A Halloween Tale: Jason and The Mirror

For obvious reasons the usual batch of Halloween witches and vampires, pirates and princesses did not ring our doorbell this year. So to mark a different kind of Halloween Ms Soapbox would like to tell you a story.   

It’s about a magic mirror and a provincial premier named Jason who asks the magic mirror the question that troubles him the most.  

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest conservative of them all?”

The mirror becomes misty. A voice (which sounds a lot like Erin O’Toole) says, “I’ll give you a hint—conservatives are concerned about the decline of private-sector union membership because unions are essential to maintain the balance between what was good for business and what was good for employees.”

Jason splutters, “What? My government just gutted labour protection laws, ripped up the government’s contract with the doctors (who are leaving in droves, can you believe it?) and is going to fire 11,000 front line healthcare workers, forcing them into the non-union private sector. Oh, and my party just passed a resolution to make Alberta a ‘right to work’ province. What do you mean Conservatives are concerned about the decline of private-sector union membership?”

The mirror gazes implacably back at Jason and says nothing.

Jason tries again. “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest conservative of them all? Did I mention my relentless focus on the economy and GDP growth???”  

The mirror shimmers. A voice (which still sounds suspiciously like Erin O’Toole) says, “GDP growth alone is not the be-all and end-all of politics. We must provide the right framework to create wealth so we can give back to those who need it the most, our frontline workers, our teachers, our seniors.”

Nonplussed Jason changes the topic. “Mirror, mirror, yada, yada, my energy sector is Canada’s lifeblood. I’ve created a never-ending non-public inquiry to ferret out the anti-Alberta energy nutbars, a war room that sucks at promoting the energy sector and my emissaries are traveling far and wide to tout pipelines…”

The mirror clears its throat. “No comment re: non-public inquiries, war rooms and emissaries, your energy sector contributes around 10% of Canada’s GDP and employs around 4.4% of its population, that’s not exactly the lifeblood of the country. And about those pipelines, Quebec won’t stand for it, so Energy East and anything that looks even remotely like a pipeline expecting to go through Central Canada is a no-go. Sorry.”  

Jason tugs at his collar. “Mirror, blah blah blah. What about jobs? My government will deliver jobs.”

The mirror fogs up. Voices that sound like the CEOs of Cenovus and Husky speak in unison, “Consolidation of energy companies is the future. 2000 jobs will be lost in the Cenovus/Husky merger.” An analyst adds, “Suncor expects 2,000 layoffs and Encana took Kenney’s corporate tax cut and skedaddled across the border to the USA.” A woman’s voice, Ms Savage, Kenney’s Energy minister whispers, “…heartbreaking, an unfortunate reality…”

Jason, not ready to give up, splutters. “Mirror, what about covid? I’m doing an outstanding job on covid!”

The mirror replies, “Yes, you’re sticking with conservative ideology, something about the people exercising their personal responsibility, but it’s not working. Alberta has roughly double the active cases per population as Ontario and is just slightly ahead of Quebec. Even Doug Ford is doing better than you.”

“Doug Ford???” Jason is aghast. “Mirror, when it comes to healthcare I’m a far better conservative than Dougie. I’m creating a two-tier healthcare system; private healthcare and health insurance for those who can afford it and a watered-down public healthcare system for those who can’t, what could be more conservative than that.”

“Maybe so,” says the mirror, “but an Environics survey taken this August says 9 out of 10 Albertans support a public healthcare system that covers everyone and is fully supported through taxes. And 6 out of 10 Alberta support its expansion.” The mirror tsked. “Jason, you’re out of step with your own province.”  

Jason is crestfallen, but puts on a brave face and tries one last time, “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the best conservative of them all?”

The mirror cackles and says, “The man who’s trying to pretend he’s a liberal, Erin O’Toole.”

Moral: the times, they are a-changing, ultra-conservatives like Jason are being left behind.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Celebrations, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Humour, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Chris Champion and the Curriculum Review

Mr Kenney handpicked Mr Champion, a historian, as a subject area expert to provide recommendations for the Kenney government’s revamp of the social studies curriculum for kindergarten to grade 4 students.

