It’s been two and a half months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic; infections and deaths will continue until a vaccine is found. Economists and global thinkers may disagree on what the new world will look like, but they’re aligned on one thing: it’s not too soon for us to start thinking about the world we hope to live in when we finally reach the other side of this crisis.
We’ve learned some important lessons already.
The quality of government, particularly its leader, is critical
Covid-19 gave Albertans the opportunity to compare two very different governments, the provincial government led by Jason Kenney and the federal government led by Justin Trudeau.
Kenney’s government hung back waiting for the feds to step into the breach with social programs to ease the suffering of Albertans. It also doubled down on its pre-Covid agenda, attacking social services, particularly public education and healthcare, while the pandemic gained purchase. Particularly odious was the health minister’s refusal to reverse his decision to cut physician compensation until it became obvious the UCP would lose rural seats.
While the Alberta government was creating havoc and heartache, the federal government delivered a dizzying array of social programs to help Canadians weather the economic upheaval caused by the virus. (It goes without saying that the Notley government’s response would be more akin to that of the federal government, than Kenney’s government).
As we move through the pandemic, we need to consider what kind of leader would be best suited to navigating the rapidly changing, and often dangerous, new world—one who is dogmatic and inflexible or one who grasps the issues and responds quickly and effectively.
We need visionaries
The economist, Mohamed El-Erian, is concerned governments are defaulting to remedies (like bailouts for airlines and oil companies) that worked in the past, when they should be exploring new remedies for crises we’ve never experienced before. Instead of financial models that keep zombie companies alive in zombie markets, El-Erian says governments should consider an economic model that relies on productivity and people.
He argues for a more thoughtful approach and suggests we investigate economic theories like universal basic income and modern monetary theory (MMT) that were once considered impractical.
Given Kenney’s demand that the federal government bailout the energy industry to the tune of $20 to $30 billion, it’s unlikely he or his government and its advisors have the imagination necessary to consider any remedy other than one that props up Alberta’s one-trick pony fossil fuel economy.
As Alberta moves into the new world, we will need leaders who are willing to pressure-test old economic assumptions, instead of defaulting to the path that brought us to this economic cul-de-sac in the first place.
The economy does not take precedence over society
Remember when the UCP said we must be prosperous before we can be a compassionate caring society? Covid-19 showed us the opposite is true. When the economy ground to a halt, the social safety net and the community reaching out to its members helped us survive.
And yet, Kenney’s faith in the preeminence of economic prosperity is unshaken.
Despite the fact Alberta has not flattened the curve, the Kenney government is reopening the economy starting May 4. This means workers with legitimate concerns about catching the virus will have to report to work.
Nowhere is this more unconscionable than at Alberta’s meat packing plants. The Cargill plant and the JBS plant together are responsible for 42% of all of Alberta’s covid cases, including two deaths. And yet the Kenney government is allowing them to operate.
We need to decide what kind of government we want: one that puts the economy above society or one that recognizes the importance of life as well as livelihood?
What we can do now
The pandemic exposed the stark reality of inequality, underfunded public programs and the importance of a social safety net in calamitous times.
We will overcome the Covid-19 crisis, but looming on the horizon is an even bigger crisis, that of climate change.
Yes, it feels overwhelming, but as Samantha Power, former US Ambassador to the UN, said: when we think the problems are too big and we’re too small to do anything about them, we can make a difference by “shrinking the change”, by picking a manageable piece of the bigger problem and working on it.
In this case we can work with Rachel Notley’s NDP to ensure Jason Kenney’s UCP do not form government in 2023.
We need leaders and governments who are ready to tackle tomorrow’s challenges, not the battles of yesteryear.
