In a manner befitting the serious business of governing, the Alberta UCP caucus celebrated the end of the spring session by jumping into the reflecting pool in front of the Legislature.
Perhaps it was the strain of being held to account by the NDP Opposition for seven whole weeks or maybe it was the joy of enacting legislation that makes outing gay kids in schools optional, in any event it was an unseemly start to the summer recess.
The laundry list
For a party that was quick to denounce the NDP government for moving too fast, Mr Kenney made a big deal about passing 13 bills and fully or partially implementing 55 platform commitments.
He described this effort in Trumpian terms. By repealing the carbon tax and cutting corporate taxes he’d set the record for the most tax relief provided to Albertans and businesses in a single legislative session. Another perspective would be he traded the Alberta carbon tax for the federal carbon tax and blew the biggest hole in Alberta’s budget ($4.5 billion) in a single legislative session.
But hey, let’s not quibble, more jobs and investment dollars are just around the corner, right?
Of the 55 commitments 24% are real (repealing the carbon tax, cutting corporate taxes, ending subsidies for renewables projects) and 11% damage the government’s relationship with business and/or Albertans by rolling back protections for LGBTQ students, unions and workers under 18, killing jobs by cancelling infrastructure projects, or revisiting settled issues like farm safety, the structure of electricity markets, supervised consumption sites and crude by rail leasing agreements.
The remaining 65% are a mishmash of:
- public relations stunts—the public inquiry into foreign funding for “anti-Alberta energy campaigns”, legislation to restrict exports to BC and elect senatorial nominees and a referendum on equalization,
- pre-emptive moves—the Blue Ribbon panel to review Alberta’s fiscal framework will provide air cover when Mr Kenney cuts public services in the fall,
- organizational moves—appointing three new associate ministers and one new minister and creating a new ministry to reduce red tape
- self-congratulatory pats on the back for retaining NDP legislation relating to essential services, charitable tax credits, the 2% small business tax and the $15/hr minimum wage,
- brownie points for complying with the laws, specifically the constitutional right to separate schools and compliance with environmental impact assessments,
- litigation—challenging the fed’s carbon tax after the courts upheld it twice, and
- doing what premiers and governments are supposed to do like sitting in the Legislature (commitment #2), talking about the energy industry (commitment #44), talking to the energy industry (commitment #24) and talking to the other provinces (commitments #25 and #54).
Mr Kenney also introduced some small changes which are legitimate but raise questions about why they were top priority and had to be addressed in the first session (who knew the reclassification of service rigs as off road vehicles was a burning issue for Albertans).
Is it enough?
Mr Kenney presented the laundry list as evidence Alberta was “on track to become the most tax competitive jurisdiction for businesses and among the most attractive investment destinations in North America.”
The business sector supports Mr Kenney’s laundry list, well at least the tax reduction part, but thinks the premier could use more help.
Last week a new non-profit, non-partisan industry association, the Business Council of Alberta, was founded to “create the right conditions where Albertans, the economy and the environment can thrive without leaving anyone behind.”
Hal Kvisle, the chair of BCA said its objective was “to improve prosperity for all Albertans … not just economic prosperity, not just companies getting richer, but employees doing better, improvements on the social side of things and, of course, very careful attention to the environment.”
The BCA is a group of more than 40 CEOs and senior executives representing top Alberta companies in every sector of the economy. It employs over 200,000 Albertans and invests tens of billions annually in the economy.
It wholeheartedly endorsed Mr Kenney’s corporate tax cut which “in combination with the predictable reductions coming over the next 3 years, has a high potential to result in new projects and investments, and more Albertans working”.
Sadly it failed to mention whether its member companies would embark on a hiring spree or invest more capital in the economy any time soon.
Between Mr Kenney’s 55 commitments and the BCA’s desire to improve prosperity for all Albertans not just companies, we’ve got nothing to worry about.
Excuse me while I take a celebratory dip in the goldfish pond.
I wish every Albertan digested your excellent and balanced analysis!
Thank you David. I try to stay informed by reading stuff published by people from across the political spectrum, but I’m at the end of my rope with the Calgary Herald. It’s not a great newspaper and they fail to deliver it at least once a week. Grrr.