Mr Champion’s education and experience, while interesting, are utterly irrelevant.

He obtained an MPhil in International Relations from Magdalene College, Cambridge. It was the last college to open its doors to female students in 1988. He got a PhD in history from McGill. Neither degree makes him an expert in pedagogy.  

But then again, who cares.

Mr Champion’s spent 11 months as Mr Kenney’s national defence policy advisor and 5 years in Kenney’s Dept of Immigration and Citizenship. He regularly espouses his devotion to conservative ideals in The Dorchester Review, a right leaning history journal he founded.

And that’s good enough for Mr Kenney who has no problem with Laurentian elites spouting off as long as they align with his beliefs.

Mr Kenney

Cover their eyes, block their ears

Mr Champion’s recommendations are grouped under the headings of civics/politics, economics, geography, culture, philosophy, religion, and history.

He believes the earlier students are exposed to “a sequence of basic events and issues” the better their persepective on the world will be when they graduate.

However, there is a glaring exception to the “earlier is better” principle: Anything to do with the impact of oh, let’s call them settlers, on First Nations, Metis and Inuit is verboten.

Any reference to residential schools created by Christian churches and the government to assimilate Indigenous children—the last of which was closed in 1996, two years after Mr Champion obtained his degree from Cambridge—must be erased because it’s ugly, negative, and only applied to “a minority of Indigenous children.”

Mr Champion says K-grade 4 children are too immature to learn “negative material about Indigenous Peoples.”

Apparently children reach the right level of maturity at grade 9, but even then such material must be softened, downplayed, buried in a section on benign vs harsh schooling (think Dickens and boarding schools) which is “inclusive of all cultures.” (Sounds like the conservatives ‘all lives matter’ response to ‘Black lives matter’, doesn’t it?)

While he was at it, Mr Champion deleted historical references to the contribution of diverse communities (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) that shaped culture, politics, economics, health and education. Why? Surely “contributions” aren’t too negative for delicate young minds?

Happy history

Instead of cluttering young minds with an age-appropriate version of history, Mr Champion recommends teaching children they’re ruled by a Queen who lives in Buckingham Palace, and people organize themselves into systems of government and make laws in the Queen’s name. They do this by going into Parliament to “argue peacefully.”

Mr Champion assures teachers they need not be alarmed if children think of the Queen in the Pink Fairy/Blue Fairy sense. Reality check: The Pink Fairy/Blue Fairy books were written between 1889 and 1913, it is highly unlikely any Canadian child has heard of them, let alone would be confused by them.   

And there’s more

Having disposed of the spectre of residential schools and the contributions of FN, Metis and Inuit to Canada, Mr Champion presses on.

For example, in the section on Columbus, Cartier, and other explorers he says: “Yes, the First Nations and Inuit were “already there” but it is still a major discovery by Europeans and Canadians who encountered the Indigenous peoples and their cultures for the first time.”  Well, that sounds a tad defensive.

And in the recommendations around how First Nations addressed their needs and wants; he suggests children copy the painting Wolf Skin Mask (noting it’s on display at the Smithsonian). Wolf Skin Mask was painted by George Catlin, an American lawyer/artist who travelled to the American west in the 1830s. Why a painting by a white American of American indigenous people hunting buffalo is preferable to, say, a visit (in person or virtually) to Alberta’s UNESCO world heritage site, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is hard to fathom.

Racists?   

In the Legislature, Rachel Notley referred to comments by Mr Champion: he said that teaching First Nations perspectives is a fad, residential school survivors are preoccupied with victimhood and the blanket exercise brainwashes children into thinking of themselves as settlers stealing the land.

She asked Mr Kenney to denounce this attempt at genocide and to commit to keeping residential schools in the curriculum.

Mr Kenney replied, “You call everyone you disagree with “racists.”

Given that Ms Notley isn’t making a wing-nut request; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked provincial governments to make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, and Indigenous peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for K to 12 students; it’s fair to ask whether Mr Champion’s recommendations and Mr Kenney’s support of those recommendations are indeed racist.

