PHOTOS: University of Alberta economist and professor Andrew Leach. Below: Calgary-Fish Creek United Conservative Party MLA Richard Gotfried (Photo: Mr. Gotfried’s Facebook page), UCP Leader Jason Kenney, and University of Calgary economist and professor Trevor Tombe (Photo: U of C).

New Year’s in Alberta blew in on a bitter winter wind.

That was the weather. However, if the United Conservative Party has its way, it looks as if 2018 will be the year of The Big Chill – as in the chilling effect of intimidation on free expression.

That’s sure what it sounded like UCP supporters had in mind when they went after a couple of high-profile Alberta academic economists, Andrew Leach and Trevor Tombe, for daring to challenge UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s penchant for making up facts to bolster his arguments.

A typical example: Mr. Kenney’s Tweeted claim Friday that Alberta has gone through “two years of population decline” as a result of the NDP Government’s policies. As Dr. Leach pointed out in a Tweet of his own, nothing of the sort has happened. He cheekily asked: “Which two years, Jason?”

But if intimidation was the goal of the onslaught of personal attacks by the UCP’s Online Rage Machine on Dr. Leach of the University of Alberta and Dr. Tombe of the University of Calgary, it may have been a tactical error.

This could be said in particular about the extended New Year’s Eve Twitter rant by Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, elected as a Progressive Conservative and now a member of the UCP Caucus, who made what sounded very much like veiled accusations of improper activities against Dr. Leach.

After all, Mr. Gotfried and the rest of the Rage Machine were taking on two PhD economists who enjoy widespread respect on both sides of the debate over how best to manage Alberta’s economy, and who both know how to forcefully and effectively stand up for themselves on social media.

“Happy to have a calm and rational discussion,” Dr. Tombe Tweeted back to one critic, sounding only momentarily plaintive. “But please focus on what I actually said instead of making up stuff and calling it drivel.”

Dr. Leach was brisk in his responses to MLA Gotfried’s bizarre demand that he produce a list of all his sources of income in addition to private tax information. The implication was obvious to all readers: that Mr. Gotfried thought Dr. Leach had not disclosed some sources of income.

Dr. Leach pointed the cranky MLA to his personal disclosure information, which is published online in accordance with the U of A’s conflict of interest policies.

Mr. Gotfried responded by repeating his dark hints, and making them more specific: “… Put a transparent $ amount to this for 2016 and YTD 2017, so there are no surprises, and then Albertans can form their own opinions around your objectivity. Please include any other non-academic, 3rd party income such as Pembina, Greenpeace, Tides, Rockefeller or others.”

Dr. Leach’s disclosure document shows he chaired the NDP’s climate leadership panel in 2015 and 2016, which doubtless infuriates the UCP, and chairs a research centre that has received funds from several major energy industry corporations. It lists all relevant paid and unpaid activities for the previous eight years.

Mr. Gotfried’s retort claimed (for the second time in this exchange) he was siccing his “research and FOIP team” on the professor’s personal finances. As Dr. Leach Tweeted in response: “Your tax dollars hard at work #ableg.”

This continued at some length. Some of the Tweets were later removed by Mr. Gotfried (although, of course, screenshots of everything exist in numerous places) and some were not.

This is alarming. As blogger Susan Wright observed in a New Year’s Eve blog post, Mr. Gotfried’s threat to turn his research staff loose on Dr. Leach is an abuse of process and his unsavoury implications “a new low even for the UCP.”

The general uproar strongly suggests Mr. Kenney’s pious vow to “raise the bar” of political decorum in the province is insincere. Well, in fairness, he was only speaking about doing this inside the Legislature. More seriously, it indicates that threatening and defaming credible critics who challenge the UCP leader’s made-up facts will become standard operating procedure for the party. No surprise, there, of course. We’ve already seen them in action, and the tactics are pulled right out of the UCP’s well-thumbed copy of the Republican Party playbook.

“This is a longstanding fact of life for me,” Dr. Leach observed in an email conversation yesterday. “I’ve had similar accusations since I started doing public engagement as an academic. It used to be, I was a bought-and-paid-for shill for Big Oil. Now, it’s the NDP.”

