A “Marathon Session”

The Alberta Legislature is adjourned for a month.

For this we are truly grateful because no matter how Jason Kenney tries to dress up his performance—he says he’s well on his way to delivering on almost 70% of his campaign promises—he has not delivered on the promise of “jobs, economy, pipelines.”

And no, making a risky $1.5 billion equity investment and providing a $6 billion loan guarantee on the American segment of the KXL pipeline does not count.

Promises, promises, promises

Kenney’s campaign promises went up in smoke because he missed the memo, the one that said major oil companies want to own only the cheapest, cleanest reserves.  

Case in point.

Last week Total, a global energy company, announced it was taking a $9.3 billion asset impairment charge on its Canadian oilsands assets because (1) the oilsands are high cost investments in a low price environment and (2) they meet the definition of “stranded” assets under Total’s commitment to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050 or sooner.  

Total’s announcement comes on the heels of similar announcements by BP and Royal Dutch Shell which wrote down $17.5B and $22B respectively.*

It dovetails with the long string of announcements by investment banks like Deutsche Bank which pledged to align their credit and investment portfolios with the goals of the Paris Agreement in order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Net-zero emissions by 2050. Sense a pattern here?

Hypocritical?

Rather than reverse its plan to deregulate the energy sector as much as possible under the guise of cutting red tape (and instead introduce legislation that aligns with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050) the Kenney government reverted to form: it had a temper tantrum.

Kenney’s energy minister, Sonya Savage, blasted Total’s “highly-hypocritical decision,” saying Total had dismissed “the leadership of Canadian producers who are doing their part with active strategies that have reduced emissions.”

Really?

If Canada’s producers are doing their part with “active strategies that have reduced emissions” then why are they complaining that the federal government’s aid program (LEEFE) is too restrictive because it includes a requirement to report on climate change and what the company is doing to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. If Savage is right, the LEEFE requirements should be a slam dunk, so what gives?       

Kenney doubled down the attack on any institution critical of the oilsands by demanding that Deutsche Bank “share with us the factual basis upon which these decisions were made.”

Given that Deutsche Bank is an international investment bank that holds $2.5 trillion in assets, it’s highly unlikely its CEO knows who Kenney is, let alone is quaking in his boots waiting for Kenney’s call. But go for it, Jason.  

Promises made, not delivered

Kenney is patting himself on the back for wrapping up “a marathon session that saw 34 bills passed to make life better, diversify our economy and get Albertans back to work.”  

He itemized some of the bills he deemed noteworthy including Bill 32 which “restored balance” in the workplace by stripping employees of many of their workplace rights.

He failed to mention that his government’s behavior undermined the democratic process or that his government’s policies pitched the government against doctors, teachers, parents, seniors and other vulnerable groups, municipalities, universities, rural Albertans, urban Albertans, the LBGTQ+ community, nature lovers, environmentalists and just about everyone else.

Which leads one to wonder whether Kenney’s pugilistic stance is façade to paper over his government’s failure to deliver on his campaign promise of jobs, a booming economy and pipelines.

Then again, it may be just a reflection of the man.

*The Economist, July 18, 2020, p51

NOTE: Ms Soapbox will be on vacation for the next two weeks, but she promises to read your comments and respond from time to time.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Climate Change, Economics, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Alberta is Not for Sale

“Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works.” — Gordon Gekko in the movie ‘Wall Street’

Our Covid numbers are rising, GDP is falling and the UCP government is burying us in a blizzard of announcements promising a relaunch strategy that will return us to “normal”.

The challenge for Albertans is to find a way to keep up with the barrage of UCP changes to legislation, regulations, and policy that, under the guise of progress are dragging us backwards.

One way to sort through the flak that pours into your media feed every day is to read it with two principles in mind: mutuality of interest and follow the money.

Mutuality of interest

The UCP and corporate Alberta share a mutuality of interest.

The UCP depends on corporations and their well-heeled shareholders and executives for financial support to stay in power. Corporations support political parties that free them from regulatory oversight (aka “red tape”) and suppress organized labour because these policies drive down costs and increase profits.

(Sorry all you ordinary Albertans who voted for the UCP after Kenney’s blue pick-up tour of Alberta; you’re not part of the equation).     

The clearest examples of mutuality of interest are Kenney’s “job creating” tax cut and Bill 32, an act to “restore balance in the workplace.” The job creating tax cut did not create any jobs. Bill 32 does not restore balance; it makes things worse by undermining unions that advocate for greater equity in the workplace.

Nevertheless, both policies are a success in Kenney’s world because they reduce corporate costs and increase profits which lead to hefty dividends. If shareholders are happy, corporations are happy; if corporations are happy they reward those who made them happy.  

One hand washes the other, you know.

Follow the money

Given this mutuality of interest, it’s not surprising that following the money invariably leads us to the private sector.

Sometimes the money trail is picked out in klieg lights, sometimes it’s more subtle.  

It’s obvious Kenney’s $1.5 billion equity investment and $6 billion loan guarantee to the KXL pipeline bought him a heap of goodwill from TC Energy, its shareholders, and investors, even though energy leaders like Suncor’s CEO chortle when asked whether KXL will ever be completed (some experts put the likelihood of completion at less than 50%).

The money trail is less obvious when it’s obscured by rhetoric about boosting the economy and/or saving taxpayers money.