But naming the problem won’t solve it. We need Mr Kenney and Mr Champion to know they’re violating the TRC call to action.

Please make your voices heard by signing the petition that appears at this link.    https://www.thelearningteam.ca/shred_it?utm_campaign=scrap_it_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_source=albertateachers   

Posted in Crime and Justice, Culture, Education, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

UCP AGM 2020: Awards Night

The UCP AGM is such a bizarre event.

Sure, there were the typical UCP policies to create an Alberta Pension Plan, collect Alberta taxes here in Alberta, replace the RCMP with a provincial police force, “so there” referendums to show the Feds Alberta is miffed about transfer payments, and policies to further privatize healthcare and undermine unions.

But they also passed a number of policies that fly in the face of their government’s stated objective of cutting spending and reducing debt and/or are just plain loony to boot.

In recognition of the off-the-wall policies we’d like to present the following awards:

The UCP Leader at the UCP AGM 2020

The Big Spender Award goes to …

The three policies are under consideration for the Big Spender award are:      

  • Policy #4: Facilitating pipelines, energy corridors and infrastructure developments “with a view to domestic security and global access.” The words in quotes are new, and one suspects may have been added to provide air cover for Kenney’s facilitation of Keystone XL by locking Albertans into a $1.5 Billion equity stake and $6 Billion in loan guarantees, as well as any additional gifts he intends to bestow on corporations here and abroad.   
  • Policy #21: Creating a strategic petroleum reserve and expanding existing storage capacity to provide Albertans with “domestic energy security and enhanced price stability” and prepare Alberta for the next “natural disaster, global crude oil price war, market disruption or pandemic.” Oh, and the US has a strategic reserve that’s 10 times bigger than ours.  Excuse me? The US created its strategic reserve after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo to alleviate oil shortages. When did “energy insecurity” become an issue for Alberta? Also price volatility is a marketplace risk that should be borne by the producers and their shareholders, not Alberta taxpayers.
  • Policy #26: Use natural gas to encourage the downstream development of the petrochemical industry. How? Kenney has already cut the corporate tax rate and is stripping away environmental regulations, what more do the natural gas and petrochemical companies want?   

The BS Award goes to …. (drum roll) …. Policy #21 for its audacious attempt to obscure the real reason for a multi-billion dollar gift to the energy sector and the cliff-hanger last sentence in its rationale which states “Given the magnitude of the investment required, its long term”  Its long term what…?

The Most Bizarre Rationale Award goes to …

The Most Bizarre Rationale Award goes to Policy #16 (replace the RCMP).

This rationale states the RCMP should be replaced because notwithstanding Alberta’s visceral attachment to the RCMP and their “freshly washed vehicles” its “federal mandate and allegiance with Ottawa are cause for concern. The RCMP can be viewed as a relic of Alberta’s colonial past when Upper Canada and Lower Canada decided what was best for Central Canada and how the resource-rich West could be mined.” Alberta had a provincial police force from 1917-1932 and eliminated it as a cost cutting measure, nevertheless the rationale’s focus on “visceral” attachments, “freshly washed vehicles,” and the conflating of a non-existent  “colonial past” with the mining of the resource-rich West pushed Policy #16 way over the top.    

The Most Reprehensible Policy Award goes to …

And here we get serious.

The Most Reprehensible Policy Award goes to Policy #11, (privatization of healthcare).

Policy #11 landed with a squishy 53% in favour notwithstanding the objections of the UCP minister of Service Alberta and others who said Policy #11 is contrary to the UCP’s founding policies and its 2019 election platform which expressly stated its commitment to publicly funded and universally accessible healthcare, and it violates the Canada Health Act which could result in a dollar for dollar reduction in federal health transfers.

What makes Policy #11 reprehensible is it provides a cover of legitimacy to actions Mr Kenney has already taken to move ahead with his privatization agenda. He’s tabled Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act which changes nine statutes to provide more private options for doctors, clinics and those who can afford to pay to get to the front of the line and he’s destabilizing public healthcare by driving physicians out of the province and announcing 11,000 in job cuts and layoffs in the middle of a pandemic.  

Why anyone bothered to debate a foregone conclusion in the first place is a mystery.

