The Reign of Misinformation

The last six months have been hell and the next six months will be worse.

By election day, May 29, 2023, we’ll have transitioned from Jason Kenney, the politician who went to great lengths to convince ‘the people of destiny” that their sense of victimhood was justified to Danielle Smith, the politician and journalist who will add her unique blend of conspiracy theorist thinking to the list of indignities Albertans believe they’ve suffered at Ottawa’s hands.     

It will be trickier to hold Smith to account because she offers her own experience as a journalist to reject the role of journalism in democracy.

Premier Smith

As Marsha Lederman said in the Globe and Mail, “Her depiction of journalism as a clickbait endeavour was more than a shot at reporters; it demonstrates a dismissal of a fundamental aspect of democracy – and perhaps more concerning, one she should be intimately familiar with.”  

This is no trivial matter.

Facts, truth, trust

Maria Ressa is a Filipino-American journalist, together with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, she won the Nobel peace prize for their fight to safeguard freedom of expression.

Ressa says that without facts there is no truth, without truth there is no trust, and without trust there is no shared reality and we can’t work together on the problems that confront us.

Ressa cites the historian Timothy Snyder who said: to abandon facts is to abandon freedom.

If you’re wondering whether Alberta under a Smith government will descend into tyranny, consider this.

Lovefest or Occupation?

Depending on where you get your news, you believe the Freedom Convoy was the biggest lovefest since Woodstock or a lawless band of hooligans who took Ottawa and some border crossings hostage.

How can this be?

We all saw the TV footage, read the newspaper accounts, some of us were there or knew people who were there and experienced it firsthand. And yet our opinions about the Convoy are radically different.

The testimony of convoy organizer James Bauder provides some insight.

Bauder testified that:   

  • he graduated from high school and became a consultant who traveled the world advising clients on policy, corporate governance, and risk management
  • as he passed through international airports, he developed an understanding of how CNN/BBC “distract” the government
  • he prayed for an answer to divisiveness in Canada and God said “unity”
  • he founded Canada Unity to unify Canada
  • the 2019 United We Roll convoy was a response to Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau “ganging up on us.”
  • the 2022 Freedom Convoy was a response to Bauder’s conclusion that vaccines were dangerous and mandates were unlawful   
  • Bauder, his wife and another trucker drafted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to be signed by Canada Unity, the Governor General and the Speaker of the Senate.
  • if they signed the MOU Bauder would remove the Bearhug (Bauder described the Bearhug as a sign of love so it’s unclear why its removal would be an incentive for the GG and the Speaker to sign the MOU)  
  • the MOU signatories would order the federal, provincial and municipal government to cease all unconstitutional activity, reinstate all fired employees, and waive all covid fines.

It’s unclear who was going to force Justin Trudeau, the premiers, the mayors, etc to bend to the will of the MOU’s signatories, but Bauder assured the Commission that the Senate was the “root of all law” under the Helsinki Act and the Nuremberg codes (??) and had the power it needed.

Bauder declared the Convoy a success (if it unified Canada I missed it) and went home to prepare a lawsuit against those who he said had harmed him and his family.  

I’ve got a law to fix that

Bauder’s testimony is rife with factual errors which underpin his lack of trust in experts and his ignorance of the legal and political processes. Bauder acted on this misinformation and created havoc.

That’s Bauder, what’s Smith’s excuse?

Smith used misinformation to gain power and once elected doubled down on misinformation by using it to enact new laws.     

Smith’s Bill #1, the Alberta Sovereignty Act, will strengthen Albertans’ belief that they’ve been abused by Ottawa. It will harden their resolve if Ottawa fails to yield and they’ll become even more entrenched in their fantasy that they’re better off splitting from Canada.  

Smith’s legislative changes to make anti-vaxxers a protected class under Alberta’s human rights legislation tells the anti-vaxxers they were right to flout public health safeguards and will increase the risk of illness and death the next time around. It’s also extremely disrespectful of minorities that require protection from discrimination.

The Sovereignty Act and the ‘rights’ of anti-vaxxers will be challenged and defeated in the Courts, but the harm Smith will have inflicted on Alberta by passing these ‘laws’ in the first place will live on.  

Because, as Maria Ressa said, without facts, there is no truth, without truth, there is no trust, and without trust we cannot work together to solve the real problems we face.

Posted in General Health Care, Law, Politics and Government, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

“Hold the Line” and other malarkey

The Public Order Emergencies Commission was convened to determine whether the federal government erred by invoking the Emergencies Act. It will be months before we have a decision, but it only took a week of testimony for many Canadians to decide the organizers of the trucker convoy are a bunch of arrogant, ignorant, sometimes delusional, cry babies.

To understand why the occupation of Ottawa was something other than a fight for freedom let’s compare it with a real freedom protest, the Birmingham campaign.

From Apr 3, 1963 to May 10, 1963, Martin Luther King led a “nonviolent direct action” to protest segregation in the city of Birmingham. The protest was timed to put pressure on Birmingham’s merchants during Easter, the second biggest shopping season after Christmas.

King was imprisoned and wrote a letter from the Birmingham jail which sets out the principles of nonviolent, direct action. Had the convoy’s organizers thought to look it up, they may have avoided giving themselves a black eye and earning the scorn of two-thirds of the nation.  

The Birmingham Campaign vs the Ottawa Occupation

King says there are four basic steps in any nonviolent campaign: the collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist, negotiation to resolve these injustices, self purification, and direct action.

