Kenney’s “Dead Letter” Coal Policy

Dead letter: something that has lost its force or authority without being formally abolished – Merriam Webster

On Feb 3, 2021 Jason Kenney said he rescinded Lougheed’s coal policy which blocked open-pit mining on the eastern slopes and the Rockies because it was “a dead letter.”

He said the eastern slopes and the Rockies would be protected under existing regulations and all this public outrage was fueled by condescending city-folk who had it in for rural folk who were simply trying to put food on the table.

Two days later his energy minister, Sonya Savage, was thrust into the limelight to clean up Mr Kenney’s mess. (This is becoming standard procedure in Kenneyland).

Ms Savage said the government would issue a new coal policy this week because her government had no intention of changing “any of the restrictions or any of the protections in the eastern slopes” when the Lougheed coal policy was rescinded.

Apparently the “dead letter” wasn’t so dead after all. It actually preserved our mountains and protected our environment and our water. All it took was thousands of Albertans protesting for months in the middle of the pandemic to convince Mr Kenney of this fact.  

Questions?

Mr Kenney insists the Lougheed coal policy is unnecessary because the existing regulations will protect our mountains and environment.

Let’s borrow one of the regulator’s tools, a process known as Information Requests (IRs) test the rationale Mr Kenney has offered in support of his position.*

IR#1: Mr Kenney, you say coal mining is the “lifeblood of several Alberta communities and employs thousands of Alberta workers.” Please identify the “Alberta communities” referred to and confirm or correct Stats Canada data that says there were 2,985 coal mining jobs in Alberta at the peak of the industry and only 1,542 jobs today.   

IR#2: You indicate coal will be developed “responsibly under strict regulatory standards and processes” that protect “air, land, water, and wild species from harm.” Please identify which regulatory standards and processes you are referring to and explain how they prevent harm as effectively as the Lougheed coal policy which stopped open pit coal mining all together.       

IR#3: You indicate “scientists, not politicians, make the environmental decisions.” Please advise whether Cabinet can override the Regulator if the Regulator rejects a mining application for environmental reasons?

IR#4: You suggest the world is not moving away from coal. Please rationalize your position with the fact mining giants like Rio Tinto, BHP, Vale, and Teck have or are in the process of unloading their coal assets and Blackrock, the world’s largest financial manager ($8.7 trillion) warned that any company that fails to speed up its transition to a clean economy will be flagged for “potential exit” because they present risk to Blackrock’s clients’ returns.      

IR#5: Please explain how land reclamation and environmental regulations will protect mountain landscapes after they have been destroyed by decades of open-pit mining.  

IR#6: Please explain how you will enforce the regulations referred to in IR#5 if a coal mining company becomes insolvent.  

IR#7: Please explain why public consultation pursuant to the AER process is sufficient to ensure all Albertans have been consulted on opening up the eastern slopes and the Rockies to open-pit mining when not all Albertans meet the AER requirement that they be “directly affected” by a specific project. Will you amend the law to make province-wide consultation mandatory before any coal mining project may be filed with the regulator?

IR#8: Please explain why you said the Lougheed coal policy was a “dead letter” when the coal industry and investors in coal companies specifically highlighted the coal policy as a roadblock to open-pit mining and lauded your government for working to change the policy.

IR#9: Energy minister Savage said mountain top mining was a no-go. Please define “mountain top mining” and confirm it includes surface mining, strip mining, mountain top removal, and any other activity that touches those parts of the eastern slopes and the Rockies that were protected under the Lougheed coal policy.

IR#10: Please advise whether your government will engage in a province-wide consultation before it implements the new coal policy. Please confirm whether the government will reinstate the Lougheed coal policy until such consultation is complete.  

IR#11: Please comment on statements like the one made by Mantracker star, Terry Grant, who said the new coal policy would be a “stream of garbage” and “another distraction” to create the impression the government has addressed the public’s concerns.

Dead letter

These IRs are not as rigorous as real IRs, however they illustrate the point that Albertans deserve more than a hastily stitched together “replacement” policy and a quick pat on the head that everything will be okay.  

The right thing for Mr Kenney to do is to reinstate the Lougheed coal policy. Anything less demonstrates an appalling lack of respect for Albertans and the province they love.

So going back to the definition of “dead letter” – something that has lost its force or authority without being formally abolished – perhaps the real dead letter here isn’t the Lougheed coal policy but the Kenney government.

*Mr Kenney’s position is drawn from his public comments and the Coal Hard Facts brochure.    

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Kenney’s Coal Facts and Myths

The Economist considered a number of cover illustrations for its Making Coal History edition before settling on a lump of coal on display under a bell jar like an artifact in a museum.

While The Economist was chronicling the demise of coal the Kenney government was busy cancelling Lougheed’s Coal Policy to give the industry a shot in the arm.  

When the public got wind of the Kenney government’s machinations it demanded Mr Kenney reverse course. He responded with a PR brochure setting out the “myths” and the “facts” of coal mining in Alberta. It was intended to set our minds at ease, it did the opposite.

Myths?  