“This, though, is the first time it’s been carried so far by an elected official,” he added, noting that the exchange with Mr. Gotfried mirrored “almost perfectly” an attack by the publisher of a notorious Canadian alt-right publication more than a year ago.

“What disturbs me most is the chill that interactions like these have to put on my junior colleagues who might have lots to contribute to public policy,” Dr. Leach said.

“If you know that this is what you’ll face, aren’t you more likely to stay in the ivory tower?” He concluded with the observation he won’t “take accusations of corruption, veiled or otherwise, lightly.”

Unfortunately, he and others who criticize the UCP’s light-on-accuracy approach to political discourse will likely experience a lot more of the same in 2018 and beyond.

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  1. Smart voters in Alberta know that the Ultra Right Wingers of the harper gang are only in Politics for their own gains and the continued gain of their 1% buddies in corporations and bankers, don’t be CONNED by the CONServatives they haven’t changed in the past 40 plus years in Alberta and they will promise everyone the moon and all you’ll get is more broken promises.

  2. We are typical Conservative/UCP voters in terms of demographics and socioeconomic status.

    But two things will have to change in order for us to vote for them next time.

    First will be to forget all the nonsense about financial ruin, debt, and bankrupcy. The leader will have to enunciate real policy and indicate exactly how it will be achieved. We do not want any more of the bluster and false statements.

    Second is do something about the far right even if you need to walk away. In our country the BNA Act and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms are the basis for our democracy. Someone’s interpretation of the Bible, or the Bible itself is meaningless when it comes to implementing policy and laws that abide by the spirit of the Act and the Charter. Just stop the nonsense and get on with policy and legislation that can withstand the scut int of these. Harper learned this lesson the hard way. Let’s hope that Kenney takes note of this.

    1. It may be impossible to teach some dogs new tricks. The problem being, that they see the world through a Manichean lens. There’s only the right way and the wrong way……and since they are right, all others are in error and fair game.

      It’s a kind of delusion that seems to be growing as the unsustainability of old ways of doing things increases. Change is hard. Seriously. But for those who have all the answers already, even if they have to make them up as they go along, change is impossible.

  3. What I find most surprising is that they also went after Trevor Tombe. When I have heard him acting as an ‘expert’ on talk shows, he has sounded very much like a UCP minion, to the point that I questioned the show’s production team for choosing him.

    What other political leaders have gone after academics in the past?

    1. I think it’s Tombe’s and Leach’s ongoing defense of the carbon levy(tax) that drives the UCPrs and CPCrs batty. The loose cannons among RWrs go after these guys with personal attacks because there are no valid economic rebuttals that RWrs can use.

      If they were to have to stick to facts, and standard economic principles, the RWrs are in a hilarious situation in Canada in trying to argue against carbon taxes, given that prominent RWrs like Preston Manning support carbon taxes… Manning is an advisory board member of the EcoFiscal Commission, policy group, that actively advocates carbon taxes rather than regulation because they are more efficient than regulation. (Regulation being that big bad ‘ideological’ tool of big bad government, of course)

      FWIW, says something about RW opinion leaders integrity that AB’s RW MSM editorial boards and columnists haven’t written about Manning’s advocacy of carbon taxes, as far as I’ve seen.

      1. Interesting information….and something progressive voters need to make more of. Attacking the carbon tax is so retrograde, that if Alberta did elect this crew, we’d prove ourselves to be as out of touch as hard line Trump supporters in the U.S.

        Is that possible?

        1. Absolutely possible. Twice as many Albertans support Trump than any province. AB’s petroleum-dominated political culture, and climate change denial are the drivers. Some data here.

          excerpt: ‘When asked “overall, what impact do you believe Donald Trump’s presidency will have on you and your family,” 41 per cent of Albertans responded “positive,” compared with just 20 per cent nationally.’


          And here… on the first page of the PDF here, check out the AB party breakdown re belief that climate change is happening.

          Views of PCrs’ and WRPrs pretty much a match for USA Tea Party/Republicans. Kenney/UCP would be politically foolish to get on-side with the NDP climate plan and carbon tax(levy) given the very large portion of AB RW voters that either think climate change is naturally caused or doubt that it’s even happening. 25 years of industry and RW think tank propaganda will do that for ya’.