Susan: Thanks for sharing another great blog: I think it is clear that Jason Kenney is only in politics for himself. He is power hungry and does not think long term of how the actions of himself, and the UCP government will affect Albertans. This is reminiscent of the Alberta PCs, after Peter Lougheed stopped being premier. These corporate tax cuts under still lagging oil prices will not be good for Alberta. The only outcome is austerity, that will not affect the well off, but the low income earners, middle class and the seniors. Also, health care and infrastructure will take a hit, and this will not save money. This will be a return to the Ralph Klein era of austerity, which has lingering effects. No jobs will be created from the corporate tax cuts at all. Jason Kenney wasted money on fighting foreign groups who are against Alberta’s oil. He thinks environmentalists are the problem, when they are not. It is Saudi Arabia and the U.S.A who have a stronghold on the oil market. Oil prices sunk 5 years ago. It is unlikely that we will see triple digit oil prices again. On the subject of the environment, there is a residual issue from the oil industry, that began with the Alberta PCs in the early 1990s. It is the cleanup of tailings ponds, abandoned oil wells, and other messes left from the oil industry. The cost of dealing with this is $260 billion, which Albertans have to bear the burden. Once more, a bitumen upgrader, the Sturgeon refinery, was in the news recently. This is another Alberta PC major mistake, which originated a decade ago. It has various costs, totalling around $35 billion. Even Jason Kenney said he can’t get out of this. As oil prices are quite low, this upgrader is not feasible. There were so many other very costly fiascos, by the Alberta PCs, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier. The Blue Ribbon Panel, and the UCP supporters will not see these. They will only blame the NDP, and say they were fiscally reckless, when they were contending with very low oil prices, (even as low as $35 a barrel), and trying to fix the big mess the Alberta PCs created, after Peter Lougheed was not the premier. The NDP left Alberta with less of a deficit than was first thought. The UCP tried to make people believe otherwise. Postmedia columnists, like Lorne Gunter were also in the act of deceiving Albertans with the debt and deficit situation, thinking the NDP was twisting numbers, when they were not. Jason Kenney tricked Albertans into believing Alberta no longer has a carbon tax. We still have one. Trevor Tombe reported on that matter, not so long ago. What is Jason Kenney trying to accomplish by fighting Ottawa’s carbon tax? Two Conservative premiers tried to fight it and lost. Jason Kenney thinks he can get a referendum on equalization. He was part of the CPC government, when the present formula was created. There is a foolish notion that he gets people to think that Alberta drafts a cheque and hands it to other provinces, or Ottawa. Jason Kenney knows how equalization payments work, but twists things to rile up his base. The pipelines were for export purposes only, and nothing more. When there were triple digit oil prices, and Jason Kenney sat in a CPC majority government, there was no pipeline built, that went to the B.C coast. But again, Jason Kenney blames Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau for not dealing with this. Another pipeline will not make oil prices soar. Reality is going to kick in, and it will hurt. All these things Jason Kenney and the UCP are doing, are shortsighted. It is like Doug Ford and the PCs in Ontario. I also would like to see the reaction of the UCP supporters, when the R.C.M.P investigation against Jason Kenney and others in the UCP concludes.
Great points Dwayne. Let me pick up on your point about the Blue Ribbon panel which has been asked to review Alberta’s fiscal situation but restricted to looking only at the expense side, not the revenue side, of the ledger.
Mr Kenney made much of the fact the panel’s chair is Janice MacKinnon, ex-finance minister in the Saskatchewan NDP government which balanced the budget in 1995, but he tied her hands when it comes to conducting a credible review of Alberta’s finances. By forcing her to ignore the revenue side she is not free to recommend:
– implementing a PST (Sask’s PST is 6%)
– increasing personal income taxes (Sask charges 10.5% on the first $45,225, 12.5% on the next $83,989 and 14.5% on the remainder), or
– increasing the corporate tax rate (Sask charges 12% for all but small businesses which remain at 2%).
The Blue Ribbon panel is a just meat hammer intended to soften us up for the inevitable public service cuts which will be announced AFTER the federal election so as not to mess up Mr Scheer’s chances. .
Susan: You made good points. Another point is that Janice MacKinnon had to deal with a humongous mess made by a previous PC government in Saskatchewan. The media (Postmedia) skips that fact. This Blue Ribbon Panel also was advised how to control spending, without raising taxes. I sense austerity is on the way, which we know was not good for Alberta, the last time it was implemented with Don Getty, and even stronger with Ralph Klein. If oil prices are not going to be at triple digits anymore, something has to be done to boost Alberta’s revenue streams. I remember this being discussed over a decade ago. The P.S.T idea was raised at that point. It will be tough have good finances low oil prices. Oil prices have to be higher than they used to be, otherwise Alberta’s finances will suffer.
