The Reno

Ms Soapbox is on week six of an eight week renovation. The sad little room in the photo is what is left of her writing room. She’s taken to working in the basement wrapped in a blanket and her energy is flagging.

While this situation lends itself to all sorts of clever analogies of life in Alberta under the UCP, at this point Ms Soapbox is simply going to wish everyone a happy Sunday and go watch some golden statues get handed out to people she doesn’t know in movies she hasn’t seen.  

Talk to you next Sunday.


PS Feel free to share you reno stories with me…as they say misery loves company.

Posted in Disasters, Humour, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 39 Comments

Budget ’23: The Same Old Razzle Dazzle (with sprinkles on top)*

I’m not sure what Trevor Tombe did that caused Danielle Smith to say he was becoming one of her favourite economists, but it certainly wasn’t this.

In a recent article about Budget 2023 Tombe said the budget moved Alberta into a “new fiscal reality where we are more reliant on resource revenues and more exposed to risks.”

More reliant on roller coaster resource revenues, more exposed to risks?

Not exactly a selling point for UCP politicians heading into the May election.

But then again, this is Danielle Smith’s pre-election budget, it’s got a little bit of this and a little bit of that to convince Albertans that she and the UCP deserve another four years in government.

Give ‘em the old hocus pocus*

Let’s look at what Finance Minister Toews said when he rolled out the budget on Feb 28:**

“Budget ’23 is about the future.”

No, it’s not. It’s mired in the past. It sticks with the non renewable revenue model we’ve had for decades and puts a paltry $1.8 billion (one-fifth of the amount Peter Lougheed would have set aside) in the Heritage Trust Fund.

If this is our future, we’re in big trouble, because every boom is followed by a bust and we still won’t have a rainy day fund to draw on.   

Finance Minister Toews

“It’s about doing more of what has worked these past four years.”

Really? What would that be? The UCP government’s prolonged and nasty attacks on those who provided healthcare and education (the two biggest spend areas in the budget) during the three years of the pandemic?

The UCP government’s sorry record at protecting the environment and First Nations and others from the devastating environmental impact of an under-regulated industry?

How about the cruel cuts to AISH and other social services in order to demonstrate fiscal prudence while at the same time cutting corporate taxes which made it even harder to balance the budget?

Over to you, Mr Toews, razzle dazzle us.    

[It’s about doing] more to champion Alberta’s incredible value proposition around the world.

Ah yes, the champions of Alberta. Our official champion is Invest Alberta, a Crown corporation created by Jason Kenney in 2020. It’s first CEO, David Knight Legg, was a key Kenney advisor. He stepped down after less than a year and was replaced by Rick Christiannse.

Invest Alberta’s work is augmented by the appointment of tried and true champions, generally party hacks, who are given plum posts in places like Washington DC and Houston to boost the province.

Oh and let’s not forget the War Room which is busy championing when it’s not stuffing its foot in its mouth.  

The problem with all this championing is that it’s impossible to measure whether it has any effect…other than providing a way to repay those who’ve been loyal to the party.

So sure, Mr Toews, feel free to do more championing.

[It’s about doing] more to attract investment.

Budget ’23 says Alberta has the lowest corporate tax rates in Canada which in turn  attracts corporations that create jobs.

The budget also lists some small investments like the $15 million going to the Investment and Growth Fund, $5 million in advertising and an Agri-Processing Tax Credit.

That’s it. There’s nothing new or innovative here.  

[It’s about doing] more to ensure Albertans have the services they need.

Sticking with Health, the biggest budget area, the budget sets out many healthcare initiatives, including boosting access to surgeries, reducing wait times, and improving primary health care, yet not one of these initiatives is as well funded as the government’s RStar pilot project ($100 million) which, if implemented, will force Albertans to give $20 billion in royalty credits to oil and gas companies to get them to comply with the law.  

If the promise to ensure Albertans have the services they need is sincere, it should be backed by meaningful dollars. It’s not.

[It’s about doing] more to give a hand up to the vulnerable among us.

Again, using the RStar yardstick, with the exception of giving social sector workers a raise, there is nothing in Budget ’23 that comes close to the RStar $100 million investment, leading us to conclude that this another meaningless commitment to help the vulnerable.   

Bead and feather them*

Budget 2023 is pre-election budget disguised in sequins, beads and feathers. It promised a “new fiscal framework to help deal with Alberta’s unique economic and revenue volatility.”

It does the opposite.  

Trevor Tombe says in the past a $1 change in the price of oil typically meant less than a $200 million increase or decrease to government revenues.

Today a $1 change is worth $630 million up or down.

And by 2025 (just 2 years from now) that $1 change will increase or decrease the government revenues by a whopping $850 million.

To paraphrase Tombe, if you thought the roller coaster was scary in the past, just wait.

Or maybe don’t wait.