Two quick examples. Kenney’s decision to repeal former premier Lougheed’s coal development policies to allow open-pit coal mining in the fragile Eastern slopes is hailed as a boon to Alberta’s economy when in fact it’s a retrograde step that undermines everything Kenney has said about Alberta being a global leader in energy and the environment. But the Australian coal mining companies love it, right?    

Under the guise of saving taxpayers money, Kenney will fully or partially close 20 parks and transfer 164 more to third-party managers. If managers can’t be found, the parks will be sold. Given that a mere 6.4% of Alberta land is protected, it’s difficult to see how selling public land to potato farmers and other business ventures will produce a meaningful increase in revenue.

But Kenney’s focus is not on increasing revenue or protecting endangered species and Alberta’s watersheds, let alone promoting recreational fishing and camping; these policies will be a success if they ingratiate the UCP government with the coal industry and other business enterprises.   

Sometimes the money trail is disguised as a matter of “choice”.

Kenney is promoting more “choice” in healthcare by funneling taxpayers’ money into the privatization of healthcare, be it the Babylon Telus app which replaces real physicians with virtual ones or a policy that will increase private surgeries from 15% to 30% by 2023. If history is anything to go by this will slow down access to public surgeries and increase the cost of private surgeries.     

Some good news

Albertans are becoming increasingly aware that the objective of the UCP government is not to serve them but the corporate sector that keeps them in power.

They reacted by increasing their financial support for the NDP. For the first time since 2017 the NDP raised more money than the UCP. In the second quarter the NDP raised $1,032,796.85 while the UCP raised $642,677.29. More than half the NDP donations were in amounts of $250 or less, while almost two-thirds of the UCP donations were over $250.

The day Kenney was elected he declared, “Alberta is open for business.”

A year later Albertans are pushing back. It turns Alberta is not for sale after all.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Police Surveillance of NDP Cabinet Minister Shannon Phillips

As Ms Soapbox read the decision of retired superintendent Paul Manuel, formerly of the Calgary Police Service, in the disciplinary proceedings against two members of the Lethbridge Police Service who conducted unauthorized surveillance of an NDP Cabinet Minister at a breakfast meeting with four stakeholders, a thought crossed her mind: “When did having a meeting with a government cabinet minister become illegal?”

The Facts

In April 2017 Sgt Carrier was having a meal with two junior officers at a Lethbridge diner. He spotted Shannon Phillips, then NDP Cabinet Minister responsible for parks and environment, having a breakfast meeting with four stakeholders.   

They were in the booth behind him and he overheard Phillips discussing a proposal to create a new park in the Castle region. He texted Acting Sgt Woronuk to join him because Woronuk, like Carrier, enjoyed camping, fishing, hunting and off-roading in the Castle area and, like Carrier, did not support Phillip’s environmental policies. (It’s unclear where the two junior officers stood on NDP policies).

Shannon Phillips

Another officer was invited to join them but by the time he got to the diner Carrier and Woronuk had left.    

Carrier and Woronuk both took photos of Phillips and her party. Carrier also took a “selfie” of himself and Phillips, with the other stakeholders in the background.  

As Carrier and Woronuk left the diner, Woronuk said he’d hate to see Phillips drive away from the restaurant and there be a reason to stop her. Carrier said just because she was a politician didn’t mean she’d get special treatment, she’d get a ticket.  

They left in separate cars. Carrier parked near the diner, caught up on reports and monitored the area for “prostitution-like activities.” He saw Phillips leave at 11:35 AM. He returned to headquarters at 12:06 PM.

Woronuk set up surveillance from his car. He saw a stakeholder leave in a blue Mazda and followed to see if the driver committed a driving infraction. He ran a licence plate search through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) “for assistance in case he lost the vehicle” (this is how Woronuk identified the owner as Harvey Locke, whether Woronuk knew Locke was a well-respected conservationist is not clear). Woronuk sent Carrier a screen shot of the CPIC search in a text.  

Woronuk lost the Mazda after five blocks; the other officer drove around the area looking for it but failed to find it.

The next day, using the name “Mike Corp”, Woronuk posted a Facebook photo of Phillips and the stakeholders and a long caption criticizing Phillips, the NDP government, and Harvey Locke. Woronuk was off duty at the time.  

Phillips brought a complaint to the Calgary Police Service. The CPS investigation resulted in Carrier receiving a two-year warning and Woronuk receiving a one-year warning.  

In the course of the CPS investigation, Woronuk submitted an Explanatory Report saying he’d identified Locke through internet searches. He omitted the fact he’d identified Locke through an unauthorized CPIC search.  

When Woronuk’s CPIC search came to light a second, a collateral investigation was commenced by the Medicine Hat Police Service (MHPS).  

On July 9, 2019 Carrier and Woronuk were charged with numerous counts of disciplinary misconduct relating to allegations of unauthorized surveillance and traffic enforcement. The officers entered “deny pleas” to all counts.   

On June 24, 2020, after almost a year of “hard-nosed negotiation” the officers entered “Admit” pleas to some of the charges—Woronuk admitted to corrupt practice (using his position for the personal advantage of himself or another), discreditable conduct, deceit and insubordination. Carrier admitted to discreditable conduct (being an accessory) and neglect of duty (failing to report Woronuk’s unauthorized CPIC search).

Penalty

The presiding officer at the MHPS hearing said all the right things: a police officer has extraordinary powers and an abuse of such powers is unacceptable. Policing must be conducted in a fair and unbiased manner. It is important that the public has utmost trust and confidence in the police service. Etc.