It’s a wrap

The virtual UCP AGM will wrap up next weekend. If these policies are anything to go by, the gong show known as Kenney’s government is going to get much worse.

Sources: https://www.ucpagm.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2020-Policy-and-Governance-Booklet_sept2820.pdf

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 36 Comments

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Ms Soapbox and her family would like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

To say that it’s been different this year would be an understatement, but we can all be thankful for the people who give us joy.  

I’ll be back next week to pick up where we left off. Until then Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

PS: Does anyone have a really good brussels sprouts recipe? 

Posted in Celebrations, Uncategorized | Tagged | 43 Comments

Speaker’s Corner

Ms Soapbox is working on a project that will keep her busy for the next couple of weeks. Rather than allow The Soapbox, a virtual Speakers’ Corner, to fall silent, she’d like to invite her thoughtful readers to share their views on issues of concern; God knows, there are enough of them.

Perhaps you’re worried about the UCP government’s assault on democracy with Bill 1 (criminalizing peaceful protest) and Bill 10 (using the covid crisis to give ministers extraordinary new powers), or its failure to address climate change, or its campaign to undermine public health and public education.

Maybe you’d like to see meaningful support for Albertans struggling with the impact of Covid-19 (no, we can’t wait for the Feds to pay for it all), or maybe you’re just tired of Kenney’s hypocrisy—how can he sing the praises of Erin O’Toole who said there will be no Energy East pipeline ever but refuse to give Trudeau his due for rescuing Alberta’s energy sector by buying TMX (estimated cost: over $12.6 billion)?

Or maybe you want to talk about federal politics or … Donald Trump?

Tell us what’s troubling you the most and why. Ms Soapbox promises to read your comments and respond (albeit a little more slowly than usual).  

Welcome to Speakers’ Corner. The Soapbox is all yours.

Posted in Uncategorized | 68 Comments

Thoughts on the Death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday Sept 18, 2020 at the age of 87. She was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and had been battling cancer in one form or another since 1999. She vowed to remain on the bench as long as she was capable of doing her job “full steam”. Sadly, she ran out of steam last Friday.

Her intelligence, wit and empathy will be greatly missed as the Supreme Court tilts even further to the right (Republican appointees will outnumber Democratic appointees six to three after President Trump appoints her replacement).

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Americans are right be deeply distressed by this harsh reality, but Canadians are equally upset.

Why?

It’s not as if the decisions of the US Supreme Court are binding on Canadian courts (contrary to what some Canadians think, Canada’s Constitution is not a pallid reflection of the American Constitution).

Something Chimed

To my mind, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death chimed in our hearts because she personified the last line of defence against slippery governments that promise prosperity, but deliver pain in the name of free market ultra-conservative ideology.

Even Canadians who weren’t paying attention finally understand there’s a catch when a conservative politician says ‘in order to be a caring society, we must be prosperous first.’

Actually there are two:

First, some people will never be prosperous enough, they’ll always want more.

Second, no matter what the government does to “unleash” the economy; be it lowering taxes, gutting environmental and O&S protections, hobbling unions, privatizing healthcare, education and public services, stripping women and minorities of their rights and eliminating public criticism by making peaceful protests illegal, prosperity continues to elude us and most citizens are worse off.

The only way to change these oppressive laws (assuming there’s no election on the horizon) is to challenge them in court.

Legal challenges take time and money. They bounce from one level of court to another and at each level those fighting to protect the people, the environment and our democratic institutions take their chances with whoever is sitting on the bench. If their case is heard by a panel of judges who are predisposed to rule in favour of corporations and their wealthy owners then all is lost.  

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death reminds us just how bad things can get if such governments remain unchecked. Historian Nancy MacLean’s term “Kochtopus” (to describe Charles Koch’s influence over America’s democratic institutions) comes to mind.

None of us is a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but every one of us can do something to ensure our next government is not a bunch of free market conservative ideologues. Pitching in a few bucks or some volunteer time to support a party that values public services, the environment and our rights and freedoms is a lot cheaper than having to fall back on our last line of defence, the courts.

