About Those Ear Plugs…

Sigh.  I expected to spend the next four years writing letters to my MLA, Doug Schweitzer, but I didn’t think the first one would be about ear plugs.

But we play the cards we’re dealt so here goes. 

Dear Hon. Doug Schweitzer, Justice Minister and Solicitor General,

I’m a lawyer with 26 years of experience in the energy sector, including over a decade as General Counsel, VP Law.  I’m also one of your constituents here in Calgary-Elbow.  I’m writing to express my concern over what appears to be confusion on your part about your responsibilities as Justice Minister & Solicitor General.

Let’s start with first principles (government must operate democratically, transparently and with respect for all Albertans, not just those who voted UCP) and work our way down to the petty details (ear plugs).

As Justice Minister you’re the legal advisor to Cabinet responsible for the administration of justice for all the policy areas within provincial jurisdiction.  As Solicitor General you are Alberta’s chief legal officer, responsible for conducting all litigation and upholding the Alberta Bill of Rights, the rule of law, etc.

Over the last week the UCP government engaged in conduct that you as Justice Minister & Solicitor General should have prevented. 

Doug Schweitzer Justice Minister & Solicitor General

Which brings me to civility…and ear plugs.

Civility   

Mr Kenney addressed the subject of civil discourse his victory speech when he said it was his hope that he and Ms Notley would not allow their disagreements to “diminish our respect for one another as Albertans who are devoted to making life better for our fellow citizens…it is my hope that we can work together to stop the coarsening of our public discourse.  To raise the bar of civility and respect.  And while we will always have disagreements, as we should in a democracy, let us seek to express them without being disagreeable.” 

Such fine words, so little staying power. 

Under your watch as Justice Minister and legal advisor to Cabinet, the gong show otherwise known as the First Session of the 30th Legislature sank into snarkiness with Mr Kenney railing against “NDP-affiliated union bosses” and implying they’re aligned with “Socialist International” and belittling academics who supported the NDP’s carbon tax as guys who “prance around” (prance?). 

When churlish words failed him, Mr Kenney distributed ear plugs to his MLAs so they wouldn’t have to listen to the NDP Opposition speaking out against the UCP’s Bill 9 which will delay arbitration talks with public sector employees who gave up wage hikes in return for a promise that such talks would take place now. 

Mr Kenney issued a media release describing the stunt as a “light-hearted attempt to boost Government Caucus morale after being forced to listen to the NDP’s insults…”  

As we both know from our work in the private sector, when a publicly traded corporation issues a media release it is obligated by securities laws to ensure the release does not include any material misrepresentations or omissions.  I had hoped that given Mr Kenney’s deep respect for the private sector, you would have applied the same high standard to government media releases. 

I was wrong.

So, I ask you as the government’s top lawyer trained in the securities laws relating to media releases, which part boosted the UCP government’s morale? The government’s decision to pull the rug out from under public sector employees who agreed in good faith to delay wage talks?  The government’s lack of respect for the sanctity of contract and collective bargaining rights?  The government’s decision to ridicule the democratic process of law-making by blocking their ears?          

Would you care to comment on Mr Kenney’s second explanation, that he was playing Florence Nightingale and wanted to ease a caucus member’s tinnitus?

I understand that someone who’s never worked in private sector may not understand the seriousness of his comments, but you’re a lawyer with extensive legal experience in restructuring and bankruptcy.  Your Cabinet page says your legal experience makes you “uniquely positioned to get to work on day one and deliver results for Albertans.”   

As a lawyer you have a duty that others do not.

A Lawyer’s Duty

The Law Society Code of Conduct says lawyers have a duty to “observe the highest standards of conduct on both a personal and professional level so as to retain the trust, respect and confidence of colleagues and members of the public” and this duty applies to all lawyers including those in public office. 