He characterized this case as one where the police officers put their self-interests ahead of their oath in office, (it’s not clear what exactly the officers hoped to accomplish by engaging in unauthorized surveillance and issuing traffic tickets to a citizen who’d just met with an NDP cabinet minister).

The presiding officer found that Woronuk targeted Phillips because he didn’t support Phillips’ policies and targeted Locke solely because he’d attended a meeting with Phillips. He said Woronuk admitted he had “no lawful reason to conduct his CPIC search and was motivated to do so by his personal and political views…” and that “the seriousness of … Woronuk’s misconduct cannot be understated…”

Woronuk was not dismissed, he was temporarily demoted to Constable 1st Class for two years. This would result in a loss of wages of $19,000.

With respect to Carrier, the presiding officer spoke about the importance of proper supervision, particularly in the rank of sergeant. He noted Carrier’s conversation with Woronuk outside the diner was “tacit approval” for Woronuk to proceed with his traffic enforcement plans and that Carrier failed in his duty as a supervisor by not addressing Woronuk’s actions with Woronuk after he’d discovered what Woronuk had done.

Carrier was temporarily demoted to Senior Constable Level II for one year. This was a wage loss of $11,600 and would impact his pension.    

Why weren’t these officers dismissed?

Because in Alberta, the police investigate themselves under a statement of principles developed by the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board in 1993. These principles, unlike the law governing termination of employment in the private sector, include an obligation to consider extenuating circumstances like:

  • length of service (here 23.5 years for Carrier and 19.5 years for Woronuk),
  • previous good record (yes, in both cases)
  • whether it was an isolated incident (yes)
  • premeditation (none)
  • provocation (Phillips was found not to have provoked the officers, however the presiding officer made a point of noting “…the members were motivated to act by what they perceived as an injustice with the proposed restrictions being placed in the Castle area.”)

Yes, we’ve reached the point in Alberta where imposing restrictions on camping, fishing and ATV-ing are considered an “injustice” by people entrusted to enforce the law.

So that’s it.

Woronuk engaged in unauthorized police surveillance of citizens and a minister of the Crown, his supervisor Carrier tacitly agreed to it, they got caught and will be temporarily demoted.   

As you might expect the NDP and the public don’t think this is good enough so Justice Minister Schweitzer asked ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team) to look into the matter. Every single one of ASIRT’s 22 investigators, as of 2018, were current or former cops.*

And we’re right back to where we started.  

ASIRT cops and former cops will be investigating a case previously investigated by the Medicine Hat Police Service (and adjudicated by a retired Calgary Police Service cop) which was originally investigated by the Calgary Police Service.

What the Justice Minister should have said was, enough, the unauthorized police surveillance of Albertans and a minister of the Crown will be investigated by an independent body.  

Why? Because it’s the only way to rebuilt public trust.  

*G&M July 16, 2020 p. A10

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 46 Comments

Kenney’s Recovery Plan: A Failure to Launch

Pfffft!

That’s the sound of Jason Kenney’s recovery plan as it sputters and lands like a limp balloon in the corner of the room.

Mr Kenney promised Albertans a “bold and ambitious plan,” a “game-changer” that will send a clear message to the world that Alberta is the best place to invest…then he delivered the same old, same old.

The plan

The plan offered $10 billion in infrastructure funding, however all but $1B of it was already spoken for in the Feb 2020 budget and the $1.5B equity investment and $6B loan guarantee for Keystone XL. Tsk tsk, it’s not really part of the recovery plan if you were going to do it anyway.

Then there was the drop in the corporate tax rate to 8%. Again, this isn’t new, it’s simply an acceleration of a tax cut scheduled to go into effect a year and a half from now. We all know how well the first one worked out: corporations used it to buy back shares, pay down debt, pay out dividends, or pocket the savings and hightail it to Denver. The one thing they didn’t do was create new jobs.

Mr Kenney explaining his recovery plan

The promise to diversify the economy is short on specifics and relies to some degree on the diversification policies implemented by the Notley government which were subsequently chopped by Kenney when he came into power.  So we’re making up for lost ground? 

The verbiage around advancing Alberta’s position as a leader in ESG (environmental, social, and governance criteria) is nice but there’s nothing concrete about how to do it. The one thing that does come through is Alberta’s enduring persecution complex: two of the four pillars of the ESG strategy promise to correct “mischaracterizations” and the inappropriate “targeting” of Alberta’s energy sector. Can we talk about the industry just once without whining?    

The most disingenuous commitment is the government’s promise to “continue to invest heavily in our most important resource—our people.” This is not a promise to increase investment in affordable daycare, affordable housing, or the healthcare and education sectors; it’s a promise to create an “investment promotion agency” called Invest Alberta to identify prospective investors and provide them with “concierge service” to help them navigate regulatory hurdles.  

What can I say: Trickle down economics is alive and well in Alberta.   

The moonshot

If Kenney really wanted to deliver a true game-changer, he would have given serious consideration to advice from people like Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan who said now is the time to go for the “moonshot” and develop a vision and a strategy to transition to a low carbon economy without leaving anyone behind,*  and to “follow the money” which people like Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, say is being invested in companies and jurisdictions committed to net-zero by 2050.  

Lastly, Kenney would stop clinging to the pre-Covid status quo and recognize the world is changing fast. The post-Covid normal is being driven by people who demand a more equitable and prosperous future for everyone not just the top one-percent; people whose conviction in the importance of addressing climate change has not wavered.  