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

Decision Day for Dr Day

Mr Justice Steeves’ decision in Cambie Surgeries Corporation v. British Columbia (Attorney General) reads like a Scott Turow novel, albeit at a slower pace.

It includes all the major elements of a legal thriller: a law suit with white hats and black hats, ordinary people desperately searching for ways to alleviate their pain, entrepreneurs seeking financial gain, a constitutional battle that may forever change Canada’s universal public healthcare system, all of which lands before a wise and thoughtful judge who meticulously considers the evidence presented in a trial lasting 194 days which included the oral and written testimony of 36 physicians, 17 patients, 40 experts and 75 witnesses, and delivers an 880 page decision in support of public healthcare.

The characters

The plaintiffs are Dr Brian Day, the Cambie Clinic, the Specialist Referral Clinic which provides assessments and referrals to Cambie, and some physicians and patients associated with those clinics.

Dr Day founded the Cambie clinic. He’s a staunch advocate for private healthcare and doesn’t come across as a sympathetic character.  

Dr Day

Dr Day’s argues it’s unconstitutional to deny patients, who can afford to pay, the option of obtaining private healthcare in the face of lengthy waits for such care in the public system.   

He is not advocating for reducing wait times or increasing funding in the public system. And he admits that allowing patients to pay for medical services at private clinics will not reduce public wait times.  

The defendants are the BC government, the federal government, and doctors and other advocates who argue laws which preserve the universal public healthcare system and ensure that access to care is determined by need, not the ability to pay, are not unconstitutional.

They also argue that allowing a parallel private healthcare system to emerge would undermine the public healthcare system by increasing costs and reducing capacity, and would exacerbate the inequity of access.

Law prof Lorian Hardcastle posted an insightful blog on the constitutional aspects of the decision this morning.

For a quick Soapbox take on the case read on.    

The business of private clinics

Private healthcare clinics are a lucrative business that chew up a lot of resources.

Dr Day testified that 100 surgeons are affiliated with the Cambie Clinic. They’re supported by a staff of 95 employees (nurses, front office staff, cleaners, etc).

The Cambie Clinic charges patients a facility fee that covers salaries, overhead and operating costs. The facility fee goes into general revenue, and a payment, similar to a dividend, is made to the doctors affiliated with the clinic. This payment is in addition to whatever the doctors receive from the BC government for their work in the public sector.

Doctors working at the Clinic and other private sector clinics earn two to four times more for procedures they perform in the private sector than for those same procedures in the public sector. One doctor said that in 2016/2017 he earned $240,000 in government billings compared to approximately $950,000 in private clinic billings.

Not surprisingly, some doctors say they’ve reduced their time in the public sector to spend more time in the private sector.

The details of how doctors’ work is tracked and how their payments are calculated remain a mystery. Dr Day, the man in charge of Cambie, was unable to provide an explanation or documentation showing how this was done.

Not all experts are the same

Justice Steeves noted that experts for both the plaintiff and the defendant strayed beyond their areas of expertise at times, however he highlighted a number of serious concerns with many of Dr Day’s experts that resulted in their opinions being given little or no weight.  

Dr Day took it upon himself to communicate with four of his experts in a way Justice Steeves said amounted to “counselling them to ignore, if not violate, their primary duty” as experts (namely to assist the court and not be an advocate for either party). Dr Day’s communication with these experts “so tainted their evidence” that Justice Steeves gave their reports and testimony no weight.  

Similarly Justice Steeves gave no weight to some of Dr Day’s healthcare economists because their reports were (1) simply commentary prepared for CD Howe, (2) consumer information prepared for the Frontier Institute or (3) reports prepared for the Fraser Institute by someone who was “minimally” qualified as an expert on health policy and whose work suggested a “very narrow philosophical interest.”

Interestingly, Justice Steeves noted that Dr Day himself was evasive and argumentative and rejected the doctor’s evidence where it was contradicted by other witnesses or documentation.

Suffering

While it is true that elective surgeries are not, by definition, treatment for life-threatening conditions, the challenge facing patients attempting to access diagnostic and surgical procedures is fraught with physical and mental distress and cannot be ignored.