Facts: Birmingham had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks, bus drivers, bank tellers, or store cashiers. Jobs for black workers were limited to manual labour, work in household services, yard maintenance or in black neighbourhoods. Public and commercial establishments were racially segregated by law. One Black neighbourhood was bombed so frequently it was known as “Dynamite Hill.” Birmingham was rife with injustice.

Where was the injustice in Ottawa? Or the rest of Canada for that matter?

Unlike the Blacks of Birmingham who were barred by law from everything designated “Whites only”, the anti-vaxxers could choose to take a simple safe vaccine and observe some public health restrictions to protect themselves and their communities from the pandemic.

They chose not to do so, then cried foul when public health restrictions impacted their lives. There was no injustice here as the restrictions applied to everyone and were supported by an overwhelming majority of Canadians.

Negotiation:  For years Black leaders tried to negotiate with municipal leaders to repeal segregation laws. Promises were made and promises were broken, again and again. The municipal leaders refused to negotiate in good faith and the time for negotiation was over.

The situation was different with the trucker convoy.

Duly elected provincial and federal governments enacted vaccine mandates to slow the spread of covid and protect our collapsing healthcare system. Their decision was based on scientific evidence and expert advice and applied to everyone, not a subset of the population.

There was no injustice and nothing to negotiate.

The convoy organizers didn’t see it that way.

They declared some, all, who knows which, public health measures were unlawful, violated their Charter rights, and must be eliminated immediately.

That was an ultimatum based on ignorance, not a negotiation strategy.  

Having said that, it appears the convoy organizers successfully negotiated a comfy reception from local law enforcement. Over time this fell apart and organizers like Jeremy MacKenzie, the creator of Diagolon, called for his members to travel to Ottawa and “hold the line.”   

Self-purification: King describes this step as a a series of workshops on nonviolence, of asking oneself whether one is able “to accept blows without retaliating” and to “endure the ordeal of jail”.

King’s workshops were intended to stop the protesters from reacting violently when attacked by cops armed with clubs and fire hoses, who set vicious dogs on protesters, including children.

There would be no room in King’s self-purification workshops for protesters who harassed and intimidated innocent people, blasted air horns all night, set fires in the streets, shot fireworks into windows and stored flammable liquids next to residential apartment buildings.

Not only were the convoy organizers unprepared for the “ordeal of jail” some like veteran Chris Deering were outraged at being taken into custody (ie standing around outside the paddy wagon, driven 10 kilometers away, then released) because it was cold outside, he had no money, and his cell phone died.

Direct action: King says the purpose of direct action (sit-ins at lunch counters, public buildings and libraries, kneel-ins at churches, and marches on City Hall) is to create “a crisis and foster such a tension that the community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

After a 40% drop in sales Birmingham merchants were ready to negotiate. The politicians waited until national and global pressure forced them back to the negotiation table.  

The negotiation process achieved the campaign’s goals of desegregating stores, imposing fair hiring practices in shops and municipal employment, reopening public parks, and creating a bi-racial committee to oversee the desegregation of public schools.  

King’s direct action improved the lives of Blacks in Birmingham.

Who did the convoy organizers think they were going to negotiate with?  

The municipal government and the provincial government could do nothing to lift federally imposed travel mandates.

Occupying Ottawa did nothing to lift public health restrictions imposed by the other provinces and territories.

The convoy did nothing but horrify the entire country.

Martin Luther King used direct action to fight injustice. The trucker convoy occupied Ottawa in a pique of self-indulgent stupidity.

The Commission

We’ll learn in due course whether the federal government erred in invoking the Emergencies Act, but based on their testimony, we’re able to render judgment on the convoy organizers today.  

We’ve seen Tamara Lich say she supported truckers going home. When confronted with videos where she urged truckers to “hold the line” she said she meant they should hold true to their values in the face of diversity (adversity?). (Funny; when the head of Diagolon said it he meant brace for battle).   

Pat King said the occupation was a loving, caring event…oh and his racist rants were taken out of context. In what possible context can you rail against “depopulation” without it being racist?   

James Bauder testified he was “directed by God” to bring unity to Canada when ‘Naughty Notley’ and ‘Justine Trudeau’ ganged up on ‘us.’ He talked about his futile search for the one Quebecer who cast the deciding ballot in the Sovereignty Referendum which saved Canadian unity. The jury is still out on whether he misspoke or truly believes a single person carried the No vote (which won by a margin of 54,288 votes).

When asked why he referred to the prime minister as’“Justine’ Bauder said it’s because he’s an alpha male trucker, oil patch, farm boy kind of guy. Yeah, that explains it.

For a whole week we watched them scuttle away from taking responsibility for what they said and what they did with slippery language, coy revisionism, and just plain ignorance.  

The occupation of Ottawa was not an act of nonviolent direct action, but the immature tantrum of a selfish minority of anti-vaxxers who didn’t care who they hurt to make their point.

Calling it a fight for freedom won’t change that.

Posted in Disasters, Law, Politics, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 98 Comments

When the UCP Government Ran Amok

“There is no room for the unilateral assumption of authority in a constitutional democracy.” – Nigel Bankes, U of C emeritus professor of law, on the government’s decision to rescind masking in schools.

Last week an Alberta court ruled that the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s Order rescinding masking in schools was “unreasonable” because it was not Dr Hinshaw’s decision; she merely implemented a decision of the Priorities Implementation Cabinet Committee (PICC*) and Cabinet had no authority under the Public Health Act to make such a decision.

