Tactical Politics … What?

Not a week goes by without Jason Kenney saying something stupid, being called on it, and then saying something even more stupid in a failed attempt to silence his critics.

This week’s clunker came in response to a question about Mr Kenney’s progress in attracting female candidates to run for the party.  He said:

“I do recognize that very typically women candidates who are running for nomination for the first time are running against guys that have been running for years or decades and have a network and understand tactical politics a little bit better, than women who are usually doing more useful things like professions and running businesses and helping with families,” 

Mr Kenney’s comment drew significant criticism.  Premier Notley said it demonstrated “an unprecedented level of condescension”.  Druh Farrell, a seven-term city councillor, invited the gents “to mansplain ‘tactical politics’” to her, and others described the comment as problematic and very old school.

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The master tactical politician

Kenney dismissed the criticism by calling his critics the “left wing anger machine” and saying Albertans expect “a more serious conversation” on these issues.

What did he say?  

There are two positions on the table: Mr Kenney says his comment was reasonable and it’s been distorted by the “left wing anger machine.”  His critics say his comment was classic mansplaining (a man explaining something on behalf of women, to women, and getting it wrong) and condescending.

One way to determine who’s right is to take a careful look at Mr Kenney’s words.

Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times, and author of Enough Said, says words matter in politics, especially when they’re used by a skillful politician to deliver a message to their target audience.

Bearing this in mind, what message did Mr Kenney’s words convey?

He said:

  • I recognize a problem
  • The problem is first-time female candidates fail because they’re competing with experienced male candidates
  • Experienced male candidates have a network and understand “tactical politics” better than first-time female candidates
  • This is because first-time female candidates are doing “more useful things” like professions, running businesses and helping with families.

What Mr Kenney didn’t explain was:

  • what “tactical politics” means (we assume it’s not hijacking the on-line voting process, running kamikaze candidates to take out the competition, funding campaigns with illegal campaign contributions, or slipping through the “rigorous” UCP vetting process only to be disqualified later for making homophobic, sexist, racist and/or Islamophobic comments)
  • why he’s comparing first-time female candidates with experienced male candidates when the appropriate apples-to-apples comparison would be first-time female candidates with first-time male candidates
  • why male candidates understand “tactical politics” better than first-time female candidates
  • why male candidates are not disadvantaged by engaging in “more useful things” like professions, running businesses and helping with families but first-time female candidates are
  • what Mr Kenney is doing to attract first-time female candidates other directing them to the “She Leads” program co-sponsored by former federal MP Rona Ambrose and Laureen Harper who has never held political office but happens to be married to Stephen Harper
  • and the $64 million question: why the lack of female candidates is a problem for the UCP but not a problem for the NDP who have a female leader, gender parity in Cabinet and are running with a candidate slate that is more than 50% female

When you strip away the bafflegab, what Mr Kenney really said was:  I care, I really do, but it’s the first-time female candidates’ fault they don’t understand “tactical politics” and they should contact Rona Ambrose and sort themselves out because it has nothing to do with me.

If Mr Kenney had any respect for Ms Ambrose, he’d know she attributes the lack of gender parity in politics to two things:  women lack self confidence and they refuse to put up with the toxic sexism that makes it extremely difficult for them to get on the ballot, win a seat and land a Cabinet post.  A lack of “tactical politics” has nothing to do with it.

Repercussions    

Mr Kenney was asked to respond to the public’s negative reaction to his “tactical politics” comment.  He attributed the furor to the “left wing anger machine” and scolded the journalist for asking him the question–her colleagues didn’t question it when he first said it, why was she raising it now?

This is as troubling as Mr Kenney’s original comment (and a good example of Mr Kenney justifying a stupid statement by something even more stupid).

By attributing the criticism to wacko lefties Kenney is further polarizing the political sphere.

More importantly, he’s reinforcing a message he’s delivered before:  he expects journalists to be scribes recording and presenting his comments to the public;  not professionals who will analyse what he’s said and ask him to explain himself when he says something offensive.

Mr Kenney also said Albertans expect a more serious conversation on these issues.  In this he’s right, Albertans deserve an explanation for the UCP’s lack of success in achieving gender parity;  a patronizing bit of mansplaining trotted out on International Women’s Day doesn’t cut it.

