This week the conservatives spun Murray Edwards’ decision to move to England and Vicki Kaminski’s decision to leave Alberta Health Services for a job in Australia to convince Albertans to ditch the NDP.
The spin looked like this: Facts [Edwards/Kaminski is leaving Alberta] plus conjecture [due to the NDP’s failed ideologically driven policies] equals disaster [Alberta is losing its brightest and its best…and most importantly, its richest]. Vote conservative!!!!
Spin is pretty flimsy at the best of times but this was flimsier than most.
Picking on the billionaires
Mr Edwards runs Canadian Natural Resources, he holds a major stake in Ensign Energy Services and Penn West Petroleum and is a co-owner of the Calgary Flames hockey team.
He’s ranked at 30th on Canadian Business magazine list of Canada’s 100 richest people with an estimated net worth of $2.69 billion.
Mr Edwards refused to comment on why he’s moving to England but that didn’t stop the Canadian Taypayers’ Federation and Mark Milke, former director for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Fraser Institute, from using Mr Edwards as a case study in failed government policy.
Mr Milke admits he knows nothing about Mr Edwards’ financial situation. Small wonder given that Mr Edwards earns the paltry sum of $1.00 in salary from Canadian Natural, the bulk of his compensation comes in the form of bonuses and stock options.
Nevertheless Mr Milke says the tax changes introduced by Notley (and Trudeau) will increase Mr Edwards’ tax burden by $4.5 million.
And while $4.5 million is a lot of money, in Mr Edwards’ case it amounts to a 0.04% hit on his net worth. Perhaps this was the last straw in a year that saw Mr Edwards’ energy stock portfolio plummet but somehow I doubt it.
Mr Milke suggests that Mr Edwards may be the first of the uber-rich to bail on Alberta.
Alberta’s richest resident, Edmontonian Darryl Katz is worth $4.14 billion and is about to get a whole lot richer having just sold the family drug store chain to McKesson Group for $3 billion. Mr Katz is going to focus on real estate, sports and entertainment. He has big plans for Edmonton’s Arena District. It is extremely unlikely that he’ll turn his back on Edmonton after accepting a $279 million support package to make his $606.5 million vision for the ICE District a reality.
Calgarians JR Shaw of Shaw Communication ($1.92 billion), the Southern family of Atco ($1.76 billion) and the Riddell family of Trilogy and Perpetual Energy ($1.31 billion) don’t appear to be in a big hurry to hop on their private jets in search of a kinder gentler tax regime either.
Which brings us back to Mr Edwards.
The only person who knows why Mr Edwards is moving to England is Mr Edwards.
Trotting out Mr Edwards as the poster boy for failed government policy is not only a disservice to the Notley government it’s an insult to Mr Edwards.
Meddling with the CEO
When Vicki Kaminski resigned her post as CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS) she said she “sincerely enjoyed working at AHS” and was leaving for “personal reasons”.
Later we learned that Ms Kaminski was unhappy under the new regime. She accused the NDP government of political interference.
The Wildrose Official Opposition seized on Ms Kaminski’s comment in Question Period.*
Mr Jean commended Ms Kaminski’s for walking away from her $600,000 dream job halfway through her contract. He demanded answers from the government:
- Did the government force AHS back to the bargaining table to avoid being booed at an AUPE function? No, the government wanted AHS to resume negotiating.
- Why did the government interfere with Ms Kaminski’s decision to outsource a $3 billion lab services contract to an Australian company? Because there was no evidence that Ms Kaminski seriously considered any options other than privatization.
- Why did the government interfere with Ms Kaminski’s decision to outsource laundry and linen services? Because the NDP was elected to provide publicly delivered, not privately delivered healthcare.
- Why did the government interfere with “every day” people management? Because AHS planned on laying off thousands of front line workers, contrary to the NDP’s promise not to cut front line services.
- Did the Health Minister tell Ms Kaminski to communicate in “voice mode” to avoid creating a written record of her political interference? No, there are lots of records of communications. If Ms Kaminski was seriously concerned about political interference why did she agree to delay the announcement of Jim Prentice cancelling the Calgary cancer centre until after the election?
David Swann (Lib) was the only MLA to focus on the real issue, namely how would the Health Minister improve the relationship between her ministry and AHS. Ms Hoffman cited her good relationship with the deputy minister, the AHS board and the interim CEO and said public health services couldn’t be delivered by pretending AHS was a business organization.
Ms Soapbox wonders whether Ms Kaminski resigned because she supported the conservative position that the free market can do everything better than government and couldn’t work with a government that believed otherwise.
The formula “facts plus conjecture equals disaster, vote conservative” won’t push Albertans into the conservative camp unless the conjecture is rooted in logic.
There is no logic linking Mr Edwards’ departure to Alberta’s tax regime because no one knows what he pays in taxes (maybe he’s leaving for love, not money). There is no logic linking Ms Kaminski’s move to Australia to political meddling because she accepted “meddling” from the previous Progressive Conservative government (maybe it’s a promotion or she likes kangaroos).
The Opposition’s real test will come when the NDP rolls out its first full budget.
An effective opposition will focus on the consequences of the government’s budgetary decisions. A silly opposition will waste everyone’s time with “facts plus trumped-up consequences equals disaster.”
A silly opposition is all about spin.
*Hansard, Apr 6, 2015, 388, 389 and Apr 7, 438