The Court also ruled that the Education Minister’s statement that prohibited school boards from imposing mask mandates did no such thing because a prohibition could only be accomplished by regulation. Since the government had not passed such a regulation, the Education Minister’s statement did not prevent school boards from imposing mask mandates. What it did do was cause widespread confusion across the province.

Wait, what?

A Cabinet committee made public health decisions without statutory authority? The Education minister created havoc by issuing a sharply worded prohibition with no legal effect?

These are deeply concerning actions on the part of the Alberta government that fly in the face of the rule of law.

How does this happen in a constitutional democracy?

The Court decision   

Albertans had a front row seat to the colossal failure of the government’s decision-making process thanks to the persistence of a group of parents worried about their kids who were at greater risk of severe outcomes if they contracted covid. They sued the government when it rescinded mask mandates in schools.

Justice Dunlop examined the record—initially Dr Hinshaw provided 19 pages, the applicants pushed for more and she filed an amended record of 183 pages and a further amended record of 282 pages. Justice Dunlop concluded the original 19-page record formed the foundation of the government’s decision to rescind masking.

Then the Court laid out the government’s flawed decision-making process:   

  • Dr Hinshaw presented three options to PICC. (These options were driven by previous PICC decisions).
  • PICC decided on Option 2 (this decision was made without statutory authority).
  • Dr Hinshaw dutifully signed an Order reflecting PICC’s decision and when asked by the press what had changed in the last month to drop the mask mandate in schools, she deflected the question to the Health Minister.

Meanwhile the Education Minister was off on a frolic of her own, issuing a sharply worded statement prohibiting school boards from imposing mask mandates. The Court ruled that the statement was simply a statement, not a regulation, as such it did nothing but create “widespread confusion” as to its legal effect.  

Where were the lawyers?

It’s not every day that a government screws up its decision-making process this badly.

When it does it’s fair to demand an explanation.

Sadly, none will be forthcoming. Dr Hinshaw has been fired. Jason Kenney is no longer premier. And many of the cabinet ministers who were on PICC are now comfortably ensconced in Premier Smith’s cabinet.   

All we can do is speculate.

Why didn’t Dr Hinshaw ask for legal advice if she was unclear about her decision-making authority under the Public Health Act?  

Why didn’t PICC—which was comprised of high-ranking cabinet ministers including three former lawyers, Kaycee Madu, Doug Schweitzer, and Sonya Savage, and the Health Minister, Jason Copping, who has an LLM from Osgoode Hall law school—stop to consider whether they had the statutory authority to act as they did?

The answers are:

  • those involved were too arrogant or cowed to seek legal advice, or
  • they sought legal advice and were given bad advice, or
  • they sought legal advice, were given good advice, and ignored it.

None of these scenarios inspires confidence…let alone trust that the government knows what it’s doing.

Doubling down

Premier Smith could have tried to repair the damage to her government’s credibility with a statement saying she would enact the appropriate legislation to ensure any future decisions were properly grounded in statute or regulation.

Instead she doubled down saying “Our government will not permit any further masking mandates of children in Alberta’s K-12 education system.”  

Not ever, not even in the case of a horrific airborne disease?

Just to be clear. Smith’s statement is a statement just like the Education minister’s statement. It is not a law or a regulation. Smith does not have the statutory authority to prohibit any further masking mandates…yet.  

Smith directed the Justice minister to assess whether to appeal the Dunlop decision (it’s nuts to appeal).  

She instructed the ministers of Justice, Health, and Education to alert her “to any legislative or regulatory changes that may be necessary to reaffirm or clarify our government’s full authority with respect to this and other health and education matters.” (They could read the Dunlop decision for a start. It’s all there).

Bottom line: despite all the verbiage, unless the Dunlop decision is overturned or new statutes/regulations are passed, the only person who can impose or rescind a masking mandate is the yet-to-be-hired CMOH or their authorized delegate (not Smith or her Cabinet).  

And all of Smith’s tough talk won’t change that.

Why this matters

The public is understandably focused on Smith’s rejection of scientific evidence and its repercussions on public health, however we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture: last spring Alberta’s premier and a bunch of UCP cabinet ministers claimed authority they did not have.

We live in a constitutional democracy.

This was inexcusable.

*PICC has been disbanded. At the time its members appeared to be Jason Kenney, Jason Nixon (government house leader), Travis Toews, (Finance) Sonya Savage (Energy), Rebecca Schultz (Children’s Services) Ric McIver (Municipal Affairs, Kaycee Madu (Justice), Doug Schweitzer (Jobs, Economy), Jason Copping (Health).

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Crime and Justice, General Health Care, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 113 Comments

Danielle Smith: Alberta’s Very Own Liz Truss

In less time than it took Liz Truss to crash and burn, Danielle Smith transformed the United Conservative Party into the Libertarian Populist Party. And that’s why they’ll lose in the next election.

Smith has been the LPP’s leader for just over two weeks.

In that time she’s demonstrated that she’s fluent in the populists’ language. She spoke it before she became premier when she speculated Putin may have been justified in invading Ukraine (yes, she’s since apologized for her “ill-informed” comment, feel free to applaud her for catching up with the rest of the world).

And she’s speaking it now with her vigorous defence of the unvaxxed, apologies and pardons all around for the most discriminated-against group she’s seen in her lifetime.   