Kenney* said it’s a myth “the world” is moving away from coal because metallurgical coal is used in steel and steel will be critical for post covid recovery. He cites an S&P report in support.

Fact: 80% of all coal consumption occurs in Asia, 50% in China and 11% in India. North American and European consumption is plummeting. Coal was never high in the energy mix in South America and Africa in the first place.** So unless “the world” means China and India, Kenney is wrong.

Furthermore, the S&P report quotes one Australian coal executive saying coking coal will be crucial to Asia’s post covid recovery. Kenney facts hinge on the dreams of one coal executive trying to shore up support for the Olive Downs project in Australia because the IEA says global coal use will never surpass its pre-covid peak.    

Kenney said it’s okay to lift the Coal Policy protection on Category 2 lands because coal mining in Category 1 lands is still banned and coal mining in Category 3 lands is regulated.

Fact: This blurs the difference between Category 2 and Category 3 lands.  

When Kenney cancelled the Coal Policy, he removed the stipulation that open pit mining “would not normally be considered” in Category 2 lands (although exceptions could be made under certain conditions). This flipped Category 2 lands from “no” (like Category 1) to “yes” (like Category 3).  

It’s like when your kid asks for the car. You can say “No, not unless I’m having a heart attack and you have to drive me to the hospital” (Category 2) or “Yes, as long as you bring it back with a full tank” (Category 3).

Coal development in what was once Category 2 lands will be allowed, subject to regulation, just like it’s allowed in Category 3 lands. The extra protection offered by the Coal Policy is gone.  

Kenney said coal mines will not “forever change our mountain landscapes” because companies are bound by land reclamation and environmental rules.

Fact: This is ridiculous. Leaving aside the issues around reclamation and environmental rules (see below), even a two-year old knows a mountain has a peak and a wild landscape while a chunk of rock that’s undergone decades of open pit mining does not.     

Kenney said it’s not true that cancelling the Coal Policy has deregulated Alberta coal development.

Fact: Cancelling the coal policy removed Category 2 lands from protection from open pit mining. These lands like the category 3 and 4 lands will be regulated by the Alberta Energy Regulation (AER).

The AER has been plagued with scandals and its new CEO, Mr Laurie Pushor brings the baggage of his own multi-million dollar land scandal in Saskatchewan. Pushor will supervise the downsizing of the AER (270 gone at last count) and implement $147 million in budget cuts to meet Kenney’s promise to cut red tape and open Alberta up for business.

Yep, we’re in good hands.  

Kenney said water quality and key headwaters are not at risk because the Environmental Enhancement and Protection Act will protect our water supply and the AER will take care of the selenium issue which, he notes, wasn’t even mentioned in Lougheed’s Coal Policy.  

Fact: Kenney’s assurance that selenium, water quality, and the headwaters fall into the purview of the environment minister Jason Nixon who has a troubling track record and the AER’s Pushor is hardly comforting.

Kenney said it’s a myth that a coal lease means a coal mine is on its way because coal projects must go through a strict regulatory and consultation process.

Fact: In addition to the concerns already expressed about Alberta’s regulatory process there’s the fact that Atrum, an Australian coal company, told investors the UCP government is “engaged and supportive” of its plans to develop its “flag ship asset” a large-scale project with multi-mine potential in Category 2 lands.

Right, it’s the UCP government, not the regulator they’re worried about.  

Kenney said it’s not true his government is abandoning the federal/provincial plan to phase out thermal coal.

Fact: Fine, but we’re talking about coking (metallurgical) coal, not thermal coal. This is a red herring.  

Kenney said it’s a myth the government didn’t cancel all the leases affected by his decision to cancel the Coal Policy. They cancelled 11 leases. Other leases resulted from requests made while the Coal Policy was in place.

Fact: The issue here is the cancellation of the Coal Policy, not the cancellation of old leases granted while the policy was still in place.  Also, the fact the government cancelled 11 leases doesn’t mean it won’t approve any more that come along.    

Bottom line

The coal companies will benefit from Kenney’s cancellation of the Coal Policy.   

Atrum expects a post-tax internal rate of return of 25 to 26% with payback within 3.9 to 4.4 years.

It identified five key risks: stakeholder support, selenium, westslope cutthroat trout habitat, Category 2 zoning (a risk eliminated by Kenney when he killed the Coal Policy) and regulatory approval timelines (also mitigated by Kenney when he appointed Mr Pushor to head the AER and gutted its budget, leaving only the federal timelines in play).

Alberta will not benefit from Kenney’s cancellation of the Coal Policy.   

Which brings us back to Peter Lougheed. When he implemented the Coal Policy he said the beauty of this province and the eastern slopes would not be destroyed to satisfy Ontario’s desire for cheap electricity.***

And here we are 45 years later watching Kenney destroy the beauty of this province and the eastern slopes to satisfy an Australian company’s desire for windfall profits.

It boggles the mind.

*“Kenney” is used here because the PR piece was presumably drafted under the direction of the man who holds the pen.