          Also this:

          excerpt: ‘The Mainstreet Research survey conducted for Postmedia on Feb. 9 and 10 shows a slim majority of provincial residents — 52 per cent — believe human activity is the driver of global climate change, while 39 per cent say it stems from natural causes.

          Mainstreet president Quito Maggi said the relatively narrow margin of Albertans who believe in man-made climate change — compared to the scientific consensus that it is very likely humans are the primary cause — is a complicating factor for the NDP government as it draws up environmental policy.’

      2. First off attacking Trevor Tombe and Andrew Leach as described above is certainly of no benefit to the UCP or its supporters.

        Now Sam you discuss Preston Manning’s support of a carbon tax. What he advocated for is much different than what the Alberta NDP implemented. He advocated for a simple revenue neutral carbon tax. A quote from a National Post article by Jonathan Kay interviewing Preston Manning:”If a carbon tax were applied in a truly revenue-neutral way, with revenues offset by across-the-board reductions in income tax or, better yet, capital gains and business taxes–Canada would be a nation far more welcoming to the successful and talented.” Far different from the NDP. First 60% of Albertan’s recieve a rebate according to the government equal to carbon taxes payed, realistically income redistribution. Second they legislate and negotiate closing down coal plants early, this is the expensive government regulation you speak. Now they have also implemented a separate carbon tax on industrial emitters. It seams logical to me that a carbon tax on coal for example would eventually make its use for electrical generation to expensive, why legislate its demise. As a farmer I see this tax being applied to fertilizer production making local production uncompetitive and creating a future where I will have to depend on imported product from lower tax jurisdictions. The NDP’s model has created a larger bureaucracy to manage its various programs for investment in various energy efficiency programs and green initiatives. Finally the NDP would have us believe that our economy will experience more growth by increasing taxes and increasing our cost of living, this is counterintuitive in my opinion. A larger government with more regulation, taxes and beauracracy is not what Preston Manning had in mind.

        1. Dear Farmer B: the carbon tax is the least of our worries when it comes to fertilizer. The two largest producers, Agrium and Potash Corp. have merged. That means an oligarchy now manufactures all the fertilizer in North America.

          The nearest alternative fertilizer producers are both located well south of the Great Lakes. Even pretending their effective monopoly does not exist, transportation costs mean they could just as well be on another continent as far as prairie farmers are concerned.

          Dwayne Anders the founder of the grain giant ADM, knew more than a little about agriculture. He once said: “[W]hen it comes to agriculture there is no such thing as a free market.”

          Last year I wrote a small article about the giants in agriculture which can be found here:

          The sources I cited are useful for looking at the Leap Manifesto, Local food, free enterprise, and other articles of faith of both the left and right.

          1. Ken I happen to agree with you that most of the inputs I purchase to farm are supplied by oligopolies. It makes it difficult as a relatively small family farm. As for supplying food directly to local markets that can work for some, I agree, but it would be a very small percentage. As for fertilizer, which is better for the environment? Produced and used locally in Alberta or made in China, shipped across the ocean and loaded on a train from the coast to Alberta? This will be the future 🙁

        2. Fact remains about carbon tax or pricing carbon in any way/shape/variety:

          Manning and the Ecofiscal Commission support taxes or pricing carbon in some way/shape/form.

          Kenney/UCP don’t.

          again…Kenney/UCP/WRP/PCs are being logically political (IMHO) in opposing the carbon tax primarily because almost 2/3 of their voting base oppose or at least don’t support carbon taxes or putting a price on carbon in any way.

          And the most common sense explanation why that is… it’s because those voters don’t believe there is a climate problem… so why tax or price or regulate at all… either don’t believe climate change is happening or that industrial society’s GHGs are causing it.

          Thus: Oil industry leaders & RW leaders in politics/thinktanks/MSM have succeeded in their propaganda of 25+ years in stalling out society’s political ability to respond sufficiently to climate change in the USA/Australia/Canada/UK, and thereby have probably committed humanity to a trajectory ending in civilizational collapse.

          And speaking as a farm kid, discussion of ridiculously minor shit like possible increased fertilizer costs is more evidence of the success of propaganda war from the RW. Get out of your bubble.

