Who’s the Real Enemy?

“You’re either with us or against us.” — Benito Mussolini

First the UCP demanded the Premier ignore the rules of the House, then they accused her of being against rural Albertans and siding with the criminals because she refused to ignore the rules of the House.

Do these guys even know the rules of the House?

Or are they so desperate to win brownie points with their supporters that they’ll incinerate any rules that stand in their way.  I’m guessing the latter but with the UCP you can never be too sure.

The set up

It was pure UCP stagecraft.

  • The UCP trundled in 100 rural Albertans to sit in the Legislature and witness the heartless government refuse to stand up for rural Albertans besieged by rising rural crime.
  • The UCP abused the rules governing Question Period and the rules governing emergency debates by asking the Premier to support the UCP’s motion for an emergency debate on rural crime before the motion for an emergency debate had been ruled upon by the Speaker.
  • When the Premier refused to go along with this stunt, they condemned her in true Trumpian fashion as being against rural Albertans and siding with the criminals.
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You’re with the UCP or you’re with the criminals

Emergency Debate

After the first round of stagecraft ended, the UCP set up its motion for an emergency debate on a matter of “urgent public importance” namely:  the increase in property-related and violent crimes in rural communities and the residents’ fear for their safety was sufficient to support a state of emergency.

Parliamentary rules allow the House to set aside regular business and have an emergency debate if the motion satisfies the “urgency test”.

The UCP argued the motion should pass because crime rates had risen sharply in some areas and rural Albertans felt unsafe.

The Government said the motion should fail because it did not meet the definition of urgency and could be addressed by other legislative means.

The Government relied on precedents.  Speaker Zwozdesky granted an emergency debate on medevac services because they were going to be relocated the very next day.  Speaker Kowalski denied an emergency debate about Premier Redford’s choice of lawyers in the tobacco litigation because the issue could be raised by other ways (eg private members’ bills, private members’ motions, and well-crafted questions in Question Period).

The Speaker denied the motion, saying Albertans’ safety and feelings of safety were of utmost importance and crime statistics were rising, but the UCP failed to meet the definition of “urgency” set out in the rules.

The UCP flew into high dudgeon.

Knowing the UCP this is understandable.  Why would they rely on private members’ bills, motions, and questions in Question Period when they can use the Legislature as a platform on which to grandstand?

But leaving aside grandstanding for the moment, what is the state of rural crime?

The UCP position

The UCP provided examples of Albertans victimized in their homes and businesses.  They set out statistics showing crime on the rise in some areas including Red Deer which ranks #5 in a Macleans survey of the most dangerous places to live in Canada.

The UCP said the Government is soft on crime.  They argued:

  • There is insufficient RCMP coverage
  • The RCMP are poorly paid, morale is low
  • There aren’t enough prosecutors and judges
  • The Government failed to promote minimum sentencing
  • Protection for rural areas should be the same as for urban areas

It would appear there is a problem with rising rural crime.  What’s not clear is the UCP’s contention that the Government failed to address it.

The Government’s position  

The Government outlined what it’s doing to combat rural crime:

  • Funding the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team after its funding was cut by Jason Kenney when he was in Harper’s cabinet (ALERT is effective, it recently laid 120 charges against 11 individuals for drug trafficking)
  • Providing $500 million for policing and paying 70% of the RCMP’s costs
  • Hiring an additional 50 prosecutors and court staff and building a new court house in Red Deer
  • Pressing the federal government to appoint more judges after Harper’s government left Alberta with the lowest number of superior court judges per capita in Canada
  • Targeting online sexual exploitation of children
  • Creating an integrated crime reduction unit to target property crime in rural Alberta

The Government also noted that some of the UCP’s complaints (RCMP coverage, minimum sentencing, appointment of judges) fell under federal, not provincial jurisdiction.

They asked the UCP to explain how it would decrease rural crime given Jason Kenney’s promise to cut the budget by 20%; this would damage the criminal justice system, not enhance it.      

The real enemy

The UCP proposed no solutions to address rural crime.  Instead they engaged in theatrics to paint the NDP Government as the enemy and themselves as the savior of rural Albertans.