Her supporters say these are just “blips” which are to be expected when a civilian moves into a public life. Really? Smith led the Wildrose from 2009 to 2014, she’s an experienced politician.

Danielle Smith

She may have been a civilian when she made online posts* expressing harebrained ideas ranging from alternative covid remedies to buying and selling property using crypto, thereby eliminating the “bureaucracy” of going through Land Titles. She doesn’t appear to understand that the Torrens system of land registry provides conclusive proof of title and protects third party interests (like her bank mortgage) registered against the property.

Smith’s “blips” are not innocent misstatements. They’re glaring examples of poor judgment and a wobbly grasp of reality.

Reality sucks

Liz Truss, another libertarian with an alarming lack of understanding of the real world, blazed ahead with her ill-informed economic plan and almost crashed the British economy.

Likewise, Smith is forging ahead with her Sovereignty Act so Alberta will no longer have “to ask permission from Ottawa to be prosperous and free.” The fact that the Act rips up the rule of law and will surely fail when it’s tested in the courts, is irrelevant as long as it served its purpose which was to sweep her into the premier’s office.

Not content to increase Albertans’ animosity toward Ottawa, she’s creating strife within Alberta by viciously attacking our healthcare system.

Smith accused AHS of manufacturing staffing shortages and blocking therapeutics to treat covid and, wait for it, being in cahoots with the World Economic Forum (a perennial target of conspiracy theorists).

She’s assured her populist supporters that she’ll dramatically reorganize AHS, weeding out the miscreants, while at the same time bringing top tier healthcare to all, and she’ll do it in 90 days.  

One wonders whether the premier, who has an answer for everything, is aware of the scope of this undertaking.

AHS has over 900 facilities across the province, including 106 acute care hospitals, 5 stand-alone psychiatric facilities, and numerous cancer centres and community health sites. It has more than 100,000 direct employees. Another 12,500 work in wholly owned subsidiaries like Precision Labs. And more than 10,900 physicians practice in Alberta.

The worry that AHS will be a chaotic mess 90 days from now is creating real stress for healthcare workers across the province just when they need every ounce of fortitude to face the next wave of covid.

That’s reality.

The populists are watching

Take Back Alberta, a grassroots group “built to advance freedom and transfer power from the ruling elite to the people,” takes credit for leading the charge against Jason Kenney. TBA identified Smith and another leadership candidate as their “freedom candidates” and was delighted when Smith became UCP leader and premier.

Having successfully replaced Kenney with Smith, TBA’s next target was the UCP board of directors, because they believe it’s the Board’s job to keep the premier in line. The TBA’s slate of nominees were elected to the UCP board at last week’s AGM.  

TBA has a number of goals including stopping any future vaccine mandates, preventing future lockdowns and restructuring AHS. All of which Smith has promised to do.

One can only wonder what TBA will demand of her next…and how they’ll react if she’s unable to deliver because while they may be able to influence the party leader, the premier is answerable to all Albertans.

Two realities

If Smith loses the populists’ support, she’ll crash headlong into reality.   

First, she wasn’t the United Conservative Party members’ first choice (or second, or third, or fourth, or fifth) because she’s just too much of a wingnut.  

Second, since she’s been elected the UCP is trailing the NDP in the polls, 53% to 38%.

Truss lasted 45 days. How long with Smith last in the real world?   

*reported by freelance journalists Justin Ling and Jeremy Appel

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

A Letter to UCP MLAs

Dear UCP MLAs:

I’m a constituent without an MLA because your new leader decided I don’t need one. Apparently urban issues (unlike rural issues) are the same all across the city and I can take my concerns to the UCP MLA in the next riding.

Anyway I’m just checking in to see how you’re doing. It’s been a horrible year, right?

Things got seriously bad after Jason Kenney’s Best Summer Ever turned into a healthcare nightmare that tipped our hospitals into crisis mode (remember the Triage Protocol?) and led to vaxx mandates, vaxx passports and the anti-vaxx pushback.

And then it got even worse.

When Kenney finally realized his job was one the line, he tootled all over the province shoring up his base, leaving you to your own devices. I know, I know, it’s hard to get anything done when your leader is fighting for his political life.  

The May leadership review was a disaster and Kenney was out on his ear. Leaving you to decide who to back as the next UCP leader.    

Then your party elected Danielle Smith.  

The worst was over, right? Wrong.  

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

On Day One of her premiership Smith declared the unvaccinated were more discriminated against than any other group in 50 years.

Dear UCP MLA, you know how systemic racism works, right? You’re aware of the history of residential schools in our country and the continued mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. You’ve witnessed the rise of Islamophobia and transphobia, and homophobia, and anti-Semitism, and inequality against women.

Premier Danielle Smith

Surely you don’t need me to tell you what your leader said was appalling…and her so-called clarification of what she really meant by her disgusting statement didn’t help.   

Also on Day One she told talk show host, Ryan Jespersen that while Jason Kenney believed in “ordered liberty” (freedom limited by a need for order), she did not. She was a “libertarian populist.”

She said the foundation of libertarianism is the “free individual with free agency” around whom are the family, community, and free enterprise. (In some kind of disordered blob, I guess).

She didn’t address the “populist” part, so I’ll direct you to poli sci prof Lisa Young who said populism is a belief that ordinary people are being kept down by the elites (the “Notley/Singh/Trudeau alliance), scientists (who wouldn’t give ivermectin a chance) and experts (like those people at AHS who deserve to be fired for refusing to magically produce 1000 ICU beds when Kenney snapped his fingers).*  

By then you may have felt a little uncertain about your new leader, but you didn’t want to rush to judgment, right?    