The testimony of patients appearing for both the plaintiffs and the defendants was heartbreaking.

The longer we fail to address the issues caused by a lack of timely access to the public healthcare system, the more desperate people will become and the more willing they will be to latch on to a private healthcare solution.

The sequel

Dr Day says he’ll appeal Justice Steeves’ decision. And if he loses at the next level, he’ll likely appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Everyone who supports Canada’s public health system should thank their lucky stars that the decision the Supreme Court of Canada will be reviewing will be the magnificent 880 page decision issued by Justice Steeves.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economics, General Health Care, Law | Tagged , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Alberta’s School Re-Entry Plan: It is what it is

These are unprecedented times, and they’re not being made any easier by Jason Kenney’s callous justification for his government’s half-baked School Re-Entry Plan, or Dr Hinshaw’s Order 33-2020 which was intended to clarify questions around masking and social distancing in schools but muddied the waters even more.

“It’s inevitable”

On Sept 1, Jason Kenney gave a press conference that was intended (presumably) to assure parents they could safely send their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic.

His message, carefully crafted by his team of issues managers and PR professionals, was:  

  • infections (which result in illness and sometimes death) are “inevitable”
  • such “inevitability” is no reason to close schools
  • schools must assume “a certain risk” (which Kenney couldn’t or wouldn’t quantify)
  • it’s “essential” schools open because experts say kids need to be in school
  • his government has put in place certain “protocols” based on the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Hinshaw, and others, and school boards should consult with Dr Hinshaw who will respond on a case-by-case basis to outbreaks (she’ll be swamped, but who cares, it’s just a pandemic, right?).  

Mr Kenney’s message of inevitability shows zero leadership or accountability. It is eerily reminiscent of Donald Trump’s response (“it is what it is”) to the Covid-19 death toll in the US. It speaks to resignation and defeat. It is not the legitimate foundation of a viable School Re-Entry Plan.   

Mr Kenney

Order 33-2020

Mr Kenney’s press conference came on the heels of Dr Hinshaw’s Order 33-2020.

Prior to Dr Hinshaw’s Order, we’d understood that masking was required in schools for grades 4 and up where social distancing could not be maintained; however Order 33-2020 says (we think) that it’s okay for kids not to wear masks even if social distancing can’t be maintained as long as kids sit quietly at their desks and aren’t facing each other.

Say what?

Shaun Fluker, a law prof at the University of Calgary, is not surprised by the criticism of the government and Dr Hinshaw’s rules on masking and social distancing. He says Order 33-2020 is poorly drafted, apparently inconsistent with the government’s earlier messaging on its Covid-19 website and Hinshaw’s own Order 26-2020, and the timing—it was dropped on the beleaguered public the Saturday before the start of classes—raises the suspicion that “the heavy hand of politics” was involved in its drafting.

Yep, you can say that again.   

At the very least

These are confusing and unsettling times. Albertans have every right to expect clear, consistent, thoughtful leadership from their government and their medical experts.

Dr Hinshaw’s last minute about face on the masking/social distancing rule for school children, together with Mr Kenney’s insistence that infections are “inevitable” and his refusal to provide significant funding to allow schools to reduce class sizes (some of which are in the mid to high 30s) to combat Covid-19 in schools, has resulted in a lack of trust in both the Chief Medical Officer and the Kenney government, precisely at a time we need them the most.

School children, teachers, staff, their families, and all Albertans who will be impacted by the Kenney government’s ill-conceived, underfunded School Re-Entry Plan deserve better because contrary to popular opinion becoming ill and dying of Covid-19 is not inevitable.

Not by a long shot.  

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

The Day of (Fiscal) Reckoning

Jason Kenney’s warning came just prior to the government’s economic update announcement. He said “when we get through all of this there will be a fiscal reckoning”.

Reckoning. It has a biblical ring and in this context the implication is that no matter what calamity is visited upon us, we had it coming and we deserve to be punished.  