**The Economist, Dec 5, 2020 p 28

***Hansard, Oct 14, 1976 starting at 1339

Posted in Climate Change, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 67 Comments

Kenney’s (Bombastic) Response to Biden Cancelling KXL’s Permit

On January 20 when the rest of the world was congratulating President Biden on his inauguration, Jason Kenney was attacking Biden’s character and threatening trade wars because Biden revoked Trump’s executive order approving KXL.

Not satisfied that he’d made his point, Kenney appeared on Fox TV and other media outlets to condemn Biden’s disrespectful treatment of “a Canadian government,” an ally and a friend.

Leaving aside the obvious fact that Kenney’s characterization of Alberta as “a Canadian government” is misleading—Alberta is a “subnational” government or “provincial” government, it is not the federal government and notwithstanding what Fox viewers may think, Kenney does not speak for Canada. Or all Albertans for that matter.  

The Premier and the President

So what did he say?

Biden did something wrong

Kenney said Biden retroactively vetoed an existing pipeline.

Trump’s executive order approves the KXL border crossing facility (a 30” diameter pipeline including the first shut off valve or pumping station and appurtenances). This is part of an incomplete project, it is not an “existing pipeline.”  

The order says it may be terminated, revoked, or amended at any time “in the sole discretion” of the President. Lawyers may argue about the meaning of “sole discretion” but it looks like Biden has the power to do what he did.  

Kenney is fighting for Alberta’s energy industry and the jobs KXL would create

Let’s start with Alberta energy industry. Not one major oilsands producer has issued a press release condemning Biden’s actions.

While TC Energy issued a press release saying it’s “disappointed” and will consider its options, TC Energy’s CEO is not all over the airwaves complaining about being mistreated.         

If Biden’s decision was such a big blow to the industry why isn’t the industry standing shoulder to shoulder with Kenney calling Biden out.  

Ah, but what about all those lost jobs?  

Kenney job loss numbers include American jobs and are overstated. He said 2000 people lost their jobs. TC Energy said it’s 1000, and many of those jobs were in the US.

Kenney said over 59,000 new jobs would have been created. TC Energy said of the 59,000 indirect jobs, only 17,000 were Canadian jobs, the remaining 42,000 were in the US. But hey, Mr Kenney, feel free to start a trade war over American jobs.

It’s Trudeau’s fault

Kenney said Biden wouldn’t have concluded Canada wouldn’t stand up for the industry if the federal (Trudeau) government had responded “with strength” when President Obama refused to issue the presidential permit in 2015.

Stephen Harper was prime minister when Obama rejected KXL’s new route in Jan 2012. Harper was PM when Obama vetoed the GOP bill approving KXL in Feb 2015. Trudeau was elected 2 days before Obama rejected the presidential permit for KXL in Nov 2015.

Harper had three years to bring Obama around. Trudeau had 2 days and by then it was too late. So tell me again which federal government failed to respond “with strength” to Obama’s intransigence.   

The kitchen sink

In addition to arguing Biden disrespected Alberta by failing to consult with Canada prior to revoking the permit (this from the man who didn’t consult with Albertans on revoking the Coal Policy, teachers’ pensions, school curriculum, etc.) Kenney said:

  • Biden’s climate change concerns are non-existent because the oilsands have reduced carbon emissions intensity per barrel by 30%. True, but total emissions increased by 23% between 2000-2018 due to a 53% increase in activity.
  • Canada’s emissions goals are more stringent than Biden’s. Not true. Canada was ahead of Trump’s standards but will fall behind when Biden reinstates the policies Trump gutted, enacts new fuel-efficiency standards, new methane emissions standards, and a new “social cost of carbon” metric as part of the cost-benefit analysis of government regulations. (Meanwhile back in Canada Kenney is trying to kill the federal carbon tax in the Supreme Court of Canada).       
  • Trudeau should fight Biden as hard as he fought Trump over NAFTA and the steel and aluminum tariffs. The analogy doesn’t fit. Trudeau was not able to stop Trump from renegotiating NAFTA or imposing tariffs, all he could do was negotiate hard to get the best outcome for Canada. There is no room for negotiation with respect to the KXL permit, it’s either revoked or it isn’t.  
  • If Trudeau fails to act, Kenney will go further on his Fair Deal demands. What’s left? Secession?  

Damages/compensation    

Kenney invested $1.5 billion in equity and put up $6 billion in loan guarantees repayable after KXL was completed. KXL is dead. The $1.5B and whatever was drawn against the loan guarantee is gone.  

Kenney says he’ll sue for damages or compensation. Legal scholars say he’s unlikely to succeed.

Even if TC Energy succeeded in a NAFTA challenge and Kenney recouped some of his losses, KXL would not be built and all those jobs and oil revenues would not magically reappear.

What really happened

Kenney said he invested in KXL to offset the “political risk” of Trudeau not completing TMX, but he’s also admitted he’s “cautiously optimistic” TMX will be completed. The Trudeau political risk was not real.    

Kenney said if he hadn’t invested in KXL the project would have died (so he boldly went where no sane investor would go?).

Kenney invested in an enterprise that was exposed to the risk of an election in a foreign jurisdiction where Democratic presidential hopefuls like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were vying with Joe Biden for the leadership of the Democratic party.  He placed a $1.5 billion dollar bet that regardless of who became the Democratic nominee, Trump would win the election.   