Then came the bombshell.

…She filled the ocean with sharks

Last week you discovered your new leader has been merrily posting her thoughts on a right-wing website where she:

  • endorsed anti-vaxx groups (no surprise)
  • shared vaccine misinformation (no surprise)
  • questioned the efficacy of mRNA vaccines (no surprise)
  • touted her Alberta Sovereignty Act as protection from, among other things, a digital ID based totalitarian surveillance state, she referred to China’s social credit scoring system here (wait, what?)
  • reposted Russian disinformation suggesting Ukraine may have been the aggressor against Russia (What??)
  • suggested “would be global government tyrants” hoping to convince the “conspiracy theorists” that there’s no plan to form a global government should refrain from negotiating global agreements under the auspices of WHO (WHAT???)  

So that’s why I’m checking in with you dear UCP MLA. Are you okay with this stuff coming from the lips of your party leader, now premier of the province?    

You have a decision to make.

You’ll need to decide whether you’re going down the libertarian populist rabbit hole with your leader or you’re taking a stand.

If you decide to take a stand, you can start by voting against Smith’s Sovereignty Act, because despite her recent comment that her government would abide by decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada after all, she’s never said her government wouldn’t reject federal laws.

If she’s sticks with her position, she will expect you to join her in violating the rule of law. The one that says no one (not even a premier) is above the law. Remember it’s the courts, not the Alberta government, who can decide a federal law is invalid and until that law is tested in court, the Alberta government must abide by it.

So I’m just checking in with you, dear UCP MLA, to ask whether you care about democracy enough to rein in your leader before her brand of libertarian populism polarizes Albertans and undermines our democratic institutions to the point where it will take us years to recover.   

And yes, I understand this has been a tough year to be a UCP MLA, but it’s going to get a whole lot worse if you don’t get out of the water now before the shark rips you (and us) to bits.

*My examples, not Lisa’s

Posted in Law, Politics and Government, Social Media | Tagged , , | 66 Comments

Danielle Smith’s Victory Speech: Backtracking Big Time

Did anyone catch Danielle Smith’s victory speech? In it she did three things:

  • She started to back away from her key campaign promise, the Sovereignty Act
  • She characterized the UCP as the party that is both fiscally responsible and compassionate (entrepreneurs with a heart and a soul)
  • She repositioned herself as a staunch supporter of Confederation

Judging by the applause, the audience fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Alberta will take its rightful place

Smith started with the usual pitch. It’s time for Alberta to take its place as a “senior partner” in building a strong and unified Canada.

Then she launched into an attack on those who would impose vaccine mandates, silence our voices, land lock our resources or phase out our energy. (Damn that “virtue signalling prime minister.”)

Danielle Smith

What was missing from this “stand up for Alberta” diatribe was an explanation of how her pledge to enact the Sovereignty Act would free Albertans from federal interference by allowing her government to ignore any federal laws or court decisions it didn’t like.

Perhaps this was because a couple of days later Rob Anderson (who co-wrote the Free Alberta Strategy which outlined the Sovereignty Act and who is now a key aide in the premier’s office) said the Act would not allow her government to ignore Supreme Court rulings.

This is important.

When a province doesn’t like a federal law, it can ask the Supreme Court to decide whether the law is valid. If the Supreme Court decides the law is valid and if Smith is not going to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling, then she is not planning on ignoring any federal laws the Supreme Court decides are valid.

In other words, Smith is backtracking.  

That pfft you just heard was the sound of the air being let out of Danielle Smith’s key campaign promise.


Why did Smith do a U turn?  

Was she convinced by the legion of legal academics that the Act was unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers, the constitutional division of powers and the rule of law which dates back to the Magna Carta?   

Was she concerned that passing the Act would trigger a constitutional crisis?  

Was she worried that she had no mandate to proceed?*   

Or was it something more basic, like the possibility that she’d lose the election in May 2023?

Backtracking and rewriting history  

Smith’s ascension to the UCP leadership did not mirror Kenney’s decisive victory. He won on the first ballot with 61% of the vote. It took Smith six rounds to win with 54%, a mere 3 points more than the 51% that led to Kenney’s resignation.

Her caucus is full of MLAs who are uncomfortable with her and with her Act. She needs to convince them that they will not be violating their duty to uphold the law if they support the Act, failing which they’ll vote against it (how embarrassing!) and may refuse to run in 2023.  

And here’s the kicker.

In May 2023, Smith must convince 2.7 million eligible voters (the bulk of whom see themselves as Canadians first and Albertans second) that the Sovereignty Act was not a stunt to curry favour with the extreme right, but rather a legitimate solution to a real problem.  

In anticipation of this conundrum Smith started to rewrite history in her victory speech.  

She said Ottawa and the “establishment even in here Alberta” don’t want the UCP to stay united. They’ll “drag up old statements, past mistakes, use cancel culture, fear mongering” to divide the UCP.

Many “in the Notley/Singh/Trudeau alliance will claim [the] Sovereignty Act…is meant to move Alberta to leaving our beloved Canada [and] that is a lie.”

Oh please. That is not a lie. That is exactly what her Act did. She said it would allow Alberta to walk away from federal jurisdiction. This would trigger a constitutional crisis. The only way to move farther away from Confederation is to declare you’re leaving.