        3. AB’s carbon levy/tax is being invested back into AB to accelerate decarbonization of our economy. A revenue neutral carbon and rebate plan is not as effective at accelerating change, because it denies gov’t the funds to help reshape, quickly, the energy system of our economy. Put another way: The market fundamentalist’s beloved invisible hand has a vulnerability to status quo vested interests, which the NDP’s plan thwarts. Which is why there’s so much whining/squeeling from the right.

          David Robert’s explains. Here:

          excerpt: ‘The revenue won’t go to lower taxes, but it will all be spent, within Alberta, for specific purposes tied to the carbon plan. It isn’t just disappearing into government coffers; it’s being cycled through the Alberta economy in visible, transparent ways. Voters can know what they’re getting for their money. (I’m exaggerating a bit here; the actual details of spending won’t be clear until the Alberta government releases an official budget.)

          Here are the four uses the panel recommends for carbon tax revenue, which would reach $3 billion by 2018 and possibly more than $5 billion by 2030:’

          1. The AB NDP allies should be sharing the arguments/explanation by David Roberts a whole lot more…


            excerpt: All these policies are worth digging into in more detail, but … probably not over Thanksgiving break. The key point is that this is a sprawling network of interdependent policies, meant to satisfy multiple environmental, economic, and political mandates, and it all depends on the carbon revenue.

            If it were revenue neutral in Tombe’s sense, if all the revenue were rebated directly to taxpayers or used to reduce other taxes — or a combination, as in British Columbia — none of the investment programs would be possible. (And without the investments, many of the regulations become politically difficult or impossible.) There would be no output-based subsidies for oil and gas, no transition assistance for hard-hit workers, no direct boost for renewable energy, and no new research into cleaning up the oil and gas sector.

            Those programs not only make the plan substantively better — economists aside, overall macroeconomic performance is not the only thing that matters — but they likely make it politically possible. They are the tangible benefits that have led such a broad range of constituencies to support the plan. They are what demonstrate to Albertans that the additional money they will pay for fossil fuels is worth it, that it will enhance the province’s environmental performance and its reputation as a climate leader.

            From this perspective, the lack of revenue neutrality is not a “missed opportunity.” It’s the reason there’s an opportunity at all.

          2. Sam, if you go on the Alberta Electric System Operator sight you will find the current supply and demand report. This gives up to the minute electricity demand in the province and what generation stations are supplying power. One plank of the climate leadership plan is to accelerate the demise of coal fuelled electricity generation and to get 30% of Alberta’s generation capacity switched over to renewables.

            From Christmas Day to New Years it was extremely cold. I looked at the supply and demand report each day out of interest. A little info first, there is roughly 16600 MW of electrical generation capacity in Alberta of which 1445 MW is wind or roughly 8.7%. There is also a smattering of hydro and a few biomass plants but in size much smaller than wind. The rest is basically evenly split between natural gas and coal.

            During this 7 day period it was cold and calm. Most days wind was putting out 50-60 MW of electricity or 4% of its capacity. It reached a low I believe on the 28th of 4 MW from wind. There are at present 20 different wind generation sites in Alberta and only 2 showed any generation. So in the NDP’s wonderful future of renewable energy with 5000 MW of generation, if it was wind we can hypothesize in the same weather pattern it would be producing 14 MW. Consumption during this period varied roughly between 10000 MW up to a high of 11500 MW. Throughout the period a minimum of 95% of Alberta’s electricity was supply by coal and natural gas. It wasn’t until New Year’s Day when the Chinook was blowing in that wind finally started to produce. The fact remains that once coal is shut down there will be periods when almost all of Alberta’s power will be coming from natural gas.

            Now the first arguement will be that new battery technology will solve this problem. All I know on this front is that when pricing a storage system for my farm if I went to an off grid solar system with battery storage the cheapest option was flood acid batteries at $130000 and the most expensive was the Tesla powerwall 2, which to give me enough storage to run through 3 cloudy days would cost $270000. My highest consumption days in the winter are 80 KW or .08 MW. My yearly power bill at present is roughly $3800, batteries have to be replaced every 7-8 years on average, this certainly doesn’t make financial cents!

            So yes Sam you believe government must have the money to dictate quick change. I believe the decisions being made by this government in relation to changes in electricity generation are wrong and when it is -30 in Alberta could be proven to be dangerous. Maybe you need to get out of your bubble!

