Sorry, Not Enough “Human Capital”

Restaurant Canada wants Alberta’s $15/hour minimum wage reduced for youth, liquor servers and people with disabilities.

Mr Kenney says he’ll consider a reduction for youth and alcohol servers.  No word yet on his position on people with disabilities but given his rhetoric (see below) we can assume people with disabilities will be on the receiving end of a “differentiated” minimum wage as well.

Mr Kenney defended his position with this:  “Take all the government programs you want. None of them replace the value of a job. The greatest social program is employment. And the greatest creator of employment for young people – for people with modest levels of human capital, for first-time hires – is the restaurant and food services industry.”


A lecture on a modest level of human capital, from Mr Modest himself

There are a lot of problems with this rationale, not the least of which is the reference to “people with modest levels of human capital”.  When asked to explain what he meant by the phrase, Mr Kenney rejected the notion that he was referring to people with disabilities; he said he was referring to people with lower levels of education and training.

Mr Kenney’s not-so-cogent rationale

Let’s take a look at Mr Kenney’s rationale starting from the top:

“Take all the government programs you want. None of them replace the value of a job.”

This is bombastic.  Surely Mr Kenney is not saying government programs offered by the departments of Education, Advanced Education, Health, Seniors, and Children’s Services are not as valuable as a job to the children, students, seniors, people seeking medical care, and their families regardless of whether they have jobs or not.

“The greatest social program is employment”.

Oh dear.

Mr Kenney is a conservative, he of all people should know that corporations are legally obligated to serve the best interests of their shareholders, not their employees.  If corporations were in the business of providing social programs, they would not lay off employees at the first sign of an economic downturn and Albertans’ employment statistics would not yo-yo up and down with the boom/bust cycle.

“And the greatest creator of employment for young people, for people with modest levels of human capital, for first-time hires, is the restaurant and food services industry.”

Mr Kenney listed three distinct categories of potential employees.  Let’s examine them one by one.

“Young people”:  Restaurant Canada reports the food services sector is not the greatest job creator for young people—it provides just 1 in 5 youth jobs.  This tallies with a recent federal government report on youth employment which identified the retail trade and accomodation sector, not food services, as having the highest youth employment.

“People of a modest level of human capital”:  Here’s where Mr Kenney stepped on a land mine. When asked what he meant by this he said he was talking about people with lower levels of education and training.  “A 14-year-old taking his first job doesn’t have the same human capital level in training, education and work experience as a 30-year-old experienced worker with a university degree.”

Of course not, Mr Kenney, but it’s highly unlikely a 14 year old high school student will be applying for the same job as a 30 year old university graduate, but if he does and he has the skills necessary to satisfy the job requirements, he should be paid the same minimum wage as the 30 year old because “human capital” as defined by Investopedia means the economic value of the worker’s skill set, it has nothing to do with his age.

“First time hires”:  It is true that the food services sector is the number one source of first time jobs, but this does not explain why first time hires should be paid less than their co-workers who’ve done a stint behind the counter at A&W.

What are we really talking about?

In The Art of Logic in an Illogical World Eugenia Cheng says one way to tease out what someone is really saying is to ask yourself whether there’s a sense in which the statement can be true.

The furor over Mr Kenney’s comment concerns what he meant when he said, “people of a modest level of human capital” should be paid less because they have “less training, education, and work experience”.

The only sense in which Mr Kenney’s statement can be true is if employers hire people (not youth and not first time hires) who lack the training, education and experience to do a job and refuse to give them the training, education and experience they need to do the job, forever.

This is not how it works on the ground.  Employers do not make a practice of hiring people who will be in over their heads–forever.

This is nothing more than an illogical and pathetic attempt by Mr Kenney to deflect attention away from our suspicion that when he referred to “people of a modest level of human capital” he was talking about people with developmental disabilities.

Notley’s minimum wage legislation addresses the only characteristic young people, first time hires and people with developmental disabilities have in common—a lack of bargaining power.  It prevents such employees from being exploited by unscrupulous employers.  It should not be repealed by politicians courting votes.