No, no, Smith protested. “Albertans love Canada.” It is “our country, our home.” In case we missed Smith’s love for a unified Canada, she closed her speech with a line from Oh Canada, (May God keep our land glorious and free).

What’s next

Smith will water-down the Sovereignty Act to make it acceptable to her caucus.

The final version will likely state that Alberta may do everything in its power including bringing a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada and let the court decide whether a federal law or court decision applies to Alberta. Alberta already has this power so this will be a colossal waste of time but it’s the only way Smith can save face.  

She’ll use the “more compassionate UCP” mantra to buy votes by throwing money at everyone the UCP trampled in their first three years in office.

And she’ll rewrite history. saying she had no intention of passing the legislation that would have allowed Alberta to turn its back on confederation and anyone suggests such a thing is lying.  

The only people she won’t hoodwink are the sovereigntists who voted for her because they believed she’d force Ottawa to cave to their demands.  

And that’s where the trouble lies.

Welcome to Danielle Smith’s UCP. A more polarized version of the Kenney’s UCP.

*NOTE: Smith maintained her mandate flowed from Jason Kenney’s Equalization Referendum and the Fair Deal panel‘s recommendations. This is not true because neither of those policies said the government could refuse to follow federal laws.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 67 Comments

And the Winner is…?

Ms Soapbox is draped across her fainting couch anxiously awaiting the outcome of the UCP leadership race and is too distraught to post a blog.*

She would welcome her readers’ thoughts on:

  1. Will Danielle Smith become the next UCP leader?
  2. If yes, what percentage of the vote will she garner?
  3. If yes, how long before the UCP breaks apart?

*Actually she’s working on a project which turned out to be more time consuming than she anticipated.

Posted in Politics, Politics and Government | Tagged , | 37 Comments

Kenney’s Legacy: Lessons from Alice

Alice laughed. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I dare say you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen…’Why, sometimes I’ve believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’—Lewis Carrol, Alice Through the Looking-Glass

Jason Kenney is on the final lap of his political career. He’s working hard to rewrite his legacy. In order to succeed he’s asking us to believe impossible things.  

The most significant impossible thing he wants us to believe is that he’s not a failed conservative politician but a senior statesman sounding the alarm about the corrosive effect of alt-right anger and populism on conservatism.

At a recent event hosted by Canada Strong and Free (formerly the Manning Centre) Kenney said there’s growing anger among the alt-right fueled by social media conspiracy theories and “hypercharged” by the pandemic. He feared conservatism could “become a caricature of a kind of nasty, angry populism that will lose consistently at the polls as well.” 

In 2016 Kenney and his blue pickup truck rolled into Alberta. He was hailed as a beacon who’d lead Alberta down the path of new conservatism. Instead Alberta conservatism became more nasty, brutish and cruel. The fact that Kenney feels no responsibility for this turn of events is, as Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser.  

The soon to be ex-Premier of Alberta

Nasty, populist conservatism

Instead of looking in the mirror, Kenney blames the rise of angry conservatism on the media.

He says the liberal mainstream legacy media (CBC?) alienated the right-of-centre, pushing them into the arms of the alt-right media and social media which give the alt-right a platform and is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

His convoluted thinking suggests that decent, right-of-centre conservatives were transformed against their will into rabid, nasty populists by Rebel News and Twitter.

Let’s review, shall we.

Mainstream media

Kenney seems to have forgotten that when he united the PCs and the Wildrose and swept into office he and his brand of conservatism received favourable (some would say fawning) media coverage from Postmedia, the Globe and Mail, and other media outlets.

Sure, opinion writers presented their own views, but the coverage was not rabidly anti-Kenney or anti-conservative. So no, the media, liberal or conservative, did not turn sane conservatives to right-wing wingnuts.    

Social media

This is the pot-meet-kettle part of the blog.

Kenney blames social media for the rise of nasty, angry conservatism while at the same time failing to acknowledge that he and his staff used Facebook and Twitter regularly to criticize, insult and intimidate the Opposition, the media, and anyone who dared criticize his government.    

Conspiracy theories? Remember when Kenney retweeted a photo of empty grocery shelves, boosting fears that a food shortage crisis was imminent? Or when Kenney allowed his MLAs to post selfies with their trucker convoy buddies blockading the Coutts border?

Even now he won’t censure his Labour minister who tweeted his thanks to the truckers for having the “courage” to mobilize against “tyrannical” covid policies.

To quote Alice, “It’s no use now to pretend to be two people!” Kenney can’t be the wise leader and the supporter of conspiracy theories on social media at the same time.   


Kenney‘s short reign sounded only one note: Albertans were victims of Ottawa. As ‘people of destiny’ they deserved better. And Kenney would give it to them.  

This is a classic authoritarian strategy, forget the facts, excite the passions, convince the people they’re victims, point them at “the enemy” and do whatever you want with the power they’ve given you.

There was just one small snag, life in Alberta wasn’t all that bad.

We had the highest incomes and the lowest taxes rates in the country. Kenney knows this which is why he’s criss-crossing Canada, trying to convince everyone to move here.

Yes, it’s one of Alice’s impossible things, Alberta is a beacon of hope for the rest of the country, but we’re so miserable we’re prepared to chuck it all in and leave confederation.

Be that as it may, back in 2017 Kenney convinced Albertans that life was abysmal and he’d wrestle a “fair deal” out of the Feds.