*Comments by Mohamed El-Erian and Samantha Power are from the Munk Dialogues: World After Covid19 https://munkdebates.com/dialogues
Susan: Thanks for another great blog. It’s now May. The UCP have made around $50 billion in in costly blunders. In only one year! Jason Kenney and the UCP were making these costly blunders before the pandemic hit. As I’ve said before, triple digit oil prices are long gone. Jason Kenney and the UCP failed to get the memo that oil prices went down in 2014. I thought that Jason Kenney and the UCP wanted to reopen things gradually, starting on May 14. Either way, this is another big mistake waiting to happen. I read that the provincial government fell short of 9,000 tests in April. I also recall that the Conservative government in Quebec made things worse by lifting the restrictions on quarantine. I also heard that in Asian countries, there is a second wave of this virus, because they thought that things were improving. There was one person in an Asian country who was infected with the virus, and went into a crowded area and spread the virus. Jason Kenney and the UCP are not being practical, nor senisble, with the handling of the economy, or the pandemic. Giving away those masks, and other items to B.C, Ontario and Quebec, was shortsighted and some type of a political stunt. I have heard that people were saying from a poll (not that I have faith in polls), that they thought Rachel Notley would have handled this situation better. I would agree, based on her moral character and her ability do deal with adversity. Peter Lougheed would be the same way. I think opening up things in May won’t be good, and things might get worse if it happens. Those protestors at the Alberta Legislature were not thinking straight either. Lastly, I think it’s a good idea for people to donate non perishable food items, hygienic products and other needed items to their local food bank. It will help people in need.
Dwayne, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, particularly the one about lifting restrictions too soon. Alberta can’t say it’s flattened the curve until it has an R number below 1. The R number measures the reproductive rate of the virus, ie. how many people, on average, will be infected for every one person who has the disease. If the R goes above 1 you’ve got a problem because the virus is spreading exponentially.
The Alberta government continues to issue press releases telling us how many new infections we have, how many people have been hospitalized, how many are in ICU, how many have died and how many have recovered, but it has never to my knowledge provided us with an R number.
The premier of Saskatchewan on the other hand said that province’s R number was below one when he announced the lifting of restrictions. In other words he had a scientific reason to lift the restrictions, as opposed to Kenney who knows Alberta hasn’t peaked yet but is going to lift the restrictions anyway because what? The other provinces are doing it and stupid Albertans want to get their hair cut? Time will tell just how disastrous this decision turns out to be. One thing is for certain my family and friends are not rushing out there to revel in our “freedom” until things settle down more here in Calgary which has the highest covid infection rates in the province.
excellent article, as usual, Susan. I appreciated you reminding readers of the UCP comment that “we must be prosperous before we can be a compassionate caring society”. During the election campaign this really angered me. I tried to convince people that we could not be prosperous unless we were a compassionate, caring society first. As you say, we’ve now learned that lesson. So how do we wake up voting Albertans and prevent this current government, so lacking in any compassion or caring, from being re-elected?
Debbie, you’ve hit the nail on the head: how do we wake up voting Albertans to the fact they’ve voted in a train wreck of a party? The UCP will continue to make colossal mistakes which will hurt subsets of their base. We have to point these out because PostMedia is reluctant to do so unless the discontent boils over into outrage. I’m thinking of the UCP misspending tax payer dollars on (1) corporate bailouts and subsidies, (2) shifting public funding to private education, private healthcare and private charities to provide services which should be publicly funded and publicly delivered, (3) attacking the doctors to the point where many will leave the province, (4) relaxing health and safety and environmental regulations making Alberta less safe, and lastly (5) eroding our democratic institutions.
Whenever someone touts something the UCP is doing, I respond with: “how is that going to raise the price of oil?” It’s the easiest way to show Kenney lacks the vision to lead Alberta into the 21st century.
An excellent analysis. Thank you, Susan.
I also agree with Dwayne’s comment and would add that one of the things that Kenney is missing is the ability to establish priorities and to prioritize values.
Good point Snowbird. I don’t think Kenney can establish priorities because he has only one priority and that’s to get the fossil fuel economy back on track. This lack of vision blinds him to the fact it’s never going to happen. It’s cheaper to get oil from other jurisdictions (no one cares if oil is “ethical” or not), investors are more aware of climate change issues and all the money he wastes on war rooms and corporate tax cuts won’t make any difference. For a man who spent years as a federal politician his grasp of the big picture is sadly lacking.
Anyway, we have to do the best we can to keep body and soul together while he and his supporters ricochet around the province creating mayhem.
It really is surprising how blind he seems to be to issues with a global impact. He seems to have narrowed his focused to a point in Alberta that existed in the past.
Well put Snowbird, given his focus on the Alberta of yesterday, he’s totally out of his depth when faced with the Alberta of tomorrow.
Anyone want a used provincial park? C’mon down to Big J’s Park Emporium tomorrow, where everything and everyone in the province is for sale. No unreasonable offer refused. Hurry hard — limited time offer, only three more years. Look for Big J with the big smile, y’all.