We didn’t need the New York rating agency, Fitch, to downgrade Alberta because Kenney’s recovery plan lacks details, continues to rely on volatile natural resource revenues, and fails to put forward a planned path toward economic recovery, we can see that for ourselves.

Pfffft!  

*ARC Podcast interview : Peter Tertzakian and Jackie Forrest with Mr O’Regan   

Posted in Economics, Economy, Education, Energy & Natural Resources, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

Canada Day Greetings???

Question: When is a birthday greeting not a birthday greeting?

Answer: When it comes from a hypocrite.

Canadians will be receiving Happy Canada Day greetings from politicians at all levels of government this Wednesday, but there’s one politician, Jason Kenney, who really shouldn’t bother.  

Assuming his greeting is similar to last year’s message it will include references to the birth of the Dominion, our rights and freedoms under the British North America Act, First Nations, Indigenous Peoples, people not born here, WWI, WW2, and the Korean and Afghanistan wars.  

There are a number of reasons why this message is objectionable, not the least of which is the fact we live in Canada, not the Dominion, and those rights and freedoms Mr Kenney is so proud of are the same rights and freedoms he’s trampling with Bill 1. (Oh, and not to be picky, but the BNA Act has been called the Constitution Act since 1982).

But what makes Mr Kenney’s greeting truly objectionable is it will land in my inbox a couple of weeks after he released the Fair Deal Panel report.  

Fair Deal Panel Report

Like many Albertans I hesitate to give airtime to the FD Panel’s report which sets out recommendations to redress what Mr Kenney describes as the Federal government’s long-standing failure to make federalism work for Alberta. (Yes, I know, Stephen Harper was PM from 2006 to 2015, but “long-standing” in Mr Kenney’s parlance means “the Trudeau years”).

There are many problems with the FD report—law prof Nigel Bankes describes it as “poorly written and poorly reasoned”—but it’s biggest failing is it doesn’t deliver on Mr Kenney’s assertion that it would tamp down the flames of Western alienation.

In fact, it does the opposite.  

Oh sure, the FD Panel threw a few bones to Albertans demanding greater autonomy from Canada by recommending Alberta replace the RCMP with a provincial police force, appoint a chief firearms officer and create an Alberta Pension Plan to replace the CPP.

The icing on the cake is a recommendation that Alberta hold a referendum on equalization. Unfortunately, the “clear question” the Panel proposed as the referendum question was so thoroughly botched that Prof Bankes said a “yes” response would support at least three different meanings.  

The separatists

Mr Kenney may be satisfied that the FD Panel’s report provides a “pressure valve” against separatism, but groups like Action Alberta would disagree.  

In a recent newsletter Action Alberta presented two arguments to convince Albertans it’s time to leave: (1) fear of the deficiencies of confederation and (2) greed, or the desire to become as rich as Switzerland by ditching transfer payments, Alberta’s share of Canada’s debt, the GST, and jettisoning institutions like the Indian Act and bilingualism, etc.

All of this is premised on finding a new leader, preferably someone from the business community. (Perhaps they’ll consider UCP MLA Drew Barnes who was a member of the FD Panel but disagreed with the consensus report, arguing Albertans should be allowed to vote for independence if the federal government refused to accede to Alberta’s demands.)

So after spending Lord knows how much money on public hearings and town halls across the province, surveying 40,000 Albertans, telephone polling 1000 Albertans, and writing up the results in the report, the FD Panel failed to deliver the one thing Mr Kenney said it would deliver, it does nothing to address the sense of alienation and frustration some Albertans are experiencing.

This is not surprising given the way Panel’s mandate was structured and Mr Kenney’s apparent belief that he could walk Albertans, frustrated by the collapse of the energy sector, to the edge of the abyss, let them vent for a while and then walk them back into the fold where they would join him in railing against the federal government and the other provinces they blame for getting in their way.  

The Fair Deal hearing process did not act as a “pressure valve” to ease separatist angst, but as a pressure cooker that solidified the separatist position.

And insipid Happy Canada Day greetings from the premier will not paper over the corrosive mess he’s created.

Posted in Celebrations, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 34 Comments

Kenney’s Answer to Systemic Racism: The Tinkerbell Effect

“This time it’s different.” – Masai Ujiri, president of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors

The death of George Floyd ignited extraordinary protests around the world. Black, brown, and indigenous people and their supporters are saying this time it’s different.

Albertans joined thousands of people across the globe calling on their leaders to address systemic racism in their institutions and their places of work.

Based on the Legislative debate on two motions on systemic racism, it appears the call for Mr Kenney to show leadership will be ignored.      

Two motions*

The NDP presented a motion asking the government to create a province-wide panel to examine and make recommendations with respect to systemic racism in Alberta. The panel would be made up of members of the Anti-Racism Advisory Council, provincial indigenous leadership, and Black Lives Matter (Alberta) and would bring back its findings and recommendations by October 1, 2020.

Given that panels are near and dear to the UCP government’s heart, one would have thought they’d leap at the chance to convene a panel that would focus on something real for a change.

Nope. Afraid not.

Mr Kenney said he was pleased we were having “social debate on the evil of racism” but the only thing his government intends to do is pass a motion that condemns racism and all forms of bigotry and hatred, affirms Alberta’s commitment to human dignity and the equality of all before the law, acknowledges the pernicious and durable nature of antiblack racism, acknowledges the tragic history of racism directed at indigenous people in Canada, and also urges the government to consider these issues in the context of the Police Act review.