Posted in Feminism, Politics and Government, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Some Thoughts on Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Testimony

It’s been another week of high drama in politics.  Albertan’s concerns over allegations of impropriety surrounding Jason Kenney winning the leadership of the UCP have been swamped by accusations that Justin Trudeau violated the rule of law in his dealings with Jody Wilson-Raybould over the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

SNC is charged with bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 to win lucrative contracts.  The SNC executives involved are no longer with the company.  SNC has implemented new ethics and compliance rules to prevent this illegal conduct in the future and it’s going to be punished one way or another so it’s been lobbying hard for a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) to avoid going to court.

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Jody Wilson Raybould

Kathleen Roussel, the Director of Public Prosecutions (Prosecutor) decided against a DPA.  Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) supported the Prosecutor’s decision and the prime minister, his staff in the PMO, and others were not happy about it.

JWR was shuffled out of Justice into Veterans Affairs and quit cabinet.  Last week she appeared before a parliamentary justice committee to explain what happened. She acquitted herself well.

At the end of her testimony she said, “I imagine Canadians now fully understand that in my view these events constituted pressure to intervene in a matter, and that this pressure—or political interference—to intervene was not appropriate.”

Actually no, as much as this Canadian respects JWR, I do not fully understand her view.  Here’s why.

The testimony

JWR’s testimony is clear on the facts.  She wears two hats.  She’s the Justice Minister (a political role) and the Attorney General (a non-political role).  The prosecution of SNC falls under her responsibility as AG which requires her to make decisions in a non-partisan, objective way, free from political influence.

As Attorney General JWR has prosecutorial discretion.  She can issue directives to the Prosecutor on specific prosecutions or take over the prosecution altogether as long as she gives notice she’s doing so in the Canada Gazette.  In other words, it is perfectly legal for JWR to tell the Prosecutor how to prosecute SNC—whether to go with a DPA or go to court.

JWR confirmed it’s okay for cabinet ministers to draw the AG’s attention to important public policy considerations relevant to her decision on how a prosecution will proceed, but she can’t let such considerations influence her decision.  In other words, it was okay for the PM, Finance minister and others to raise the economic implications of a conviction in the SNC case.

She said the PM, staff at the PMO and others were not happy with her decision to support the Prosecutor’s decision to take SNC to court and over the course of four months contacted her and/or her staff 20 times to discuss other “solutions”.

JWR says these contacts amounted to undue pressure and were inappropriate.

The Prime Minister and JWR agree that the PM did not direct JWR to change her mind on SNC, leaving the decision up to her.  They agree there was significant contact between JWR and/or her staff and other cabinet ministers, their staff and the PMO, but they disagree on the characterization of this contact.  Was it the regular contact between members of cabinet and their staff on a difficult file or was it undue pressure and inappropriate?

The PM’s staff, the Clerk of the Privy Council, the Finance minister and his staff suggested the following solutions:

  • JWR could talk to the Prosecutor about her decision not to offer a DPA.
  • A member of JWR’s staff could “reach out” to Department of Public Prosecutions to discuss the Prosecutor’s decision.
  • JWR (in her capacity as Attorney General) or the Prosecutor could hire external counsel, a retired Supreme Court of Canada judge for example, to review the Prosecutor’s decision not to offer a DPA.

JWR offered her own solution.  She said SNC could send her a letter and she’d forward it directly to the Prosecutor.  It’s unclear what she expected the Prosecutor to do with it.

The first two suggestions are silly given JWR’s position she wasn’t going to change her mind and intervene to make the Prosecutor offer SNC a DPA.  However, this rationale undermines JWR’s own solution that SNC could send her a letter and she’d forward it to the Prosecutor.  All three suggestions create the impression she might reverse her position when it’s clear she won’t.

The solution of an external legal opinion from a retired judge makes sense given the legislation was new and there was no precedent governing how the DPA process should work.  However, JWR rejected it as being inappropriate.  She didn’t say why, but some legal experts have suggested a second opinion would undermine the rule of law by allowing someone (who?) to do an end run around the AG.

This is puzzling.  Lawyers working for corporations retain outside counsel for a second opinion when they face issues that could seriously harm the company if they get the law wrong.  Bringing in outside counsel is not an abdication of legal responsibility or a sign of incompetence.  A second opinion provides “air cover” for a legal decision that will be unpopular with senior management and if it turns out the company lawyers were overly cautious, they can change their advice.

It’s unclear why JWR rejected the opportunity to test Prosecutor’s decision with outside counsel, if the opinion supported her position she’d be vindicated, if it came to a different conclusion, she could have ignored it or revised her position.  In either case it would have put an end (temporarily) to the pressure she was under from the PMO and others.

Violation of the rule of law?   

Canadians will never fully understand what happened here.