But while we’re on the topic of human capital, Ms Soapbox couldn’t help but notice that when compared to Rachel Notley (who graduated with a BA in Political Science, earned a law degree from Osgoode Hall, worked as a lawyer and served 10 years in the Alberta Legislature, the last four as premier) Mr Kenney is woefully underqualified for the job.

By his own definition he is a person of modest human capital.

Posted in Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 36 Comments

Kenny Controls the Narrative, Why is this a Surprise?

We’ve been so focused on Jason Kenney’s public rhetoric that we didn’t see him transform the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose MLAs into a bunch of hush puppies ready to recite whatever speaking notes he gives them.

The transformation took less than two years.  This probably says more about the integrity of these MLAs than the persuasive skills of their leader.

But it’s all there in Hansard.

The record

Members’ Statements are part of the daily business of the House.  They come after Question Period and give Opposition MLAs a chance to make speeches attacking the government or highlighting an issue in their constituency.  Government MLAs use Members’ Statements to support government policies and criticize the Opposition.

A review of the Members’ Statements* made by PC and WR MLAs reflects how Mr Kenney shifted the narrative when he took over the PCs, merged them with WR and transformed them into something completely unrecognizable.

It’s like reading someone’s diary as they pass through three of the five stages of death: denial, bargaining, and acceptance.  Some conservative MLAs may have experienced anger and depression as well but likely chose not to share their pain in public.    


Mr Kenney controls the narrative

A self-respecting Lougheed conservative would bailed at stage one but many ambitious conservatives rode the wave all the way to stage five.

Before Kenney

Before Mr Kenney dropped into the Alberta political scene the narrative of Brian Jean’s WR and Ric McIver’s PCs was the battle of the grass roots vs the centralized elite.

The WR said the PCs had no one but themselves to blame for their downfall, citing the PC’s belief in command-and-control centralized thinking—right down to deciding who would be allowed to run for the party and where.  The WR said unlike the PCs they were a member-driven party where the ideas of the grassroots mattered more than the elite.

The PCs responded that one loss in 44 years wasn’t the end of the party and they were the only party with a solid fiscal policy and a caring social policy.  They said they were elected to give their constituents a voice and ensure their concerns were heard “loud and clear by the government.”

Members’ Statements reflected this narrative as the WR and PCs berated the government for the carbon tax, its energy policies, and the growing deficit while at the same time demanding the government increase spending in their own ridings for more schools, hospitals, long term care facilities and police.

After Kenney       


A week after Mr Kenney became the leader of the PC party but before the two parties merged, a WR MLA (Drew Barnes) added a new thread to the conservative narrative:  not only was Alberta stuck with a carbon tax, it was paying “obscene equalization payments” to Ontario and Quebec.  The equalization rip-off narrative was new and jacked the conservative fight up to the federal level.

Previously the PCs and WR used the feds to undermine the Notley government at home, claiming Notley was in cahoots with Trudeau and the two of them secretly wanted to kill the energy industry, or that Trudeau had duped Notley into believing her carbon levy to buy the NDP social license.

Now they argued Alberta was being “beaten up by the BC NDP, the Trudeau Liberals and the Mayor of Montreal.”  The entire country was against us, what ingrates!


Members’ Statements that once focused on the NDP’s failure to address local issues turned into personal attacks on Justin Trudeau.

Mr Yao who had previously used Members’ Statements to push for more seniors housing in Fort McMurray and praise social workers and ambulance drivers said the only thing the federal government was good for was grooming tips.

Mr Panda who discussed everything from the Calgary Veterans Food Bank, emergency dispatch, unemployment, the importance of being a friend to First Nations, and the fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline railed on about the negative impact Trudeau’s “disastrous trip” to India had on Canada-India relations.

Attacks on NDP policies included a Trudeau element whether they were criticisms of the Notley government’s plan to conserve caribou habitats or the need for stable funding for agricultural societies.

Conspiracy theories and muddled jurisdiction   

It wasn’t long before the UCP MLAs uncovered a conspiracy to kill the energy industry.

Mr Panda alleged that environmentalists who were preventing Alberta from developing its “God-given natural resources” were hysterical ideologues bankrolled by their American sugar daddies.

Mr Yao praised a “good Canadian patriot” (who Mr Kenney identified in speeches as Vivian Krause) for releasing information purporting to show Canada was being attacked by US groups funding environmentalists in order to protect the American energy industry, not the environment.