But answer me this, who’s the real the enemy of rural Albertans, the Government who’s providing sustainable funding for the criminal justice system or the UCP who promise to reduce it by 20%?

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

Politics and the Debate Club

I know, I know, you’d rather watch the Grey Cup game, so I’ll make this quick.

Yesterday, Ms Soapbox and a friend judged the final round in the Sir Winston Churchill High School Debate Competition.  The competition was hosted by the Alberta Debate and Speech Association and The Winston Churchill Society and included teams from 12 schools across the city.

The students were intelligent, articulate, and passionate.

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Winston Churchill Bowlers 

And Ms Soapbox discovered (quite by accident) that everything you need to know about how to survive in Alberta’s polarizing political environment you can learn in Debate Club.

The rules of debate are simple:

  • The Government defines the proposition (say for example, NDP energy policies will result in a pipeline to the West Coast) and sets out three arguments to support of the proposition.     
  • The Opposition sets out three arguments that undermine the Government’s position.
  • The Government and the Opposition then rebut each other’s positions.    
  • Each side must let the other side ask questions but doesn’t need to answer more than a couple because the point of asking questions is to disrupt the speaker, not to gain further knowledge.
  • The most important rule is this: “The winner isn’t the one who gets the maddest or cries the most, it’s the one who is respectful, believable, witty and confident.  The winner is the one you trust.*

We could apply the rules of debate, step by step, to the NDP and UCP positions on Burnaby’s attempt to delay the Trans Mountain pipeline, but I know you want to get back to the Grey Cup so let’s cut to the chase and go directly to the last rule which defines the “winner”.

In her speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Rachel Notley said, “British Columbians have legitimate questions about this project and they deserve legitimate answers.” She said instead of threatening each other and retreating within our borders we should be reaching across party lines to support a project that serves the interest of all Canadians.

Jason Kenney is deeply critical of her approach.  He wants her to be more aggressive and confrontational.  He would threaten BC with “consequences” which include cutting off oil and gas exports from Alberta to BC if BC refuses to roll over.

Albertans have a choice.  They can support the political leader who is respectful and confident or the one who gets mad and cries the most.

Mr Kenney may understand the rules of gutter politics, but in today’s Alberta that’s not enough.

Hey Jason, maybe it’s time you joined the Debate Club.

*Comment made by a coach during Judges’ training Nov 25, 2017

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

The UCP Vote on the GSA Bill: Free Vote or Rubber Stamp?

It started innocently enough…

The NDP government introduced Bill 24, an act to prohibit teachers from informing parents their kids had joined a gay-straight alliance (GSA) unless the kids consented.   (Note: The Bill does not change a teacher’s general obligation to notify parents if there’s a risk a student might harm him/herself or others.)

All eyes turned to the UCP…

Jason Nixon, leader of the UCP caucus, said the Wildrose tradition of allowing free votes would continue under the UCP even as it considered Bill 24.

All eyes turned to the other Jason…

Jason Kenney, the leader of the UCP, said his MLAs would oppose Bill 24.

To make sure his MLAs understood his/their position Mr Kenney issued a statement saying the UCP supports GSAs, does not support mandatory parental notification, and objects to Bill 24 because teachers should have the discretion to out kids as they see fit, especially if they’re 5 years old or developmentally challenged.  Also, the amendment to section 50 of the School Act was a covert attempt to sneak sensitive subjects that normally require parental notification into the curriculum, etc.

All righty then.

A rubber stamp by any other name

We settled in for a spirited debate in the Legislature–would the “free voters” speak for themselves on this matter of conscience or would they’d cave under pressure from their new leader and toe the party line?

They caved.  Sure, some tried to argue they weren’t caving but in the end, they all caved.

Here’s how they did it:

The outraged abstainer:  Leela Aheer was all over the map.  She was comfortable with 80% of the Bill but objected to the amendment of Section 50 of the School Act implying it was part of a grand conspiracy to sneak god knows what into the curriculum.*

Ms Aheer used most of her allotted time making a speech about…Ms Aheer.