In May we’ll have a chance to choose between Smith’s UCP who are ready to throw us on the roller coaster for one last ride or Notley’s NDP who have a vision for a stable less risky future.

I’m tired of the razzle dazzle, aren’t you?

*Apologies to Richard Gere in the musical Chicago

**Alberta Hansard, Feb 28, 2023, p 466

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Danielle Smith, Economy, Education, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 101 Comments

The Day Premier Smith Lost All Credibility

Albertans are asking a lot of questions about RStar, the $100 million pilot program designed to give owners of inactive wells a royalty credit on new wells if they clean up their old wells which they’re legally obligated to clean up in the first place.

The question asked by a savvy caller on Smith’s radio show was: why is she pampering oil companies by offering them corporate welfare instead of showing “strength” and forcing them to clean up their mess.

Why? Here’s why!

Smith’s convoluted and illogical answer was:   

  • 2 years ago when she was doing “business advocacy,” junior oil companies were decimated and facing a $20 billion deficit and ta-da! RStar! Fine, but that doesn’t explain WHY the taxpayer should clean up the mess the junior oil companies are obligated by law to clean up.  
  • legislation now requires companies to spend money to clean up existing liabilities. That’s nice, but that still doesn’t explain WHY the taxpayer should bear the company’s clean up burden.  
  • no one wants to touch wells that have been abandoned since 1980. Excuse me? What they “want” and what they are legally obligated to do are two different things. The law requires companies to clean up their mess. RStar will require taxpayers to do it for them.

Earlier in the week Smith issued a statement purporting to clear up “inaccurate claims” about RStar.

She said the royalty credit on new wells would not be available unless the amount spent on cleaning up pre-1980 abandoned wells is “over and above the amount the…companies are legally required to spend on regular well site rehabilitation.”

This raises even more questions.

Why would a company spend more than it’s legally required to spend to clean up a well site? Is the royalty credit so lucrative that a company would happily overspend on cleanup to get its hands on the royalty credit? Or is the cost of “regular well site rehabilitation” less than the cost to clean up a pre-1980 abandoned well? Pardon me if I sound skeptical.

And if that’s not enough…

Maybe it’s something about being back on the radio, but once Smith gets going she finds it hard to stop.

She said First Nations and municipalities like Medicine Hat would like to pursue development opportunities but are hampered by abandoned and orphaned wells. Sorry, this still doesn’t answer the WHY question.

And then she lost the thread completely.

She told the savvy caller that there’s a $50 to $300 million clean up job right here in Calgary’s West Village which is hampering Calgary’s development plans.


The West Village site was polluted by a wood treatment plant that operated from 1924 to 1962. It used creosote to preserve wood products like railway ties and power poles. The creosote leached under the Bow River and affected the North Bow communities. The contaminated soil was walled off in the mid ‘90s but never removed.

Surely Smith is not saying the creosote soaked West Village site would be eligible for RStar?  (A wood treatment plant is not an abandoned well). So why is she talking about it?

Perhaps she got her wires crossed.  

The City of Calgary has been negotiating with the Flames Hockey team for a new arena. The Flames liked the West Village site but the City preferred East Village/Victoria Park.

The West Village site was dropped until this February when Smith expressed interest in it. She speculated it would cost up to $300 million to remediate the site but this amount could be reduced with new remediation technologies.

Perhaps she got the Flames mixed up with an oil company like CNRL.      

Or perhaps she has no idea what she’s talking about.

Either way her credibility on RStar is completely shot. The proposal violates the polluter-pay principle and the capitalism principle that private companies should take full responsibility for the liabilities they  accept and the Mom principle that if you made the mess, you clean it up.

The more Smith tries to clear up the “inaccurate claims” RStar is attracting, the more befuddled she sounds.

One thing is perfectly clear, however. The Smith government fully supports corporations that privatize profits and socialize costs.

That’s something to remember on Election Day, May 29.

Posted in Danielle Smith, Energy & Natural Resources, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 78 Comments

The UCP Government Responds to Justice Paul Rouleau’s Report on the Emergencies Act  

On Friday Justice Paul Rouleau released his report of the inquiry into the Trudeau government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to the convoy protests in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada.

Rouleau determined the Feds’ decision met the “very high threshold” necessary to invoke the Act.

The Alberta government is not pleased with Rouleau’s decision and Justice Minister Shandro issued a brief statement.

Mr Justice Rouleau

Shandro says: Alberta’s government maintains that the federal government’s consultation with provinces was inadequate…

Rouleau determined the Feds consultation could have been better but was adequate given its context. There was “substantial intergovernmental engagement” between politicians and government officials to ensure existing legal tools were being used and resourced. The First Ministers Meeting came as no surprise to the provinces.  