The fact the we live in a province within a federation and are subject to the division of powers set out in the Constitution Act soon became irrelevant.

Mr McIver ignored the distinction between provincial and federal jurisdiction and blamed the Notley government for allowing Northern Gateway and Energy East to be cancelled “under the NDP’s watch”.  This makes as much sense as saying the pipelines were cancelled under the Pope’s watch because federal pipelines do not fall under provincial or papal jurisdiction.

Dear leader  

Jason Kenney entered the Legislature in March 2018 as the Leader of the Official Opposition.  The number of wacko Members’ Statements increased dramatically.

UCP MLAs squandered their air time with odes to their dear leader.  Mr Barnes made a golly-gee speech about “a guy in a blue pickup” who came to town to talk about uniting common-sense and free-market Albertans, and guess what, average Albertans listened.  Mr Stier described Mr Kenney as a “humble conservative statesman” committed to servant leadership.  Mr McIver praised Mr Kenney’s “wise counsel” which was freely given even when the NDP rejected it because “that is the true mark of a leader.”

Some UCP MLAs (literally) took a page out of Mr Kenney’s speaking notes.  Ms Pitt urged Albertans to heed “notable Canadians” like Rex Murphy (a newspaper columnist) and Vivian Krause (a conspiracy theorist) who want us to stop being a “soft target” and “fight back against foreign meddling with our energy industry”.

Ms Pitt came in handy when former UCP MLA Mr Fildebrandt denounced the UCP after Mr Kenney refused to let him rejoin the party for failing to disclose wildlife charges (he’d shot a deer on private property).  Ms Pitt, who usually talks about mental health initiatives and food banks in Airdrie and underfunded schools in Rockyview, told the Assembly that certain rules applied in hunting season and it was unacceptable not to know you needed permission to hunt on private land.

She also propped up Mr Kenney’s reputation when necessary, assuring the Assembly that Rona Ambrose knew Mr Kenney well and “is confident he supports women” and “makes decisions on merit not tokenism.”

What happened?

Ironically, the only topic not mentioned in any UCP Members’ Statements is their unwavering belief in the grassroots guarantee.  Notwithstanding the WR’s conviction that it was a grassroots members-driven party, the only WR MLA to mention the grassroots after Mr Kenney took the helm was Mr Fildebrandt who said he’d been barred from running in his own riding because of “affirmative action gender quotas”, he’d kept quiet and did what he was told and allowed “scheming backroom operators to dictate [his] behavior as they are now dictating others”.

Mr Fildebrandt said, “Unity was conditional on the grassroots guarantee.  What happened?”

What happened dear boy was this:  The grassroots guarantee served its purpose.   It convinced the WR to merge with the PCs into the UCP.  The UCP is a command-and-control-top-down-driven party and its leader tossed the grassroots guarantee into the graveyard of spent political slogans.

The PCs and the WR were duped by Mr Kenney’s narrative.  They can accept this and fall into line or they can do what any self respecting Lougheed conservative would do—get out.

*All references to the PC, WR and UCP narratives come from the MLAs’ Members’ Statements as recorded in Hansard from June 2015 to Dec 2018.

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CAPP Meet Mr Kenney

Recently Mr Kenney told municipal leaders in Cochrane that in addition to multi-billion dollar deficits and rising debt levels Alberta was drowning in red tape.  To illustrate his point Kenney said it takes a week to approve a conventional oil well in Texas but a year or more to approve one in Alberta.

Hmmm, wondered Ms Soapbox, where did Mr Kenney get these facts?

After some digging she found a CAPP report entitled “A Competitive Policy and Regulatory Framework for Alberta’s Upstream Oil and Natural Gas Industry.” At the back of the report was a discussion about jurisdictional differences in approving well applications which said the median review time for a new well in Texas was indeed 7 days.

However, it also said the median review time for a routine well in Alberta was 2 days, the median review time for a non-routine technical well was 5 days and the longest median review time (for a non-routine, participant-involvement well) was 34 days.  In other words, the CAPP report flat out contradicted Mr Kenney’s statement that it takes a year or more to approve a conventional oil well in Alberta.  (If Mr Kenney was relying on another information source Ms Soapbox would be happy to share it with her readers).