The fair deal panel  

His Fair Deal panel trundled around Albert for a couple of months at the end of 2019, managing to further inflame Albertans by giving airtime to folks who didn’t have the slightest understanding the constitutional division of powers or the workings of federal programs such as the equalization program.

The panel made its recommendations. Kenney delivered on the easy ones (the chief firearms officer, the referendum on equalization), embarked on consultation–I use the term loosely–on others and parked the ones that didn’t align with the government’s strategy in the “needs further work” category.

And, surprise, surprise, nothing changed. The Feds were still the Feds and did not accede to Alberta’s demands.  

Then the pandemic struck.

Kenney was forced to implement health measures and vaccine mandates when Alberta’s hospitals were on the brink of collapse. He did so reluctantly, always pointing out that he was sorry for infringing Albertans’ Charter rights.

As far as the angry conservatives were concerned Kenney had crossed to the dark side. And they threw him out.

Along came Danielle Smith who decided the only way she’d win the leadership race was by kowtowing to the angry far right, and she promised to enact the Alberta Sovereignty Act so her government could reject any federal laws or court decisions it didn’t like.

Constitutional crisis? What constitutional crisis?  

Contrary to what Kenney says, this sad state of affairs is not the result of the liberal MSM letting down its right-of-centre readers. It’s the result of politicians like him, playing the victimhood card for their own political gain.

On Oct 6 we’ll find out whether Alberta has gone down the rabbit hole Kenney helped create.

Hopefully a few of the UCP’s supporters will pause to consider the words of Lewis Carrol before they mark their ballots:

It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not.”

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Pierre Poilievre and the Politics of Brutalization

“The word ‘brutalize’ is now employed quite wrongly to mean harsh or cruel treatment meted out by the strong to the weak…but in fact it means something subtler, namely the coarsening effect that this exercise of cruelty produces in the strong.” – Christopher Hitchens  

In his book, Why Orwell Matters, Christopher Hitchens explores George Orwell’s time as a policeman in Burma where he was engaged doing “the dirty work of the Empire.”

Immediately upon his arrival in Burma, Orwell witnesses a white policeman savagely kicking an Asian man which elicits murmurs of approval from a group of British onlookers.

Hitchens explains that this illustrates two forms of brutalization. The white policeman brutalized the Asian man and the British onlookers had become brutalized, coarsened, by that act of cruelty.

Becoming brutalized

We’re very aware of the first form of brutalization but are blind to the second, in fact we justify our collective brutal acts (the victim, those idiots wearing masks, had it coming) or excuse it (we’re frustrated by covid and acting out our stress).  

Before we get to the connection with Pierre Poilievre, we’re going to take a slight detour to discuss an act of brutalization that occurred in Victoria BC.

Mr Poilievre

The inner-city neighbourhood of James Bay was besieged by trucker protesters every weekend starting in January 2022. The residents, many like the man dying of cancer and his desperate spouse, were trapped in their homes, beyond the reach of ambulances, at the mercy of angry protesters who blasted their horns, gunned their engines, and screamed at them if they ventured outdoors. All this was justified (in the eyes of the protesters) because they were protesting restrictions that had been lifted months ago.  

In March the police set up blockades to prevent the truckers from entering the neighbourhood. The protesters responded by gathering on the perimeter, standing their trucks, and screaming “honk, honk” at all and sundry.  

Consider the lunacy of this.  

If James Bay had been a worksite and an employer demanded the protesters come into work on their days off and perform a repetitive, stupid task, outdoors in the pouring rain for hours on end, he’d have been cited for violating OH&S and labour laws.  

And yet, the protestors had been so brutalized, their humanity and compassion so coarsened. that they continued to intimidate the residents of James Bay (while also making assess of themselves).   


Enter Pierre Poilievre

After test driving Andrew Scheer, a social conservative masquerading as a centrist of sorts, and Erin O’Toole, a sorta-centrist pretending to be a hard-right conservative, the CPC finally elected a guy they could all get behind, the pugilistic, belligerent Pierre Poilievre.

Poilievre won by blaming Trudeau (it’s the government’s fault and if it isn’t, they’re not doing enough to fix it) and then going one step farther. He whipped up his supporters’ rage, fear, and frustration by pandering to conspiracy theorists, hobnobbing with the trucker convoy, attracting the support of extremists like Diagonal, and hitting all the right notes with the anti-vaxxers.

He appears to take no responsibility when the angry horde interprets his call to action as permission to carry on with blockades and continue to harass and intimidate healthcare workers, politicians, journalists, and ordinary people going about their daily business.

This is irresponsible and dangerous and has to stop.   

This time is different

Just to be clear, politicians of all stripes try to tap into the public’s fears to garner votes, and yes, everyone is frustrated by the years of uncertainty over covid, inflation, the high cost of food, fuel and housing, but this time it’s different.

Why? Two reasons.

One, Poilievre’s behavior is more extreme than anything we’ve seen in the past. (No conservative politician in their right mind would have been caught schmoozing with the crowd blockading downtown Ottawa, let alone arguing their case on their behalf).

Two, we’re at a point in history unlike any other. The country is coming out of a  pandemic that upended the global economy. Russia is fighting what appears to be a losing war with Ukraine, making Putin even more unpredictable. The EU is under stress, the UK is reeling, the US is on the verge of a major meltdown and authoritarian governments are on the rise around the world.