We’ll never know why the Prosecutor refused to offer a DPA to SNC.  We’ll never know whether 20 phone calls and meetings over four months with JWR and/or her staff created “undue” pressure or was normal interaction on a ground breaking issue. We’ll never know why JWR rejected the offer of an external legal opinion from a retired Supreme Court judge.  We’ll never know why she resigned as Veterans Affairs minister—she said she’d resign immediately if her successor in Justice agreed to a DPA, he didn’t but she resigned anyway.

All we know is JWR characterized the pressure as “inappropriate” but not illegal.

We also know opportunistic politicians are twisting JWR’s testimony to allege the PM tried to get JWR to betray her duty to uphold the law, this is nonsense because she would have upheld the law whether she supported the Prosecutor’s decision or decided to intervene and take over the prosecution.  She had the legal authority to do both.

Meanwhile conspiracy theories abound.

The normally level-headed Elizabeth May is asking whether we should be concerned that SNC’s counsel is former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, the same Frank Iacobucci who is leading the consultation process between the government and Indigenous peoples for the Trans Mountain pipeline.

On-line conspiracy theorists speculate this is an effort to replace Trudeau with Chrystia Freeland in order to deliver Canada into the hands of her “good friend” George Soros.

Unless we get more information, this hearing is nothing more than political spectacle, bread and circuses that distract Canadians from issues raging in their own backyards.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 87 Comments

The 2019 Provincial Election: What it will be about and what it should be about

Last week Ms Soapbox had the pleasure of appearing on a panel with economist Trevor Tombe and naturalist Kevin Van Tighem to discuss our perspectives on the upcoming provincial election.  The event was moderated by Shelley Youngblut and presented by Alberta Views magazine and Wordfest.

We focused on two questions:  what issue will decide the election outcome and what issue should decide the election outcome.

Dr Tombe and Mr Van Tighem made brilliant comments and you’ll have a chance to hear them when the event is posted on social media.  Meanwhile here are some of my thoughts.

What issue WILL decide the election outcome?

The election will boil down to an epic battle between Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney who will duke it out like Godzilla and King Kong…um, no disrespect intended!

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Kenney vs Notley

Albertans will be asked who do you trust?  Their answer will depend on how they view the role of government and whether they feel victimized or optimistic about the challenges they’re facing.

Albertans who believe we must have a prosperous economy before we can build a caring society will vote for Kenney because he portrays himself as more agressive than Notley—he’s made it clear he’s on war footing with Notley’s BFF Justin Trudeau, Notley’s comrades, the BC NDP, the US conspirators who he says are killing Canada’s energy sector and just about everything else including equalization, Confederation, Quebec, and people who fly private jets to Davos.

Kenney is pushing a “me first” agenda:  fix the economy translates into give me a job that pays as well as the job I had in the boom and I’ll worry about everyone else later.

Albertans who believe a prosperous economy and a caring society are two sides of the same coin will vote for Notley because they trust her to deliver quality education, healthcare, seniors care, and infrastructure, while at the same time looking after the environment and diversifying and greening-up the economy.  They trust she’ll balance the budget when things improve.

Notley’s message is it’s government’s job to address economic and social issues because “we’re all in this together.”  We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

What issue SHOULD decide the election outcome?

The election should be decided on the basis of what an engaged and knowledgeable electorate says is important to them.

Sadly, not everyone has the time nor the inclination to cut through the noise, the OMG tweets and skewed media reports to figure out what politicians are promising and let alone whether they have the power to deliver.

The electorate can test Notley’s ability to deliver on her promises by reviewing her government’s record and deciding whether the results were worth the cost.

It’s more difficult with Kenney who is new to Alberta politics.  In his case the electorate must look to his record as an activist, as a federal MP, and as the leader of the UCP to figure out his priorities and decide whether he’ll keep the promises he’s made.

