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.
Which brings me to civility…and ear plugs.
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.