*It will be tough to have good finances under low oil prices.*
A few of 2 cent bits:
– I appreciated the clear statement of the Ontario judge who ruled that the ” carbon tax” was decidedly not a tax but a fee linked directly to the reduction of climate damaging green house gases.
– Secondly, the media has lazily skipped the facts on the cancellation of the infrastructure superlab project. Fact, PCL will be paid $20 million cash for contract cancellation. Clear cash, not connected to any cost incurred. Other cost to be reimbursed, is the removal of already installed foundation pilings, etc., and cost of returning the site to its previous state.
– the BCA spouts completely empty rhetoric, blathering on about “improving things on the social side of things…”, as if it is some kind of new evangelical creed for the laying on of hands.
Mr. Kenney is clearly a vindictive weasel of enormous proportions but then we knew that and most Albertans said that was the best of the best.
Douglas, thank you for your 2 cents.
I too appreciated the Ontario judge’s clarification of the so-called carbon “tax” (not that it matters to the climate change deniers who freak out at the thought of paying anything to address climate change).
I didn’t realize PLC was going to be paid a $20 million break fee (wow, that plus the $30 million wasted on “war room” and the $2.5 million going to the public inquiry into Vivian Krause’s conspiracy theories undermines the myth the UCP are fiscal conservatives).
I am extremely concerned about the BCA. Its chair Hal Kvisle wholeheartedly supported the CNOOC takeover of Nexen, which resulted in massive layoffs, (he said it was a great deal for shareholders). He was the CEO of Talisman when it was sold to Repsol which then went ahead with two rounds of layoffs: 10 to 15% in 2015 and an additional 30% this June.
Given how effective Mr Kvisle and his fellow CEOs have been at providing prosperity for all Albertans in the past, I find it hard to believe that they like Saul on the road to Demascus, have had a change of heart.
I had a letter published in the Calgary Herald not long after the election that ended with the statement that while I liked Kenney’s efforts on pipelines, that I didn’t like his politics and that Albertans would come to rue electing him and the UCP.
Mike I agree with your take on Kenney’s politics. The Globe and Mail wrote a great op-ed on Monday decrying Ford and Kenney’s decision to mount a government investigation into their opponents after they were selected. The editorial pointed out that Kenney’s public inquiry won’t discover anything that isn’t already obvious: namely that supply, demand and Mideast countries influence oil prices, environmentalists oppose pipelines, TMX was delayed by the governments failure to fully consult with Indigenous groups and several export pipelines have been hamstrung by US regulators. It concludes that in both Ontario and Alberta, there was “zero evidence than any criminal activity occurred or any grand conspiracy was at work.”
Even The Economist says conservatism is in crisis.
Conservatism is not in crisis – it has evolved into nutsism (Nuts + ism)
Jason Kenney is spending more money in war rooms and lawsuits than Rachel Notley and her caucus spent in 4 years as a government.
War Room – is that not a total conservative name? – everything they do has to be a WAR of some kind. Then they attack the NDP because they have no fun. I guess Jason Kenney uses war for fun. No wonder their cousins down south invade all kinds of countries for fun.
Hopefully the Conservative supporters wake up on time to avoid a world catastrophe.
Scheer is promising (wow he saw the light again) that he will shut down the implementation of better car exhaust standards. His 5 kids prefer to have a respirator directly connected to the car exhausts for better health. It is absolutely absurd and still they get the support.
Go on Scheer build another 12 coal plants in Alberta and another 5 Tar Sand plants and open a Tourist carbon respirator site on the tailing pounds.
Stop being a lackey of big money and grow up you idiot. I am sorry not being nice but you do not deserve any better. Go have a sauna with your friend Jason Kenney at the exclusive Alberta Tailing Ponds tourist site. You do not need sun screen cream because the ponds are designed to protect you for good.
Carlos, that’s a terrific term, “nutsism”. The Economist says conservatism is being taken over by the far right who are nothing more than a bunch of aggrieved, reactionary pessimistic populists who have no respect for traditions and institutions. I thought this was a good take on Kenney, Ford, Scheer and their supporters.
The Economist also made the a very interesting point that unlike traditional conservatives, populists are ready to throw everything out the window in the name of god-knows-what dream, which reminds me of both the Brexit mess and Kenney shouting about Alberta separatism.