CallmeHal, well said. The Kenney government’s lasting legacy will be its sleazy policy of selling off our parks and privatizing our public services to, ahem, balance the budget that is hopelessly out of balance and will stay that way for quite some time.
“Remember when the UCP said we must be prosperous before we can be a compassionate caring society?”, you enquire.
“Remember when the NDP said we must be prosperous before we can tackle climate change?”, I ask.
You see, I do. It was less than two years ago. I was bombarded by TV ads that the Notley government placed which were repeated many times per night arguing for a new pipeline to tidewater to sell more dilbit. This, it was alleged, would make much money to buy schools and hospitals all across the country, and allow a start on righting environmental harms. Why, we’d use the “oil” revenue to tackle the problem the oil itself was creating by selling more now. It was a recursive argument of no merit whatsoever. It made me quite angry. So let us not over-praise the vituperative Notley, who stamped her feet over BC’s intransigence as she saw it, and attempted to block BC imports from Alberta shelves.
That’s my Nova Scotia perspective, and I have relatives in Calgary. Notley was a petro-warrior as well. I believe it’s an Alberta mindset.
Insularity or indeed a certain parochialness also characterize the many good Alberta blogs, like this one. The rest of the country is hardly ever mentioned, which is not the case for many of the other blogs which are more general. It reminds me of US progressive blogs, where there is a complete concentration on how events impact the US, and virtually no thought is expended on other countries. They are regarded as unimportant, except as to how they affect the world’s only democratic paradise. Does Alberta feel it belongs in or to Canada, or does it exist in some special place beyond in Albertans’ collective mind’s eye?
kenney, whose name along with harper I refuse to dignify with a capital letter, is of course far worse for you in Alberta than Notley for all the reasons you name, and more. You are experiencing the remaking of society in some brainless corporate model, where every thought and move is to be privatized and priced for somebody’s profit. Where unions are thoroughly vilified and the resultant stranded inhabitants are individually picked off by reducing their very incomes, including health workers. Social cohesion itself is being attacked by lowbrow ideologues whose reading material is of the Ayn Rand variety. The rugged individual, honest and true, tirelessly working to better the lives of corporate elites with no thought of reward beyond a meagre living wage, is proud to stand tall and free and to attend church, where lectures on how to view themselves in a spiritual world ease any material shortcomings they may experience. Welcome to 1892 AD, the big boss, the priest, the mill and the company store. A one-horse town.
It is incomprehensible to me that the mostly foreign-owned Alberta petro sector would be given $20 or $30 billion from Canada to pour down the rathole of corporate coffers. They took a risk, the basis of capitalistic speculation, in order to turn a profit. For many reasons, their plans have not turned out the way they would like. Their product is not required and likely will never be again as the world changes to greener alternatives and better oil is readily available to refine. Too bad. But we are in the age of upside down logic, where capital insists on socialist bailout for their interests, and the populace at large can go hang. There’s dividends to be paid, after all.
The meat packer’s union has apparently lost their bid to not re-open Cargill at the present time. The Chief Medical Officer’s troops have inspected the facility and it’s good to go, they say. I wouldn’t be happy with that reassurance personally, so I am surprised they are not contemplating a wildcat strike. Put kenney on the griddle to sputter and fume for a change from his sanitized Covid-19-free lair. Can he arrest them all? Make it a condition of return to work that no retributionary steps can be taken when it is proven beyond doubt that both the workers and their families are virus-free. Would you want any less if you were in such a nasty situation yourself? The portly customers across the land besieging Costcos for steaks would have to raid their double freezers for a while.
The loosening of personal restrictions across the country seems to me to be about two weeks too soon except for New Brunswick and PEI, where they’ve had no new cases for two weeks already. Let’s hope the urge to break free doesn’t backfire on us, because there isn’t going to be another federal bailout package like the current one. We cannot afford it.
These are excellent comments Bill, and you’re right that my view of Notley as the better prermier is coloured by the fact I’m comparing her to Kenney. Like many NDP supporters I struggled to find the sweet spot where Notley would stay in power this petro-state. Many argue Notley went too far, and I can certainly understand that, but I think it was the price some of us were prepared to pay for a government that supported unions and public services. Sadly, the trade off didn’t pay off, Kenney was elected and ripped up all the good Notley had done.