Mr Kenney

Wow, the only concrete step Mr Kenney is prepared to make to address systemic racism is to consider it in the context of the Police Act review, which Mr Schweitzer, the justice minister, says will include reaching out to First Nations police chiefs and indigenous leadership. Schweitzer hasn’t mentioned consulting with blacks and people of colour, hopefully he’ll correct this oversight immediately.

Tinkering with the Police Act to address systemic racism which, by definition, is racism embedded in our society and institutions including the criminal justice system, employment, housing, health care, education and politics just doesn’t cut it.

Why won’t UCP go there?

Given Mr Kenney’s position that systemic racism can be addressed by fiddling with a mechanism in our criminal justice system, the government should have been amenable to the NDP’s amendment* to the Parole Board Act which will allow Alberta to set up its own provincial parole board.

Nope. Afraid not.

Kathleen Ganley, the NDP justice critic, proposed an amendment that would require the 5 to 9 member board to include at least one member who represents the indigenous community and one member who represents other minority communities that are  disproportionately represented in prisons.

The UCP government objected to this amendment for a number of reasons, none of which made sense. They said:

  • It would increase the minimum number of parole members (well, you could replace two white parole board members with two minority members, couldn’t you?)
  • The government would have to find a qualified minority parole board candidate who was actually interested in the task. (Are you seriously saying that in all of Alberta you can’t find two members of minority communities who are both qualified and interested in parole matters?)
  • The parole board will have its own processes that are “culturally sensitive” to minority offenders which will be much more effective than having an actual representative of that minority community on the board.  
  • The amendment is offensive because it’s a quota. No one needs quotas, all they need is to “take the first step”, network, and they’ll succeed.

Good lord.     

The Tinkerbell Effect  

It is true that Mr Kenney condemned racism as “an unqualified evil” and “a sickness of the soul” but when he suggested racism could be rooted out by “the power of relationships” where individuals reach out to each other and try to understand each other, he fell prey to the Tinkerbell Effect (believe in something hard enough and it will happen). Sorry premier, that’s a fairy tale.

Given Mr Kenney’s faith in the power of the individual to eradicate systemic racism, it’s not surprising his government dismantled Rachel Notley’s programs to combat racism.

The UCP government is no longer actively funding the Anti-Racism Advisory Council which was established by the NDP to evaluate the action plans against racism (these plans are outlined in the Taking Action Against Racism report). The Council hasn’t met in months.

The UCP government terminated community grant programs like the human rights education fund and the antiracism community group program established by the NDP to help communities combat racism and increase awareness.

All of this leads us to the conclusion that while Masai Ujiri may be right and this time it’s different, in Alberta this will be true in spite of Kenney’s leadership, not because of it.  

*See Alberta Hansard June 16, 2020 starting at p 1386

*See Alberta Hansard June 16, 2020 starting at p 1415

Posted in Crime and Justice, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 27 Comments

Systemic Racism in Alberta

“This is hard to watch but it’s important. We cannot ignore that systemic racism persists in Alberta and across the world.” – Rachel Notley commenting on the video of the RCMP taking down Fort Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam

We were grappling with the harsh reality of our own racism, past and present, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, when the video of the Wood Buffalo RCMP taking down Chief Allan Adam and manhandling his wife came to light.

Chief Adam was beaten and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer after being stopped for an expired licence plate. He spent the night in jail.  

The RCMP reviewed the video and determined “the member’s actions were reasonable.”  

Asked whether systemic racism existed in the force both the RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Alberta’s RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, said it did not. They later reversed their positions.

It’s painfully obvious that systemic and institutional racism and racial discrimination exist in Canada and we must do much more to ensure equity for black, indigenous and people of colour in policing, housing, healthcare, education and the justice system.    

Structural change

We need what Anthony Morgan, a racial justice lawyer and manager of Confronting Anti-Black Racism, describes as structural change.

Our governments must identify and implement structural changes because, as NDP MLA David Sheperd put it, “black, brown, and indigenous Canadians are tired of experiencing…the same cycle of violence, speaking out, hearing empty promises, and watching us take short, fleeting glances at the truth before covering it back up again.”*

Last year the federal government developed an anti-racism strategy and created an Anti-Racism Secretariat to lead a “whole of government” approach to addressing racism and racial discrimination. It’s a start.

Unfortunately, the Alberta government is going nowhere. This became painfully obvious in the government’s response to the anti-racism protests and the brutal arrest of Chief Allan Adam.  

Mr Kenney

Government responds  

In a recent interview Mr Kenney was asked to provide specifics of what role his government will play in addressing systemic racism in Alberta.

He had none. He did, however, remind everyone of the perils of attending rallies during the covid-19 crisis.

To be fair Kenney acknowledged racism as a legitimate issue; but veered away from placing any responsibility or accountability on the government to redress it. Apparently, racism is society’s problem and it’s up to society to “redouble” its efforts to address it.  

This is peculiar given his next statement in which he proudly described his efforts as Harper’s multiculturalism minister in redressing racist policies like the Chinese head tax and exclusion act. (He failed to mention that 10% of the $5 million set aside to redress these polices was clawed back by his government, or that in 2011 as federal immigration minister he banned face coverings at citizenship ceremonies, or that in 2015 he supported Harper’s niqab ban and barbaric cultural practices tip line.)