This duty is put in a broader context by Timothy Snyder in his book On Tyranny which sets out 20 ways to avoid sliding into tyranny.  One is to defend our institutions, including the institution of respectful debate in the Legislature, the other is to stay true to our professional ethics when political leaders set a bad example. 

It won’t be easy Mr Schweitzer, but you weren’t elected to be Mr Kenney’s sycophant, you were elected to represent your constituents in Calgary-Elbow.  When Mr Kenney put you into Cabinet as Alberta’s Justice Minister and Solicitor General, he made you responsible for the administration of justice for four million Albertans. 

Please don’t let us down. 

Sincerely,

Susan Wright

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Crime and Justice, Employment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 34 Comments

Sisters’ Weekend

Ms Soapbox just returned from a fabulous long weekend in Victoria with her sisters.  As a result I wasn’t terribly focused on the machinations of our politicians.  Did I miss anything?    

Posted in Uncategorized | 30 Comments

GSAs in Alberta (Even Doug Ford Does It Better)

It started when the Kenney government introduced Bill 8, the Education Amendment Act which they said would provide “the strongest statutory protections” for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the country. 

It ended with a news release issued by Education Minister LaGrange late Friday afternoon on “the protections for students under the Education Act.” 

The News Release

Here’s the release and Ms Soapbox’s comment in italics. 

The release is entitled “Protecting LGBTQ2S+ students”.  (Good start considering Ms LaGrange couldn’t bring herself to say the word “gay” a week ago). 

 

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange

“With the passionate debate taking place in the legislature about Bill 8, I feel it’s important to clarify a few important misconceptions about student protections under the Education Act.  (“Passionate” is an understatement.  Government House Leader Jason Nixon threw himself into the breach so many times to defend Bill 8, Ms LeGrange and Solicitor General, Doug Schweitzer, one suspects he didn’t trust them to speak for themselves).  

“To be absolutely clear: our government opposes mandatory parental notification of student involvement in inclusion groups, and Alberta will have among the most comprehensive statutory protections for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Canada.  (True, Bill 8 doesn’t make parental notification “mandatory”, but it doesn’t go far enough to prevent them from being outed, see below. The comment that Alberta “will have among the most comprehensive statutory protections” is Ms LaGrange backing away from Mr Nixon’s assertion (20 times) that Bill 8 provides the most comprehensive statutory protection for LGBTQ students in the country).    

“Once requested by students, creating a GSA is not optional. In Alberta, like Manitoba and Ontario, the Education Act specifically guarantees in legislation that students are entitled to create inclusion groups, including GSAs and QSAs. Compared to legislation in Ontario and Manitoba, the Education Act provides greater direction regarding the appointment of a staff liaison for the student organization. 

“With amendments introduced through Bill 8, we are also clarifying that board obligations regarding welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments, policies and publicly available student codes of conduct apply to all publicly funded schools – including accredited private schools.  (Nothing says “welcoming and respectful” like Bill 8 which will allow a school to drag its feet until the kids give up or if they form a club, prevent them from referring to themselves as “gay” or “queer”).     

Reference has also been made to Nova Scotia and British Columbia, which have no overarching provincial statutes protecting GSAs. Unlike the Education Act, British Columbia’s ministry directive and Nova Scotia’s provincial policy are not enshrined in provincial legislation.  (Legislation passed by Ontario, ministerial orders passed by BC and policies enacted by Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provide stronger protections than Bill 8, and as any lawyer knows all of these instruments are enforceable). 

“The privacy of students is also protected under Alberta’s strict privacy laws. Schools cannot disclose a student’s membership in any inclusion group, as there are student privacy considerations that trump other legislation, including the Education Act and the previous government’s Bill 24.

“All school authorities are required to follow privacy legislation: publicly funded schools must follow the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and private schools must adhere to the Personal Information Protection Act. School authorities may only disclose personal information if authorized under these laws.  (Quick, grab the Solicitor General before he slips away and ask him to read the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) and the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) because the claim they will protect a student’s privacy is overstated.  