If you can’t find a fact, a “factoid” will do

This CAPP report forms the foundation of a briefer CAPP report called “Oil and Gas Priorities for a Prosperous Alberta”.  Given that the UCP’s energy critic Mr Panda endorsed the recommendations and concerns set out in the summary CAPP report—he said they reinforce what the UCP has been saying all along—it’s safe to assume the UCP also endorses the recommendations and concerns set out in greater detail in the foundation CAPP report.

Or is it?

Contrary to the UCP’s mantra that Premier Notley’s support of the energy industry is “half hearted” and her government is in bed with its “NDP cousins in BC” and their “Liberal BFF Trudeau” in Ottawa, CAPP gives Notley and her government full credit for their “tireless advocacy” in championing the need for the Trans Mountain expansion.  Presumably the best we could hope for from Mr Kenney on this point is mumble, mumble, Notley, mumble, mumble.

CAPP said the industry supports effective and efficient climate policies that take cumulative costs into account and recommended reinvesting carbon tax revenues in energy-intensive trade-exposed (EITE) sectors, (it also recommended protecting EITE from the full impact of some climate policies).  Jason Kenney has been crystal clear that the first item on his hit list is Notley’s climate policies, particularly the carbon levy.  Perhaps the UCP’s endorsement of CAPP’s position on climate policies comes with a caveat: we’re kinda, sorta on side with the industry, depending on who we’re talking to at the time.  Or maybe the UCP didn’t read the report and were simply babbling.

CAPP also said the industry supports the principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and endorses its implementation in a manner consistent with the Constitution and Canada’s laws.  For someone who never misses an opportunity to chime in on federal policies Mr Kenney has been strangely silent on this issue and we have no idea whether Mr Kenney stands with industry or not on this one.


This isn’t the first time Mr Kenney’s UCP have tried to rile up Albertans with misinformation and dodgy facts.

Kenney’s shadow energy critic Mr Panda chastised Premier Notley for the delay in building Trans Mountain saying he’d worked at Reliance and built the world’s largest petrochemical complex in just 3 years.  His example is utterly irrelevant given the Reliance complex is a refinery not a pipeline and was built in India where the environmental, health and safety regulations are less stringent than in Alberta.  Recall that one of Mr Kenney’s major objections to foreign oil (it’s “unethical”) is based on the fact foreign producers do not operate to Alberta’s higher standards.  Apparently, this concern about ethics can be selectively applied whenever it suits the UCP.

Mr Barnes, UCP finance and treasury critic said investment is leaving Alberta to go to the US.  He referred to two companies, Plains All American and EPIC, that were going to invest in Texas.  There’s no evidence either of these companies intended to invest in Alberta; in any event Plains is a smallish company, less than a third of the size of Canada’s interprovincial pipeline companies and EPIC is going to convert an existing natural gas liquids line to crude.  Both companies were constructing their facilities entirely within the state of Texas.  Any comparison to investing in an interprovincial pipeline like Trans Mountain is silly.

The power of the pen

Apparently, Mr Kenney and the UCP believe when the facts don’t support your case any old factoid will do.

This may satisfy gullible Albertans, but it should trouble organizations like CAPP who may be under the illusion that their vision for Alberta aligns with Mr Kenney’s.

They have not yet learned their lesson, anyone can propose policy but it’s Mr Kenney who holds the pen.

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 38 Comments

An Election is Coming, Some Policies Would Be Nice

UCP leader Jason Kenney wants Rachel Notley to call the election on Feb 1, 2019 so Albertans can go to the polls in the first week of March.  He has scheduled an election readiness conference from Feb 15 to 17, after that it’s full steam ahead…except for the fact the UCP has no policies.