Judgment Day

Economic Update

On Aug 27, the Kenney government set the stage for the fiscal reckoning by opening the Legislature with a prayer. The Speaker asked the “Lord, the God of righteousness and truth” to “grant [Alberta’s elected representatives] the guidance of Your spirit.”*

It’s unclear which god the government was calling upon but as a result of his/her/their guidance the Kenney government is facing a $24.2 billion deficit this year and an accumulated debt of around $100 billion.

This in and of itself isn’t the end of the world—Alberta’s debt as a percent of GDP will be 22.3%, this is comparable to BC at 22% and Sask at 20.8% —however finance minister Toews made it clear that the path to a balanced budget and reduced debt was cutting expenses (aka an austerity budget) and not increasing revenues by reversing the government’s decision to cut corporate taxes or, heaven forbid, considering a provincial sales tax.  

Myths

Finance minister Toews introduced the economic update with an epic myth.

He said before Alberta was blindsided by covid-19 and the OPEC+ oil price war, Alberta’s economy was on the upswing thanks to the government’s job creating corporate tax cut and red tape cutting efforts.

This is not true.

Between Aug 2019 and Feb 2020 Alberta lost 24,400 jobs and not one major corporation relocated to Alberta to take advantage of the Kenney corporate tax cuts and its red tape free business environment. In fact, one major corporation chose to grab its tax savings and run to the US.

Furthermore, the government’s effort to cut red tape made Alberta even less attractive to investors.

Global investment managers like Blackrock are pulling out of Alberta because of its lack of environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. Morningstar, a global investment research firm, lays the blame at Kenney’s doorstep saying that by cutting staff at the Alberta Energy Regulator and weakening environmental monitoring and oversight  “the Alberta government has become the oil patch’s own worst enemy.”

So no, the Kenney government’s economic policies did nothing for Alberta’s economy before calamity stuck.   

The sinners

The day of reckoning requires a bad guy, someone who must be punished for his transgressions.

In this case it’s the NDP. Mr Toews says if the NDP had cut spending as recommended in the MacKinnon report, the UCP would have inherited a $3.7 billion surplus, not a $6.7 billion deficit when it came to power.

Given that Mr Toews is trying to explain the $24.2 billion deficit that exists today, not the $6.7 billion deficit that existed the day the UCP came to power, it would be helpful if he included the impact of his government’s decision to decrease revenue by $4.7 billion in corporate tax cuts, $1.5 billion in equity investment in KXL, an additional $6 billion tied up in KXL loan guarantees, and the millions of dollars wasted on the war room, and the (non) public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns, to say nothing of the loss of efficiency and manpower resulting his government ongoing battle with Alberta’s doctors and teachers in the middle of a pandemic.

There is only one bad guy here and it’s not the NDP.

Judgment Day

The NDP finance critic, Shannon Phillips, made an insightful observation when Mr Toews presented the economic update. She said crisis is an opportunity for leadership but instead of leadership, the Kenney government is returning to the scene of old battles and old ideas.

She’s right.

This government’s retreat to yesterday’s failed policies is shocking given how much the world has changed over the last six months.

And while it may be too much to expect the UCP to adopt a provincial sales tax, there’s no excuse for the government ignoring the advice of an economic expert like Mark Carney, now with Brookfield, the world’s largest money manager, who says the transition to a net zero economy (where carbon emissions are offset or eliminated) is not only vital for climate sustainability, it presents “one of the greatest commercial opportunities of our time.”

One would think a net zero economy deserves a closer look, however instead of showing leadership the Kenney government prefers to do what Dr Lindsay Tedds describes as doubling down on thoughts and prayers.

All we can do is hang on. Yes, our children, the sick, the old and the vulnerable will suffer under the austerity measures that will be imposed by the Kenney government, but there will be another day of reckoning. It will occur in 2023 when Albertans will have the opportunity to reckon with the UCP government and vote them out of power.

That will be the sweetest reckoning of all.  

*Alberta Hansard, August 27, 2020, p2587

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 60 Comments

What Alberta’s School Re-entry Plan Teaches Us About Trust

On July 21, the UCP government announced 750,000 students will return to school in September under the government’s re-entry plan Scenario 1.

Scenario 1 means in-class learning under near-normal daily operating conditions with health measures.