FOIP applies to a “local public body”.  The definition of “local public body” includes “an educational body”, so yes, FOIP applies to schools.  However, Section 17(2)(j)(iii) states it is not an “unreasonable invasion” of privacy to disclose someone’s attendance at or participation in ‘a public event or activity related to a public body, including a graduation ceremony, sporting event, cultural program or club, or field trip’ unless pursuant to section 17(3) the person requests the information not be disclosed.  So, unless a student gives their principal (written?) notice they don’t want their membership in a GSA disclosed (and assuming the principal doesn’t misplace or forget he’s received such notice), the student’s membership in a GSA is not private. 

PIPA applies to private schools that are incorporated under the Societies Act or the Companies Act. A school may not disclose whether a student belongs to a GSA without the student’s consent except where such disclosure is required by law or relates to an emergency.*

Now here’s the tricky part, under FOIP and PIPA schools can’t force students to consent to disclose whether they belong to a GSA, however if the student is under 18, the student’s right to consent may be exercised by his/her guardian under certain circumstances, eg under FOIP the school must believe the release of this information is not an “unreasonable invasion” of privacy.  

So where does that leave us? 

Principals and schools boards better put their lawyers on speed dial to ensure they’re complying with the privacy laws that “trump” Bill 8, and students who want to join a GSA must understand the risk of being outed by schools that do not understand their obligations of confidentiality as set out in the privacy laws.

“We also recognize every child is unique and every circumstance is different. Legislation needs to balance protecting children and their privacy with the rights of parents, so children are getting the supports they need. Though it would be rare, disclosure of GSA/QSA membership would only be justified on the basis that the disclosure would avert or minimize a risk of harm. (True, FOIP section 17(2)(b) allows schools to disclose a student’s information if there are “compelling circumstances” affecting the student’s health or safety and with “written notice” to the student, but such disclosure must be about the student’s health/safety, not their membership in a GSA). 

“Unlike the previous government, we trust professional educators to navigate these difficult situations to do what is in the best interest of kids. No responsible teacher or principal would ever reveal a child’s sexual orientation. This approach provides a clear balance between student privacy and parental rights – a balance and clarity that was not found in Bill 24.  (The opposite is true. The balance under Bill 8 is tipped in favour of parents and Minister LaGrange’s commentary on Bill 8 is so confusing the Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton issued an advisory to ensure schools understood their obligations to student privacy).

“Our government believes that the safety of students in school is paramount. I am looking forward to engaging students, parents, teachers and administrators as we work together to build a modern education system which supports all students.”  (Minster LaGrange consulted with the Parents for Choice, there’s no indication she consulted with the experts who insist Bill 8 is harmful, or the hundreds of people who rallied in support of GSAs or the 60 kids who’ve written their MLAs begging the UCP government not to proceed with Bill 8).

As shocking as it may sound, when it comes to GSAs Alberta would be better off with Doug Ford.

*Updated to reflect the comments made by Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton.

Sources: Alberta Hansard June 11 to 13, 2019

FOIP https://www.canlii.org/en/ab/laws/stat/rsa-2000-c-f-25/latest/rsa-2000-c-f-25.html

PIPA https://www.canlii.org/en/ab/laws/stat/sa-2003-c-p-6.5/latest/sa-2003-c-p-6.5.html  

Posted in Education, Politics and Government, Privacy and Surveillance | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Mr Kenney’s Speech on Bill No. 1

Mr Kenney and Bill No. 1

There comes a time for politicians who spent the campaign trail foaming with righteous indignation to transform into thoughtful representatives of the people who elected them.      

Sadly, for Mr Kenney that time did not come before he rose in the Legislature to speak to Bill No 1, An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax.

Mr Kenney started his speech by saying his party had been created “for this moment, the opportunity to remove this huge dead-weight cost that punishes hard-working people living ordinary lives in this province.”  And here we thought his purpose was to unite the conservative movement and conquer Ottawa…oops, sorry, Edmonton. 