Now that Biden has revoked the presidential permit—both TC Energy and the Building Trades of Alberta union say this was “predictable”—Kenney is desperately looking for someone to blame for his imprudence and hubris.

Well guess what, Albertans may have been distracted by Covid, the revocation of the Coal Policy, and a million other things, but we know Kenney’s bluster is not about the loss of jobs and oil revenues, it’s about the loss of Kenney’s credibility as a prudent financial manager and steward of Alberta taxpayer dollars.

It’s a simple as that.

Posted in Climate Change, Energy & Natural Resources, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 70 Comments

Jason Kenney Reverses Peter Lougheed’s Coal Policy

Remember 2017 when Jason Kenney continually invoked Peter Lougheed’s name in his quest for the UCP leadership?  

Well, it’s 2021 and Mr Kenney isn’t wrapping himself in Mr Lougheed’s mantle any longer. He’s ripping it to shreds.  

Next week the Kenney government is going to court to defend its decision to rescind Peter Lougheed’s Coal Policy (which has been in effect since 1976) and open the eastern slopes, the Rockies and the foothills to open-pit coal mining.

What would Peter Lougheed say?

Open coal pit-mining in the headwaters of three major rivers, the Red Deer, the Oldman and the South Saskatchewan, are you kidding me?     

The Coal Policy

Mr Lougheed’s government raised the Coal Policy in the Legislature in the spring of 1976. It became policy in June 1976. Mr Lougheed took his Cabinet on a road trip, two actually, over the summer recess—they visited 32 communities in June and 27 communities in September—getting feedback on the Coal Policy and four other priorities.  

On Oct 14, 1976 Mr Lougheed updated the Assembly on the government’s progress on these priorities.*

With respect to the Coal Policy, he said the decision to impose restrictions on coal mining was controversial, but his government had achieved “a very good balance between development and protection of the environment.” It had set “aside many key areas of land use where environmental or recreational features can be maintained and neither exploration nor development will be permitted.” He noted “other areas were set aside…in which there would be no development unless there could be full assurance of satisfactory reclamation.”

He called the Coal Policy a bold and dramatic decision, made after considerable thought, and acknowledged it hadn’t been easy, but it would serve Albertans well.

In the coming months Mr Lougheed and his Cabinet answered many questions in the Legislature about the impact of the Coal Policy on proposals to supply coal to Ontario Hydro, on royalty negotiations with Japanese corporations and on projects proposed in the Genesee, Sheerness and Sundance areas.

They tabled reports and studies on future world markets for non-coking coal, the cost-benefit analysis of coal development in Alberta, and the present and future outlook for Alberta coal in selected world markets. They responded to requests for detailed information on the cost of compensating coal mining companies affected by the Coal Policy, who held the leases, and where they were located.

The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Mr Getty, carefully explained the process, he wanted to take the time to go through it properly because it was new. He outlined a three-step process:

  • The company would provide the government with “preliminary disclosure” and the government would indicate “on a preliminary basis” whether there were any problems in principle with the project.
  • Then the company would do “disclosure to the public” and hold “a public meeting in the area most affected by the development”  
  • Then, and only then, was the company allowed to proceed to the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

The Coal Policy was controversial and raised many questions, but the Lougheed government was steadfast in its commitment to the preservation of agricultural and recreational land and the environment for Albertans.    

Under Covid Cover

Fast forward from 1976 to 2020.

Mr Kenney cancelled the Coal Policy without any consultation by posting an information letter on the Department of Energy’s website on the May 31 long weekend.

You remember that weekend, the first long weekend of covid, when we were battling through the first wave and trying to figure out how to cope with everything from working at home, masking, and whether or not we were eligible for federal or provincial (hah) relief.   

Fast forward again to January 2021. In the midst of attacks on the Capitol, globe-trotting UCP MLAs, bewildering lockdown restrictions and exceptions, concerns about new covid variants, and contradictory reports of vaccine shortages, Albertans finally figured out what Mr Kenney did to them in on the May 31 long weekend.

And they’re furious.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Instead of hiding behind lawyers who will argue the government has no duty to consult when it’s rescinding a policy, Mr Kenney could have followed Mr Lougheed’s lead and been upfront and transparent about what he intended to do.

But transparency highlights Mr Kenney’s problem.  

Unlike Mr Lougheed who stood up to protect Albertan’s agricultural and recreational lands and environment in the face of strong opposition from the coal industry, Mr Kenney betrayed Albertans’ trust by selling Albertan’s agricultural and recreational lands and environment to the coal industry.

Which brings us back to where we started.

In 2017 Mr Kenney proudly presented himself as the right leader to carry on Mr Lougheed’s legacy.

In 2021 Albertans know that Mr Kenney is not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Mr Lougheed, let alone stand alongside him.

*Hansard, Oct 13, 1976, starting at p 1449

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What Albertans Can Learn From the Attack on the Capitol

Federal Judge Damon Keith said democracy dies in the dark, but as we’ve learned over the last four years, it can also die in broad daylight if it is abused by power-mad leaders like Donald Trump and, it should be noted, equally determined leaders like Jason Kenney.