She’d been bullied by the government.  People who suggested she’d been directed to vote against the Bill didn’t know her very well.  She was upset because constituents and loved ones couldn’t understand why she refused to support the Bill.  She was an ally of the LBGTQ+ community, how dare anyone say her actions suggested otherwise.  She dared the government to tell her to her face, here and now, what they thought of her.  Oh my.      

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Leela Aheer and the other former WR MLA who missed the vote

The puppet MLA:  Mark Smith didn’t need a “free vote”, he didn’t even need a voice.  He was content to use his allotted time reading Jason Kenney’s statement into the record and then summarizing them in case we missed the point the first time around.**

The parrot MLAs:  Most of the MLAs regurgitated one or two talking points from Jason Kenney’s statement.  They offered lots of criticism but no suggestions for amendments other than the elimination of the change to School Act section which would render Bill 24 useless.

At the end of the day

The purpose of Bill 24 is to protect students and allow them (and no one else) to determine if, when, and to whom they want to disclose their sexual identity because the  consequences of premature disclosure can be devastating.

The allegation that the amendment to Section 50 of the School Act is a precursor to something more sinister is red herring.  Section 50 requires parental notification when the curriculum deals primarily or explicitly with human sexuality or religion.  GSAs like other extracurricular activities are not part of the curriculum, they’re clubs, however some people have tried to justify outing kids by interpreting Section 50 to include GSAs. The amendment in Bill 24 addresses this by making it clear that the obligation for parental notification does not apply to GSAs.

Whether or not we protect LBGTQ+ students is a question of morality, not politics.  It is shameful that under Jason Kenney’s leadership former Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs traded the right to exercise a free vote for the safety of being a rubber stamp.

The rubber stampers should be proud of themselves, I’m sure their leader is.

*Hansard, Nov 15, 2017, pp 1921 – 1924

**Hansard, Nov 15, 2017, pp 1926 – 1927

Posted in Education, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Question Period? Really?

How much longer do we have to put up with this nonsense?

The Alberta Legislature has been in session for eight days and the UCP is using Question Period to test-drive political slogans.

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Jason Kenney UCP leader

Ms Soapbox’s personal favourite is the UCP’s claim: “We lead, they follow”.

The UCP’s “lead” translates into something you’d hear from an unimaginative cheer leading squad: “Go Alberta, Fight! Fight! Fight!

Lead already!

The UCP wants the NDP to follow its “lead”, particularly with respect to pipelines.  It wants Premier Notley and her ministers to:

  • insult and threaten the federal government and other provinces. And this is effective, how?
  • punish Burnaby for delaying the Trans Mountain pipeline by convincing Telus to move to Alberta. Telus opened its global headquarters in Vancouver (not Burnaby) in 2015.  It’s a $750 million LEED platinum standard building.  Any CEO who sauntered into a board room and said: “Guys, let’s blow this pop stand and move to Alberta” would be fired on the spot.  But hey, Brad Wall tried it so it’s got to be a good idea, right?
  • retaliate against BC by putting tariffs on Alberta’s interprovincial exports. This would have the same impact as an unexpected tax hike, reducing expected returns for Alberta producers and creating unnecessary uncertainty.  It would also violate the New West Partnership Trade Agreement between BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba which created the largest, barrier-free interprovincial market in Canada.  Nice move UCP. 
  • sue the feds, sue BC, sue somebody, anybody over pipeline delays or cancellations. It’s unclear what the UCP wants to do other than hire a flotilla of lawyers to start a bunch of law suits that would cost a fortune and drag on for years, however this didn’t stop the UCP from trying to take the credit when Alberta intervened in support of Trans Mountain’s application asking the NEB for a constitutional ruling on whether Burnaby could delay construction at the Burnaby and Westridge Marine terminals.  The intervention involves the doctrines of interjurisdictional immunity and paramountcy.  It’s a little presumptuous to assume the government was not planning to intervene simply because it didn’t do so immediately.           
  • take an aggressive stance on renegotiating equalization when it expires in 2019. This is a tad ironic given that the GDP growth rate rule which was introduced under the Harper/Kenney “lead” in 2009 will give Ontario an additional $360 million and Quebec an additional $215 million than they would otherwise receive.*  Frankly, anything the Notley government does on this file will be an improvement.