Kenney has made a few promises so far;  these in particular cry out for an explanation:

  • A “job creation tax cut”: What is this?  It’s not a cut in personal income taxes because corporations, not individuals, are the biggest job creators.  If it’s a corporate tax cut, why doesn’t Kenney say so?  Is it because in the 15 years Alberta corporations paid Klein’s 10% corporate tax, it was the price oil and natural gas, not the tax rate, that fueled the boom and created jobs?
  • A “public health guarantee”: This sounds like Klein’s Third Way—a plan to publicly fund and privately deliver healthcare to those who can afford it.  If this is the case Kenney needs to  explain how he’ll avoid the roadblock Klein ran into when the federal government threatened to withhold transfer payments if Klein deviated from the principles of the Canada Health Act.  Kenney also needs to demonstrate that privatization reduces public wait times because experience with private cataract surgeries and MRIs doesn’t bear this out.
  • “Open for Business Act”: Kenney promises to cut “job killing” policies and red tape.  He’s said his cabinet will meet as soon as they’re elected to get this show on the road.  He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that this process takes time and should include consultation with affected parties.  The Klein government overhauled the regulatory regime as it relates to the energy sector.  The process took 10 months and involved consultation with 24 stakeholder groups, 47 First Nations and 19 government departments.  It wasn’t something a bunch of MLAs whipped up over a weekend.
  • Cancellation of contracts: Kenney said he’d review any contracts signed by the government between Feb 1, 2019 and Election Day and decide whether they were signed in good faith, serve the public interest, and represent value for taxpayers’ money.  He recently said if he’s elected he’ll cancel two contracts signed by CN and CP with the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission (a crown corporation created in 1974).  He admits he doesn’t have any details of these contracts, but based on his review of lord knows what he believes “the contracts are well above market value and address a need that doesn’t exist.”  Given he doesn’t have any contractual details and CAPP (an organization representing oil producers) says the crude-by-rail contracts are a legitimate public policy measure to address market failure, this is a bizarre decision.  Furthermore, it degrades the democratic process by impairing the government’s ability to enter into agreements and creates uncertainty in the market place because no one knows who’s next on Kenney’s chopping block.

Democracy is a conversation

Someone once said democracy is a conversation between leaders and the people and it’s up to the politicians to break the ice.

The issues that should decide this election are those that are raised by an informed engaged electorate having thoughtful honest conversations with political leaders.  They may include a discussion about how to position Alberta’s economy for the future, a review of the social services we hold dear and what we’re prepared to pay for them, and what we can do to mitigate the impact of climate change on the environment and society.

I’d rather have this conversation with Rachel Notley who has shown a willingness to discuss such issues than Jason Kenney who is so busy doing whatever it is he’s doing that he’ll stomp me and my family into the ground.  (Cue Godzilla).

Posted in Energy, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Sorry, Not Enough “Human Capital”

Restaurant Canada wants Alberta’s $15/hour minimum wage reduced for youth, liquor servers and people with disabilities.

Mr Kenney says he’ll consider a reduction for youth and alcohol servers.  No word yet on his position on people with disabilities but given his rhetoric (see below) we can assume people with disabilities will be on the receiving end of a “differentiated” minimum wage as well.

Mr Kenney defended his position with this:  “Take all the government programs you want. None of them replace the value of a job. The greatest social program is employment. And the greatest creator of employment for young people – for people with modest levels of human capital, for first-time hires – is the restaurant and food services industry.”

Kenney

A lecture on a modest level of human capital, from Mr Modest himself

There are a lot of problems with this rationale, not the least of which is the reference to “people with modest levels of human capital”.  When asked to explain what he meant by the phrase, Mr Kenney rejected the notion that he was referring to people with disabilities; he said he was referring to people with lower levels of education and training.

Mr Kenney’s not-so-cogent rationale

Let’s take a look at Mr Kenney’s rationale starting from the top:

“Take all the government programs you want. None of them replace the value of a job.”

This is bombastic.  Surely Mr Kenney is not saying government programs offered by the departments of Education, Advanced Education, Health, Seniors, and Children’s Services are not as valuable as a job to the children, students, seniors, people seeking medical care, and their families regardless of whether they have jobs or not.

“The greatest social program is employment”.

Oh dear.

Mr Kenney is a conservative, he of all people should know that corporations are legally obligated to serve the best interests of their shareholders, not their employees.  If corporations were in the business of providing social programs, they would not lay off employees at the first sign of an economic downturn and Albertans’ employment statistics would not yo-yo up and down with the boom/bust cycle.

“And the greatest creator of employment for young people, for people with modest levels of human capital, for first-time hires, is the restaurant and food services industry.”

Mr Kenney listed three distinct categories of potential employees.  Let’s examine them one by one.

“Young people”:  Restaurant Canada reports the food services sector is not the greatest job creator for young people—it provides just 1 in 5 youth jobs.  This tallies with a recent federal government report on youth employment which identified the retail trade and accomodation sector, not food services, as having the highest youth employment.

“People of a modest level of human capital”:  Here’s where Mr Kenney stepped on a land mine. When asked what he meant by this he said he was talking about people with lower levels of education and training.  “A 14-year-old taking his first job doesn’t have the same human capital level in training, education and work experience as a 30-year-old experienced worker with a university degree.”

Of course not, Mr Kenney, but it’s highly unlikely a 14 year old high school student will be applying for the same job as a 30 year old university graduate, but if he does and he has the skills necessary to satisfy the job requirements, he should be paid the same minimum wage as the 30 year old because “human capital” as defined by Investopedia means the economic value of the worker’s skill set, it has nothing to do with his age.

“First time hires”:  It is true that the food services sector is the number one source of first time jobs, but this does not explain why first time hires should be paid less than their co-workers who’ve done a stint behind the counter at A&W.

What are we really talking about?

In The Art of Logic in an Illogical World Eugenia Cheng says one way to tease out what someone is really saying is to ask yourself whether there’s a sense in which the statement can be true.

The furor over Mr Kenney’s comment concerns what he meant when he said, “people of a modest level of human capital” should be paid less because they have “less training, education, and work experience”.

The only sense in which Mr Kenney’s statement can be true is if employers hire people (not youth and not first time hires) who lack the training, education and experience to do a job and refuse to give them the training, education and experience they need to do the job, forever.

This is not how it works on the ground.  Employers do not make a practice of hiring people who will be in over their heads–forever.

This is nothing more than an illogical and pathetic attempt by Mr Kenney to deflect attention away from our suspicion that when he referred to “people of a modest level of human capital” he was talking about people with developmental disabilities.

Notley’s minimum wage legislation addresses the only characteristic young people, first time hires and people with developmental disabilities have in common—a lack of bargaining power.  It prevents such employees from being exploited by unscrupulous employers.  It should not be repealed by politicians courting votes.

But while we’re on the topic of human capital, Ms Soapbox couldn’t help but notice that when compared to Rachel Notley (who graduated with a BA in Political Science, earned a law degree from Osgoode Hall, worked as a lawyer and served 10 years in the Alberta Legislature, the last four as premier) Mr Kenney is woefully underqualified for the job.

By his own definition he is a person of modest human capital.

Posted in Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 49 Comments

Kenny Controls the Narrative, Why is this a Surprise?

We’ve been so focused on Jason Kenney’s public rhetoric that we didn’t see him transform the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose MLAs into a bunch of hush puppies ready to recite whatever speaking notes he gives them.

The transformation took less than two years.  This probably says more about the integrity of these MLAs than the persuasive skills of their leader.

But it’s all there in Hansard.

The record

Members’ Statements are part of the daily business of the House.  They come after Question Period and give Opposition MLAs a chance to make speeches attacking the government or highlighting an issue in their constituency.  Government MLAs use Members’ Statements to support government policies and criticize the Opposition.

A review of the Members’ Statements* made by PC and WR MLAs reflects how Mr Kenney shifted the narrative when he took over the PCs, merged them with WR and transformed them into something completely unrecognizable.

It’s like reading someone’s diary as they pass through three of the five stages of death: denial, bargaining, and acceptance.  Some conservative MLAs may have experienced anger and depression as well but likely chose not to share their pain in public.    

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Mr Kenney controls the narrative

A self-respecting Lougheed conservative would bailed at stage one but many ambitious conservatives rode the wave all the way to stage five.

Before Kenney

Before Mr Kenney dropped into the Alberta political scene the narrative of Brian Jean’s WR and Ric McIver’s PCs was the battle of the grass roots vs the centralized elite.

The WR said the PCs had no one but themselves to blame for their downfall, citing the PC’s belief in command-and-control centralized thinking—right down to deciding who would be allowed to run for the party and where.  The WR said unlike the PCs they were a member-driven party where the ideas of the grassroots mattered more than the elite.

The PCs responded that one loss in 44 years wasn’t the end of the party and they were the only party with a solid fiscal policy and a caring social policy.  They said they were elected to give their constituents a voice and ensure their concerns were heard “loud and clear by the government.”

Members’ Statements reflected this narrative as the WR and PCs berated the government for the carbon tax, its energy policies, and the growing deficit while at the same time demanding the government increase spending in their own ridings for more schools, hospitals, long term care facilities and police.

After Kenney       

Equalization

A week after Mr Kenney became the leader of the PC party but before the two parties merged, a WR MLA (Drew Barnes) added a new thread to the conservative narrative:  not only was Alberta stuck with a carbon tax, it was paying “obscene equalization payments” to Ontario and Quebec.  The equalization rip-off narrative was new and jacked the conservative fight up to the federal level.

Previously the PCs and WR used the feds to undermine the Notley government at home, claiming Notley was in cahoots with Trudeau and the two of them secretly wanted to kill the energy industry, or that Trudeau had duped Notley into believing her carbon levy to buy the NDP social license.

Now they argued Alberta was being “beaten up by the BC NDP, the Trudeau Liberals and the Mayor of Montreal.”  The entire country was against us, what ingrates!

Trudeau

Members’ Statements that once focused on the NDP’s failure to address local issues turned into personal attacks on Justin Trudeau.

Mr Yao who had previously used Members’ Statements to push for more seniors housing in Fort McMurray and praise social workers and ambulance drivers said the only thing the federal government was good for was grooming tips.

Mr Panda who discussed everything from the Calgary Veterans Food Bank, emergency dispatch, unemployment, the importance of being a friend to First Nations, and the fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline railed on about the negative impact Trudeau’s “disastrous trip” to India had on Canada-India relations.

Attacks on NDP policies included a Trudeau element whether they were criticisms of the Notley government’s plan to conserve caribou habitats or the need for stable funding for agricultural societies.

Conspiracy theories and muddled jurisdiction   

It wasn’t long before the UCP MLAs uncovered a conspiracy to kill the energy industry.

Mr Panda alleged that environmentalists who were preventing Alberta from developing its “God-given natural resources” were hysterical ideologues bankrolled by their American sugar daddies.

Mr Yao praised a “good Canadian patriot” (who Mr Kenney identified in speeches as Vivian Krause) for releasing information purporting to show Canada was being attacked by US groups funding environmentalists in order to protect the American energy industry, not the environment.

The fact the we live in a province within a federation and are subject to the division of powers set out in the Constitution Act soon became irrelevant.

Mr McIver ignored the distinction between provincial and federal jurisdiction and blamed the Notley government for allowing Northern Gateway and Energy East to be cancelled “under the NDP’s watch”.  This makes as much sense as saying the pipelines were cancelled under the Pope’s watch because federal pipelines do not fall under provincial or papal jurisdiction.

Dear leader  

Jason Kenney entered the Legislature in March 2018 as the Leader of the Official Opposition.  The number of wacko Members’ Statements increased dramatically.

UCP MLAs squandered their air time with odes to their dear leader.  Mr Barnes made a golly-gee speech about “a guy in a blue pickup” who came to town to talk about uniting common-sense and free-market Albertans, and guess what, average Albertans listened.  Mr Stier described Mr Kenney as a “humble conservative statesman” committed to servant leadership.  Mr McIver praised Mr Kenney’s “wise counsel” which was freely given even when the NDP rejected it because “that is the true mark of a leader.”

Some UCP MLAs (literally) took a page out of Mr Kenney’s speaking notes.  Ms Pitt urged Albertans to heed “notable Canadians” like Rex Murphy (a newspaper columnist) and Vivian Krause (a conspiracy theorist) who want us to stop being a “soft target” and “fight back against foreign meddling with our energy industry”.

Ms Pitt came in handy when former UCP MLA Mr Fildebrandt denounced the UCP after Mr Kenney refused to let him rejoin the party for failing to disclose wildlife charges (he’d shot a deer on private property).  Ms Pitt, who usually talks about mental health initiatives and food banks in Airdrie and underfunded schools in Rockyview, told the Assembly that certain rules applied in hunting season and it was unacceptable not to know you needed permission to hunt on private land.

She also propped up Mr Kenney’s reputation when necessary, assuring the Assembly that Rona Ambrose knew Mr Kenney well and “is confident he supports women” and “makes decisions on merit not tokenism.”

What happened?

Ironically, the only topic not mentioned in any UCP Members’ Statements is their unwavering belief in the grassroots guarantee.  Notwithstanding the WR’s conviction that it was a grassroots members-driven party, the only WR MLA to mention the grassroots after Mr Kenney took the helm was Mr Fildebrandt who said he’d been barred from running in his own riding because of “affirmative action gender quotas”, he’d kept quiet and did what he was told and allowed “scheming backroom operators to dictate [his] behavior as they are now dictating others”.

Mr Fildebrandt said, “Unity was conditional on the grassroots guarantee.  What happened?”

What happened dear boy was this:  The grassroots guarantee served its purpose.   It convinced the WR to merge with the PCs into the UCP.  The UCP is a command-and-control-top-down-driven party and its leader tossed the grassroots guarantee into the graveyard of spent political slogans.

The PCs and the WR were duped by Mr Kenney’s narrative.  They can accept this and fall into line or they can do what any self respecting Lougheed conservative would do—get out.

*All references to the PC, WR and UCP narratives come from the MLAs’ Members’ Statements as recorded in Hansard from June 2015 to Dec 2018.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

CAPP Meet Mr Kenney

Recently Mr Kenney told municipal leaders in Cochrane that in addition to multi-billion dollar deficits and rising debt levels Alberta was drowning in red tape.  To illustrate his point Kenney said it takes a week to approve a conventional oil well in Texas but a year or more to approve one in Alberta.

Hmmm, wondered Ms Soapbox, where did Mr Kenney get these facts?

After some digging she found a CAPP report entitled “A Competitive Policy and Regulatory Framework for Alberta’s Upstream Oil and Natural Gas Industry.” At the back of the report was a discussion about jurisdictional differences in approving well applications which said the median review time for a new well in Texas was indeed 7 days.

However, it also said the median review time for a routine well in Alberta was 2 days, the median review time for a non-routine technical well was 5 days and the longest median review time (for a non-routine, participant-involvement well) was 34 days.  In other words, the CAPP report flat out contradicted Mr Kenney’s statement that it takes a year or more to approve a conventional oil well in Alberta.  (If Mr Kenney was relying on another information source Ms Soapbox would be happy to share it with her readers).

Kenney

If you can’t find a fact, a “factoid” will do

This CAPP report forms the foundation of a briefer CAPP report called “Oil and Gas Priorities for a Prosperous Alberta”.  Given that the UCP’s energy critic Mr Panda endorsed the recommendations and concerns set out in the summary CAPP report—he said they reinforce what the UCP has been saying all along—it’s safe to assume the UCP also endorses the recommendations and concerns set out in greater detail in the foundation CAPP report.

Or is it?

Contrary to the UCP’s mantra that Premier Notley’s support of the energy industry is “half hearted” and her government is in bed with its “NDP cousins in BC” and their “Liberal BFF Trudeau” in Ottawa, CAPP gives Notley and her government full credit for their “tireless advocacy” in championing the need for the Trans Mountain expansion.  Presumably the best we could hope for from Mr Kenney on this point is mumble, mumble, Notley, mumble, mumble.

CAPP said the industry supports effective and efficient climate policies that take cumulative costs into account and recommended reinvesting carbon tax revenues in energy-intensive trade-exposed (EITE) sectors, (it also recommended protecting EITE from the full impact of some climate policies).  Jason Kenney has been crystal clear that the first item on his hit list is Notley’s climate policies, particularly the carbon levy.  Perhaps the UCP’s endorsement of CAPP’s position on climate policies comes with a caveat: we’re kinda, sorta on side with the industry, depending on who we’re talking to at the time.  Or maybe the UCP didn’t read the report and were simply babbling.

CAPP also said the industry supports the principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and endorses its implementation in a manner consistent with the Constitution and Canada’s laws.  For someone who never misses an opportunity to chime in on federal policies Mr Kenney has been strangely silent on this issue and we have no idea whether Mr Kenney stands with industry or not on this one.

Hyperbole

This isn’t the first time Mr Kenney’s UCP have tried to rile up Albertans with misinformation and dodgy facts.

Kenney’s shadow energy critic Mr Panda chastised Premier Notley for the delay in building Trans Mountain saying he’d worked at Reliance and built the world’s largest petrochemical complex in just 3 years.  His example is utterly irrelevant given the Reliance complex is a refinery not a pipeline and was built in India where the environmental, health and safety regulations are less stringent than in Alberta.  Recall that one of Mr Kenney’s major objections to foreign oil (it’s “unethical”) is based on the fact foreign producers do not operate to Alberta’s higher standards.  Apparently, this concern about ethics can be selectively applied whenever it suits the UCP.

Mr Barnes, UCP finance and treasury critic said investment is leaving Alberta to go to the US.  He referred to two companies, Plains All American and EPIC, that were going to invest in Texas.  There’s no evidence either of these companies intended to invest in Alberta; in any event Plains is a smallish company, less than a third of the size of Canada’s interprovincial pipeline companies and EPIC is going to convert an existing natural gas liquids line to crude.  Both companies were constructing their facilities entirely within the state of Texas.  Any comparison to investing in an interprovincial pipeline like Trans Mountain is silly.

The power of the pen

Apparently, Mr Kenney and the UCP believe when the facts don’t support your case any old factoid will do.

This may satisfy gullible Albertans, but it should trouble organizations like CAPP who may be under the illusion that their vision for Alberta aligns with Mr Kenney’s.

They have not yet learned their lesson, anyone can propose policy but it’s Mr Kenney who holds the pen.

Posted in Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 38 Comments

An Election is Coming, Some Policies Would Be Nice

UCP leader Jason Kenney wants Rachel Notley to call the election on Feb 1, 2019 so Albertans can go to the polls in the first week of March.  He has scheduled an election readiness conference from Feb 15 to 17, after that it’s full steam ahead…except for the fact the UCP has no policies.

What the UCP does have is a campaign slogan Fortis et Liber (cribbed from Alberta’s motto, it means strong and free) and six talking points:

  • Stand Up to Trudeau (presumably Kenney would like UCP supporters to support Scheer until Kenney decides to go back into federal politics, then it’s game over for Scheer)
  • Scrap the carbon tax (the UCP would rather get stuck with the made-in-Ottawa carbon tax)
  • Quality Public Services (okay, but first tell us how Kenney is going to measure “quality”)
  • Renew the Alberta Advantage (ummm, define it, then tell us whether it requires trade-offs in public services)
  • Defend our resources (how, by deep-sixing the rule of law and the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada?)
  • Reignite Alberta’s Economy (if this means scrapping health, safety, environmental and employment laws so Alberta is “open for business” I’m not interested)

Must we beg for policies?

Jason Kenney has been the UCP leader since Oct 2017.  He defined the UCP as a grassroots party led by a servant-leader who would respect the members’ wishes.  Yes, this was revolutionary in politics, but he gave them a written guarantee to show he meant it.  The grassroots held a policy convention six months later, but when it debated some hard-right policies on abortion and LBGTQ rights Kenney torched the grassroots guarantee and told his supporters that he held the pen (in this case a blue pencil) on policy development and the members would have to wait until he decided what policies to unveil, when, if ever.

No blue Pencil sign icon. Do not write. Edit content button. Red

Sorry, Kenney’s blue pencil is alive and well 

The fact that Kenney wants Notley to call an election in a UCP policy vacuum should alarm all UCP supporters, especially the UCP MLAs who’ve gone on record in the Legislature advocating for a government that consults with the grassroots and condemning the Progressive Conservatives for adopting a command-and-control structure that let the grassroots be pushed around by Cabinet and party elites.

And yet here we are.

Please sir, policies…? 

Kenney is pushing for an election on the strength of a motto and six talking points.  Albertans have no idea what his policies will be and are being asked to buy a pig in a poke (that’s an English colloquialism, it’s not meant to be disrespectful to pigs…or politicians).

Gullible Albertans will fill in the blanks in Kenney’s non-policies in a way that supports their own beliefs and values and conclude he’s their man.

Sensible Albertans will ask themselves whether they should pay heed to MLAs like Richard Starke who refused to join the UCP because he didn’t like how they handled LBGTQ issues, or Rick Fraser who left the UCP to join the Alberta Party because of the UCP’s single-minded focus on spending cuts and austerity or Rick Strankman who quit the UCP to sit as an independent because the UCP had abandoned its grassroots guarantee in favour of “hyper partisan self-centered politics”.  These guys pulled back the UCP curtain and didn’t like what they found.

Rachel Notley being the smart politician she is will treat Kenney’s “no policy” election platform as a gift.

She’ll fill in the blanks in Kenney’s six talking points any way she likes, and she’ll hammer home the fact that the only “policy” position Kenney failed to list in his six talking points is his oft repeated promise to eliminate the deficit and balance the budget by 2022.

She’ll remind Albertans that Kenney has been all over the map with this promise, first he said Alberta should be in line with BC which spends 20% less per capita than Alberta (but has higher taxes overall), then Kenney disavowed the 20% reduction target at the candidates’ debate in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election, saying a cut of 1% to 2% would be all that was required, then he suspended the policies passed at the UCP policy convention because only he “holds the pen”, so now the UCP has no clear policy on eliminating the deficit and balancing the budget.

At the end of the day Notley will be free to pick a “policy” that best suits her campaign.  This would be a reasonable political response to Kenney’s attempt to force an election in which he is free to attack the NDP’s policies based on the government’s record but he’s not prepared to offer policies of his own for consideration.

Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times Company, said in the face of a constant stream of catchy one-liners, policy doesn’t stand a chance.

Here’s hoping Alberta proves him wrong.

Posted in Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 36 Comments