Rouleau says Alberta, like some other provinces, maintained that everything was under control. However, he notes the following facts that contradict Alberta’s position:  

  • hundreds of protesters blockaded the Coutts border for days
  • although a few UCP MLAs showed up to have informal discussions with the Coutts protesters, the Alberta government was not present at the blockade in any official capacity.
  • the Alberta government’s plan to hire tow truck operators fell apart and the RCMP asked the Canadian Armed Forces for heavy equipment, but didn’t get any
  • the Alberta government asked the Feds for towing equipment but didn’t get any. It eventually bought 12 trucks but couldn’t find trained operators.  
  • the RCMP filed charges against some Coutts protesters after discovering a cache of weapons and a conspiracy to murder police officers

Shandro says: …unnecessarily invoking the Emergencies Act set a dangerous precedent. The decision to invoke the act violated the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Albertans and gave the federal government the ability to seize property without due process of law.

This is a weird one. I’m not sure if Shandro is saying the Feds’ decision to invoke the Act was unconstitutional (the Act was passed in accordance with Parliamentary procedure in 1988 and the decision to invoke it in Feb 2022 was made in accordance with its provisions) or he’s complaining that by invoking the Act the Feds violated constitutionally guaranteed rights (which, within strict  limitations, is the purpose of the Act).  

Also it’s unclear which Albertans’ rights were violated (Albertans protesting at Coutts? Albertans occupying Ottawa? Albertans who were horrified by the occupation and cheered when the Feds invoked the Act?).

Shandro says: As a result, the conclusion reached by the inquiry does not affect Alberta’s decision to participate in legal challenges initiated against the federal government by the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association last year.

Obviously Rouleau did not address this point, but the position taken by the CCF and the CCLA that the threat did not meet the threshold required by the Act suits the UCP’s anti-Trudeau narrative so they’re going for it.

Shandro says: “The 56 recommendations in the report show that there were many issues with the way the federal government used the Emergencies Act. My department will be reviewing the report and its recommendations, and I call on the federal government to do the same.

Of the 56 recommendations made by Rouleau, 24 fall within the Feds’ sole jurisdiction (they relate to information gathering and amendments to the Emergencies Act). The rest require joint action on the part of the feds and the provinces, territories, and indigenous governments in the areas of policing, critical trade corridors, social media and cryptocurrency. The fact these recommendations were made is not an indictment of the Trudeau government’s actions.

The Feds committed to review the report and respond to its recommendations within a year. Shandro has committed to review the report but has not committed to a “comprehensive, public response” within a year as Trudeau has done.  

Shandro says: “One thing is clear: the federal government must involve provinces and territories in the decision-making process for future emergencies. Matters like infrastructure, policing and the economy have provincial impacts and Alberta must have a seat at the table when decisions are being made that affect our province and our people.

See above. Rouleau said the Feds have an obligation to “consult” and they met that obligation. In other words, Alberta had a “seat at the table.”This is puffery.

Shandro says: “I will continue to be a voice for the priorities, interests and concerns of Alberta and to protect Albertans’ freedoms from federal government intrusions.”

Rouleau determined that the Feds met the extremely high threshold to invoke the Act.  

Consequently this is more puffery. It adds nothing meaningful to the Alberta government’s statement other than to repeat its tired “stay in your lane” mantra.

If Rouleau had ruled otherwise the UCP would have had another cudgel with which to whack the Feds and the so-called Trudeau-Notley alliance in the run up to the May 29 election.

That didn’t happen so the UCP government cobbled together this sad little statement.

We’ve come to expect nothing less.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 60 Comments

The RStar Debacle (Who’s going to clean up this mess?)

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” — opening scene, Star Wars  

The first thing I thought of when I heard the word RStar was the opening sequence in the first Star Wars movie: yellow letters scroll up the screen and the audience learns about the evil Galactic Empire and its ultimate weapon, the Death Star.

And while Danielle Smith’s RStar doesn’t have the power to annihilate the entire planet, it goes a long way towards dragging Alberta deeper into the muck of cronyism and the erosion of the rule of law.  


Because under RStar, an industry designed program, the government would grant oil and gas companies royalty tax credits (valued at $20 billion) to incentivize them to clean up the abandoned wells they are legally obligated to clean up anyway.

Danielle Smith

There are so many reasons why RStar is a really bad idea.

Lobbyist to premier

Prior to Smith becoming premier she was a lobbyist for the industry. She lobbied Sonya Savage, Kenney’s energy minister, to implement RStar. Savage demurred saying RStar didn’t align with Alberta’s royalty structure and would violate the polluter pay principle. No kidding!

After Smith became Alberta’s premier, she replaced Savage with Peter Guthrie who knows nothing about the industry but is happy to push RStar.   

Why does Smith think RStar is such a good idea (leaving aside the obvious, that she likely made some promises and now she has to deliver)?   

“Joint obligation”

Smith starts by saying RStar will incentivize reclamation for the “worst” abandoned wells which were approved in the 1980s when environmental laws were more lax than they are  today. Since the companies drilled under these “lax” environmental laws, Albertans have a “joint obligation” to help the companies bear the cost of reclamation.

