Alberta Politics
Blue Ribbon beer: Likely to be more palatable than the “findings” of Alberta’s “Blue-Ribbon” Panel on provincial finances (Photo: Pabst Brewing Co.)

Oh, dear, what can the matter be? They promised to bring us a pretty ‘Blue-Ribbon,’ but all they deliver is cant!

Posted on August 15, 2019, 12:24 am
9 mins

Once upon a time, your blogger worked for a famous newspaper publisher who announced one day that since we journos hadn’t had a raise for a couple of years we could expect a small one in six months.

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

There was a caveat, though. We would only get the raise if we met certain performance benchmarks.

It turned out there was another catch as well. The benchmarks were a secret. And, no, we couldn’t be trusted with that information. Proprietary data, don’t ya know?

Anyway, six months passed. Some of us worked harder. Most of us, hard-bitten cynics who’d been through a few rodeos, didn’t bother. We did pretty good work just the same.

Eventually we were told that we hadn’t met the benchmark, whatever it was. There would be no raise. So sorry. Now get back to work.

We never did find out what we’d failed to achieve. The publisher in question has since passed on to his eternal reward, so we will never know. As is the tradition in our culture, the publisher was swiftly elevated to sainthood, so I won’t mention his name to protect his sacred memory. I will note that the last time I saw Claudia Catteneo, soon to be supreme commander of Premier Jason Kenney’s “War Room,” was at the publisher’s funeral.

About that ‘Blue Ribbon’ panel of ‘experts’

I was thinking about this yesterday because the report of Mr. Kenney’s “Blue-Ribbon” Panel on the province’s finances, another institution of the New Alberta that requires quotation marks whenever it is mentioned in print, is scheduled to be handed to the government today.

“Blue-Ribbon” Panel chair Janice MacKinnon (Photo: CBC).

But like that long-ago assessment of the worthiness for a raise of those hard-working journalists — otherwise known by Conrad Black as “gangrenous limbs,” suitable for lopping off — its contents will remain a secret for some time as far as we members of the hoi polloi are concerned.

No, the Kenney Government will keep it close to its vest for at least another month while United Conservative Party propagandists figure out how to use the “findings” of the panel’s ideologically dependable members to justify big pay cuts for the province’s public employees, not to mention layoffs, service cuts and all the other typical policies plucked from the neoliberal austerity playbook.

As has been explained in this space before, since the mandate of the panel was to do a “deep dive” into the province’s books too quickly to be anything but shallow, and then come up with a formula for getting the books into the black in less than three years and eliminate debt, all without raising taxes or introducing a sales tax, there’s not much mystery about how they’re going to have to do it.

This would be true even if the chair of the so-called “expert panel” (the academic historian and former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon) had not already published her recommendations in a monograph with a well-known conservative economist: use legislation to roll back salaries.

Obviously, as Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley observed, it doesn’t seem right for the Kenney Government to sit on this information after they have it, seeing as the actual data on which it’s based was prepared by public officials.

Equally obviously, though, nothing like what Ms. Notley suggests is going to happen because the Kenney Government, using our tax money to campaign vigorously for Andrew Scheer in all parts of the country, doesn’t want to do anything to queer the federal Conservative party’s chances.

And if the public in other provinces were to find out what Mr. Kenney plans to do here in Alberta, that would certainly be bad news for the federal Cons. So suggesting the contents of the report will be released in September, even in laundered form, is optimistic. Oct. 22, the day after the federal election, is more likely.

So far, all we get are misleading op-eds

Meanwhile, the ecosystem of partisan Conservative propaganda is gearing up to apply a full-court press to persuade us that the UCP is right and, as Margaret Thatcher used to say, There Is No Alternative.

Franco Terrazzano of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Photo: Twitter).

We can expect to be inundated by a tsunami of dubious newspaper op-eds, editorials, public opinion surveys, think tank reports and social media trolling all emphasizing the venerable TINA formula.

First in, yesterday, was a misleading screed by the supposedly non-partisan Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an organization once led by Mr. Kenney himself. It was published by the allegedly unbiased Postmedia-owned Edmonton Sun. In it, CTF researcher Franco Terrazzano claimed that because the United Nurses of Alberta contract includes pay increases for experience, “the ‘pay freeze’ for nurses cost $17 million in 2017.”

This is a pretty tendentious argument, but I’ll give the CTF’s crack research team this much: their operatives can file a FOIP request with the best of us.

However, Mr. Terrazzano seems to have forgotten or omitted to mention that more than half the roughly 30,000 nurses represented by UNA are at the top of the pay scale and thus are no longer eligible to move up the salary grid.

He also forgot (or omitted) to mention that the information FOIPed by the CTF shows the current UNA collective agreement saved Alberta taxpayers about $56 million.

Oddly, he also didn’t mention the fact there’s a worldwide market for Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses, and teachers, another profession the CTF doesn’t seem to like very much judging from its frequent attacks on their pay. This means that if we don’t pay them the salaries they can command elsewhere, many of them will go elsewhere.

According to the government’s own figures, Alberta faces a shortage of more than 5,000 nurses in just six years. Consider the wisdom of attacking this group’s pay and job security if you think you might have to make use of the health care system one of these days.

The CTF’s well-established animus toward public employees and their unions apparently outweighs its market fundamentalist principles.

Interestingly, Mr. Terrazzano’s op-ed was the fifth to appear under his byline in the pages of Postmedia’s Alberta newspapers in the past three weeks. Funny how the restriction on the number of op-eds the U.S.-owned media corporation allows partisan groups to submit doesn’t affect the CTF.