Trump tried to kill democracy with brute force. Kenney is more insidious—his actions are hidden under a veneer of legality.  

The Capital

Consider what Kenney has accomplished thus far.

Eroding democratic norms

It started with the ‘ha-ha’ moment when Kenney distributed earplugs to his caucus, signaling that no one needs to listen to the Opposition as they debate proposed legislation. It escalated as Kenny buried the Opposition (and the public) in a blizzard of bills and curtailed debate so no one could understand the impact of the laws his government was passing. And it continues day in and day out as his government and its employees attack Albertans in the Legislature and on social media if they dare criticize government policy.

This is not normal and yet here we are.

Eroding democratic freedoms

Authoritarians use crisis (real or imagined) to push through anti-democratic legislation. Trump’s use of the threat of foreign terrorists to impose the Muslim travel ban is a good example.

Likewise, Kenney used the Wetʼsuwetʼen railway blockades, only one of which occurred in Alberta, as an excuse to pass Bill 1 which criminalized Albertans’ right to peaceful protest.

He used Covid-19 to pass Bill 10 which gave ministers the power to create new laws and offences without allowing the Legislature to debate or vote on the matter. This was such an egregious abuse of power that one of Kenney’s major supporters, lawyer John Carpay, challenged the Bill in court calling it an affront to democracy and a violation of the rule of law.

And yet Kenney shows no signs of stepping back from his anti-democratic agenda.

Normalizing autocratic measures

In Alberta it is okay for the government to hunt its enemies. Oh sure, the hunt is camouflaged as an effort to promote the energy sector (War Room) or to protect the sector from anti-Alberta energy campaigns (Public Inquiry). These multimillion-dollar gong shows have not delivered on their stated purpose. They exist only to warn Albertans to get out of the way as Kenney fiddles around trying to bring an economic strategy rooted in fossil fuels into the 21st century.

Analysts and academics have written extensively about this abuse of power to no avail. The War Room and the Public Inquiry continue to exist, draining time and resources away from real issues like diversifying the economy, improving public education and public healthcare and addressing climate change.  

MAGA Alberta Style

Kenny, like Trump, galvanized his supporters by telling them they were right to feel aggrieved. He gave them an enemy, the federal government (pretending he himself as a Conservative MP had no role in creating the “inequities” he’s now condemning). Kenney rode their anger into office with the promise of a magic bullet (“jobs, economy, pipelines”) that failed to materialize.  

Never mind, he kept Albertans distracted with a traveling circus (the Fair Deal Panel) which gave Albertans a forum to air their grievances and a range of remedies that would do nothing to resolve them.  

The promise of prosperity was enough to convince Albertans to look the other way while Kenney chipped away at democracy because, well, everyone knows you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right?

Trump incited his supporters to storm the Capitol with the big lie—the Dems had stolen the election. Kenney is pushing a different lie. He’s convinced Albertans they’re special. They are people of destiny. Fate (in form of the fossil fuels beneath our feet and our down-home western something or other) decreed we would be prosperous beyond our wildest dreams.

When this failed to materialize because the world won’t play its part in the lie, he pointed Albertans in the direction of Ottawa. It’s someone else’s fault. It’s always someone else’s fault.

And then something strange happened. Over the holidays Albertans discovered that members of the Kenney government and staff were globe trotters. They were just as elitist and hypocritical as those other guys they’ve been condemning for the last few years.  

Trust was damaged, but not yet broken.    

Where do we go from here?  

If we’ve learned anything from the attack on the Capitol it’s this: When a charlatan promises something he can’t deliver in order to get elected, he may be prepared to destroy democracy to stay in power.

Kenney has created an unstable and unsustainable situation. The good old days are gone forever. Destroying our democratic institutions will not bring them back.

But allowing the Kenney government to erode democracy while promoting Albertans’ exceptionalism will end badly.

Because democracy is not a plaything to be tossed about at a politician’s whim. It is fragile and if abused will end up in pieces on the floor.

Posted in Politics and Government, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | 56 Comments

Jason Kenney: A Failure to Communicate?

On Jan 1, 2021, Jason Kenney held a press conference to respond to the alarming news that some of his MLAs, political staff and senior government officials decided it was just fine to fly off to places like the UK, Mexico and Hawaii over the holidays notwithstanding the federal and provincial advisories against non-essential international travel.

Mr Kenney said this was okay because…wait for it…he failed to clearly communicate his expectation that they should comply with his government’s policy against non-essential international travel.

Here’s how he justified giving a pass to his traveling MLAs, political staff and senior government officers (let’s call them the Travelers).

Mr Kenney being crystal crystal clear

On Dec 29 he learned MLA Tracy Allard was in the US and immediately asked her to return to Alberta. While she was away Allard continued to work answering the phone and participating in a virtual cabinet meeting.

Just to be clear, Ms Allard was in Hawaii celebrating Christmas. It’s a tradition she and her family have enjoyed for 17 years.  