And you’re also correct that this blog focuses primarily on Alberta. It’s not because I feel the rest of Canada isn’t important, it’s because Kenney is throwing so many things at us that it’s all I can do to keep up.
I sincerely hope that Trudeau will hold the line and refuse to bail out Alberta’s oil sector for the very reasons you’ve listed. The fact Kenney and his supporters think they are entitled to this aid boggles my mind.
With respect to Cargill and JBS I wish Kenney would put his money where his mouth is. If he truly believes the plants are safe he should spend a day or more on the assembly line working shoulder to shoulder with the workers to prove it.
Why compare Kenney to Notley? Why not a new progressive leader or group of leaders?
Meanwhile they’re doubling down on existing economic models with massive bailouts for millionaires and shareholders while the rest make do with lousy $1200 stimulus checks and “we’re all in this together” platitudes while they wait in food bank lines.
Speaking of platitudes how about that Samatha Power. Shrinking the change? What does she mean. This is the same Samatha Power that cajoled Barack Obama into overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, turning one of the most stable prosperous countries in Africa into a chaotic mess where the human slave trade has been reinstituted..
I think we could do without her kind of change.
Fair point Ronmac re: Samantha Power. It was interesting listening to her interview on the Munk Dialogues. Of all the speakers she was the one most focused on reestablishing globalism. She also recognized that it wouldn’t be happening under Trump (not that you’d need to be a brilliant globalist to figure that out).
I suspect Mohamed El-Erian would support your point about bailing out the billionaires and shareholders.
With respect to the meat-packing plants, Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw both have blood on their hands — with likely more to follow.
If Jason Kenney and Dr. Hinshaw feel it’s safe to keep the Cargill and JBS plants open, even after two deaths and 42 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in Alberta, perhaps they should take a tour of the plants, walk around and let the workers know firsthand how safe the facilities are. Not likely either of them would set foot in those infested meat lockers, so why should the workers be asked to put their lives in jeopardy? At this point, Albertans are resigned to just shaking their heads at the profound stupidity of our current pandemic leadership team. Sad.
JE. I share your concerns about Jason Kenney and Dr Deena Hinshaw. We all knew Kenney would rush to reopen the economy (although fat lot of good that’s going to do him given he can’t change oil prices) but I was disappointed to hear Dr Hinshaw talk about the impact of the lock down on the economy. Dr Hinshaw’s role and responsibility as Chief Medical Officer is to focus on the health of Albertans, any consideration of the impact of the pandemic on the economy is outside her purview.
“…suggests we investigate economic theories like universal basic income and modern monetary theory (MMT) that were once considered impractical.”
Rather than try something untested, why don’t we consider simply going back to McGeer monetary policy, utilizing specie and the constitutionally ingrained right(s) of the Bank of Canada?
It functioned more than adequately for roughly 7 decades, right up until Trudeau. Sr. adopted the Basel Committee ‘recommendations’ and started borrowing (ie selling our children’s labour) from inscrutable, international private banquing interests, rather than borrowing directly from ourselves; which, again, served us well for a long time, raising wages, and maintaining low debt.
I fear that MMT, relying on the premise that gov’t sets the value of a currency and not the market, will inevitably lead to hyperinflation.
GoinFawr: I’m certainly in no position to defend Mohamed El-Erian’s suggestion that governments explore MMT or other financial models. The extent of my understanding of MMT is it would allow governments to print more money when they go into budget deficits and this would allow them to avoid harsh austerity programs.
El-Erian pointed out the danger of inflation, but said economists can usually see inflation coming and as such could take steps to avoid it.
I don’t understand this area well enough to say anything other than I liked El-Erian’s suggestion that instead of responding to the covid crisis the same way we responded to the 2008 financial crisis (bailouts for those who are “too big to fail”) let’s consider new remedies.
Mr. Kenney with his various demands of Ottawa reminds me of a petulant child. I suspect Albertans will come to realize that when he jumps in with bluster, he is less likely to get what he wants. I suspect the oil well clean up program was long delayed and nearly sabotaged by some of his antics.
Despite all his bluster and because of his long history of anti Liberal attacks, Mr. Kenney does not much power to make Ottawa do anything. Alberta needs Ottawa more now than the other way around. Somewhere near the end of the Harper era, the table started to turn. Alberta would get ahead further with someone else Ottawa could be confident in and have a productive relationship with.