These measures include two free reusable masks per student (mandatory for grades 4 and up where physical distancing is not possible), masks plus a discretionary face shield for staff, frequent cleaning, 466,000 litres of hand sanitizer, two thermometers per school, putting students into cohorts, and allowing schools to stagger start times for classes, recess and lunch.

Scenario 1 does not include capping class sizes at 15 or even 20,  presumably because this would require hiring additional teachers.  

Education minister, Adriana LaGrange, said her government is “determined to do everything we can” for the safe return of our students, teachers and staff.

Dr Hinshaw and Minister LaGrange

Dr Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said “we are committed to doing everything possible” to protect the health and safety of students, staff and family.

They both stand resolutely behind Scenario 1.

And yet Albertans across the province have taken to the streets demanding more funding to support additional safety measures. Unlike Ms LaGrange and Dr Hinshaw, they are not convinced that Scenario 1 does “everything possible” to keep our children, staff and families safe in the midst of a pandemic.  

Why the lack of trust?

It will be fine, trust me

When Ms LaGrange announced Scenario 1, she assured Albertans it reflected the input and support of “school authorities” and “education partners”. She failed to mention that throughout the process she refused to meet with the Alberta Teachers Association (gasp! the dreaded union).

By excluding the ATA she made three serious mistakes.

First she signaled her government’s contempt for the ATA which represents 32,500 teachers in the province, second she chose to ignore the best advice available on how to structure the teaching environment in a way that minimizes the risk of contracting covid-19, and third she threw away an opportunity to include teachers in the roll-out of the re-entry plan which would have given it additional credibility.  

Ms LaGrange finally agreed to meet with the ATA in the third week in August. The ATA expressed concerns around the need for increased physical distancing through reduced class sizes, funding for better protective equipment and better plans for screening and testing students and staff.

It is extremely unlikely the ATA’s concerns will make it into the re-entry plan.

No really, you can trust me

Sadly, we’re having trust issues with Dr Deena Hinshaw as well.

This is not surprising given all that Premier Kenney has done to marginalize Alberta’s chief medical officer. Never was this more evident than when Mr Kenney lifted the state of emergency without consulting Dr Hinshaw prior to announcing his decision. She was blindsided at a press conference by a reporter asking her to comment on Mr Kenney’s decision.

Dr Hinshaw says she supports the government’s re-entry plan because it’s been proven by the Canadian Pediatric Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and others that the “safe return to school is critical to the physical and mental health and well-being of students and families.”

She added (1) if children are infected, they’re more likely to be mildly sick, (2) childhood infections don’t seem to drive community transmission, and (3) young children appear to be less likely than adults to infect others.  

All of this is interesting but it does not address the issue.

No one is disputing the experts’ position that returning to school is critical to the physical and mental well-being of students and families. And most of us are not in a position to comment on whether young children are less likely to infect others than older children or whether childhood infections drive community transmission.

However, given Dr Hinshaw’s commitment to do “everything possible” to protect the health and safety of students, staff and families, we’d really appreciate her expert opinion on whether the government’s Scenario 1 re-entry plan meets this standard.

No, we don’t trust you

And then there’s Jason Kenney.

He says the school re-entry plan is part of Alberta’s plan to relaunch our economy, but unlike other elements of Alberta’s recovery plan this one is not supported by a significant investment.

As far as we can tell the funds allocated to the plan are nothing more than (1) the return of funds stripped out of the education budget in the spring when Ms LaGrange fired 20,000 education assistants and staff, (2) giving permission to school boards to tap into their reserves and (3) accelerating capital spending already in the budget.     

Compare this to Mr Kenney’s generous gift of $1.5 billion in equity and $6 billion in loan guarantees to TC Energy’s KXL pipeline.

It appears the health and well-being of 750,000 Alberta students, 32,500 teachers, countless associated staff and their respective families don’t stack up against the iffy promise of 6,800 direct and indirect jobs in the oil sector.

Perhaps the real reason Albertans have taking to the streets to protest Scenario 1 is that they don’t trust a government that believes we must be a prosperous society before we can be a compassionate caring one.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 57 Comments