This is nuts.

The industry is well aware that environmental laws (like all laws) may become more stringent over time. They call this “regulatory risk” and disclose this risk to their shareholders.

Cenovus, for example, specifies “abandonment and reclamation” and “regulatory compliance” as two of the many risks that may have a “material adverse effect” on the company.*

Contrary to what Smith says, there is no excuse for a company to be caught flat footed by the tightening of “lax” environmental laws. And there’s absolutely no reason why the Alberta taxpayer should step in if a corporation failed to anticipate the need to properly abandon its wells at the appropriate time.

If a company acts irresponsibly, that’s on them, not on us.  

Incidentally if Smith wants to ensure ‘lax’ environmental laws don’t bite the industry in the butt in the future, she can pass tougher environmental laws today and avoid the problem altogether.   

Reclamation boom

Smith says the $20 billion in royalty credits will create 366,000 jobs and $8.5 billion in royalties (how she came up with these numbers is unclear).

Fine, but more jobs and royalties don’t justify forcing Albertans to shoulder part of the burden of cleanup when an industry-funded cleanup program will have the same effect.   

The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project says industry-funded cleanup would result in an annual economic boom of 10,000 full-time jobs, $780,000,000 in employment income and a $2 billion contribution to Alberta GDP every year for 25 years. ALDP provides the calculations to backup its assertion, which is more than we can say for Smith.


What makes RStar doubly painful is the hypocrisy of the government that touts the industry’s ESG rankings and spends millions on War Rooms and satellite offices in Washington and Houston to spread the word that Alberta is “the world’s best choice for responsible, sustainable and long term energy supply” while at the same time rolling out a pilot plan to “incentivize” industry with our tax dollars to get them to comply with existing laws.

To put it bluntly, Smith just skewered the “Alberta is the world’s best choice for energy” message.


In addition to it being immoral to pay someone to obey the law, Smith’s RStar proposal violates the “core capitalist principle that private companies should take fully responsibility for the liabilities they willingly accept.”

It also violates the polluter pay principle which holds that oil and gas companies are legally responsible for the retirement of their infrastructure.

Both principles support the argument that cleanup funds should come from the company owning the well, not the public.

A simple solution

We could spend hours turning ourselves into pretzels trying to understand Smith’s loopy justification for RStar.

Or as Mark Dorin of the Polluter Pay Federation suggests, we could demand two things:

  • For abandoned wells: The government should enforce the law requiring oil and gas companies to clean up their mess by properly abandoning wells and reclaiming well sites.   
  • For orphan wells: The government could put pressure on industry to increase its contributions to the orphan well fund to clean up the mess left behind when companies go bankrupt or are insolvent.

It’s industry’s turn

The Alberta government has given the Orphan Well Association $335 million in loans since 2017. The federal government announced a $200 million loan to OWA and an additional $1 billion to Alberta’s oilfield service companies for cleanup and reclamation work.

It’s time for the industry (which is recording windfall profits) to pitch in.

Remember that scene at the end of Star Wars, where Luke Skywalker dropped a proton torpedo into a port that started a chain reaction that blew up the Death Star…

…this is a possibility Danielle Smith should take into account.

*2021 Annual Report, p 59   

Posted in Crime and Justice, Danielle Smith, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 108 Comments

Woke? What?

Woke (/ˈwoʊk/ WOHK): adjective: aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)—Merriam-Webster  

I don’t read publications like the Western Standard or the Dorchester Review as a rule but thanks to the imbroglio over Law Society Rule 67.4, I made an exception.

Rule 67.4 gives the Law Society the authority to mandate continuing professional development programming including the Indigenous cultural competency course called The Path.

The Path was a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s call to action #27. It was developed by an Indigenous consulting firm and covers the history and contemporary realities of First Nations, Inuit and Metis in Canada.

It is a free 5-hour online course which can be taken in 1-hour chunks and is virtually impossible to fail. Lawyers had up to 18 months to complete the course, failing which they’d be suspended.  

And this is a problem, why?

Fifty-one lawyers (petitioners) petitioned the Law Society to repeal Rule 67.4 because:

The course is mandatory. Some lawyers say they have no issue with its content, nope, none whatsoever, they’re just worried the Law Society could use Rule 67.4 to force lawyers to take courses that are “political propaganda” and that smacks of the kind of mandatory education found in repressive regimes like China. This is the slippery slope argument, but we’re lawyers, so who cares.   

Interestingly, the same argument could be made about the Law Society’s mandatory professional development course for lawyers who wish to become principals mentoring and supervising articling students, but for some reason, this course is not a problem.

The course is an example of woke woo woo. Lawyer Glenn Blackett (of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms) sets out his reasons for repealing Rule 67.4 in the Western Standard and the Dorchester Review. It’s part of the “radical, activist and authoritarian movement known as ‘wokeness’”. It is “re-education, or indoctrination, into a particular brand of wokeness called “decolonization” and, like a cancer, it threatens to “distort the law within the very system entrusted to protect it.”