Allard is the vice-chair of Kenney’s covid committee, one would certainly hope that during her vacation she could squeeze in the occasional phone call and zoom meeting, particularly in light of the fact her colleague Health Minister Shandro failed to meet his promise to vaccinate 29,000 healthcare workers by the end of the year and AHS says it will not start vaccinating the general population until Fall 2021. That’s nine months from now.

He’s become aware that a few Travelers went abroad and is assured they complied with all relevant public health orders and legal requirements.

The issue isn’t whether the Travelers complied with public health orders and legal requirements, it’s whether their international travel was “essential travel” because the federal government and Kenney’s own government issued a global travel advisory telling Albertans to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.  

Nevertheless, he recognizes that those in positions of public trust must maintain a higher standard in their conduct than is expected in the general population.  

Yes, people in positions of public trust are expected to maintain a higher standard, however this is not a breach of a higher standard, it is a breach of the same standard that applies to all Albertans; namely no non-essential travel outside Canada during a pandemic. If we can comply, they can comply.     

He takes responsibility for failing to clearly communicate a policy against international travel for senior decision makers in government.

Really? We’ve entrusted Kenney’s senior decision makers to get us through this pandemic. If they can’t understand a policy the rest of us can figure out by reading nine words on the government’s website, we’re doomed.

But, he’s not in the habit of tracking or regulating what the people who work for him do on their own time.

Interesting, because he’s fine with regulating what people who don’t work for him can do on their own time—he’s told them they must wear masks, maintain physical distancing and can’t have more than two singletons over for Christmas dinner.

Or maybe he’s just not in the habit of reading that little form MLAs fill out when they’re going to be away, the one Allard filled it out making Ric McIver her substitute.  

Lastly, if Kenney really believes government should be run like a business, he should be aware that a CEO knows when his VPs are going on vacation and not once in my entire career in the private sector did a member of the management team go on vacation in the middle of a crisis. Not once.  

He believes the Travelers acted in good faith and complied with the legal requirements…

Stop right there.

It doesn’t matter what Kenney believes. It doesn’t matter that the Travelers didn’t technically break the law. What matters is they refused to comply with a policy designed to limit the spread of covid.

…but he’s issuing a “clear directive” to MLAs, political staff and senior executives not to leave the country for the foreseeable future unless it is absolutely required for government-related business.  

I see. The existing laws, public health orders, policies, and evidence of strain on the healthcare system and the economy, to say nothing of the rising death toll, isn’t enough to compel the MLAs and senior decision makers to act responsibly, but Kenney’s “clear directive” which simply repeats what the non-essential travel advisory says, will do the trick.  

He takes responsibility for not being “absolutely clear” about the expectation there be no non-essential international travel, but he can’t sanction people who complied with the law and public health orders, and traveled safely.

In other words, it was simply a failure to communicate. Move along. Nothing to see here.

No, what we have here is not a failure to communicate; it’s a failure of leadership on the part of MLAs, political staff and senior government officials who chose not to comply with a government advisory against non-essential international travel.

And a colossal failure of leadership on the part of Jason Kenney who chose not to hold them to account for noncompliance with a policy designed to limit the risk of Albertans becoming sick and dying in a global pandemic.  

Some of us believed there were no exceptions to compliance, no amount of status or privilege that suspended the rules.

On January 1, 2021 Jason Kenney proved us wrong.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 134 Comments

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

The politicians are on break (thank god) and so are we.

The Soapbox family and Rudy the rescue dog would like to wish you and yours a peaceful and happy holiday.   

Those of you with a discerning eye will notice Rudy the rescue dog is plumper and furrier this year. But then again, aren’t we all.

See you next year!  

Posted in Celebrations, Uncategorized, Vacation | Tagged , | 51 Comments

Kenney’s Restrictions: A Jekyll and Hyde Story

A couple of months after Mr Kenney lost control of Covid-19, he lost control of his party.

Consequently on Dec 13 Albertans find themselves here: our covid testing system is overwhelmed, contact tracing has collapsed, hospitals are at 120% capacity, ICU beds are filling up, the Red Cross and hospital field tents are on standby and anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-you-name-it protesters are demonstrating all over the province.  

Lovely.

What went wrong

Kenney’s demise started in the spring when he decided to deny or soft pedal the virulence of Covid-19 to support the myth that he could control the virus with a “balanced approach” that would protect “lives and livelihoods.”  He opted for half measures to fight a virus, the likes of which we had never seen before.    

On Nov 25 when it became apparent that “balance” was not within reach Kenney implemented restrictions so pathetic that health writer, Andre Picard, called them “inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending otherwise.”

Not surprisingly our covid infection rate and death rate continued to climb.    

Then on Dec 8 Kenney imposed restrictions he said were necessary but would destroy the hopes and dreams of brave Albertans and violate of our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.     

Finally, when Kenney was asked whether he accepts any responsibility for his government’s inept response to Covid-19 he lashed out, characterizing criticism as “Alberta bashing” and “drive-by smears on Alberta.”

Let’s stop there for a moment.