Mr Kenney

Given Mr Kenney’s majority, one would have expected the premier’s speech to be relatively straightforward, but it didn’t unfold that way.     

Principles?  

Rather than sticking with the “promise made, promise kept” story line, Mr Kenney started with an angry description of the “history” of the carbon tax—it was “a huge act of political deception” imposed on Albertans without their democratic consent to punish them for the “crime” of heating their houses and filling their gas tanks.  Now, now Mr Kenney, the 600,000 plus Albertans who voted NDP in the 2019 election didn’t see it that way.          

After this salvo Mr Kenney tried to calm himself.    

He promised to be “objective and fair” in representing the views of Professor Andrew Leach and others who said a carbon tax is more efficient than regulation and can be an efficient form of environmental policy if it is applied in accordance with four principles.   

Then he set out the principles the NDP carbon tax failed to meet.  

Battle stations everyone, logical fallacies in-coming!  

Principle #1:  Carbon taxes are more efficient than regulations

Mr Kenney could not refute the fact the NDP met this principle: it imposed a carbon tax instead of regulations to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions so he threw red herrings around the room, starting with the NDP carbon tax not being a “utopian carbon tax” (did anyone say it was?) and falling back on campaign rhetoric (see “history” above).  He noted the tax was not revenue neutral which may be true but isn’t relevant in the context of the principle that a tax is better than a regulation.   

Principle #2:  Carbon taxes must replace offsetting regulations

Mr Kenney made this one up.  It’s part of his red-tape nightmare scenario.  While it wasn’t clear exactly what point Mr Kenney was trying to make it sounded like he expected the government to reduce or eliminate regulations concerning the health, safety and environmental impacts of energy exploration, production and transportation simply because it implemented a tax to reduce GHG emissions. 

Principle #3:  Carbon taxes should be “notionally progressive”

Mr Kenney lost it with this one.  He said the NDP talked “ad nauseam about rebates” but only 40% of carbon tax revenues were rebated back to “a select number of individuals in about 60% of Alberta households.” 

If you ignore the indignant preamble, it’s obvious Mr Kenney agrees that the NDP carbon tax satisfied Principle #3.

In fact, the NDP carbon tax raised $1.8 billion, which was either rebated to families earning less than $95,000/year and singles earning less than $47,500/year or reinvested in green projects.

Higher income Albertans didn’t get rebates.  That’s how progressive taxes work.   

Given that Mr Kenney failed to make his case on the facts, he embarked on a flight of fancy alleging the NDP were in cahoots with the Trudeau Liberals who were going to increase the carbon tax to $300/tonne.  This was an irresponsible misstatement.  The federal carbon tax started at $20/tonne in 2019.  It will rise by $10/tonne per year until it reaches $50/tonne in 2022 where it will stay.    

For good measure Mr Kenney implied the NDP were secretly planning to raise the carbon tax to $5000/tonne in accordance with a paper published by the UN International Panel on Climate Change. 

Where does he get this stuff?

Principle #4: A carbon tax must be of general application to be effective

This is Mr Kenney’s attempt to justify doing nothing while we wait for the world to catch up.  He argued Alberta is the only jurisdiction “of the world’s 10 largest oil and gas producers … to have imposed a carbon tax on itself,” and pointed to Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, Iran and Venezuela as examples of jurisdictions without a carbon tax, snidely remarking that Venezuela must have missed “the memo from Socialist International”.    

However, he failed to mention Norway, the world’s second largest oil producer, which implemented a carbon tax in 1991 (starting at $US 51/tonne) and set up a sovereign wealth fund which at $1 trillion is the largest rainy day fund on the planet. 

Leaving aside the moral argument that we can’t be a leader in mitigating climate change if we don’t practice what we preach, it’s disingenuous for Mr Kenney to argue no other oil producing jurisdiction has a carbon tax when we can google it and prove him wrong.    

