Alberta Politics
Jason Luan, Alberta Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions (Photo: Calgary Catholic Family Service).

Advice to Jason Kenney’s cabinet: curb your enthusiasms, one conspiracy theory at a time!

Posted on July 18, 2019, 1:35 am
8 mins

It’s sound advice in private and public life to restrict yourself to one nutty conspiracy theory at a time, lest folks start to wonder if you’re the one who’s, well, nutty.

Take Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government in the context of this sensible and widely held rule of thumb.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Kenney cabinet could almost get away with insisting there’s a sinister conspiracy involving sinister American oilmen and equally sinister American environmental foundations to pay Canadian environmentalists to cook up defamatory disinformation about Alberta’s oilpatch. (All part of a scheme to deny foreign markets to Alberta’s bitumen, ya see, thereby land-locking the stuff to their own profitable benefit!)

Never mind there’s precious little evidence to support this complicated explanation for the success of the very real domestic and international opposition to further development of Alberta’s vast but problematic oilsands resource.

Even if you accept the conspiracy theory, after all, it’s hard to dispute the facts the tarry (sorry!) gunk from northern Alberta requires plenty of energy to process, thereby putting lots of carbon into the atmosphere of a planet that by scientific consensus is rapidly heating up, and that in turn results in a low-quality, low-value product that entails a considerable pollution risk when shipped.

Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Still, most of us understand that yelling about foreign-funded activists is a great way to back-foot your domestic opposition in a world grown nervous about foreign interference, not to mention to distract the rubes in your support base from what you’re about to do to them. So some of us might be willing to laugh this off as an exercise in cynical politics, even if it seems eccentric, and its $2.5-million-plus price tag a mite excessive.

This would probably be true even though much of the research underlying this fantastic interpretation of the facts is the work of a blogger with a background in an unrelated field reported to be none too clear about the sources of some of her own funding. After all, Premier Kenney himself, Energy Minister Sonya Savage, and Finance Minister Travis Toews have all lent their considerable prestige and credibility to these claims.

Indeed, this would likely be true even if the terms of reference of the inquiry hadn’t been quietly revised to switch the main suspects from sinister Americans to sinister Russians.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But introduce another, completely different, sinister conspiracy theory into all this sinister theorizing, and, as they say, Houston, we’ve got a problem! (And that’s not a reference to the problem Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was having unloading that pipeline before Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government took it off the Texas corporation’s hands for a cool $4.5 billion.)

I speak, of course, of Jason Luan, Jason Kenney’s junior minister of mental health and addictions, who blundered onto the provincial stage this week with a completely new and different sinister conspiracy theory.

To charitably describe the predicament in which Mr. Luan found himself, he had been stuck with the job of trying to explain the Kenney Government’s mean-spirited approach to harm-reduction strategies for dealing with the opioid crisis. For background, the Kenney Government’s view of safe-injection clinics sounds a lot like the late Harper Government’s approach to the same thing.

Mr. Luan was apparently trying to explain the UCP’s resistance to a medical consensus on harm reduction in reasonable terms when he asked in a vaguely Trump-toned tweet, “How much of the so called ‘evidence based research’ is funded by the multi billion dollar Pharma industry? Full disclosure is needed.”

UBC Medicine Professor Ryan McNeil (Photo: Simon Fraser University).

The reaction was not very sympathetic, all the more so when the tweet quickly disappeared from Twitter. (As should be expected, it turned out there were many screenshots.)

Mr. Luan probably didn’t help himself by harshly telling a Postmedia columnist that supervised injection clinics merely “keep them alive by feeding the disease and not addressing it. Yes, you can keep them alive one more day but you’re not going to save them. They’re going to die the minute you’re not with them.”

Well, you can argue politely about whether life-saving harm reduction or long-term detox programs should be a government’s priority. He is either not engaging with the evidence in good faith or is ill equipped to actually evaluate the evidence,” is the way University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine Professor Ryan McNeil put it.

“Either of those things should be disqualifying from his position as the associate minister of mental health and addictions,” Dr. McNeil told the CBC.