What the UCP does have is a campaign slogan Fortis et Liber (cribbed from Alberta’s motto, it means strong and free) and six talking points:

  • Stand Up to Trudeau (presumably Kenney would like UCP supporters to support Scheer until Kenney decides to go back into federal politics, then it’s game over for Scheer)
  • Scrap the carbon tax (the UCP would rather get stuck with the made-in-Ottawa carbon tax)
  • Quality Public Services (okay, but first tell us how Kenney is going to measure “quality”)
  • Renew the Alberta Advantage (ummm, define it, then tell us whether it requires trade-offs in public services)
  • Defend our resources (how, by deep-sixing the rule of law and the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada?)
  • Reignite Alberta’s Economy (if this means scrapping health, safety, environmental and employment laws so Alberta is “open for business” I’m not interested)

Must we beg for policies?

Jason Kenney has been the UCP leader since Oct 2017.  He defined the UCP as a grassroots party led by a servant-leader who would respect the members’ wishes.  Yes, this was revolutionary in politics, but he gave them a written guarantee to show he meant it.  The grassroots held a policy convention six months later, but when it debated some hard-right policies on abortion and LBGTQ rights Kenney torched the grassroots guarantee and told his supporters that he held the pen (in this case a blue pencil) on policy development and the members would have to wait until he decided what policies to unveil, when, if ever.

No blue Pencil sign icon. Do not write. Edit content button. Red

Sorry, Kenney’s blue pencil is alive and well 

The fact that Kenney wants Notley to call an election in a UCP policy vacuum should alarm all UCP supporters, especially the UCP MLAs who’ve gone on record in the Legislature advocating for a government that consults with the grassroots and condemning the Progressive Conservatives for adopting a command-and-control structure that let the grassroots be pushed around by Cabinet and party elites.

And yet here we are.

Please sir, policies…? 

Kenney is pushing for an election on the strength of a motto and six talking points.  Albertans have no idea what his policies will be and are being asked to buy a pig in a poke (that’s an English colloquialism, it’s not meant to be disrespectful to pigs…or politicians).

Gullible Albertans will fill in the blanks in Kenney’s non-policies in a way that supports their own beliefs and values and conclude he’s their man.

Sensible Albertans will ask themselves whether they should pay heed to MLAs like Richard Starke who refused to join the UCP because he didn’t like how they handled LBGTQ issues, or Rick Fraser who left the UCP to join the Alberta Party because of the UCP’s single-minded focus on spending cuts and austerity or Rick Strankman who quit the UCP to sit as an independent because the UCP had abandoned its grassroots guarantee in favour of “hyper partisan self-centered politics”.  These guys pulled back the UCP curtain and didn’t like what they found.

Rachel Notley being the smart politician she is will treat Kenney’s “no policy” election platform as a gift.

She’ll fill in the blanks in Kenney’s six talking points any way she likes, and she’ll hammer home the fact that the only “policy” position Kenney failed to list in his six talking points is his oft repeated promise to eliminate the deficit and balance the budget by 2022.

She’ll remind Albertans that Kenney has been all over the map with this promise, first he said Alberta should be in line with BC which spends 20% less per capita than Alberta (but has higher taxes overall), then Kenney disavowed the 20% reduction target at the candidates’ debate in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election, saying a cut of 1% to 2% would be all that was required, then he suspended the policies passed at the UCP policy convention because only he “holds the pen”, so now the UCP has no clear policy on eliminating the deficit and balancing the budget.

At the end of the day Notley will be free to pick a “policy” that best suits her campaign.  This would be a reasonable political response to Kenney’s attempt to force an election in which he is free to attack the NDP’s policies based on the government’s record but he’s not prepared to offer policies of his own for consideration.

Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times Company, said in the face of a constant stream of catchy one-liners, policy doesn’t stand a chance.

Here’s hoping Alberta proves him wrong.

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Ms Soapbox has spent the last two days poring over Hansard.  Now she’s sick in bed.


Posted in Politics and Government, Uncategorized | 15 Comments

Alberta Separatism Rears its Goofy Head

Ms Soapbox was thinking about the fog of words when she received a mass mailout letter from someone she’ll call Mr X urging her to join him and thousands of others (who shall remain nameless because their names were not provided) in an effort to motivate Canadians to make the federal government treat Alberta better.

Mr X makes his argument in full caps, heavily bolded and liberally sprinkled with exclamation points; he claims Alberta’s relationship with Canada is a travesty.  The only solution is for Alberta to separate unless we are given what is rightfully ours.


If we leave can we take this with us?