Social licence

Having failed to score points on his “four principles” argument Mr Kenney threw in the accusation that the carbon tax failed to buy social licence. 

By now he’d really built up a head of steam. 

He said the NDP believed the carbon tax would turn pipeline opponents like David Suzuki, Elizabeth May and the BC NDP into pipeline proponents, but not “a single person, entity, government, party, or interest group moved from no to yes on pipelines as a result of the NDP carbon tax.” 

Oh dear.

Can someone peel Mr Kenney off the ceiling and introduce him to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals who approved Trans Mountain because of Notley’s Climate Leadership Plan which included the carbon tax, and the 70% of Canadians (up from 40%) who now support pipelines as a result of Notley’s climate policies. 

If we’ve learned anything from arguing with our kids, it’s that an argument that begins with “no one” does X or “everyone” does Y is ludicrous.    

Climate change deniers

Eventually Mr Kenney moved to what’s really bugging him. 

He’s outraged by the term climate change deniers because he says “you know historically where that phrase comes from.  It’s rhetoric designed to impose, frankly, moral opprobrium on those targeted by it.” He goes on to state he and his government do not deny climate science, and the anthropogenic and natural cases of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions. Has he talked to members of his caucus?    

He wrapped up with a commitment to impose levies on large emitters to create a fund to address climate change and a discussion about the modern world moving away from carbon taxes (is it?) and the duty of energy rich countries to lift energy poor countries out of poverty.

“Crack!”

It was a strange, illogical speech from the man who’d won an overwhelming majority just two months ago.  His outrage at being tarred with the same brush as some of his MLAs was unsettling and highlights the danger of creating such a big tent to get votes that it’s unbearable to live in after you’re elected.    

Mr Kenney’s performance in the Legislature on Bill No. 1 brings to mind Bob Dylan’s lyrics in Million Dollar Bash:  “The louder they come, the harder they crack.” 

Mr Kenney campaigned loud and proud, now we’re waiting to see if he cracks. 

Source: Alberta Hansard, May 30, 2019 starting at p 246

Posted in Climate Change, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

The UCP Addresses Conversion Therapy…”in due course”

By a strange coincidence Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 11 came to town the same week that Premier Kenney and his Health Minister, Tyler Shandro, explained (sort of) the UCP government’s position on conversion therapy.

Ms Soapbox and her daughters had tickets to the Ru Paul show and were delighted by the drag queens’ performance, the highlight was the Canadian drag queen, Brook Lynn Hytes, upstaging Miss Vanjie, but Ms Soapbox couldn’t shake the memory of a contestant from last season, Dusty Rae Bottoms, describing the devastating consequences of being subjected to conversion therapy and exorcism.

IMG_6753 edited

Ru Paul’s Drag Race drag queens strut their stuff at the Calgary Jubilee Auditorium 

Conversion therapy is a practice aimed at altering a person’s sexual orientation.  The UCP government’s position on the practice is incoherent.

Um, well, er…

This lack of clarity became evident when reporters asked Minister Shandro whether he was disbanding or not disbanding the NDP committee set up to look into ways of banning conversion therapy.  Mr Shandro’s response was he’d met with members of the committee and a member of the committee “had some questions for me and I look forward to getting back to her in due course”.

When pressed for specifics about the timeline for getting back to the committee Mr Shandro repeated what he’d just said (see above) including the phrase “in due course” about nine times.

When asked what he meant by “in due course” he cast his eyes upward (clearly forgetting what we all learned in high school, the answer isn’t written on the ceiling) and replied in Yoda-speak, “…that in due course I will be getting back to them to be able to answer their questions”.  Deer in the headlights, caught he is. 

It fell to Ms Notley to try to clarify the government’s position in Question Period.  She asked Mr Kenney whether the ad hoc group still existed and whether it would be allowed to carry on its work.

Mr Kenney told the Legislature that “this government opposes abusive or coercive practices such as conversion therapy” and spent the rest of his time berating the NDP for not banning the practice when they were in office, using righteous indignation to hide the fact that he was not prepared to ban the practice himself.