The allusion that criticizing Kenney is criticizing Alberta—namely “Kenney is Alberta” and “Alberta is Kenney”—echoes tactics adopted by dictators and tyrants across the globe to silence critics. It also reinforces Kenney’s identity politics which are divisive and the antithesis of democracy. (Arguments over who gets what in a democratic context can result in compromise, not so in identity politics where arguments over who we are prevent compromise because compromise is viewed as betrayal.)*

Jekyll and Hyde

What makes Kenney’s position so unstable is he turned himself into Jekyll and Hyde in order to placate his base. Dr Jekyll said he is imposing restrictions to protect Albertans from the virus; Mr Hyde said these restrictions will destroy Albertans hopes and dreams and violate their Charter rights.

It didn’t work.

Moderate conservatives have been drifting out of the UCP tent for a while. Many of the hard right bolted last week. Before they left they flooded Kenney’s Facebook page and various websites with stinging comments. They are angry and disappointed. They made it crystal clear Kenney betrayed them and they would never vote for him again.

This creates an opportunity for other UCP members who are circling like vultures, waiting for the right moment to take the premier down.

One MLA who springs to mind is Drew Barnes. He has repeatedly challenged Kenney’s policies. On the heels of Kenney’s Dec 8 announcement, Barnes issued an “open call to the premier and cabinet” to let gyms, massage therapy, and hair salon businesses stay open.  

Barnes cited an article issued by the University of Virginia in support of his position. He said the article stresses the importance of cardio in fighting the virus (cardio in a hair salon?). Unfortunately, the link to the article would not open. However, it’s important to note Virginia is in the covid red zone. It appears to have twice as many covid cases and three times as many deaths (when adjusted for population) as Alberta. The government will ignore Barnes’ suggestion which is fine by him, he’s not really speaking to the government but his cadre of supporters.  

Now what

So where does that leave us?  

The Legislative Assembly adjourned on Dec 8, and will not return until sometime in Feb 2021. Over the Christmas break the UCP caucus will get an earful from their constituents including the rural UCP MLA who said his constituents would be okay wearing masks until the government told them it was mandatory then they’d rip them off because they’re freedom loving Albertans, or something like that.     

Kenney will spend the break dreaming up ways to deflect the outrage directed at him by offering his supporters another enemy to focus on (cue Trudeau’s carbon tax increases).   

The rest of us will try to hang on until the vaccine arrives.

2021 will be a harrowing year.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sensible premier like Rachel Notley, who has the interests of all Albertans at heart, instead of one who morphs back and forth between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

*The Economist Nov 28, 2020 p10

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Politics and Government, Science | Tagged , , , , | 67 Comments

Kenney: Rights and Responsibilities During a Pandemic

Last week when Alberta’s covid infection rate spiked to record highs, the positive-test rate climbed to 10.5%, and doctors across the province begged for more restrictive public health measures to avoid the refrigerator trucks, Mr Kenney appeared on Facebook to answer questions about the restrictions he had imposed on Nov 24.  

He appeared to be particularly proud of this exchange:  

K.C. asked: “What is the government’s responsibility when people won’t take responsibility for themselves?” 

Mr Kenney replied: “The government takes no responsibility whatsoever. The people are responsible for their irresponsible behavior.”  Okay, that’s me paraphrasing Mr Kenney’s 538-word answer, but that’s in essence what he said.   

Responsibility

He started his windbag response by lamenting that we don’t have a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. Apparently our responsibility to obey the laws prohibiting killing, maiming, abusing, polluting, stealing, lying, cheating, etc contained in the Criminal Code, federal, provincial and municipal laws, the common law and the Bible are not enough.   

He said instead of exercising our constitutionally protected freedoms to protest at a super spreader event that could put someone in ICU or kill them, people could register their objections responsibly by:

  • Sending him letters and emails and calling him names (“a dictator or whatever, go for it”)
  • Organizing online petitions and virtual protests
  • “Go bully” (?)
  • Organizing a safe protest where people wore masks and spread out. Seriously? You’re asking these nuts to wear masks to an anti-mask rally?

Then he addressed those who believed covid is a hoax, or the risk is exaggerated, or masks are ineffective, or the restrictions have gone too far. He invited them to talk to his friend who spent nearly two months in ICU “fighting for his life” or to those who have lost loved ones. He asked these protesters to “just err on the side of caution and responsibility and care for your neighbours.”

The thrust of his Facebook message was threefold:

  1. Be responsible.
  2. Focus your righteous indignation on me, um, virtually, because I can take it (I’m safely ensconced behind my computer, my issues managers, and my security team),
  3. Be compassionate (follow my sterling example of compassionate leadership. I proudly fought to overturn spousal rights for gay couples during the AIDS epidemic and I continue to demonstrate compassion to this day; see for example how my government changed the payout dates for AISH recipients to make it more difficult for them to pay their monthly expenses).

Mr Kenney wrapped up his answer with this: “So, yes to rights, but yes also to their responsible exercise.”   

Responsible rights  

Mr Kenney is confused, again.

The Charter protects certain rights and freedoms subject only to such limits prescribed by law as can be justified in a free and democratic society. There is no stipulation that individuals must exercise such rights and freedoms responsibly.*

So let’s go back to K.C.’s question. They asked: “What is the government’s responsibility when people won’t take responsibility for themselves?”