Still, it was Mr. Luan’s conspiracy theory that really grabbed the attention.

To raise the spectre of pharmaceutical company interference in this is laughably absurd, especially in the middle of a crisis,” observed Dr. McNeil, who is also associated with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use. Others were less kindly, dismissing Mr. Luan’s musings as, for example, “a wackadoo conspiracy theory.”

UCP Caucus staff will probably give Mr. Luan a stern lecture about ignoring his talking points, hand control of his Twitter account to a grownup, and try to pretend the tweet never happened.

Somebody in the UCP strategic brain trust must know the best way to do this politics stuff is one crazy conspiracy theory at a time.

But if they double down and announce another inquiry, this time into foreign pharma funding of fake research to sell Naloxone kits, we’ll know they’ve gone over the edge.

7 Comments to: Advice to Jason Kenney’s cabinet: curb your enthusiasms, one conspiracy theory at a time!

  1. Alex polkovsky

    July 18th, 2019

    Nice try, but really, boldly arguing that the Kenny UCP will switch to a common sense approach while not being swayed by all that lousy evidence and academic research. This is the gang that can’t believe that somewhere, some hard working people are working hard, and that deservesrespect.

    The new hot government model is do what makes your base get feels. Image below: Stephen Harper (top) being carried by Jason Kenny.

  2. Bob Raynard

    July 18th, 2019

    The CBC story shows the entire tweet. The irony is, Mr. Luan started off making, or at least alluding to, a very valid point, which is balancing society’s need for supervised injection sites with residents not wanting one in their neighbourhood. Too bad for him he then shot himself in the foot.

  3. J.E. Molnar

    July 18th, 2019

    I’ll see your conspiracy theory and raise you another steaming hot mess.

    As UCP conspiracy theories continue to abound, it reminds me of the less-than-stellar administration south of the border. Witch hunts conjured up by Donald Trump and his obsequious coven of political minions seems to rule the day in Trumpland. Importing American know-how on how to implement conspiracy theories is not exactly what voters likely had in mind when they handed to keys to the Legislature to this rebranded iteration of conservative misfits. They really do need to be better.

  4. ronmac

    July 18th, 2019

    The fact he backpedaled and withdrew the comment so quick shows you Big Pharma has a grip on our collective gonads that’s even tighter than Big Oil.

  5. Scotty on Denman

    July 18th, 2019

    Remind that the Big Pharma opioid conspiracy enjoys the cognitive bias of availability. Everybody’s trying to get onto the bandwagon these days: evil Big Pharma has been allegedly making a lot of money from the opioid epidemic —or “crisis,” as it’s now inaccurate to called it—the normalized spate of fatal overdoses caused by super-potent fentanyl manufactured and distributed entirely by criminal organizations. Ignoring that Big Pharma does’nt profit from the manufacture and distribution of illegally-made fentanyl, state and federal and, now, provincial governments want some of Big Pharma’s astounding profits, anyway.

    Canadian governments have been climbing up on the bandwagon, too—maybe twenty years late but, hey, this is Canada the Good where we don’t litigate near so much as our American neighbours. Just a couple years ago Nova Scotia joined a class action against Perdue Pharma, the New England company that lied to US federal regulators about its new OxyContin opioid not being addictive in order to get it licensed and making money; more recently the new government of BC announced it would be suing Big Pharma for “aggressively marketing” licensed opioids because, the Crown argues, it caused the illegally-made fentanyl “crisis” that has killed thousands of British Columbians over the past few years. How Big Pharma, as disingenuous as it’s been shown in many ways, is connected to organized crime which makes and peddles illegal fentanyl and has no inclination to share any of its own profits (said to be 20-fold more than achievable by peddling traditional, poppy-derived heroin) is something that requires all the unlikeliness of conspiracy theory as it’s popularly conceived: the more obtuse the better.

    Indeed, any attempt to float the notion that a Canadian government can succeed in such a lawsuit requires the confusion of more than one conspiracy theory to be judged plausible instead of merely imitative or politically fashionable. As fatalities would have it, just such a confusion is available and has been since the original OxyContin fraud of 1996.