    2. There is a long lists of incidents when people spoke publicly to correct or expose a “right wing” error, misinformation, wrong approach, injustice etc. There have been “gag orders” employees disciplined, careers threatened. The only surprise for me is that they actually did it publically where people could see. The only Alberta Advantage is that people like David, Andrew and Trevor report the facts and that the NDP got elected which should allow them to share accurate information without threats. Accurate information is vital to leading the way to a sustainable future.

    1. A skinny kid with a U of C poli-sci degree, a CPC membership card, an annotated copy of Atlas Shrugged, a knot in his tie almost as big as his head, short pants and a Government of Alberta pay stub courtesy the UCP Caucus.

      1. and who has never worked for, nor ever will work for, anything but a think tank, astroturf organization, political party or some other form of welfare for the chronically uncritical.

        eg. Kenny, Harper, Poilevre, Baird (I could go on)

  4. This is what political desperation looks like.

    Resorting to gaslighting, dog whistling and intimidation to beat back your critics and opposition should send a chilling message to Alberta voters who are contemplating a return to voting for a conservative alternative to the NDP. The really sad part of this UCP sleaze campaign is the lack of scrutiny from mainstream media. Thanks to bloggers like Susan Wright, Dave Cournoyer, David Climenhaga and the Twittersphere word is getting out about the political shenanigans of the UCP. Let’s hope mainstream media tunes in to the ever-growing political cacophony soon.

    1. Even more sadly, the mostly disengaged general public will only get the MSM version of this story, which is unlikely to highlight the fact-averse nature of the RW’s attacks on innocent academics for just … doing their jobs. The progressive blogosphere and its commentariat will know what’s really going on, but most voters won’t.

  5. it is going to be necessary to get those who care about Alberta to gird their loins and go after the UCP anywhere and everywhere and any time all the time. I am sick unto death of the crap that the UCP and others are spreading. And to think that my kids are exposed to this UCP nonsense.Shame!!

  6. Lying is how they keep their morale up. I have yet to meet a UCP voter who has ever told the truth. They identify as Conservatives but they’re not Conservatives. They’re a bunch of nothings who’re trying to be somethings. Real Conservatives would never act the way they do.

  7. .. alberta is the last stand for Jason Kenney & likely a temporary ‘win’
    He was unelectable federally as a ‘leader’ ie could never be PM. Like it or not his asexuality was suspicious to many or much of Canada.. same with Kellie Leitch. Their sexual preference or lack of is meaningless to me.. but not so to an awful lot of Canadians.

    The contrived religious stance may carry some votes of course, but overall somewhat of a burden as well. Kenney keeps that under control.. as did Harper, the grand master of evangelical fakery.. but if Kenney held a ‘safe seat’ – he did so in a ‘safe province’ .. so where else could or would he retreat to as his party faced 8 years locked in opposition. He would have gone nowhere despite being handed the mantle of ‘leader’ via Harper’s bail out.. and he left that role of opposition town fool to Andrew Scheer who’s overachieving at it.. in the most pedantic and insipid way

    1. Good assessment, although I’m not sure the issue is “asexuality.” If only the Walrus article written a few years ago would get out there. It’s called “True Blue” and is by Marci McDonald, and has a wealth of pertinent background information on Kenney, info that is more damning than even his basic dishonesty. Available online.

    2. I’ll try this again. I agree that Kenney has been forced to temper his aspirations, and tucking back in with Alberta’s dysfunctional love/hate relationship with Ottawa lines up perfectly with the typically perverse “reform conservative” mantra where “the west wants in,” but mainly to expunge any and all traces of liberalism. Ironically, this obsession of theirs proves that Liberals are indeed the natural governing party of Canada, something that they don’t quite seem to grasp. But what I want to take issue with is your assumption “contrived religious stance.” Not the case. You need to read Marci MacDonald’s article in Walrus magazine called “True Blue” from a few years ago on the topic of Kenney’s possible leadership of the federal conservatives. It’s available online of course, and is very timely now.

    3. “…and he left that role of opposition town fool to Andrew Scheer who’s overachieving at the most pedantic and insipid way.”
      How I love original, funny comments like this. Best of all, they’re true.

