What is the government’s responsibility when people won’t take responsibility for themselves?” 

Mr Kenney replied: “The government takes no responsibility whatsoever. The people are responsible for their irresponsible behavior.”  Okay, that’s me paraphrasing Mr Kenney’s 538-word answer, but that’s in essence what he said.   

Responsibility

He started his windbag response by lamenting that we don’t have a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. Apparently our responsibility to obey the laws prohibiting killing, maiming, abusing, polluting, stealing, lying, cheating, etc contained in the Criminal Code, federal, provincial and municipal laws, the common law and the Bible are not enough.   

He said instead of exercising our constitutionally protected freedoms to protest at a super spreader event that could put someone in ICU or kill them, people could register their objections responsibly by:

  • Sending him letters and emails and calling him names (“a dictator or whatever, go for it”)
  • Organizing online petitions and virtual protests
  • “Go bully” (?)
  • Organizing a safe protest where people wore masks and spread out. Seriously? You’re asking these nuts to wear masks to an anti-mask rally?

Then he addressed those who believed covid is a hoax, or the risk is exaggerated, or masks are ineffective, or the restrictions have gone too far. He invited them to talk to his friend who spent nearly two months in ICU “fighting for his life” or to those who have lost loved ones. He asked these protesters to “just err on the side of caution and responsibility and care for your neighbours.”

The thrust of his Facebook message was threefold:

  1. Be responsible.
  2. Focus your righteous indignation on me, um, virtually, because I can take it (I’m safely ensconced behind my computer, my issues managers, and my security team),
  3. Be compassionate (follow my sterling example of compassionate leadership. I proudly fought to overturn spousal rights for gay couples during the AIDS epidemic and I continue to demonstrate compassion to this day; see for example how my government changed the payout dates for AISH recipients to make it more difficult for them to pay their monthly expenses).

Mr Kenney wrapped up his answer with this: “So, yes to rights, but yes also to their responsible exercise.”   

Responsible rights  

Mr Kenney is confused, again.

The Charter protects certain rights and freedoms subject only to such limits prescribed by law as can be justified in a free and democratic society. There is no stipulation that individuals must exercise such rights and freedoms responsibly.*

So let’s go back to K.C.’s question. They asked: “What is the government’s responsibility when people won’t take responsibility for themselves?”

Given that this a question about government responsibility, not a citizen’s Charter rights, Mr Kenney could have said: “The government must step in when people won’t take responsibility for themselves. My government declared a state of public health emergency and passed CMOH 38-2020 which imposed a number of restrictions, including one that limits outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 10 people. People who violate this restriction will be fined $1000. This limitation is necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19.”

Instead he blathered on for four minutes about the non-existent legal or moral requirement that citizens exercise their Charter rights responsibly.  Not once did he suggest irresponsible behaviour would result in fines.

Predictably Mr Kenney’s sermon had no effect whatsoever. There was another large anti-mask/anti-restrictions rally in Calgary over the weekend.  

Mr Kenney’s response? “Yes, we have Charter protected rights in Canada. But we also have responsibilities as citizens.”

He also said he’s “very disappointed.”   

Instead of being disappointed, may we suggest Mr Kenney take his own advice and “err on the side of caution and responsibility” by enforcing existing restrictions and instituting even more restrictive public health measures before the refrigerator trucks roll up next to the field tents outside of Alberta hospitals.  

*As my friend, law prof Nigel Bankes pointed out, it’s not so much that there’s an individual duty to exercise Charter freedoms responsibly, but rather that the government has the power (and arguably the duty) to adopt measures to ensure citizens don’t exercise their freedoms in a way that impairs the health and lives of others.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Disasters, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 58 Comments

Kenney’s ‘Data-Based’ Covid Restrictions

There are some leaders you’d follow to hell and back, and then there’s Jason Kenney.

On Nov 24 Mr Kenney declared a second covid related public health emergency and outlined restrictions that would go into effect immediately because despite his fervent belief that Albertans would do the right thing, they didn’t.     

Mr Kenney advised that after a grueling 8-hour meeting on Monday he and his covid cabinet committee reviewed Dr Hinshaw’s recommendations and developed a new set of restrictions which he unveiled at the press conference.  

It was a weird event.

Mr. Kenney said he had “sharp words” with the feds (too slow in approving foreign rapid testing kits, but thanks for the 577,000 domestic kits), he was contemptuous of those with secure pay cheques, particularly secure government pay cheques, who were pushing for more stringent measures, and he displayed yet again his monumental ignorance of constitutional law (no, a government is not required to start with minimal Charter impairments before it can step it up, the legal test is proportionality).

But the most disturbing aspect of Mr Kenney’s remarks is his insistence that the new restrictions are based on data.

What data?  

Mr Kenney said the restrictions are targeted measures, focused on places “the data clearly showed [covid] was spreading”.

Really? How can the data clearly show anything when Alberta’s contact tracing capability has been compromised for more than three weeks?

Oh, don’t worry, Mr Kenney says. We have lots of data, namely 8 months of contact tracing data, outbreak data, healthcare utilization data, the number of ICU beds, the case-to-hospitalization ratio, the case fatality ratio, and the inferred infection fatality ratio.   

Okay, that was quite a mouthful, but I have some questions.  

How can we draw an inference from the pattern of infection for the last 8 months when we have no data for the 9th month and we can’t tell if or how the pattern is changing at the same time our numbers are spiking? There’s a hole in the data.

If the outbreak data is relevant, and to cite one example there have been 9 outbreaks at amateur hockey games, why are there exemptions for team sports under certain conditions?  

How were lagging indicators—healthcare utilization data, the number of ICU beds, the case-to-hospitalization ratio, the case fatality ratio and the inferred infection fatality ratio—used to develop restrictions which are intended to decrease the spread of covid in the future? None of these indicators pinpoint how covid was transmitted to those who are sick or dying from the infection, do they?

Oh wait, there’s more.

Mr Kenney has another data source. He’s relying on general learnings, academic and global research and experience in other jurisdictions.  

I’m sure inference from these data sources is useful, but wouldn’t it be more effective to fix our contact tracing problem by adopting the federal contact tracing app?      

Look, Mr Kenney said, this isn’t just a simple mathematical scientific exercise, there’s a balancing function here as well.

Ah, we’re finally down to what’s driving these restrictions. Ideology.

Churches are deemed safer than libraries. Families of 6 can go out to eat in a restaurant but they can’t invite grandma over for lunch. Ten people can gather for a wedding but not a wedding reception…unless they meet up at a bar. Masks are mandatory in Calgary and Edmonton and 22 other towns and hamlets but a person with “a mental or physical concern or limitation” doesn’t have to wear one. I guess this means the guy who complained that breathing in his own breath would give him gingivitis is off the hook.  

Dec 15

Okay, let ‘er rip.

We’ll regroup with Mr Kenney on Dec 15 when he’ll tell us whether Alberta’s R number is 1 or higher in which case he’ll impose stricter measures. If we’re lucky he’ll regale us with another over-the-top story about a recent refugee escaping from [insert socialist country name here] who pleaded with him not to destroy her business and throw her into abject poverty.

And he wonders why we don’t trust him.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 50 Comments

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 , , , , , , | 85 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 , , , , , | 48 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