Human rights  

What’s wrong with these people?

Mr Kenney likes to present himself as the 21st century version of Peter Lougheed, protecting Alberta from all who attack her.  He could live up to Lougheed’s legacy by focusing on Lougheed’s legislative record.

The first thing Peter Lougheed did upon forming government was repeal The Sexual Sterilization Act because it offended basic human rights.  The parallel is obvious.  Mr Kenney should have told Ms Notley that he’ll allow the ad hoc committee to finish its work and will pass legislation by the end of 2019 banning the practice he himself describes as “abusive” and “coercive”.

Cat got your tongue?

Mr Shandro has a more difficult problem.  Mr Shandro is a lawyer.  Lawyers are known for the gift of the gab.

Mr Shandro demonstrated this gift in an article he wrote for Policy Options in 2015 where he discussed the importance of the federal Conservative party attracting immigrant voters in the 2019 federal election.

He used impressive words like “proselytizing” and “hegemony”.  He praised Kenney’s “tireless missionary-like zeal” in courting new Canadians and trashed Kenney’s successor, the “hapless” Chris Alexander for creating a situation that led to Harper’s demise through an ill-conceived campaign that focused on the niqab ban, the barbaric cultural practices snitch line, differentiating between “new” stock and “old” stock Canadians and “Harper’s eleventh-hour embrace of racist Rob Ford”.

Based on Mr Shandro’s performance this week it would appear that a politician appointed by Mr Kenney to a cabinet post must not only forget any moral objections he once had to his boss embracing the “racist Rob Ford” but also give up his right to think and speak for himself.

In return for performing like a trained seal Mr Kenney will provide him with all the talking points he needs.

At this point on Ru Paul’s Drag Race Ru Paul would say “the time has come for Mr Sandro to lip sync for his life.  Good luck and don’t f*ck it up.”

To help Mr Sandro prepare for his new role, Ms Soapbox would like to offer him a ticket to the Ru Paul show.  I’m sure he’ll RSVP in due course.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Culture, Education, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Throne Speech: Whose Destiny Are We Talking About?

“I am your density…I mean your destiny.” — George McFly, Back to the Future (1985)

All eyes were riveted on Lois Mitchell, Her Honour the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor, last Wednesday as she delivered the Kenney government’s first Throne Speech…er…your eyes weren’t riveted on HHHLG? You were having coffee with a friend like I was, but you read it later online…right? No?

Never mind, you didn’t miss anything that you hadn’t already heard in one form or another on the UCP campaign trail.

166_lois20mitchell

Lois Mitchell, HHHLG 

Over the next few months we’ll have a chance to examine these promises in the cold light of day.

Today let’s compare how the Kenney government’s inaugural throne speech stacks up against the inaugural throne speeches of the Notley government (2015) and the Lougheed government (1972), both of which thundered on to the political stage out of nowhere.

But before we start, let’s address this silly preoccupation the media has with the “brevity” of the Kenney version—the media said at six pages it was a “welcome relief from typically windy Canadian speeches full of rhetorical gales and partisanship.”  Just to set the record straight, the Kenney version at 2065 words was longer than Notley’s inaugural throne speech (1487 words) and shorter than Lougheed’s inaugural throne speech (3388 words), but who cares.

Contrary to what the media thinks, in politics, like life, size doesn’t matter; it’s the ability to deliver on the promise, in this case the promise to drag the province back from the brink of disaster.

What really matters

Spoiler alert:  the Kenney government’s throne speech pales in comparison to the Lougheed and Notley governments’ throne speeches.

Both Lougheed and Notley acknowledged the accomplishments of the governments that had preceded them.  Lougheed confirmed that sound existing programs would be continued.  Notley promised to adhere to PC principles which fought to preserve provincial jurisdiction over energy resources and recognized that energy resources are a trust.  Apparently, Kenney’s government arrived like the Birth of Venus, complete and untouched by anything that had gone before.