He argues The Path’s post modernist ideology is based on “metaphysical relativism” and “moral relativism” which holds that “there’s no such thing as the real world or right and wrong.”

The relevance of these complex philosophical doctrines is not explained, instead Blackett offers support for his position by plucking sentences from The Path like:   

“We can look at science and at origin stories as simply different ways to describe where we’ve come from.”  

(I suppose this isn’t the time to bring up that other origin story, the one where Earth is 6000 years old and we all descended from two people who lived in the Garden of Eden).

Four hundred lawyers and 124 non-active lawyers and students have written an open letter urging the Law Society to keep the training requirement.

The matter goes before the Law Society on Monday, Feb 6 where it will be put to a vote.

Why this matters

This is about more than a handful of lawyers objecting to doing their part to deliver on the TRC’s call to action.

It’s about lawyers who would politicize the Law Society’s effort to promote reconciliation.

In addition to urging lawyers to vote to repeal Rule 67.4, Blackett wants “liberally-minded” lawyers to put their names on the ballot for the 2023 Bencher Election, presumably to oust the “woke” Benchers who’ve foisted this “wokeness” upon them.

(Benchers are elected every 3 years, 20 are elected by the profession and 4 are appointed by the Justice Minister, who, you will recall, is currently under investigation by the Law Society).

So Lawyers, when you receive your LSA notice in the fall listing the candidates who‘d like to serve as Benchers you may want to check whether they support professional training in the history and treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada and vote accordingly.

To paraphrase the historian Timothy Snyder, it’s nuts to assume that those who came to power through institutions won’t change or destroy those very institutions, especially when that’s exactly what they’ve said they’re going to do.

I’m no longer an active member of the Law Society and I can’t vote on Feb 6, but I am confident that the majority of my colleagues will vote to keep Rule 67.4 so the Law Society can continue to offer training like The Path.

I’m less sure about the Smith government who will come under intense pressure to interfere with the Law Society’s ability to regulate itself if Monday’s vote does not satisfy Blackett et al.

If Smith yields to this pressure, we will have further proof that democracy is under siege in Alberta.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law | Tagged , , , , , | 73 Comments

Shandro’s Disciplinary Hearing

The “boiling frog syndrome” is a metaphor used to describe the failure to act against a problematic situation which will increase in severity until reaching catastrophic proportions.—Wikipedia.  

Let’s talk about Tyler Shandro’s disciplinary hearing.

While it’s easy to get drawn into the melodrama and pathos (key elements in a good soap opera) this is deadly serious because it raises the question: how the hell did we get here?

How is it that the Justice Minister finds himself in front of the Law Society’s discipline committee?

Tyler Shandro Justice Minister

Shandro’s hearing

The Law Society is investigating three complaints arising from Shandro’s stint as Health Minister, namely:

  • he brought the reputation of the profession into disrepute by turning up at the private residence of a member of the public and engaging in inappropriate conduct
  • he used his position as Minister of Health to get personal cell phone numbers and contacted members of the public outside of regular working hours, and
  • he responded to an email sent by a member of the public to his wife by threatening to refer that individual to the authorities if they did not address future correspondence to his office as Minister of Health.  

To my mind the first allegation (confronting Dr Zaidi in his driveway) has a different flavour than the remaining allegations which allege a cabinet minister used the power of his office to contact and threaten citizens. Having said that it’s hard to separate the individual from his office when the office is that of a government cabinet minister.  

The Law Society hearing has been adjourned and it’s not clear when it will resume. Meanwhile the allegations hang over Shandro’s head.


It’s easy to lay the blame on Shandro, after all he was the one crying (or not) in Dr Zaidi’s driveway. However, he’s in this mess because of the extraordinary lack of judgment and the utter contempt of his bosses for democracy and good governance.

Jason Kenney should never have offered Shandro the position of Health Minister when it came to light that Shandro (together with his wife and sister-in-law) owned an interest in a private company that sells health insurance to corporations and individuals. The fact that the Ethics Commissioner ruled this did not violate the Conflict of Interest Act was cold comfort to those who felt Shandro’s credibility as Health minister had been compromised.  

Then when an independent inquiry found Justice Minister Kaycee Madu attempted to interfere with the administration of justice and there was a reasonable perception that he had interfered with the administration of justice, Jason Kenney should not have offered the position to Shandro who was facing three complaints alleging violations of the Law Society’s Code of Conduct.  

As ABlawg points out, the Justice minister is the “chief law officer of the Crown with the responsibility to uphold the rule of law.” Kenney should not have put the Law Society in this position and Shandro should not have accepted the appointment.

Then Danielle Smith made the same offer and Shandro accepted it again.