Given that this a question about government responsibility, not a citizen’s Charter rights, Mr Kenney could have said: “The government must step in when people won’t take responsibility for themselves. My government declared a state of public health emergency and passed CMOH 38-2020 which imposed a number of restrictions, including one that limits outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 10 people. People who violate this restriction will be fined $1000. This limitation is necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19.”

Instead he blathered on for four minutes about the non-existent legal or moral requirement that citizens exercise their Charter rights responsibly.  Not once did he suggest irresponsible behaviour would result in fines.

Predictably Mr Kenney’s sermon had no effect whatsoever. There was another large anti-mask/anti-restrictions rally in Calgary over the weekend.  

Mr Kenney’s response? “Yes, we have Charter protected rights in Canada. But we also have responsibilities as citizens.”

He also said he’s “very disappointed.”   

Instead of being disappointed, may we suggest Mr Kenney take his own advice and “err on the side of caution and responsibility” by enforcing existing restrictions and instituting even more restrictive public health measures before the refrigerator trucks roll up next to the field tents outside of Alberta hospitals.  

*As my friend, law prof Nigel Bankes pointed out, it’s not so much that there’s an individual duty to exercise Charter freedoms responsibly, but rather that the government has the power (and arguably the duty) to adopt measures to ensure citizens don’t exercise their freedoms in a way that impairs the health and lives of others.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Disasters, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 58 Comments

Kenney’s ‘Data-Based’ Covid Restrictions

There are some leaders you’d follow to hell and back, and then there’s Jason Kenney.

On Nov 24 Mr Kenney declared a second covid related public health emergency and outlined restrictions that would go into effect immediately because despite his fervent belief that Albertans would do the right thing, they didn’t.     

Mr Kenney advised that after a grueling 8-hour meeting on Monday he and his covid cabinet committee reviewed Dr Hinshaw’s recommendations and developed a new set of restrictions which he unveiled at the press conference.  

It was a weird event.

Mr. Kenney said he had “sharp words” with the feds (too slow in approving foreign rapid testing kits, but thanks for the 577,000 domestic kits), he was contemptuous of those with secure pay cheques, particularly secure government pay cheques, who were pushing for more stringent measures, and he displayed yet again his monumental ignorance of constitutional law (no, a government is not required to start with minimal Charter impairments before it can step it up, the legal test is proportionality).

But the most disturbing aspect of Mr Kenney’s remarks is his insistence that the new restrictions are based on data.

What data?  

Mr Kenney said the restrictions are targeted measures, focused on places “the data clearly showed [covid] was spreading”.

Really? How can the data clearly show anything when Alberta’s contact tracing capability has been compromised for more than three weeks?

Oh, don’t worry, Mr Kenney says. We have lots of data, namely 8 months of contact tracing data, outbreak data, healthcare utilization data, the number of ICU beds, the case-to-hospitalization ratio, the case fatality ratio, and the inferred infection fatality ratio.   

Okay, that was quite a mouthful, but I have some questions.  

How can we draw an inference from the pattern of infection for the last 8 months when we have no data for the 9th month and we can’t tell if or how the pattern is changing at the same time our numbers are spiking? There’s a hole in the data.

If the outbreak data is relevant, and to cite one example there have been 9 outbreaks at amateur hockey games, why are there exemptions for team sports under certain conditions?  

How were lagging indicators—healthcare utilization data, the number of ICU beds, the case-to-hospitalization ratio, the case fatality ratio and the inferred infection fatality ratio—used to develop restrictions which are intended to decrease the spread of covid in the future? None of these indicators pinpoint how covid was transmitted to those who are sick or dying from the infection, do they?

Oh wait, there’s more.

Mr Kenney has another data source. He’s relying on general learnings, academic and global research and experience in other jurisdictions.  

I’m sure inference from these data sources is useful, but wouldn’t it be more effective to fix our contact tracing problem by adopting the federal contact tracing app?      

Look, Mr Kenney said, this isn’t just a simple mathematical scientific exercise, there’s a balancing function here as well.

Ah, we’re finally down to what’s driving these restrictions. Ideology.

Churches are deemed safer than libraries. Families of 6 can go out to eat in a restaurant but they can’t invite grandma over for lunch. Ten people can gather for a wedding but not a wedding reception…unless they meet up at a bar. Masks are mandatory in Calgary and Edmonton and 22 other towns and hamlets but a person with “a mental or physical concern or limitation” doesn’t have to wear one. I guess this means the guy who complained that breathing in his own breath would give him gingivitis is off the hook.  

Dec 15

Okay, let ‘er rip.

We’ll regroup with Mr Kenney on Dec 15 when he’ll tell us whether Alberta’s R number is 1 or higher in which case he’ll impose stricter measures. If we’re lucky he’ll regale us with another over-the-top story about a recent refugee escaping from [insert socialist country name here] who pleaded with him not to destroy her business and throw her into abject poverty.

And he wonders why we don’t trust him.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 50 Comments