This is the time for Canadian politicians to pull the nation together so we are prepared to meet the challenges facing us; this is not the time to brutalize its citizens and enflame us with half-truths and conspiracy theories.

Because unlike George Orwell, who escaped the brutalizing effect of colonial Burma, we have nowhere to go. Canada is our home and we cannot allow Poilievre or anyone else to brutalize its citizens in a ruthless quest for power.

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Danielle Smith and the Free Alberta Strategy 

We’ve been so focused on the unconstitutionality of Danielle Smith’s central campaign promise, the passage of the Alberta Sovereignty Act (ASA), that we’ve forgotten that the ASA is part of the Free Alberta Strategy’s grand plan to renegotiate our place in Confederation—to “free” Alberta from “intolerable” abuse at the hands of the federal government—failing which we walk.

Let me repeat that: WE WALK.

Smith appears to have embraced the Free Alberta Strategy (FAS) without reservation. The fact that she hasn’t addressed what the FAS describes as “The Final Resort: National Independence” boggles the mind.

She’s running to be Alberta’s next premier. If she intends to follow the FAS to the bitter end, she should tell us.  

Danielle Smith

The FAS proposal

The FAS sets out a number of “reforms” that must be addressed to achieve provincial sovereignty, and if the feds fall short, then bonus! the FAS’s “reforms” will “better prepare Alberta for national political sovereignty.”

Why? Because we’ll have already done the legwork to consolidate most of Alberta’s “economic, environmental and resource governance, revenue collection, social services, law enforcement, and judicial powers,” while also expanding our provincially regulated financial institutions and intergovernmental affairs.


Here’s what the FAS proposes:*  

  1. Enact the Alberta Sovereignty Act to give the Alberta government the right to ignore federal laws and federal court decisions. An act that is unconstitutional and upends the rule of law and the role of democratic institutions. Great start.    
  2. Replace the RCMP with Alberta Provincial Police so the federal government and courts can’t enforce federal laws. But the APP isn’t enough so the ‘cut red tape, small government’ strategy proposes a bunch more legislation and government ministries.     
  3. Enact the Alberta Independent Banking Act to create more provincially regulated financial institutions like the ATB and credit unions for the sole purpose of preventing the feds from enforcing federal laws, eg if the feds fine a garage owner for failing to collect and remit carbon taxes they won’t be able to garnishee the business’s bank account because he banks with the credit union. If you’re a corporation like Suncor and you don’t want to bank at a credit union you’re out of luck.    
  4. Enact the Equalization Termination and Tax Collection Act to create the Alberta Revenue Agency to collect provincial taxes and the Alberta Public Services Employer to issue paycheques to Alberta public employees and remit federal withholding tax to the Alberta Revenue Agency which will decide how much to send Ottawa after it deducts what it believes it is owed. All this is founded on a fundamental misunderstanding of how equalization works.
  5. Incent (pay) private companies to bank with ATB and credit unions so they too can remit their employee’s federal tax deductions to the Alberta Revenue Agency. This will magically protect a company from federal prosecution for failure to remit federal income tax because the fed’s beef would be with the Alberta Revenue Agency and the Alberta Public Service Employer. Right, good luck with that. Also, remember the last time your employer under-collected federal taxes. You got hit with a bigger tax bill than you expected and you still had to pay.
  6. Opt out of federal transfer and other programs (like $10/day daycare) that influence areas of provincial jurisdiction. Demand “no strings attached” transfers or tax points. Hands up everyone who trusts the UCP to do this right.
  7. Enact the Alberta Pension Plan and Alberta Unemployment Insurance because Alberta’s younger population has contributed more to the federal equivalents of these programs than it’s gotten back. Yep, it’s the I-don’t-have-kids-why-should-I have-to-pay-school-taxes argument.
  8. Enact the Alberta Judicial Independence Act. The current judges and justices can keep their jobs but all future appointees to provincial court, Kings Bench and the Court of Appeal will be appointed by the Alberta government. This presupposes that all future judges will cast aside their legal training (and the common law) and issue decisions in favour of government policies. NOTE: When a government controls the courts, it’s tyranny.  
  9. Be independent in international relations and trade and have the power to ignore international agreements signed by the feds, if Alberta thinks they harm its interests. I see, Canada can come to the international bargaining table and enter into agreements that binds all of Canada except Alberta. Yeah, that’s going to go over well.

If the Feds don’t cave

The FAS is clear. If Canada rejects Alberta’s terms, we walk.

The FAS will set up a panel for secession. The panel will present proposals on an Alberta Constitution, judicial/legal system (which will retain the rule of law—hah!), monetary policy/currency, social programing, border protection, and taxation. Albertans will have a “full year” to debate these proposals and then we’ll vote in a referendum: in or out.

If 60% vote to leave. We’re out.

We’ll become the Republic of Western Canada. According to the authors of the FAS, we can continue to call ourselves Canadians—Western Canadians if we wish, because Central and Easter Canadians don’t have exclusivity rights of Canada’s history, culture or name.

Let’s make this interesting

Danielle Smith is confident the ASA will be drafted through the lens of constitutional law and protect us from federal interference with no downside. The authors of the Free Alberta Strategy assure us Alberta will come out ahead if it adopts their proposals.

If they’re so convinced of the merits of their plan, they can put their money where their mouths are.

They can give Albertans their personal guarantee—a legally binding personal guarantee, not some political puffery—that protects us from economic harm.

Because we’re the ones who are at risk here.

*If none of this makes sense, it’s not you, it’s them.

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