Ms Soapbox immediately thought of Harold Evans’s book Do I make Myself Clear? in which Evans tears a strip off those who intentionally or unintentionally use words to create a fog of misinformation to goad people into doing something stupid.

The argument  

Here’s an outline of Mr X’s argument.

The oil price differential has narrowed, but only because the Alberta government imposed a 9% reduction in production. 

The Notley government’s decision to cut production has indeed narrowed the differential, but many other factors impact oil prices.  We may think Alberta is the centre of the universe but it’s not.

Canada has a ridiculous energy policy.  We can’t build pipelines because we’re stopped by special interest groups largely funded by US groups and we’re forced to import evil Saudi oil instead. 

Canada’s energy policy is entwined with its environment/climate policy and its investment policies so it’s unclear what Mr X is referring to here.  Also, the reference to US funded special interest groups is a Kenney conspiracy theory lacking substance.  More specificity please.

Saudi Arabia supplies 10% of our oil imports and all of it goes into Irving Oil’s massive refinery at Saint John, New Brunswick.  Alberta oil sands oil is more difficult to process than Saudi oil and transportation costs are high because of the distance it has to travel.  This is why Alberta oil is sold at a discount to Saudi oil.

Peter Tertzakian, an economist well versed in the industry, said a west-to-east pipeline was considered and scrapped in the 1940s because it was cheaper to import foreign oil by tanker than pay the additional cost of domestic supply.

Encana just bought Houston-based Newfield Exploration, Trans Canada Corporation just announced it will change its name to TC Energy and is investing in projects in the US and Mexico.  Is Alberta going to lose its largest head offices?    

Is Elvis still alive?  Who knows, there’s no factual response to this comment, it’s speculation.  However, if Mr X is worried about the influence of Americans on Canadian energy and pipeline companies, he may be surprised to learn Americans already have a significant voice in the future of Trans Canada and Encana.  Trans Canada’s board is made up of 6 Canadian directors, 4 American directors and one from the Arab Emirates.  Encana’s board is comprised of 5 Canadian directors and 5 American directors.  Directors have a statutory obligation to act in the best interests of the corporation.  If they think it’s in the best interests of the corporation to move its head office to Timbuktu, they’ll do it.

Let’s be clear, shifting a corporation’s head office to the US won’t stop it from investing in Canada. Nova Chemicals was an Alberta company that moved its head office to Pittsburgh.  The company was eventually bought by International Petroleum Investment Co, an Abu Dhabi state-owned company.  It recently invested $1 billion to expand its polyethylene plant near Red Deer.

The Trudeau government sent 126 people to the UN Global Warming Conference in Poland.  These conferences are fake!

Oh dear.  The fact 126 people went to the UN Conference is interesting but does not support the conclusion that these conferences are fake.  This sentence alone destroyed Mr X’s credibility.

For the first time in three decades Alberta’s unemployment rate is relatively high compared to Canada. 

This is true. Mr X’s numbers are slightly higher than those provided by the Alberta government, but he identified the trend correctly.  What he failed to explain was why this statistic is relevant to his main point which he presented in a crescendo of bold print, scare quotes and exclamation points, namely…

…Canada is broken…


Canada is close to the top in any survey of country performance.  For example, the US News Best Country report ranked Canada second (Switzerland came in first, the US was eighth).  The Economic Freedom survey ranked Canada ninth, the US was ranked eighteenth.  If Canada is “broken” the US must be pulverized beyond recognition.       

…Jason Kenney’s referendum on equalization, if approved, will force the provinces and the feds to renegotiate equalization, and Alberta must put independence on the table as part of the negotiation process. 

Even if Kenney’s equalization referendum passes with an overwhelming majority, Alberta can’t unilaterally force the feds and the provinces to renegotiate anything because the equalization program falls under the fed’s jurisdiction.  All Alberta can do is influence the outcome.  This must be where Mr X’s independence argument comes in, but his suggestion that Alberta gets leverage by threatening to leave Confederation is akin to Alberta holding a gun to its head and saying give me what I want or I’ll shoot myself.

This is not an effective negotiation strategy, it’s insanity (on the upside we could hold a referendum on our new name, Ms Soapbox is partial to Bert).