The law profs described Kenney’s actions (and by extension, Smith’s) as “disrespect for the processes of a professional disciplinary body, a body that also plays an important role in maintaining the rule of law in Alberta.”

And therein lies the problem.

Lack of respect

The UCP government under Kenney and Smith has no respect for democratic institutions, norms, and conventions, let alone the rule of law.

They’ve demonstrated this again and again.   

One of the first things Kenney did after the UCP formed government was hand out earplugs to his caucus so the poor dears wouldn’t have to listen to the Opposition debate on a bill impacting union rights.

Since then the UCP government’s attack on democracy and the rule of law has escalated.

The Kenney government used the covid crisis as an excuse to grant itself the power to amend legislation whether it touched on public health or not.

The Smith government passed the Sovereignty Act so it could ignore federal laws it didn’t like. It also tried, but failed, to give Cabinet the power to pass new legislation in secret.

And, last but not least, Smith admitted, then denied, contacting Crown prosecutors with respect to ongoing prosecutions of covid-related health restrictions and criminal charges (mischief, weapons, conspiracy to commit murder) in connection with the blockade at Coutts. And the so-called independent review of her staff’s emails is a joke.

Boiled frog anyone?

All this happened in four short years, leading me to wonder whether Albertans are boiled frogs, incrementally becoming so blasé about the erosion of the rule of law and democratic institutions, rules and conventions that they don’t notice they’re being cooked alive.

But here’s the thing. The boiled frog story is a myth.

Dr Victor Hutchinson of the University of Oklahoma says if you plunk a frog into a container of tepid water, the frog will become more active as the water heats up and eventually it will jump out.

If, on the other hand, there’s no way out of the container, the frog is doomed.

There’s an election coming up in May. Albertans have a way out of the container. Surely, we’re as smart as frogs.  

Posted in Danielle Smith, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 66 Comments

“Too Many Gotchas”

“Nothing to see here, move along.” – Movie trope

Last week the CBC published a story saying that a staffer in Danielle Smith’s office sent a series of emails to Crown prosecutors challenging their assessment and direction on criminal cases arising from the Coutts border blockades and protests.

You remember Coutts, the place where the trucker convoy blocked the border for 2 weeks and the RCMP seized long guns, handguns, multiple sets of body armour, a machete, ammunition, and a high-capacity firearm magazine. Thirteen people were arrested on charges including mischief, weapons charges and conspiracy to murder RCMP officers.

Smith’s office responded to the story in a statement saying Smith had not been in contact with Crown prosecutors and had no knowledge of any of her staffers doing so, but if it happened “appropriate action” would be taken. Smith did not clarify what the “appropriate action” might be.  

Pressure mounted. The NDP (and others) demanded an independent investigation.

Smith offered an “independent public service” review. The public service together with the IT department would review the emails of her 34 staff and the 400 crown prosecutors. She’d get back to us “early next week.”

This is nowhere near enough.

Public Service Review

Smith can talk about the “independence” of the public service all she likes, but an “independent” public service review is not the same as an independent investigation because it lacks accountability and it is not transparent. .  

If Smith insists on turning this review over to a subset of the 25,000 public servants working in government then we need to know who’s leading the team, who’s on the team, and who the team reports to.

We also need to know the team’s mandate. What have they been instructed to look for? Is it any and all  correspondence between a staffer (or former staffer) to a prosecutor (or former prosecutor) or is it more limited in scope. Does it include deleted emails and emails that have been deleted from the deleted files?

Who decides which emails are relevant and which are not? The IT guys? the team leader? the team leader’s boss? Danielle Smith?

Who is going to write the report on the results of the review?

We wouldn’t be asking these questions if Smith agreed to an independent investigation.

Frankly if Smith’s predecessor, Jason Kenney, agreed to allow an independent investigation (by retired Justice Adele Kent) into the conduct of his justice minister Kaycee Madu who called the Edmonton chief of police over a traffic ticket, it boggles the mind that Smith won’t agree to an independent investigation into allegations of political interference with Crown prosecutors’ working on the prosecution of people charged with conspiracy to commit murder, weapons charges, and mischief.

Too many gotchas

So here’s the kicker.

Even if Smith’s independent public service review turns up nothing, no incriminating emails, nada, she’s cooked.

As a caller told Smith on her radio show, her past comments give her “zero credibility.” and there have been “too many gotchas” to take her at her word if she announces there were no incriminating emails from her staff to Crown prosecutors.

Smith responded by reminding the caller that in the leadership race she’d been asked if there was an avenue for amnesty now that the public health orders had been rescinded and the people who’d enacted them were gone. She said it was “in that context” she asked the AG if there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction and whether it would be in the public interest to prosecute.

We get that, but the caller (like the rest of us) isn’t demanding an independent investigation into dropping fines for people who violated covid public health restrictions.

He (and we) are demanding an independent investigation into whether Smith’s staff politically interfered with the Crown’s decision to prosecute people who are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, weapons charges, and mischief.