A couple of days after Kenney’s nothingburger press conference, Justice Minister Schweitzer issued a press release saying the government was responding to Albertans’ outrage over “an appalling act of police brutality” in the US (actually there’s been more than one appalling act of brutality and the US and Canada) by expediting the modernization of the Police Act in consultation with police chiefs, First Nations, minority community leaders and other stakeholders, and calling on the federal public safety minister to review the legislation and regs governing the RCMP.

Given how skimpy this announcement was, the NDP Opposition used Question Period to seek clarity on the specifics of what the Kenney government would do to address systemic and institutional racism in Alberta.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Kenney doesn’t want to talk about it. In the last week he did not respond to a single question on the topic, deferring instead to his justice minister. This is curious given Kenney’s habit of leaping to his feet to answer Opposition questions directed to his cabinet ministers. Surely systemic discrimination in policing, a matter that should be near and dear to the heart of the law and order premier, is as important as healthcare and education.
  • The Indigenous Relations minister doesn’t want to talk about it either. He too deferred to the justice minister.  
  • The Justice Minister’s stock answer to every question is a variant on…wait for it…we’re modernizing the Police Act in consultation with First Nations, minority community leaders and other stakeholders and have asked the federal public safety minister to review the laws and regs governing the RCMP.  

We also learned:

  • Schweitzer is “open to having a complete dialogue around the future of policing” which sounded promising until he added he’s increased funding for more police officers, this preempts any dialogue on defunding which by definition would shift funding from policing to mental health and drug addiction services, not increase it.
  • The government will not create an independent panel, with members from the anti-racism advisory council, indigenous leadership and Black Lives Matter, to hold public hearings into systemic racism. Cough. Is this not as worthy an issue as getting a “fair deal” for Alberta and stopping anti-Alberta energy activists?  
  • The government cut funding for anti-racism grants and the human rights education and multiculturalism fund that has supported the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee since 2002.
  • The government failed to seek guidance from its own resource, the Anti-Racism Advisory Council, with respect to the problem of systemic racism.  
  • The justice minister (who’s been at it for a year) has not yet pushed the Feds for additional funding to support hiring more indigenous police officers despite the fact that placing indigenous officers in indigenous communities is one of the best ways to build trust.   

There was one small win though. The Education Minister committed to completing the work the NDP government had started in integrating black history into the school curriculum. Let’s hope she means it.  

Where does this leave us?

What we learned this past week is that the Alberta government can’t be bothered to talk the talk let alone walk the walk.

So it’s up to us. We must learn our history, move past denial, listen and become an ally, put pressure on the power brokers and decision makers including our MLAs, to take meaningful action to eliminate systemic discrimination and, when the time comes as it inevitably will, show up at the demonstrations to ensure black, brown and Indigenous Canadians do not stand alone.

*Alberta Hansard, June 8, 2020, p 1137

Posted in Crime and Justice, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

The Ignominy of Kenney’s Bill 1

 As Albertans flooded into the streets to join the hundreds of thousands of people around the world protesting systemic racism and police brutality, some of us worried about the UCP government’s move to limit our right to engage in peaceful protests by enacting Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act.

The UCP government dismisses such concerns as ridiculous (or words to that effect).

According to Jason Kenney the purpose of Bill 1 is to “strengthen penalties against those who would lawlessly trespass or jeopardize public safety by seeking to block critical public infrastructure, including roadways, railways, and other important infrastructure.”

Perhaps Mr Kenney was having an “earplugs moment” during the debate on Bill 1. Had he been listening he would have understood that Bill 1 goes way beyond this purpose.  

As NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley pointed out: (1) Bill 1 is unnecessary, we already have laws that prevent illegal trespass on public and private property, namely the Trespass to Premises Act and the Petty Trespass Act, (we also have laws against looting and vandalism in the Criminal Code) and (2) Bill 1 is so broadly drafted that it makes it a crime to be present (let alone protest) on unmarked public property without permission.  

Mr Schweitzer and Mr Kenney

How? By giving the UCP Cabinet the blanket power to prohibit citizens from entering places it designates as “essential infrastructure.”

Essential infrastructure includes an exhaustive list of facilities, utilities, communications towers, mines, highways, roads, etc. The land on which these things are located and any land used in connection with these things are also essential infrastructure.

And if that isn’t enough Bill 1 contains a “basket clause” that scoops up “a building, structure, a device or other thing prescribed by the regulations” as essential infrastructure.

There are no limitations on Cabinet’s power under the basket clause; no criteria under which Cabinet must whether something is essential infrastructure or not. If Cabinet gets it into its head that the park at the end of my street is a piece of essential infrastructure, then it’s a piece of essential infrastructure.   

And if someone enters on essential infrastructure without “lawful right, justification, or excuse” they’re guilty of an offence and liable for a fine of up to $10,000 a day ($25,000 for a second offence) and/or six months in jail.

Let’s take an example.

What if we want to protest in front of the Legislative Building? Do we have to scour the Orders-in-Council to see whether Cabinet passed a regulation designating the Leg to be “essential infrastructure”? If Cabinet did designate the Legislature to be “essential infrastructure” do we have to get permission (from whom?) to make speeches, chant, and wave signs on the front steps? If we don’t have proof of permission to stand in front of the Leg when the police show up, are we and the organizers of the protest going to be slapped with hefty fines and/or jail time? 

Or are we still free to exercise our Charter rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly?

Overreaction?

When the Opposition raised these and other concerns, the UCP told them they were overreacting.  