    That Perdue Pharma conspired to lie about its new product’s addictiveness in order to profit more is a theory so evident that the company has paid over a billion dollars in fines and US court settlements. Many US and Canadian doctors overprescribed OxyContin on this vested interest’s false claim; although their professional lapse was probably less conspiratorial in and of itself, it was eventually augmented by a more deliberate conspiracy when physicians’ colleges rationalized an across-the-board policy of “cracking down” on opioid prescription in order to dodge culpability in their members’ patently unprofessional prescribing and neglecting to monitor plain symptoms of addictive behaviour in their patients. To pull this off required yet another conspiracy, one that emphasized Perdue’s own culpability and absolved doctors’, one that also had to blame patients instead as liars and drug-seekers, and opioids themselves which were alleged to be too addictive to safely prescribe for anything except the most severe pain caused by “terminal” illness: that is, patients were alleged to have somehow conspired to “force” supposedly reluctant doctors to prescribe them their dope and doctors only succumbed to the “political pressure.” All by conspiratorial necessity.

    As with the fractal nature of lying to explain previous lies, conspiracy theories require adding more obtuse conspiracies to explain more-byzantine conspiracies. As such, patients had to be also blamed for diverting their prescribed opioids onto the streets in order, so the theory goes, to get money to purchase opioids sold illicitly on the streets, in spite of the obvious dangers, and that some of the opioids marketed on the streets were the very same prescribed opioids allegedly diverted by these supposedly dishonest patients. Unfortunately for the theorists, virtually all prescription lookalikes seized on Canadian streets by police have proved to be counterfeits laced with illegally-made fentanyl, not diverted prescriptions as the colleges had premised.

    Plaintiffs never want to be accused of conspiracy, rather they want to show how they’ve been conspired against. The colleges’ hand-picked witnesses typically supplied anecdotes that they got hooked after being prescribed opioids for a “sports injury,” implausibly an athlete going directly from, say, T-3s to abjectly injecting illicit street heroin (now laced with deadly, illegally-made fentanyl). Short of hard data to substantiate this theoretical over-generality, the colleges omitted that any of these witnesses naturally try to shift blame away from themselves. (In fact, nobody has ever shown that 95% of patients don’t safely benefit from opioid prescription, nor that they get addicted or divert their meds onto the streets or would ever go there to get opioids refused them by doctors.) A collision of theories was necessary if doctors were to claim victimization by Big Pharma and absolve themselves from culpability overprescribing while submitting testimonials of similar but leap-frogged victimhood from users who were actually most likely to blame for their own addiction to street drugs. Good thing everyone expects conspiracy theories to be a bit fantastic—everyone except users overdosing on illegally-made fentanyl and legitimate patients hurt by the unwarranted crackdown.

    Criss-crossing conspiracy theories are still in effect today. One type is American: police seizures of street drugs regularly confirm legitimately manufactured opioids are finding their way onto the streets sparking class action lawsuits against manufacturers like Perdue which state prosecutors allege should have and probably did suspect wholesale shipments of OxyContin are far in excess of normal medical need. Donald tRump has latched onto the lawsuit bandwagon to address the opioid overdose epidemic in his country —and to look like he’s actually doing something other than bullshitting all the time. The theory is that Big Pharma is knowingly trying to addict American patients in order to sell more product. BC Premier John Horgan’s lawsuit against Big Pharma’s Canadian subsidiaries is similar and must also be politically motivated because the basic accusation doesn’t stand up very well when the theory is tested: unlike in the USA, the amount of diverted prescriptions found on Canadian streets is vanishingly small and, after all, an arbitrary crackdown on opioid prescription had been in effect for two years by the time Horgan instructed his AG to file papers with the courts, proving the crackdown had made not one dint in the overdose epidemic and thence diminishing the argument that prescriptions are significantly correlated to use of street drugs (the crackdown did harm legitimate patients who were caught up in this game). the BC College’s crackdown has since been rescinded with the additional proviso that doctors may not drop patients from their practices simply to avoid prescribing opioid medicine they need as they had started to do when the crackdown was implemented.