Both Lougheed and Notley focused their legislative priorities on people.

Lougheed took immediate action to (1) protect human rights, (2) relieve seniors of the burden of medicare premiums, drug costs and optional medical services, (3) set up the Agricultural Farm Fund to help farmers, (4) prioritize facilities for disabled children and (5) accelerate mental health reform.

Notley’s priorities focused on restoring stability in funding health, education and human services.

Lougheed stressed the importance of “environmental control” and promised to strengthen and revamp the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Water Resources Act.  Notley promised to show leadership on the environment and climate change while creating conditions for a diversified, sustainable economy.

Kenney mentioned improving life for all Albertans, but focused on the economy and standing up for the province in the pipeline fight.  His concern for people was quickly overshadowed by talk about malevolent forces besetting Alberta which required the government to create agencies to tell the truth about the energy industry and conduct public inquiries into foreign funds campaigning against Alberta energy.

Lougheed’s Bill 1 introduced the Alberta Bill of Rights.  Notley’s Bill 1 advanced democratic renewal by banning corporate and union donations to political parties.  Kenney’s Bill 1 repealed the carbon tax, he promised to “protect Albertans” by suing the feds if they tried to impose a federal carbon tax.

Alberta’s destiny

Lougheed viewed change “not with fear and apprehension, but with optimism, with a sense of challenge and of opportunities to be grasped.”  He was convinced Albertans were up for new programs, policies, innovations and reforms.  Notley shared Lougheed’s view, describing Albertans as optimistic, hopeful, entrepreneurial, diverse and community-minded, people who share big dreams of a better life.

Kenney described Albertans as having unstoppable will, energy and talent, but always in the context of the economy.  He described Albertans as “stewards of a great tradition of ordered liberty” who “consistently applied the principles of free enterprise, free markets, equality of opportunity, and prudent stewardship to optimize our God-given gifts.”

The message to Albertans is they’re valued as part of the economic machine; not necessarily as individuals who dream of a meaningful life.

Kenney, or rather HHHLG on his behalf, closed the Throne Speech with a call to arms:  Albertans have overcome economic hardship, political enmity, and natural disasters.  Our success, resiliency and untapped potential will attract talented newcomers and we will defeat the “political forces standing in the way of this inevitable destiny”.  In fact, our economic growth “secures the wealth and prosperity of Confederation” and it is “our duty and our destiny to renew Alberta’s role as an economic and political leader within Canada.”

Whoa!

What exactly is our duty and destiny?

How are we going to ascend to our rightful position as an economic leader within Canada when our economy is firmly tethered to fluctuating global oil prices?  How will we achieve our destiny as a political leader in Canada when that requires increasing our population by five-fold to neutralize the combined population of Ontario and Quebec?

Oh, wait a minute.  Maybe the throne speech isn’t about Alberta’s destiny after all. Maybe it’s about Mr Kenney’s destiny, in which case all these concerns are irrelevant.

All this talk about “destiny” reminds me of that delightful scene in Back to the Future where George McFly tries to impress Lorraine (Marty McFly’s soon-to-be mom) by saying:  I am your “density”.  She says: What?  He says: I’m your “density”…I mean, your destiny.

Albertans have the potential to live meaningful lives…assuming they aren’t so dense they let themselves get ambushed by a premier intent on fulfilling his destiny at their expense.

Posted in Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments

The Day the Circus Came to Town

On May 21, 2019 Jason Kenney’s UCP government will officially be “open for business” in every sense of the word.

Mr Kenney’s government will kick off with a Throne Speech which will outline how Mr Kenney intends to deliver on his promise to pull Alberta out of its state of abject misery and victimhood and restore it to its rightful place as the most important province in Confederation.

What will make this feat even more impressive is Mr Kenney will perform it blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back.

Welcome to a front row seat under the Big Top.