Too many gotchas

This is big and Smith’s refusal to treat it as such is astounding…but in keeping with her consistent lack of judgement.

From comments signalling sympathy for Russia in the Ukraine war, to insisting the unvaccinated are the most discriminated in her lifetime, to telling Rebel News she regularly checks in with prosecutors on covid cases (then backtracking to say everyone knows a politician can’t do that), to promising to check into amnesty for those convicted of covid health restrictions (then saying some Albertans (Smith?) confuse American law with Canadian law)…the list goes on.

But this is more than a gaffe. It’s a a potential political scandal.  

The only way we’ll know for sure whether the CBC story is true or false is if there’s an independent investigation, but Smith refused to go there. Nothing to see here; move along.

One can’t help but wonder why.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Danielle Smith, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 73 Comments

Political Interference in the Administration of Justice (Again!) 

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”—Proverb, originated 1562

Did you catch all that?

Premier Smith has been all over the airwaves saying that regardless of what it looks like she wasn’t trying to interfere with the administration of justice.

On Thursday Jan 12 in a discussion about the prosecution of people who’d violated covid public health restrictions, Smith said she regularly asked crown prosecutors: “Is it in the public interest to pursue and is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction?”

This followed comments she’d made last December to Rebel News where she said, “I’ve put it to the prosecutors, and I have asked them to do a review of the cases with those two things in mind and I’m hopeful that we’ll see a true turning of the page,”

So Smith admitted she talked to public prosecutors, right?

Ah, no.

On Friday Jan 13 the Alberta Attorneys’ Association issued a statement saying prosecutorial independence is fundamental to their role and a central component of an open and fair justice system;  they must be able to perform their duties independent of political influence and they were not aware of any case where an elected official tried to contact a specific prosecutor to ask about a prosecution.

On the same day Smith said “Of course, I’ve never called a Crown prosecutor. You’re not allowed to do that as a politician. Everyone knows that.”

So Smith lied to Rebel News, she didn’t talk to the prosecutors?

No, she didn’t lie, it was just a silly mix up.

Smith said she “may have used some imprecise language, but [her] contact with the Justice department has always been through the appropriate channels, and that’s the attorney general…[she] had discussions with the attorney general and deputy attorney general and asked them to look into what options were available with respect to outstanding covid-related cases.”

So it’s all good now, right?


SNC Lavalin

Cast your mind back to the spring of 2019 when Justin Trudeau was embroiled in the SNC Lavalin scandal.

The RCMP charged SNC Lavalin with corruption and fraud. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to give SNC a deferred prosecution agreement. Jody Wilson-Raybould, the attorney general, said she felt pressured by Trudeau to override the Director of Public Prosecutions decision when Trudeau and others asked her to consider “other solutions.”

The justice committee investigated Wilson-Raybould’s allegations and the Ethics Commissioner found Trudeau had improperly pressured Wilson-Raybould to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC.  

As we say in law, the Trudeau case and the Smith case are “on all fours” (very similar). Both heads of government spoke directly to the attorney general—and in Smith’s case the deputy attorney general as well—about a matter being handed by the Crown prosecutors, and they both asked the AG (and in Smith’s case the deputy AG) to consider something other than prosecution.

The big difference between the two cases is the evidence.

In Trudeau’s case the evidence was in the form of “he said/she said” testimony (Trudeau said he didn’t pressure Wilson-Raybould, she said he did).

While in Smith’s case the evidence is “she said, period.” Every damning word, every contradiction, came directly from Smith’s lips. The only person contradicting Smith is Smith.

This should worry Albertans because it leads us to wonder whether Smith lied when she said she’d talked to prosecutors. Furthermore her explanation that she spoke only to the AG and the deputy AG raises the question of whether she tried to use political influence to interfere with the administration of justice.

There are enough questions about Smith’s conduct to warrant an investigation or public inquiry into who Smith talked to, what she said, and why.   

Where is the law and order party?

The NDP are asking for such an investigation. One would think the UCP, those stalwart champions of law and order, would support them.

Their federal brethren pounced on Trudeau in 2019 demanding answers to these questions after Wilson-Raybould’s allegations became public. In addition to the judicial committee hearing, the conservatives demanded additional investigations, a public inquiry and Trudeau’s resignation.  

Why? Because all parties regardless of political stripe abhor the whiff of political interference in the administration of justice.

No wait, we’re talking about the party of Kaycee Madu. The UCP will happily accept Smith’s explanation. The former radio show host, hailed as intelligent and articulate, simply used imprecise language.

Really? What is vague and inexact about the word “prosecutors”? She either spoke to them or she didn’t.

What is vague and inexact about the words “attorney general” and “deputy attorney general” in the context of asking them to look into “options” other than prosecution? That’s either interference with the administration of justice or it’s not.