Overreacting???

Browse through Hansard and check out why the UCP decided this draconian piece of legislation was its number one priority for this session.*    

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the UCP government tabled Bill 1 at “a time of turmoil in Canada. We had lawlessness across this country, where critical infrastructure was being obstructed.” He asked, “are we going to be a country of anarchy or a country of the rule of law?” The “turmoil” he was referring to was the blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

Other UCP MLAs riffed on the theme of “virtual anarchy across the land” where “a small group of radicals [held] our economy hostage through illegal blockades and protests.”

Turmoil? Lawlessness? Anarchy? An economy held hostage?

These are inflammatory words rooted in propaganda, not a legitimate justification for the state’s decision to curtail its citizens’ Charter rights.

The UCP denies it’s trying to subvert citizens’ right to protest. Mr Barnes made it “absolutely clear, right here, right now” [that] the right to freedom of speech and to protest does not give anyone the ability to commit illegal acts in the name of that right.”

First, we’re talking about peaceful assembly, a fundamental right under the Charter, not a bunch of anarchists throwing Molotov cocktails.   

Second, by letting Cabinet designate anything it sees fit to be essential infrastructure, Cabinet has the power to turn what would otherwise be a legal protest into an illegal protest simply by passing a last minute regulation deeming the meeting place to be “designated infrastructure”. The protesters would not realize they’d entered “designated infrastructure” or that they needed to get permission to be there.    

In the words of constitutional lawyer David Khan, Bill 1 criminalizes Albertan’s Charter rights of freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association.**

And for what?

Silencing protesters under Bill 1 won’t raise the price of oil, it won’t bring back oil demand that’s fallen off due to Covid-19, and it won’t create jobs by attracting investment—investors are looking for companies that effectively manage environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks, not those that are located in a province that suppresses citizens’ Charter rights.

Albertans won’t stop protesting in the streets. Some will be arrested and fined and jailed for violating the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act. But they’ll keep protesting until the Act works its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada and is struck down.

And Mr Kenney’s legacy will include the ignominy of trying to curtail our right to peaceful protest when the world was in the streets protesting for justice, freedom and equity.    

*Alberta Hansard: search “Bill 1” starting at Feb 4, 2020

**For an excellent overview of the Charter issues please see David Khan’s comments at https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1268209693370880000.html

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Jason Kenney’s Minuscule Pandemic Bump

He’s tried everything from rolling up his shirtsleeves and pointing at graphs to quoting Franklin Roosevelt (“we have nothing to fear but fear itself”), but still Albertans refuse to give him his due.   

Jason Kenney’s pandemic performance gave him a one point bump in approval ratings (from 47 to 48 percent), while Doug Ford shot up 38 points to 69%, John Horgan climbed 25 points to 71% and Quebec’s Francois Legault rose 22 points to 77%.

Jason Kenney rolls up his sleeves

One lousy percentage point; despite the fact Alberta has the lowest per capita rates of hospitalization and ICU admissions and deaths amongst what Kenney calls “the large-population provinces” (Ont and Que) and is, he says, “essentially” tied with BC.

Why?

Perhaps because Kenney continues to say and do things that undermine Albertans’ trust.

Erosion of public trust

In the Legislative Assembly debate on Covid-19 and in subsequent interviews Kenney said:

  • Covid-19 is “a form of influenza”. It’s not.
  • The death toll from covid-19 from March 5 to May 27 was 139.* Yes, and the death toll from flu in the entire 2018/19 flu season was 30. Covid-19 is much more lethal than the flu.
  • Albertans have a very high level of immune resistance, immunity, and resilience against an influenza of this nature. The Buffalo People, or whatever he’s calling us nowadays, are no more immune than anyone else and Dr Kirsten Fiest, a real epidemiologist, says there is limited evidence that people who’ve been exposed to covid-19 are immune and if so to what degree.
  • Epidemiologists assessing the threat of covid-19 look at past experiences and our Public Health Act specifically refers to an influenza pandemic. So what, that doesn’t make covid-19 a form of influenza.
  • In support of Kenney’s claim of immunity, his press secretary referred to media coverage about people who tested positive but were asymptomatic. Ever heard of Typhoid Mary? Asymptomatic doesn’t mean you’re immune, it means you don’t have symptoms but can still infect others.  
  • The average age of death from covid-19 in Alberta is 83, our average life expectancy is 82. And your point is?
  • The government did not overreact, it did not impose a lockdown. It just asked sick people to stay home and everyone to practice social distancing. It didn’t shut down manufacturing or construction. It didn’t micromanage every aspect of Albertans’ social and economic lives. Huh? Sounds like Kenney is feeling pressure from the Trumpian “LIBERATE!!!” crowd.

Downplaying the severity of the coronavirus does not serve Alberta well. It simply sets us up for a second wave that will be even more devastating to lives and livelihoods than the first.

Pandemic smoke screen

To make matters worse, Kenney’s government is using the pandemic to further his political agenda.

His health minister continues to attack public healthcare by cutting doctors’ compensation (they’re supposed to defend themselves in the midst of a pandemic, right?). His education minister attacked public education by laying off 26,000 educational assistants, substitute teachers, and support staff on the pretext of redirecting $128 million to Alberta’s covid-19 response.   

Alberta’s environmental laws have been virtually negated by the Alberta Energy Regulator which suspended environmental monitoring and reporting requirements due to unspecified covid-19 public health concerns. Kenney and the environment minister claim they can’t do anything about it, despite the fact Cabinet and the environment minister appoint the AER board and CEO and can unappoint them in a heartbeat.