Silly world we find ourselves in.
Yes a silly dangerous world. I think we are not taking it seriously enough but time will tell
Here is an article worth reading
Again a premier under investigation himself is creating an imaginary problem to distract people. In the meantime I am sure he is doing everything possible to eliminate the RCMP investigation.
The newspapers have nothing about this farce. This is worse then anything I have seen in the so called developed world. Developed in what way?
Jason Kenney is an oil lobbyist and he is going after environmental activists. It is mind boggling and what we are doing is not enough to stop this madness. We now have no news about any of this. It simply is crazy.
Carlos, thanks for reminding us that a special Crown prosecutor from Ontario has been appointed to investigate the UCP leadership race. Sadly I’m of the view that even if the investigation proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the race was rigged, most UCP supporters would shrug it off because of their blind devotion to Jason Kenney and their desperate need for a magical solution to the mess this province has gotten itself into after 40 years of PC rule. (I say 40 not 44 because Lougheed tried to do what was best for all Albertans, not just those in the energy sector).
So, on the Alberta economy, amidst the UCP’s incessant chorus of doom and gloom, unemployment in Alberta remains quite moderate, and in some parts of the province actually fairly low. According to the Statistics Canada labour force survey—https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190705/t009a-eng.htm—the 3-month rolling average unemployment rate ending in June 2019 was 6.6%. Regionally, the lowest was in the aggregated regions of Banff–Jasper–Rocky Mountain House and Athabasca–Grande Prairie–Peace River (I live in Grande Prairie, BTW), at 5.7%, and the next lowest was Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake at 5.8%. In Calgary, which is to Alberta politics what the GTA is to the federal scene—i.e. the centre of the universe—it was 6.5% vs 7.1% for the same period last year, while Edmonton & Red Deer were actually up vs last year at 7.0 & 7.1% respectively.
Of course, that 3-month period ending in June this year straddles the election, and so it would be hard to attribute these numbers with any validity to anything the UCP has done in government.
Although I appreciate your effort on the unemployment figures, I do not believe that employment has ever been related to the government in power. It has been directly related to the price of oil at least since 1981, the year I came to Edmonton.
Furthermore, despite the 43 years of Conservatives, only very few were not deficits and they were when the price of oil and gas simultaneously went through the roof (lucky Klein was in power). Again very little to do with the government. So I doubt that the UCP will be any different. They like to think that they are fiscally prudent but if you look at any level including Federal, they do not have the track record they claim. Like everything else, just talk. Even their guru Harper was not able to balance the budget in 9 years that he was the King.
Carlos Beca: I agree with you there. Although the book is around 15 years old, Alberta Politics Uncovered, by Mark Lisac explains a lot very well. He was a columnist with the Edmonton Journal, who exposed the very costly debacles of the administrations of Don Getty and Ralph Klein. Ralph Klein and his assistant, Rod Love did not like the Alberta PCs continual run in with very costly mistakes being exposed, and Mark Lisac was removed from the Edmonton Journal staff. I think the book mentions high commodity prices having a role in why Alberta had its wealth. It did not attribute it to Ralph Klein and his government.
Dwayne, it sounds like Mark Lisac’s book is still relevant today. I’ve got to get my hands on it. Thanks for the recommendation.
Mark Lisac was right in my opinion. He was definitely a victim of non-democratic government but he fought for his opinions and I am sure he is a proud man. He was a person with character as opposed to these faceless illiterate morons that religiously repeat the same mantras ad nauseum. If anyone starts a serious discussion, they disrupt it with the mantras and laud voices because most of them cannot discuss anything. They are similar to the communist slogans that are repeated so many times that people believe them with fervor.
Carlos Beca: I’m glad we can discuss things on here. I appreciate the things you have to say.
So do I and I think Susan as well
Carlos, yes, I appreciate the contributions of you and all the others who appear on this blog. As you point out even when we differ we still provide facts and a rationale for our positions.
This wasn’t the case with the commentators who posted Kenney’s talking points and I’ve blocked them. If they want to be Kenney’s cheerleaders they’re free to post somewhere else.
Just to add – ‘So Do I ‘ even if you are a conservative but willing to talk seriously about any issue. Not like the two individuals that use to post here and all they replied was
‘Jason Kenney will bring back the Alberta Advantage and we will be prosperous again’
It was very shocking to me. Total robotic people with no real opinions. Of course those are Jason Kenney’s favorites. They can go on repeating his mantras like the Borg.