So why the free pass? As the ancient proverb says, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Or to put it more precisely, what’s good for the gander (Trudeau) is good for the goose (Smith).

Posted in Crime and Justice, Danielle Smith, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 62 Comments

Free Money? No Thank You!

Many years ago the (then) Progressive Conservative government offered energy companies bags of money if they undertook projects the government thought were necessary. The CEO I worked for told us to create such a project (even though it would be of little value to the company) and apply for the funds. We did and were awarded millions of dollars. Why did he do it? Because when someone offers you free money, you take it…

…unless your Danielle Smith in which case you toss the money back in the federal government’s face with a pithy comment like ‘stay in your lane, you filthy blackguards!’

This, in a nutshell, was Smith’s response to Canada’s “just transition” plan. Canada agreed to the “just transition” of the workforce to decent, quality jobs in the low-carbon economy when it signed on to the Paris Agreement to reduce GHG emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Danielle Smith

You remember climate change, that thing that poses an existential threat to humanity.

Smith huffs…

Smith says Alberta won’t shut down its oil and gas industry and it won’t transition its well paid oil and gas workers into, heaven forbid, installing solar panels.

Sadly, Smith is stuck in yesteryear while other fossil fuel producing countries move ahead with ambitious legislation to reduce domestic emissions and embark on meaningful climate action.*

She complains that Prime Minister Trudeau hasn’t even picked up the phone to tell her what he has in mind.

Since July 2021 the fed’s engagement included 17 roundtables with industry, unions, and experts, 30,000 submissions, and meetings (still ongoing) with the provinces, territories and Indigenous groups. Perhaps the Alberta government was too busy enjoying the Best Summer Ever to attend.  

If Smith wants to know what’s on offer she can read the “Just Transition” discussion paper: the feds have committed to investing billions to deliver 500,000 new training and work opportunities, decarbonize industry and identify skills for the future, etc.    

And they puff…

Smith’s supporters (or bosses, take your pick) are equally outraged.

Project Confederation and Free Alberta Strategy argue “Just Transition” is worse than Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s National Energy Policy because it would shut down the industry all together. It doesn’t.  

Free Alberta Strategy praised Alberta’s “firebrand” premier for firing back at Ottawa. Yawn.  

Project Confederation said “Just Transition”:    

  • is illegal because it’s unconstitutional and infringes the province’s rights. How is an investment in supporting and retraining the workforce in an industry undergoing fundamental change unconstitutional?  
  • its ‘explicitly stated goal” is to eliminate the oil and gas industry. Not true. Jonathan Wilkinson, Natural Resources minister says the words ‘just transition’ have been misinterpreted and suggests we need a more positive conversation about where we’re heading…[one] that will create opportunities in a range of different areas, including the traditional energy sector.” That doesn’t sound like the elimination of the oil and gas sector to me.
  • it’s “insane” because Canada can’t abandon its fossil fuel industry in the blink of an eye; current or even foreseeable renewables can’t entirely replace oil and gas. The result will be reduced incomes and higher costs. This is true, but no one is suggesting the transition happen instantly.
  • it’s “immoral” because millions of people around the world burn coal, wood, and dung to survive and we owe it to them to expand the sector. Our exports will raise their standard of living. Really? villagers burn dung cakes because it’s cheaper than the alternative. What are they proposing, that energy companies ship their oil and natural gas to Africa and Asia and give it away?   
  • it’s unjust because the Feds are promising a “pipeline” to a new “green energy” jobs but given Trudeau’s track record on pipelines it will fail. Oh, and the moratorium on cod fishing was a disaster. Excuse me, Trudeau delivered a pipeline, it’s called TMX. Mulroney imposed the moratorium on cod fishing. It came far too late to prevent the collapse of the cod fishery which was decimated by (1) the shift from schooners to steam and diesel engines in the 1900s and (2) advances in sonar, radar, and other fish finding technologies which resulted in overfishing in Canadian and international waters. The moratorium illustrates what happens when a government fails to intervene fast enough to preserve an ecosystem. ‘Just transition’ is part of the federal government’s plan to address the existential threat of climate change and try to preserve the biggest ecosystem of all, our planet.  

It should be noted that Stats Canada reports that total employment in Alberta’s oil and gas sector is down by 25% compared to where it was in 2014. Which brings us back to the original question: Why wouldn’t the Alberta government support a federal proposal designed to help unemployed oil and gas workers transition to another job?

And they blew the house down

If Smith and her ilk are worried about the federal government using unconstitutional means to shut down the oil and gas sector, they can challenge the feds in court or use the sovereignty act (which will land them in court as well).

What they can’t do is lie about the “Just Transition” plan (OMG! It’s worse than the NEP!!!) to create a convenient enemy on the eve of the May 2023 election, because too many Albertans will need the fed’s support.

Or in the words of my CEO, it’s free money, you’d have to be an idiot not to take it.

Posted in Danielle Smith, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 35 Comments