Kenney’s energy minister says the pandemic is great for pipeline construction because “you can’t have protests of more than 15 people.” Her comment made international headlines. The environment minister supported her, saying she was simply stating the obvious and the government will do everything possible to get what he called Alberta’s clean natural resources to market. Clean?

It’s happening at a whirlwind pace under the radar, but we see it and we know that taking advantage of the pandemic to promote private interests at the expense of public health, public education, and the environment is unworthy of a democratic government that professes to have the public interest at heart.  

And that, my dears, why Kenney’s approval rating is stuck at 48%.

*Death toll is now at 143, one of the people who died was in the 20-29 age bracket.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Disasters, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 45 Comments

The Day Kenney Bet $7.5 Billion on the US Election

In September 2019 Jason Kenney began negotiating with TC Energy to invest $7.5 billion in cash and loan guarantees in the Keystone XL pipeline.

In March 2020 Kenney announced negotiations were complete and the government had signed an agreement which he said had been rigorously vetted by the government and outside experts to ensure the success of KXL while also minimizing the risk to Alberta taxpayers.

This week the Joe Biden campaign announced Biden would rescind the KXL pipeline permit if he were elected president in November 2020.

The political risk became very real, but Kenney was unperturbed.   

He said “we entered into this, eyes wide open, recognizing that there was of course a political risk”. His energy minister, Sonya Savage, said “rather than speculating about the outcome of the US election, we will spend our time continuing to meet with our US allies and speak to Alberta’s role in supporting North American energy independence and security.”

Mr Kenney with his eyes wide open

Well of course there is no point in speculating about the outcome of the US election, Jason Kenney ran those odds in the fall of 2019 and concluded it was a safe bet Trump would win when he plunked $7.5 billion of taxpayers’ money on a single spin of the roulette wheel.

Now he’s responding to Biden’s campaign promise as he always does when one of his harebrained decisions threatens to blow up in his face: he’s filling the air waves with bafflegab and is lining up people (Obama, Trudeau, Gerry Butts) to blame if his bet goes sideways.

Bafflegab

Kenney told Albertans their $7.5 billion is safe because:

  • He’s organizing allies, ie pro-pipeline American governors and American unionized workers who are building KXL. What does he expect them to do, convince voters to vote for Trump, not Biden?
  • He might lodge a complaint with an international trade body. Like what with whom? The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in NAFTA 2.0 were scaled back and Canadian investors can no longer commence direct arbitration proceedings against the US government. Instead they can try to convince the Canadian government to make a claim against the US government (good luck with that) or bring a claim in a domestic (US) court and argue what? That a presidential order that gives the president “unreviewable authority” is in fact “reviewable” by the courts at the behest of Alberta?
  • He’ll use whatever legal means are available to protect Alberta’s fiscal and economic interests. Assuming the American courts are prepared to review the president’s “unreviewable authority”, litigation takes years to work its way through the judicial system, TC Energy’s obligation to repay Kenney’s $1.5 billion equity investment is not triggered until after construction is completed.  The $1.5 billion will be tied up for decades.     
  • He wants to get as much of KXL built as possible and he can’t imagine a U.S. president would require thousands of miles of pipe be pulled out of the ground eight or nine months from now. Two issues here: (1) the pace of construction is decided by TC Energy, not Jason Kenney (we’re still dealing with Covid-19, remember) and (2) the president’s “unreviewable authority” over pipelines crossing the Canada/US border applies to existing pipelines as well as new ones, so there’s nothing stopping Biden from requiring TC Energy to pull the pipe out of the ground.    
  • He fully expects “any United States’ president, regardless of party or platform, to tread very carefully before undermining the single most important bilateral economic project in which a Canadian company and a Canadian government are investing massively to create jobs in the United States as well as in Canada.” Yes, throwing around words like “bilateral” and “Canadian  government” creates the impression that this is bigger than it is, but there is nothing “bilateral” about a private sector pipeline company seeking regulatory approval from the US government to cross the Canada/US border. The only difference between KXL and other cross border pipelines like the Enbridge mainline, TC Energy Keystone, and Spectra Express is the other three managed to go it alone. Alberta’s $7.5 billion investment does not magically transform KXL into a bilateral blah blah blah that no president would dare to impede.
  • He said the $6 billion in loan guarantees won’t be triggered until the 2021 construction season. If Biden is elected, he won’t be sworn in until January 2021. What happens if Biden doesn’t revoke the permit right away (Trump didn’t get around to issuing the original permit until March 2017), does Kenney have the power to force TC Energy to delay the 2021 construction season?

Eyes Wide Shut

Joe Biden entered the presidential race on April 25, 2019 almost a full year before Kenney announced his government’s investment in KXL. Kenney can say whatever he likes about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of Biden rescinding the presidential permit, but one thing he can’t say is that Biden’s position comes as a surprise.  

No one forced the man who holds the pen to sign away $7.5 billion in cash and loan guarantees on a project fraught with political risk over which he has no control or influence.

Kenney placed a heavy bet on the success of the Trump campaign team. In six months’ time we’ll find out whether it’s Kenney or Biden who gets to put KXL on their “promises made, promises delivered” list.

That may feel like eyes wide open to Mr Kenney, but it feels like eyes wide shut and fingers crossed to the rest of us.

Posted in Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 36 Comments