    4. Some excellent points. Your assessment of Jason’s ‘asexuality’ is interesting…if only because it’s not an aspect of his brand that is openly discussed, but it is there, nevertheless. Kind of reminds me of an observation by Slavoj Zizek, which I will paraphrase.

      He says that in every society there are things everyone knows but no one can talk about, and other things that no one understands but that everyone has an opinion on. That observation has made many occlusions…and dogmas, more clear to me. In Jason’s case, when it comes to sexuality, our culture is simultaneously obsessed with the details, and uncomfortable with matter of fact openness. How else could so many women be harrassed and bullied sexually for so many years, and there be no outcry.

      How else could so many people have to live in sexual closets or abandon that part of their nature’s entirely?

      But as you say, while sexual orientation is a non-issue for many of us, if there is ambiguity there, most people know that. It’s the ‘everyone knows but no one can say what they know’ part of Slavoj’s clever equation.

      On another level, it may open up the mystery that should trouble more of us. How come so many public figures resort to bs, evasion, bullying behaviors, and dog whistle alternatives to real policy based on fact??? Perhaps the real world is too transparent for them, for reasons more complex than a simple love of winning? I don’t like Jason, or his politics, but sometimes, I feel sorry for the person he is. Flying in the face of what’s real can’t be easy!

  8. I think it is hilarious that the UCP, in their shoot-the-messenger mission, want Leach and Tombe to reveal their financial sources. This is a demand from a party whose leader got to his august position through over a million dollars worth of funding from secretive Political Action Committees. Will Mr. Kenney now reveal who all these funders were? I’d be willing to bet a chunk of change that directly or indirectly the Koch Brothers figure largely within these PACs. But I don’t expect Kenney and the UCP to ever reveal anything. I do expect that they would have the limited decency necessary not to demand that others of far more modest means live up to expectations that the UCP does not have for itself.

    1. You may be missing part of their strategy. A similar ploy can be seen with Trump’s cry of ‘fake news’. It’s the far right in the U.S. that has been leading that growth for years…but only when the jig looks like it might be up, do they take the criticisms of their opponents, and turn it on them.

      Few knew about the Kochtopus a few short years ago…but the word is out now. Read Dark Money, if you want to know the extent of the Koch influence. Watch Merchants of Denial if you want to see climate change denial exposed….as so it is time for the deep pockets to turn on their opponents and accuse them of precisely what deep pockets have been doing for years. Ie: Funding crap research and junk science.

      Their hope is that the average citizen is too busy to know where the dark money comes from or who it goes to, but that now that the public is learning about influence peddling….the guys who took the big bucks can divert attention away from their bank accounts by crying wolf on the genuine scientists, researchers and political activists.

      The scary thing is that it might work….if enough of us don’t point out UCP Pac’s.

  9. Dr. Turpin, the University President, should respond in support of faculty members under attack by unprincipled politicians. It is a responsibility of professors to engage in public debate. As Dr. Leach points out such attacks by politicians will “chill” young scholars.

  10. Things that are the same – the Conservative shoot the messenger approach, things that are not the same – this isn’t the mid 80’s recession when many people actually did leave Alberta (governed by UCP predecessor PC party at the time) and Mr. Kenney is not Mr. Harper.

    Harper was more cautious in making the sky is falling type of predictions, but he only had to wait for Canadians to tire of the three term Federal government that preceded him, which had a few scandals and chose a new leader that didn’t seem to connect with Canadians as much as expected. Kenney seems to take a more Trumpian approach to the truth, which seems to work best only for ones that most people consider to be con men already.

    Kenney’s approach to try intimidate and silence anyone who questions his sky is falling rhetoric is probably only going to damage his own credibility and make enemies of influential people it would be better to try and get along with. I see Kenney as somewhat like the Ted Cruz of Canada – likeability and pleasantness are not everything in politics, but they should not be totally dismissed or ignored either.

  11. First off, I’d like to wish all and sundry a wonderful new year! But what would new year be without the red flag of defamation? Boring! Jason Kenney is a liar! Why? Because he’s lied more then once for pity’s sake! His kool-aid is spouted from a fountain he discovered and helped to unearth in the toxic alliance he forged almost single-handedly from the Ralph Reed/Grover Norquist play book that he lisk-spittles the best parts for!

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