Question Period

Ms Soapbox and about 10 other people across the province are keen Question Period observers.

We know QP is adversarial:  the Opposition will fly into high dudgeon and play “gotcha”, the government will spar with the Opposition, correct “misstatements” and make speeches.  We get that, but we do expect a bit more substance from the UCP than we’ve seen to date.

The expression “we lead, they follow” may be a cute political slogan, but as a UCP Opposition tactic it’s coming across as “we have a tantrum, they press on”.

*Hansard, Nov 8, 2017, p 1823

Posted in Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 55 Comments

Who will fight a bear for you?

The forces at play in the upcoming 2019 provincial election are reflected in how you react to this banner.

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The banner is a part of Calgary’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.  Some people loved its edgy, self-deprecating message, others didn’t get it…at all.

Okay, hold that thought while Ms Soapbox tells you about the future…

Economic Summit 2018

Mr and Ms Soapbox attended the annual economic summit luncheon last week and discovered that Alberta’s future is much brighter than Jason Kenney and the UCP would have you believe.

We learned:

  • Alberta is out of the recession. Growth is expected to be 4.2% this year and 1.9% next year.
  • We’re heading in the right direction, but–and this is a very important but–we need to break out of our old mind-set and recognize that the energy sector no longer drives Alberta’s economic growth.
  • Energy is still important, but it’s more like a backbone supporting other sectors like technology, agri-business, financial services, renewable and clean energy, travel and tourism, logistics, and transportation.
  • The biggest threat to our economy isn’t fluctuating global oil prices but the impact of a certain unpredictable American president on NAFTA.
  • The biggest uncertainty we face is technology. Technological progress unlike industrial progress is non-linear and moving at lightning speed through three spheres: the physical world (eg 3D printers), the digital world, and the virtual world (eg self driving cars).

Bottom line: we need to keep the backbone (energy) strong while we fan out and diversify.  We must adapt or we’ll be left behind.

Who is adaptable and who isn’t     

Rachel Notley strengthened Alberta’s energy sector by creating a regulatory framework, the Climate Leadership Plan, which was critical to getting federal approval of two interprovincial pipelines.  She continues to support the industry by advocating for it and intervening in applications to allow pipelines to go ahead without unwarranted interference from other jurisdictions.

Jason Kenney promises to scrap the Climate Leadership Plan, eliminate the carbon levy, and sue the feds when they replace the provincial carbon levy with a federal carbon tax, thereby creating uncertainty around the rules of the game.  The UCP responds to jurisdictions interfering with pipelines by threatening to cut off oil shipments (good luck trying to convince pipeline companies and oil producers that’s a good idea) or create new tariffs which will increase the commodity price and reduce industry profits which are already low.

Notley listened to economists who warned that big energy companies won’t be the big job creators of tomorrow and is working to diversifying the economy.

Kenney is oblivious to this warning.  He promises to “stand up” for the energy sector, including coal, by bringing back the Alberta Advantage (ie. lower taxes), but has yet to explain why the Alberta Advantage would incent energy companies to hire back the thousands of workers they laid off in 2014-15 when it failed to prevent these companies from undertaking massive layoffs from 1992 to 2006 when Ralph Klein, the father of the Alberta Advantage, was premier.

Notley understands that some Albertans have not yet recovered from the economic downturn.  She created retraining programs and strengthened the social safety net to support them and their families.  Kenney’s UCP tweets “We understand that in order to be a compassionate, caring province, we must be prosperous first.”  In other words, those left behind will just have to wait.

Who will fight a bear for you?

Are you still holding on to that thought about “fighting a bear for Amazon”?

The Amazon bid package included typical bid information about crime rates, fibre networks, office vacancies, schools, airline flights, and our strong STEM workforce.  It was wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket (how traditional is that?), but it was supported by an edgy marketing campaign intended to impress Amazon executives and employees in the 25 to 35 year range because Calgary, once the centre of the energy industry, knew that it was competing for the jobs of the future.

Those who reacted positively to the banner understand the future is now.  Those who didn’t need to catch up.