(The houselights dim as Mr Kenney steps into the centre ring).  

circus-big-top-inside-tent-idea-big-tent-circus-l-9e781315ea9442b9

Like any savvy showman, Mr Kenney has a trick up his sleeve, notwithstanding the desperate picture he painted of Alberta’s precarious economic condition, in comparison to the rest of Canada Alberta is doing well.  Its GDP per worker is second only to Newfoundland and Labrador (NF&L’s economy is based on offshore oil and gas production which uses fewer workers and yields a higher GDP) and its debt to GDP ratio is 8% which is significantly lower than the rest of the provinces.

It’s not hard to come out on top when you’re already there.

Look!  He’s got one hand tied behind his back!

Mr Kenney appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel to do a “deep dive into Alberta’s finances and economy”* but prevented the Panel from considering the tax side of the fiscal equation (with no sales tax Alberta is the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada).

So, with one hand tied behind their backs, the Panel (and Mr Kenney) will tell Albertans that to “get our fiscal house in order” it will be necessary to implement an austerity program based on brutal cuts to public services supplemented with increased privatization.

On the upside, perhaps this means Mr Kenney will finally abandon the ridiculous Ma-and-Pa-balancing-the-household-budget-around-the-kitchen-table analogy, a small mercy for those of us who understand that a government budget bears no resemblance to a family budget.

Look!  He’s wearing a blindfold!

The climax of Mr Kenney’s performance will occur when he dons a blindfold and lays out his plan to bring back oil jobs by killing the Notley government’s carbon tax on consumers, removing the cap on oil sands emissions and erasing regulations aimed at reducing methane emissions.

Unfortunately, this will backfire big-time given the public’s growing concern about climate change and the environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) policies that are sweeping the corporate world.

It’s one thing for the Kenney government to ignore little Swedish girls with pigtails, it’s quite another to blow off HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, and other investors like pension funds, post secondary institutions, insurance companies and countries like Ireland, which refuse to invest in oil and gas companies or limit their investments to companies like Shell, BP, Suncor and Cenovus, which have carbon deintensification and renewable energy strategies.

The threat of global divestment in response to rising concerns about climate change is real, however it’s one Mr Kenney is prepared to ignore.

To ensure we can’t compare Alberta’s performance on climate change mitigation under the UCP government with its performance under the NDP government, Mr Kenney purged the government website of all climate change information, data and policy analysis before he set foot in centre ring.

Luckily, Katie Cuyler, a University of Alberta librarian, archived every NDP government document she could find before Mr Kenney, like a certain US president, took office and deleted them.

(Grateful applause!)

Look! There’s a conspirator!

We can expect the Throne Speech to flesh out Mr Kenney’s promise to set up a war room to pursue those who, in his opinion, are telling lies about the energy industry.

Given the challenge of consistent messaging among energy companies, let alone between these companies and the government, this will be as effective as a circus cannon blasting out confetti.

The public inquiry into foreign funded protestors will be equally useless given that the Harper government audited the status of many of these groups and found nothing amiss. But never mind, it’s a side show and what the audience expects when the circus comes to town.

The end of the ‘War on Fun’

Last week the Kenney government pushed back on “the excesses of the nanny state and the ‘War on Fun’” by lifting the liquor ban on provincial parks just in time for the May long weekend.  Mr Kenney described the move as part of his plan to “take Alberta from being the most over-regulated to the freest economy in Canada.”

Like Doug Ford who promised buck-a-beer if he was elected, the Kenney government appears to be convinced that free flowing booze is what it takes to make Albertans happy.

It’s unlikely the Throne Speech will slip into low comedy, but if the Kenney government is sincere about attacking the ‘War on Fun’ may I suggest a plan to issue every taxpaying Albertan a red clown nose to perk us up as we struggle through the next four years under the Big Top.

(Whoopie cushion noises erupt from the crowd).   

*All quotes are taken from Alberta government press releases.

 

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