I think Albertans will start to realize petulance and antagonism is a luxury we can no longer afford. Too bad Mr. Kenney hasn’t.
Dave, good point. Sometimes I wonder whether Kenney has any contact with anyone who lives outside of Alberta. The rest of Canada simply shake theirs heads at Kenney’s ridiculous proposition that this province deserves to be bailed out after it squandered the fossil fuel advantage it’s had since oil was discovered at Leduc in 1947. Here we are 70 years later stamping our tiny feet, demanding Canadian taxpayers fix our lack of foresight, while at the same time we make our situation worse by doubling down on the oil and gas sector with massive investments in TC Energy and Coastal Gas Link while at the same time giving oil and gas companies a free pass on complying with critical environmental laws. Ridiculous.
One day after the workers returned to the meat plant in High River, Kenney has called on Albertans to “herd together” “like the buffalo” to fight Covid-19. Isn’t herding together what led to half the Cargill workforce being infected with Covid-19?
We are buffalo to the slaughterhouse in his eyes. Trust Kenney to see it that way and say it that way. This is the most disgusting thing he has ever said. Context is everything.
Call this episode Slaughterhouse 2020. My value to society is worth more than the dollar value of my weight in meat on the hoof. I am a human being. How about you, Jason Kenney?
We will unfortunately have more of these and they just move forward as if the herd is useless other than to provide good profits to the owners of the province.
COVID-19 is receding temporarily and already LaGrange is making waves about nothing but just the way they talk to us is bad in itself.
Jason Kenney must be laughing about your last question because we know well that he does not consider himself at all at the level of ‘us’. That would be a failure of his overgrown ego. The day will come though, somehow it always seems to arrive unexpectedly. The sooner the better for all of us. I would end it today if I could.
“But the first government to actually practice his theories was led by a man Douglas believed was insane and completely out of control – a man who simply hadn’t understood the concept….”
“Aberhart’s popular place in history was as a master manipulator who managed to hoodwink the people of Alberta with cockamamie concepts and looney-tune economics.”
Let’s just hope that the buffaloed stampede this time around. Thank goodness we’re not sheeple.
Interesting read Hal. When I got to the bit that said “the official Baptist Church wasn’t too happy about everything Bill Aberhart proclaimed as gospel, so Bill decided to found his own sect, The Bible Institute Baptist Church” I immediately thought of Jason Kenney, a man who converted to Catholicism, went to a Jesuit university, got into a dispute with the Jesuits which ended in him leaving university without a degree. Maybe he’s created his own brand of catholicism, something along the lines of the prosperity theology started by the televangelists in the US.
Hal and Carlos, I see Kenney’s buffalo comment as a desperate attempt to latch on to a symbol he can make his own. He’s used it at least twice, first about 3 weeks ago when he talked about a buffalo herd facing out to survive a bad storm (I heard this story as a child) and again in the context of the the pandemic, ie. the herd clumps together facing out to defend its more vulnerable members from a wolf (this is particularly odious given the UCP government hasn’t defended vulnerable Albertans, it cut them loose).
The fact he insists on using this analogy when the medical experts are clear that self-isolation not clumping together is the best way to flatten the curve shows you how pig-headed he is.
He’s desperate to rally Albertans behind a noble symbol, first it was “people of destiny” which came from that document someone drafted in 1905 when Alberta joined confederation, now it’s the buffalo a la Michele Rempel’s Buffalo Declaration. None of these analogies are sticking, perhaps because the man who’s trying to foist them on us is a guy who thought riding around in a blue pick up truck made him a real Albertan.
The Wolf is Jason Kenney.
The prime Minister of Greece took the opposite approach to Jason Kenney.
“The Greek leader understood that the country’s austerity-hit health system would quickly collapse if the virus wasn’t contained. Experts in infectious diseases were brought in, taking centre stage with daily briefings….
“There was, he added, no room for spin, showmanship, hubris or “any of the feelings of invincibility” that so often shackle nations with an imperial past.”
Kenney decided to impose austerity during the pandemic, spin, spin some more, add showmanship and plenty of hubris. And now it seems we’re headed for the same fate in the aftermath that Greece was in before the pandemic took hold. The empire of Alberta is becoming a Greek tragedy.