    The point is, Horgan is trying to cross one conspiracy—the uniquely American one—with another—the Canadian one that alleges the majority of users of street opioids, the principal victims of illegally-made fentanyl, initially became addicted by way of overprescription, therefore Big Pharma is culpable even though it’s always been a doctor’s responsibility to observe longstanding protocols for safely prescribing opioids. The suit, I guess, claims advertising by manufacturers like Perdue somehow illegally induced doctors to break their own medical standards. In any case, BC wants to recover expenses it has incurred dealing with the overdoes epidemic. No conspiracy yet to make clean, safe opioid prescription available to users so they don’t have to risk all by using fentanyl-contaminated dope (more than a theory, this approach is working in their jurisdictions).

    Unfortunately, Horgan’s pursuit of Big Pharma opioid profits is delaying better ways to deal with the ongoing epidemic which kills street-drug users every single day in BC, despite the lawsuit’s prospects—which are very poor and far off, anyways. It’s a political posture that buys his government time (court cases involving conspiracy take a long time—longer when more than one need sorting out) while street users are expending all of their own mortal coils on a never-ending supply of cheap, potent and deadly fentanyl.

    One can’t really blame Alberta’s Minister of Addictions for confusing conspiracy theories too: everybody’s doing it when it comes to who’s responsible for starting and for ending the overdose epidemic. And it’s hard not to get caught up in the chain-reaction of fissionable conspiracies theorized. Some would have Horgan protecting a powerful professional lobby by initiating his lawsuit in a diversionary way, as moot as it is. Others rather subscribe to the theory that doctors’ colleges fomented a diversionary fentanyl crisis when they realized the jig was up with regard their own neglect of professional protocols and dragging them into the same spotlight as the lying, profiteering Big Pharma in the wake of the OxyContin fiasco. After all, the Canadian colleges’ unwarranted crackdown was implemented only when the first Canadian class action against Perdue was filed inNova Scotia—about two decades after Americans had been suing the pants off of Perdue as it continued to reap obscenely huge profits from the very drug which started the whole mess in the first place. The dodges always needed some kind of a crisis to be at all plausible—such as it was, anyways.

    See? It’s so easy even a rookie minister can do it!

  6. Farmer Dave

    July 18th, 2019

    It’s unfortunate that the religious right from Red Deer and south (see college just north of Red Deer) have convinced those Calgary and south Calgary voters to vote UCP. Just waiting how this will all play out with the natural gas corporations already asking UCP to help them. Most don’t remember how Ralph (RIP) balanced the budget, not on wise government decision but natural gas price was at $13.00 and now at $2.40 (and at that time he lowered and removed the oil royalty rates). UCP needs to explain how lowering the corporate income tax will balance the budget. Corporates will invest anyplace where money can be made. When the NDP won government one of the most prominent Chinese investors was interviewed shorty after and he said no problem, we deal with all sorts of governments all over the world, communist, dictatorships , etc. Now UCP wants to blame the NDP and have delayed doing a budget. The last NDP budget seems to be doing Alberta fine. Calgary and south could never accept a leader from the Edmonton region and now they should pay for electing an incompetent UCP party.

  7. Dave

    July 19th, 2019

    If Mr. Kenney can return Alberta’s economy to good times in the next two or three years and rein in the deficit without too much cuts to education, health care and other government services, Albertans will not mind a few kooks in his cabinet. After all the Socreds ran this place for years and they had more than their share of kooks. As long as things ran smoothly Albertans did not mind so much at least until the govermnent started to seem too old, tired and out of step with the times.

    However, if Kenney can’t do these things, he need only look at Doug Ford’s Ontario budget to see how quickly and dramatically the nice honeymoon can end.

    I suspect Kenney will be off to a different more high profile political position in a few years or less, so how much kookiness the UCP has may not matter to him personally. I think after the Federal election it will be clear to Conservatives that Scheer is not the winner they’d hoped for and they will be looking for someone with a better track record of winning elections. Then the UCP without its dear leader may face the same fate as the Socreds after their successful leader left, especially if most of their kooks stay here and don’t follow Kenney back to Ottawa.


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