Mr X is an educated man, but he’s succumbed to sloppy political language that, in the words of George Orwell, have as much substance as a prefabricated henhouse.

Mr X’s letter cobbles together words and phrases that are whipping through Alberta political environment like a virus.  He thinks his letter is a call to action, but it’s a chimera, a delusion that enflames the emotions while offering nothing of substance.

2019 is an election year.  Surely, we can do better than this.

Posted in Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 51 Comments

Politics in the Age of Bewilderment

The historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari says we’re living in the Age of Bewilderment, the old stories have collapsed and the new stories have not yet been written.

Ms Soapbox thinks some politicians are trying to bridge this gap by pretending it doesn’t exist.  They hope to turn this unsettling time into the Age of Nostalgia.  Unfortunately, nostalgia is not a satisfactory response to climate change, technological change or cultural change, in fact it is prone to nasty backlash when insecurity and a sense of alienation enflame xenophobia.

We recognize nostalgia politicians, people like Jason Kenney who want to restore the Alberta Advantage (whatever that means) by scrapping the carbon tax, propping up coal companies, and setting up war rooms to beat down oilsands critics with bellicose jargon.

More enlightened politicians, like Rachel Notley, meet uncertainty head on with bold new strategies that make life more stable for those they govern.

Notley kicked off her first term in office with a climate leadership plan intended to transition an economy dependent on fossil fuels to renewables while at the same time generating enough revenue to keep the ship afloat until we got there.

Unfortunately, the economy took a beating when oil prices plummeted and the Notley government reacted by becoming more strident in its support of the energy industry, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s time to regroup.

Yes, the energy industry is important to Alberta, but the industry like everything else is in transition.  It will never roar back to its former glory.  Albertans know this and are in desperate need of politicians who are prepared to offer a bold, new vision for the future.

A friend once told me if we want Albertans to forgo their conservative ideology we must set out its flaws and then present a superior progressive vision to replace it.*

Notley’s NDP have done a good job of demonstrating the economic and social flaws in Kenney’s conservative ideology, however instead of merely rebutting Kenney’s narrative and becoming trapped in the language of the Age of Nostalgia, it’s time for the NDP to present a bold optimistic vision for Alberta.

This vision should be based on the progressive ideals that shook up the conservative halls of the Legislature in Notley’s first term.  It should include providing quality education throughout our lives (how else will the workforce retool to address shifting demands), improving access to quality healthcare, continuing to overhaul taxation (a serious look at a provincial sales tax would be a good start) and strengthening our efforts to mitigate climate change.

Such a vision would be well received by Albertans who recognize that it’s practical optimism not nostalgia that puts bread on the table.

The AOC factor

We’re just a few months away from the next provincial election.  Is it too late for Rachel Notley and the NDP (or any progressive party for that matter) to communicate a realistic and optimistic vision for the future?

No, not if our politicians take their cues from politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as she’s known on social media).


AOC and The Breakfast Club

Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic socialist and the youngest woman to be elected to the US Congress.  She supports progressive policies like universal healthcare, free university tuition, job guarantees and gun control.  As part of her effort to mitigate climate change, Ocasio-Cortez is co-sponsoring a bill to introduce taxes of up to 70% on incomes of $10 million or more (the top .05% of the population) to fund the Green New Deal.

The Republicans are apoplectic.  Not only is it heresy to increase taxes on the super wealthy, but Ocasio-Cortez and some of her college friends were caught on tape doing a dance sequence from The Breakfast Club.  Oh, the shame of it all.

Here’s what’s so magnificent about all this:  (1)  Ocasio-Cortez’s tax proposal is bold and consistent with  her progressive beliefs, (2) it’s been endorsed by economists like Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman and (3) she responded to the GOP’s horror at her dance video with another clip of her dancing in the hall outside her congressional office.   Take that you dinosaurs.

A compelling new vision presented by smart articulate politicians could lead the NDP to victory this spring; in which case may I be the first to post a video of the Notley crew dancing in the corridors of power?

And if the dance analogy (take that you dinosaurs) doesn’t do it for you, remember what Wayne Gretzky said:  Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.

*With thanks to DD

Posted in Economics, Education, Energy & Natural Resources, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments