Shoreline, True Grit, photo-bombing, certainty and the Deity: random observations from Alberta’s Throne Speech

Posted on March 03, 2017, 1:56 am
11 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, clad in a purple official gown, reads the NDP Government’s third Speech from the Throne in the Legislature in Edmonton yesterday afternoon. Below: Party crasher Jason Kenney, Labour Minister Christina Gray (Dave Cournoyer photo) and Opposition Leader Brian Jean.

Alberta’s New Democratic Party Government delivered its third Speech from the Throne yesterday afternoon, read by Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell but written, of course, by political aides to Premier Rachel Notley, who looked relaxed in the Legislature despite her doubtless nerve-racking visit earlier this week to the now increasingly Trumpified District of Columbia.

There was some news in the speech, too, bien sur! Most of which, of course, was catalogued adequately enough by the surviving reporters of the mainstream media. Among the major themes:

  • The NDP will eliminate mandatory school fees for instructional materials and busing fees for kids who need to be bused to their designated school
  • The government will seek intervenor status to fight any legal challenges to the Trans Mountain Pipeline
  • It will toughen up laws protecting whistleblowers and preventing conflicts of interest by officials
  • To counter the continuing opioid crisis, Alberta will introduce supervised consumption sites and other harm-reduction measures
  • The NDP reiterated its commitment to public health care, public education and public services

“As we pursue further spending reductions, your government will hold firm to the belief that spending reductions should never happen at the expense of our schools, hospitals and those very things Albertans rely on to weather the downturn and provide for their families,” said the speech, and it’s a good thing, too.

Herewith, then, a few hurried, random, additional observations by your humble scribe:

About that certainty thing: how’s it working out now?

Conservative politicians habitually complain that this or that progressive policy creates uncertainty, and, as we all know, business hates uncertainty.

This has been repeated so often it’s taken on the patina of received truth, despite there being precious little evidence to actually support the proposition.

But let’s give the right its due and assume it’s true. The government’s decision to cap electricity rates for families and businesses on the grounds “an electricity bill isn’t a jack in the box” will undoubtedly create plenty of certainty.

But don’t expect the market-fundamentalist opposition to be very enthusiastic about the sensible idea of capping prices below the average rate families have paid over the past decade. Having created the market policies that led to spiking electricity prices, right-wing parties will fall back on the ever-reliable argument we can’t afford to fix it.

Said the speech: “If electricity prices go up past the cap, electricity bills won’t. Period.”

Similarly, a 25-per-cent reduction in school fees (the subject of Bill 1, introduced yesterday) and moves toward $25-a-day child care (a vaguer promise, likely to be delivered closer to an election) will also tend to create certainty of the sort conservatives are bound to dislike.

Don’t worry, though, the uncertainty argument isn’t going to go away, it’ll just migrate elsewhere. It’s bound to be used to oppose the NDP’s determination to stick with its promise to deliver a $15 minimum wage, for example.

Things change, and political language changes with them

Grit is a wonderful, descriptive, English word that describes the reaction of Albertans to the hard times that, thanks to nearly 80 years of various sorts of conservative mismanagement, keep comin’ ’round again here in Alberta.

Unfortunately, by an accident of political history, it’s a term that for generations was associated with the Liberal Party of Canada – a conveniently headline-friendly equivalent to “Tory.” In the past couple of decades, though, it has fallen out of use while “Tory” has continued to describe modern conservatives, who aren’t very conservative any more.

Now Grit appears to have been appropriated by the Alberta NDP, who ended this Throne Speech with a paean to grittiness: “Grit built this province. Grit will build its future. …”

Can it be long before New Democrats start being called Grits, or, at least, True Grit Dippers?

Meanwhile, back on the pipeline file, “tidewater” mercifully seems to have run its tiresome course. Henceforth, apparently, the pipelines Alberta wants will all run to the “shoreline.”

Who said a change is as good as a rest? As noted in this space in the past, I grew up on tidewater, very close to the shoreline. We called that large wet place “the ocean.”

Photo-bombing: alive and thriving in Alberta

What else but photo-bombing can we call the appearance of Jason Kenney, the former Harper-government cabinet minister and candidate to unite Alberta’s right at the head of the Progressive Conservative Party, at this affair?

The presence of Wildrose Leader Brian Jean expressing pro forma opposition to the NDP’s carbon levy can be explained easily enough. He is, after all, the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and, accordingly, is found in the Legislature from time to time in an ex officio sort of way.

But Mr. Kenney, who turned up to do the same thing, has been strategically avoiding the place – especially on days when large numbers of television crews are not on location to lob soft-ball questions.

Life may be hard couch surfing on the road for the undeniably hard-working Mr. Kenney, but it would appear some aspects of the accommodations are sustaining, even ample.

Give the man his due: Mr. Kenney’s slick commentary made the earnest Mr. Jean look and sound like a block of wood.

Still rattled by Bill 6? You bet!

When it comes to its own core constituencies, this NDP government continues to be too cautious – undoubtedly a hangover from the rough ride it got over Bill 6 in 2015 and 2016, the government’s fair, sensible and ineptly delivered farm-safety bill.

So the NDP appears to be too attentive to the business crowd’s screams it must go slow on desperately needed – indeed, in some regards constitutionally required – labour law reform.

It may have been mentioned in passing in the speech … or maybe not. It was hard to tell. “More work will also be done this year to modernize working conditions for Albertans,” hardly sounds like a ringing promise to me, no matter what some NDP political staffers suggest.

After the speech, Labour Minister Christina Gray seemed to say consultations must be conducted before anything is done – even to legislate sensible policies that have been the law in most provinces for generations, such as first-contract compulsory arbitration in cases where companies try to thwart a new union by simply refusing to negotiate an agreement.

What a lost opportunity! Mr. Kenney’s silly threats notwithstanding, a conservative government would likely leave this necessary change in place in the event the NDP was not re-elected. Left undone, however, it would never be implemented in such circumstances. Any future conservative government would tell advocates: “You couldn’t even get your guys to do it when they were in power!”

Enough blessing, already!

It was under Premier Ed Stelmach, I think, that Alberta Throne Speeches began to include serial calls for the Almighty’s blessings. If so, Mr. Stelmach, who put in an appearance yesterday looking as distinguished as ever in a very nice grey suit, should be forgiven. He is a sincerely religious person, after all.

Perhaps afraid of sounding like godless socialists, however, Ms. Notley’s NDP has continued with this irritating American-style repetition of the Deity’s name. This is civil government we’re talking about here for, erm, heaven’s sake!

God save the Queen? We can live with that. It’s part of our Canadian civil tradition. But God bless all these geographical designations? Enough, already!

Time to find a replacement for Paul Lorieau

Speaking of official songs, can we please find a replacement for the late Paul Lorieau, who not so long ago wonderfully led the singing of O Canada on important Legislative occasions like Throne speeches?

Things are getting a little ragged without you, Paul. We miss you.

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18 Comments to: Shoreline, True Grit, photo-bombing, certainty and the Deity: random observations from Alberta’s Throne Speech

  1. anonymous

    March 3rd, 2017

    “…Premier Rachel Notley, who looked relaxed in the Legislature despite her doubtless nerve-racking visit earlier this week to the now increasingly Trumpified District of Columbia.”

    It’s a bourgeois town.

  2. March 3rd, 2017

    Meanwhile, back on the pipeline file, “tidewater” mercifully seems to have run its tiresome course. Henceforth, apparently, the pipelines Alberta wants will all run to the “shoreline.”

    Who said a change is as good as a rest? As noted in this space in the past, I grew up on tidewater, very close to the shoreline. We called that large wet place “the ocean.”

    You forgot “land lock” as in “We are on our way to breaking the land lock…”

  3. David

    March 3rd, 2017

    It is good for a government to go back and revisit its election promises, especially around mid term for guidance about where to go, so the plan on school fees now makes perfect sense. It’s not a huge amount of money, it affects many people and it perhaps distinguishes the government ideologically from the right who tend to favor more user fees for everyone.

    It is interesting that Kenney seems content to continue to wonder in the political wilderness for now without a seat in the legislature. It seems to be helpful for him so far, after spending many years in Ottawa, perhaps he really does need to reconnect with Albertans and hopefully by now he has figured out the difference between Whitecourt and Westlock. The big truck seems comfy too and it appears he or his donors can afford the carbon tax after all.

    I suppose much of the political show will be outside the legislature over the next year or so as Kenney and Jean battle for supremacy. Therefore it might be a good time for the government to move forward with a number of things with less of the typical Wildrose “the sky is falling” attacks, every time the government puts forward something new.

  4. Farmer B

    March 3rd, 2017

    So the NDP are hiring on Ontario company Eco Fit to come to your home and supply and install led lights, low flow shower heads, smart thermostats and so on. Total cost per house I am sure would be well over a thousand dollars. Now if the cost of the carbon tax per person is only 2-300 dollars per person. Please explain how this pencils out? This is the craziest program I ever heard of. I already have a low flow shower and I have already started replacing my lights now that led’s have come down in price. Are Albertan’s not smart enough to change a light bulb? Really?

    • Expat Albertan

      March 4th, 2017

      Working to save the environment… bravo, Farmer, despite the ”socialism” of it all. ????

      • Farmer B

        March 4th, 2017

        Actually Expat the reason I am replacing my lights with LED bulbs is that I expect the price of electricity to rise quickly in Alberta just like it did in Ontario due to poorly conceived and implemented green energy policies. So it is all about controlling costs and trying to stay in business in an increasing less friendly business climate in Alberta and Canada.

    • Athabascan

      March 4th, 2017

      What a wonderful question: “Are Albertan’s [sic] not smart enough to change a light bulb?”

      Farmer B, do you really want an answer to that? Albertans supported a provincial conservative government for over 40 years even though it was quite evident they acted in the interests of the oil and gas industry at the detriment of everyone else – including the environment. Albertans continue to blindly support intellectual giants like Michelle Rempel, Rona Ambrose, Jason Kenney etc.

      So, consequently the NDP want to send “professionals” to their homes to change light bulbs. Can you blame them? Maybe the NDP know more about the average Albertans’ collective intelligence than you think Farmer B.

      • Val

        March 4th, 2017

        so, collective intelligence of albertans very dull and stupid, and only ATHABASCAN comes out as white, fluffy and incredible smart.

    • Val

      March 4th, 2017

      could be someone from close circuit of Rachel Notley advisers has relation to owners of EcoFit and perhaps purposed to receive cash kick back from contract.
      i can’t see any other reason to award this deal to enterprise out of Alberta, particularly there seems wasn’t competitive bidding.
      b.t.w. after checking out their product page it looks like purchase of same stuff from local big chain retailers would be cheaper.

  5. Sassy

    March 3rd, 2017

    I agree with your take on the inappropriate “god blessing” that ended the speech – so American-sounding.

    They must have got spooked about labour law reform. Hopefully, they will do some consultations this spring and summer and introduce a major reform package in the fall.

    I was disappointed they didn’t prioritize the desperate need for more publicly built and operated continuing care spaces, especially for long-term care. The subject received a mention in the speech (“Your government will continue to create new long-term care and dementia spaces”), so maybe there is some hope.

    Toughening up laws protecting whistleblowers and preventing conflicts of interest by officials will be an important change for the Alberta government and for all of us. I see this as similar to the examination and restructuring of agencies, boards, and commissions committed to in the very first throne speech. The whistleblower and conflict of interest changes will be another attack on corruption and cronyism. Way to go NDP!

    So was this Door Number 2?

    • Athabascan

      March 4th, 2017

      People of the world forget that America is the only nation that has reference to God printed and engraved on their money.

      God on money!

      If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about Americans, nothing else will.

      • Edmontonian

        March 6th, 2017

        Acutally, Canada also has reference to God on our money, as the phrase D.G. Regina which appears on all our currency literally means “By the Grace of God, Queen” (Dei Gratia Regina)

  6. Bob Turner

    March 3rd, 2017

    I agreed with you, as always, up to the last paragraph. We had an excellent rendition of OC and GSQ by Ms Sharkey-Prima who gracefully led rather than dominated the singing of the anthems. I hope she is back again.

    • David Climenhaga

      March 3rd, 2017

      Indeed, Bob, Ms. Sharkey-Prima did very well leading God Save the Queen, which she did indeed lead. Alas, the singing of O Canada was so ragged I simply assumed no one was doing the work, but for the trombones of the Royal Canadian Artillery Band, which was very good this year. Work to be done here, I say. I forgot to mention, and now is as good a time as any to pitch it in, that not only was I the highest-volume O Canada singer in my quarter of the galleries, but that I simply introduced gender-neutral words and sang “in all of us command,” loudly, proudly and patriotically. No walls fell down, no one said I should take a “Canadian values” test, no one demanded I leave the country and move to Cuba (except one guy on Twitter, and that was tonight, about something else) and Canada as we know it did not change very much at all – only slightly for the better. Which goes to my point that we don’t have wait for the federal government to do the right thing at some indeterminate point in the future. We can just start ourselves, right now, like the citizens of a free country that we are. To succeed, of course, we need to sing loud, and not mumble. DJC

      • Paula Evans

        March 4th, 2017

        Always appreciate your musical additions – political music is an essential art form.

  7. Andy M.

    March 5th, 2017

    I’m a long way from home, hence late with my plea. But you and I, Mr. C., spent eight months on a bloody picket line because The Herald owners — i.e. the Black Monster — would not negotiate in good faith on a first contract. I’ve spoken with several MLAs on this, and I am bitterly disappointed that the Notley government is not planning first contract compulsory arbitration. This is a tired, old issue, but goodness me, why would this government not rebalance this deficiency in the legislation?


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