James Madison said tyranny arises “on some favourable emergency”.
The COVID-19 pandemic is today’s “favourable emergency.” It’s being used by unscrupulous politicians as a smokescreen for undemocratic behavior in Alberta’s Legislature and an excuse for Jason Kenney to enlist the crème de la crème of right-wing conservative thinkers to reshape Alberta’s economy.
Undemocratic behavior in the Legislature
Last week NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley told the House about a number of instances where the Kenney government violated the principles of democracy.*
She said the Kenney government introduced motions without allowing the NDP Opposition to see them beforehand and then lied to the House by claiming written notice had been provided when it had not.
She described how the Kenney government threatened to withdraw the $500 million it had promised support frontline workers battling COVID-19 if the NDP Opposition did not unanimously support what she described was an “unorthodox” change in the budget numbers.
Government lies and threats have no place in the democratic process.
Lastly, the Kenney government rammed through the budget with 3 hours of debate when House rules require 30 plus hours of debate time. It’s not as if the time wasn’t available. The government simply cancelled the 10 hours of debate time that had been scheduled for the prior evening and that morning.
Why the rush?
Because by short-circuiting debate the Kenney government could shield itself from financial accountability, oversight, and transparency; and (perhaps just as important) shield spineless UCP MLAs who supported cuts that will harm their own constituents.
Hiding from accountability and oversight while ducking your own constituents is undemocratic and cowardly.
The Kenney government said the COVID-19 pandemic justified its behavior and yet other governments, including Saskatchewan, Ontario, and the federal government delayed their budgets, recognizing the pandemic had rendered their budget numbers irrelevant.
The Harper Council
The Kenney government promised to do everything in its power to protect jobs and job creators in the face of COVID-19 and plunging oil prices. It created the Economic Recovery Council to guide Alberta through the downturn and to develop strategies for long-term recovery, including economic diversification.
The Council is chaired by economist Jack Mintz (who believes Alberta could Wexit easier than the UK could Brexit) and includes Stephen Harper, former prime minister and now chair of the International Democrat Union (IDU), an alliance of centre-right, conservative political parties. Margaret Thatcher was one of its founding members.
The Harper Council (let’s face it, Stephen Harper will have more sway over the outcome than the other 11 members put together) is top heavy with executives from banks, private equity funds, and the energy sector and light on everything else. This is an indication of what Albertans can expect from the Council—recommendations that echo Kenney’s call for more government support of the energy sector at the expense of everything else (there’s a reason why the AIMCo CEO is at the table).
One might ask why the Kenney government did not commit to doing everything in its power to protect its citizens from the social consequences of COVID-19 and plummeting oil prices and set up a parallel Council of healthcare and other professionals to develop strategies for our long term social recovery.
The answer is simple. Kenney accepts responsibility for the economy (sort of, when things go bad it’s someone else’s fault, when things go well he takes a bow), but he will not accept responsibility for society, hence his government’s continuing attacks on Alberta’s doctors smack in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.
Thankfully Albertans can rely on the Trudeau government which is committed to spending billions to help Albertans weather this crisis.
Compassion vs prosperity
Remember when the UCP said we can’t be a compassionate, caring society until we’re a prosperous one. This Thatcherism became the foundation of Jason Kenney’s election promise of “jobs, economy, pipelines” and was reflected in one of his first pieces of legislation, the “job creating tax cut.”
We knew Jason Kenney was wrong, but it wasn’t until the coronavirus hit that we realized just how wrong he was.
All the tax cuts in the world aren’t going to put Alberta’s economy back on track because as economist Jim Stanford says, it is “work” (which he defines as human effort) that’s critical to economic activity. Human effort transforms the materials we get from nature into useful goods and services. Sure, corporate investment is important, but it is by no means the only driver.
And until human effort returns to the economy in the form of production and consumption, the economy is going nowhere.
Think about that for a moment.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced human effort to withdraw from the economy in all but the “essential” sectors (some of which were invisible to us until now).
What if something as powerful as a pandemic, say a desire to stop the degradation of public services like education and healthcare, were to capture Albertans’ imagination and they withdrew their human effort for, say, one day a week until politicians agreed it was time to reconsider the balance between the economy and society.
Oh wait, we already know how to do that. It’s called a General Strike.
*Alberta Hansard, Mar 17, 2020 p 221