Of course, you are correct, but the predominant political narrative has been and is that the Alberta economy is in the toilet, and only Jason Kenney can save us. My point was that this narrative is based on a fiction, and that the provincial economy—based on the kind of leading economic indicators used by Canadians left, right & centre—is in much better shape than Kenney et. al. would have us believe.
Then, there’s this:
Jerrymacgp, these are very interesting numbers. As you and Carlos point out it’s difficult to attribute the increase to anything either government has done, particularly since Alberta’s economy is tied to global market forces beyond its control.
This doesn’t stop politicians from ignoring the facts and appealing to voters’ emotions.
I’m becoming increasingly worried about provincial and federal conservatives who are setting up a class war by saying “Liberal elitism” is stigmatizing “tradepeople” and this “ignorant, classist, elitist, garbage” will stop if Canadians elect a conservative government. Sure, let’s elect the conservatives so they can cut taxes on corporations and the rich, privatize healthcare and education, and destroy the environment because this is what’s best for tradespeople. Give me a break!
Yes as if any of them understands “tradespeople” – both millionaires with their minds on using “the people” to get more to their masters in the big Corps. Like you said, none of their policies helps the tradespeople at all.
None of this makes any sense except for the fact (which their supports do not care), that people are not informed or do not want to, to understand how they are being taken in by all this rhetoric.
The real FACT is that people for so long have been on the neo-liberal garbage roller coaster, that they want to hang on to something that promises changes. In come the Conservatives with the biggest Pyramid scam ever invented.
This should have been a great lesson for all those politicians that have been doing bad politics for decades, but unfortunately they do not even understand what is happening. Just look at Joe Biden. He is the best example of neo-liberal garbage and he had to be taken down by Kamala Harris in order for new blood to take over.
Scheer is another example – if he gets elected we can count on another 4 years of more of the same – tax cuts for corporations and the very rich and less services for the rest of us. Harper version 2 but apparently with a bit more religion so that they advance that cause a bit more into the mainstream politics and get us used to it – PROPAGANDA
Carlos, I agree with your observations. Your comment about Joe Biden was particularly interesting because it illustrates how hard it is for politicians to walk away from power even when they’re well past their prime. I looked up the list of the top 25 Democratic contenders for president and counted 9 white people over the age of 60–7 old white guys and 2 old white women. One guy is 89!
Yes, older people can bring wisdom and experience to the game, but younger progressive candidates with fresh ideas are what we need now, people like Kamala Harris who went to school when the desegregation busing program was implemented and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s not running now but will one day in the future.
I agree with you Susan but age is not always a factor – Elizabeth Warren is 69 but she has a platform that I would vote for anytime. Another example is Bernie Sanders who started this great change in the Democratic Party. Pelosi is now a dinosaur and she is a typical neo-liberal of Joe Biden type, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the tired members that have nothing but big money in sight.
Kamala Harris and Ocasio Cortez are amazing politicians and take me back to the 60s when it was still exciting to participate in the democratic process for most people that lived in the free world.
I agree Carlos. Elizabeth Warren is a real cracker jack and has the added credibility that comes from being a Republican once, but realizing that the GOP favoured the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
As to The Economist coining the term “New Right”, I am reminded of a time in Klein’s days and think we have been there 25 years ago.. Steve West was well known belligerent bully, vet who never liked a public servant he had to work with. As a minister, his creed was, don’t give any opposition time to mobilize. Hack and slash with relish and gusto as early as possible. With a grand flourish he assassinated CKUA and I can still his sneer to the naysaying public ” we never should have been in public broadcasting ( school broadcasting and extension education) in the first place in 1926.
New Right :1.0
Well said Douglas. Your comment about Steve West reminds me of another quote I read in The Economist in an article about reactionary nationalism. The article asked: Which American presidential candidate said “Every years millions of undocumented aliens break our laws, cross our borders, and demand social benefits paid for with [American] tax dollars….[and] we’re going to bring the jobs home and we’re going to keep America’s jobs here…we [will] start looking out for America first.” The answer is Pat Buchanan in the mid 1990s.
All of which demonstrates that elements of reactionary nationalism have been festering for a long time and burst through under different labels, this time it’s called the “New Right”. It wasn’t appropriate 20 years ago and it’s not appropriate now.