While Jason Kenney is making meaningless threats to “protect” the energy sector, promising to cut taxes and revitalize the Conservative movement provincially and nationally, Rachel Notley is working to revitalize Alberta for all Albertans.

Or to put it in terms Calgarians would understand: Rachel Notley would totally fight a bear for you.

*This blog incorporates comments made by Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development, Glen Hodgson, senior fellow Conference Board of Canada, Todd Hirsch, ATB Financial chief economist and Mayor Naheed Nenshi at the 2018 Economic Summit held in Calgary on Oct 30, 2017.  Political commentary is mine alone. 

Posted in Economy, Employment, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 31 Comments

Meet your “new” leader: Jason Kenney

Well done UCP!  Your new leader is Jason Kenney, the candidate least likely to beat Rachel Notley in 2019.   You could have saved yourself the bother and elected ET for all the difference this is going to make in Calgary.  (You remember Calgary, it’s the hub you’ll need to deliver in order to form government in two years.)

On Saturday 63,000 members of the United Conservative Party cast a ballot in the UCP leadership race.  Kenney won on the first ballot with 35,623 votes; this was almost double Brian Jean’s 18,336 votes and almost eight times (eight times!) Doug Schweitzer’s 4,273 votes.

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Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer, Brian Jean

The real news here isn’t that Kenney won but that Schweitzer lost and by such a large margin.

Schweitzer was the only UCP candidate who understood that traditional conservatism won’t cut it anymore, not even here in little ol’ Alberta.

And he has proof:  the conservatives’ failure to remake Calgary City Council in their own image in the recent municipal election.

It’s all about taxes…or not  

The conservatives turned the Calgary municipal election into a testbed for the 2019 provincial election.

Conservative candidates flooded the airwaves with promises to reduce taxes and bring “common sense” politics back to City Hall.  Their campaign rhetoric was amplified by nameless, faceless third-party organizations who painted the incumbents as spendthrift “progressives”.  The mainstream media and pollsters predicted a resounding conservative victory.

They lost, big time.

Every incumbent was re-elected.  Some with resounding majorities.  Mayor Nenshi got 199,122 votes, almost 30,000 more than his conservative rival, former PC party president Bill Smith, who got 169,367.

After the election Doug Schweitzer said, “the left wing kicked our butt”.  He called for a “fresh start” noting that young voters won’t support conservative parties even if their economic message is appealing if they have other concerns.

Schweitzer specifically mentioned Ward 8 where the “progressive” incumbent, Evan Woolley, trounced the conservative candidate, Chris Davis, 15,838 votes to 8,844.

Davis agreed with Schweitzer.  In a letter to his supporters Davis said that notwithstanding a “great traditional campaign” they lost because they were typecast as angry, tired, old conservatives.  He warned that the Ward 8 race was “the first round of the 2019 provincial election” and unless the UCP selected a leader who is inclusive, thoughtful, and compassionate it would lose urban Calgary and without Calgary it could lose the 2019 election.

Davis is right.

But the UCP ignored the warning.  It rejected Doug Schweitzer, a fresh young candidate who campaigned on social as well as fiscal issues and chose Kenney, an old school conservative bogged down by a less than compassionate voting record as a federal MP, and his insistence that parents had the right to know when their children joined Gay-Straight Alliances at school and the Catholic School Board had the right to insist on an alternative (antiquated) sex education curriculum.

By choosing Kenney the UCP confirmed to the rest of Alberta that notwithstanding the name change it is now and always will be the party of angry, tired, old conservatives.

Your work ethic  

In his victory speech Kenney reiterated his focus on fiscal matters and distanced himself (again) from social issues, saying “We don’t care in this party what god you worship or who you love.  What we care about as Albertans is how hard you work and how you will contribute to renewing this as a place of opportunity for generations to come.”

Kenney says he can ignore social issues because all the UCP cares about “is how hard you work”.

What he fails to understand is hard work is not enough.

Factors beyond your control such as freedom from discrimination and your physical and mental ability will govern how hard you are able to work.  These are social issues which according to Kenney are beyond the scope of government.

To suggest that a certain political ideology (conservatism) will deliver prosperity based on hard work is simplistic and reflects the old conservative belief that all we need to make the world go ‘round is an unfettered marketplace and people with a good work ethic.  It ignores Calgary’s reality.  We’ve had that for decades and still suffered rounds of unemployment when oil prices crashed.

But good on you UCP, you rejected the only candidate who recognized the importance of social issues and picked the candidate with the best chance of losing the Calgary vote and leading your party into oblivion.

And for that we thank you.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

Jason Kenney Was Just Kidding about Peter Lougheed…really?

In 1999 a young Jason Kenney told the National Post that “Klein realized Alberta could no longer afford the neo-Stalinist make-work projects of the Lougheed and Getty years, and he set about to distance himself from them.”

This is an inflammatory comment of Twilight Zone proportions, particularly given the lengths to which Kenney has gone to tie his image as the saviour of Alberta to that of Peter Lougheed, the founder of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party.

So how does Kenney justify his horrible comment?

I said what?

Kenney says he doesn’t remember linking Lougheed with the dictator whose repressive policies resulted in the deaths of millions.

 

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Peter Lougheed

Well, it was 18 years ago, and Kenney did say a lot of things back then, especially when it came to social issues;  why don’t we give Kenney an opportunity to clarify not just this comment but all the other comments he’s made on the social issues that for some reason he refuses to discuss now.  I’m sure his supporters would welcome a town hall meeting in which he reiterates his stance on abortion (still against it?) and same-sex marriage (still against it?).

It would put their minds at ease and the rest of us would appreciate confirmation that Kenney’s position on social issues is still firmly wedged in the last century.

Oh wait, there’s another wrinkle.

I deny saying something no one says I said

Kenney’s explanation crossed over into the Twilight Zone when he said, “I have never called Peter Lougheed a socialist.  That’s ridiculous.”

Of course it’s ridiculous to call Lougheed a socialist (it’s also ridiculous to call Rachel Notley a socialist but that’s another blog for another day), but this is a red herring.

No one said Kenney called Lougheed a socialist.

Kenney is trying to convince us that we’re wrong to accuse him of saying something we never said he said.  What he hasn’t done is deny that he did say Lougheed, and his successor Don Getty, created “neo-Stalinist make-work projects”.

He said it, he can’t deny it, and he hasn’t denied it because…wait for it…it was a joke.

Can’t you take a joke?

Kenney says he doesn’t remember saying it, but if he did say it, “it was obviously in jest”.

Well of course it’s hilarious to link Peter Lougheed, the premier who introduced Alberta’s first human rights legislation and urged Albertans to “think like owners” and increased their share of non-renewable resource revenue from 17 percent to 40 percent, with a sadistic dictator who was responsible for the Ukrainian Genocide and the Great Terror.

Before you say, now wait a minute Kenney didn’t mean it that way, consider this:  characterizing an offensive comment a joke doesn’t make it okay.

Jason P Steed, a lawyer and former English prof, wrote a dissertation on humour.  It got a lot of airtime when Donald Trump was blasting the airwaves with racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments during his excruciating presidential campaign.

Steed says no one is ever “just joking”.  People use humour to identify who they are and what they stand for.  Their attempts at humour pull some people into the in-group and push others out into the out-group.  When Trump makes a racist comment and says he’s just joking, he’s defending himself to the out-group, but he doesn’t need to defend himself to the in-group because they accept and support the racist comment.

We have no way of knowing whether Kenney was serious or just kidding (in the Steed sense or in the “wasn’t Stalin a hoot” sense) when he compared Peter Lougheed’s policies to neo-Stalinist make-work projects, but in either case Kenney has limited options to extricate himself from the mess the young Jason Kenney created for the would-be premier Jason Kenney when he made the comment in 1999.

If he meant it; it wasn’t true and he must apologize. If he was joking, that’s even more offensive and he must apologize.

In either case Kenney must stop comparing himself to Peter Lougheed in a pathetic attempt to capture the votes of progressive conservatives.

The only person fit to wear the mantle of Peter Lougheed is Peter Lougheed.

Lougheed wannabes need not apply.

Posted in Politics and Government, Rich and/or Famous | Tagged , , , , | 49 Comments