But then, as was made clear by recent reports by and Press Progress, Postmedia is repositioning itself as a key part of the right-wing propaganda infrastructure, with some suggesting it intends to recast itself as a Canadian Fox News. So its dependence on sources like the CTF should not be a surprise.

10 Comments to: Oh, dear, what can the matter be? They promised to bring us a pretty ‘Blue-Ribbon,’ but all they deliver is cant!

  1. J.E. Molnar

    August 15th, 2019

    Public sector unions, non-profits and severely normal Albertans will need to prepare for a Hong Kong-like response to deal with the UCP’s sugar-coated fascism.

    Anyone who doubted that Jason Kenney was about to embark on a trip back-to-the-future, once he and his party were elected, are about to be hit smack in the face with an economic dose of Ralph Klein 2.0 reality.

    Conservatives campaign on promises of cutting taxes and government waste while protecting and maintaining current levels of funding for essential services (Kenney’s vacuous Health Care Guarantee comes to mind), and then, under cover of some sort of crisis (real or exaggerated) claim with reluctance and hand-wringing that they have no choice but to go after workers, non-profits, health care, education and other public services to reduce the deficit and balance the budget — when other more humane means to achieving the same end are quickly discounted. Sad.

  2. tom in ontario

    August 15th, 2019

    With the Kenney loving Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the “non-partisan” Fraser Institute supplying so much free “research” for Postmedia papers, why should they expect money from the Canadian taxpayer? Are you listening federal Liberals?

  3. Alan K. Spiller

    August 15th, 2019

    I am always amazed at how much we think a like. I will never forget the nurses bawling their eyes out in my office when Ralph Klein destroyed their careers. The same Ralph Klein who our family had known since the early 1960s. While he was campaigning to become premier his mother Flo told my mother that she didn’t think he was capable of running this province properly. Mum told her we shared her concerns and no one in her family had any intention f sporting him, even after family members had spent countless hours volunteering for the Lougheed and Getty governments, and had donated around $30,000. to their party. Then while Klein was ramming through his destructive polices, closing hospitals, closing 1,500 hospital beds, and cutting 5,000 nursing positions his estranged father Phil began voicing his displeasure. He was furious with what his son was doing. Even Klein’s own daughter Angie has pointed out that she had tried to vote him out of office like so many of us former conservatives, but the fools wouldn’t let us.

    Now Kenney is promising another round of destruction and these same fools are believing every lie he feeds them. It’s only going to cost them a lot more money and likely some their lives, but they aren’t smart enough to understand that. I still remember the words of an 86 year old former University professor in 2000 who said to me “Now you know what happened in Germany in the 1930s, while we desperately tried to vote out the government the fools wouldn’t let us, I think you know how it turned out. If they had listened to us there would never have been a second world war”.

    • Curtis in Calgary

      August 16th, 2019

      “… his destructive polices, closing hospitals, closing 1,500 hospital beds, and cutting 5,000 nursing positions …” Not to mention their dogmatic refusal to build the South Health Campus for $500 million during a recession rather than spending $1.5 BILLION to build it during an overheated economy. Why didn’t people bitch about that “billion dollar boondoggle™”?

    • Dwayne

      August 16th, 2019

      Alan K. Spiller: You are so correct. What the media also fails to mention is that Janice MacKinnon was part of a NDP government who had to clean up the damage done by the Saskatchewan Tories, led by Grant Devine. They also do not see how the Alberta PCs were so fiscally reckless, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier. Bad oil royalty rates for Alberta’s oil, draining the Heritage Fund to practically nothing, doing the most costliest scandals repeatedly, wasting millions and billions of dollars, privatizing and deregulating essential services, like utilities, magnifying their costs greatly, putting in a flat tax failure, leaving Alberta with a very costly infrastructure repair bill, from neglecting it for decades, and allowing oil companies to get away with not cleaning up their messes, leaving Albertans with a $260 billion cost to deal with this. The UCP will be the same, and likely worse.

  4. Dave

    August 15th, 2019

    Personally, I think blue ribbons are for the best pies and the hogs at the county fair, but perhaps Mr. Kenney the term because it seems slightly reassuring and he wanted to avoid using the word “expert” or “elite” which Conservatives so often like to deride. He probably could have also used “advisory”, but that would hint the final decision and responsibility rests with him and he is also trying to avoid responsibility or distance himself from it, in case the recommendations prove contentious or controversial.

    This is another example of Mr. Kenney at his political best. He will distance himself somewhat from the recommendations and as usual gets others to do his dirtiest work for him. If something proves to be too politically contentious, he can even chose to ignore that particular recommendation. I suspect for the most part Mr. Kenney will go along with what is recommended, after all he carefully gave the panel a narrow mandate and hand picked the members, so I suspect they will mostly come up with the conclusions he wants anyways.

    I think a key part of his strategy is to keep everything secret until the last minute, so that those affected by the cuts do not really have time to react. By the time they find out about things, they will be ready to be implemented. While it is a secret, the government will be preparing its implementation and communication plans.

    I suppose planning in secret can be a tactical advantage, particularly for unpopular things. However, there is the disadvantage of not testing out public reaction in advance, in case there are some particularly poorly thought out or unpopular things in the recommendations or the implementation. Maybe a trial balloon or two will be floated on specific things they have a concern about, maybe not. In any event, I suspect most of the panels recommendations and the government’s implementation plan will remain secret until it is ready to be implemented. Mr. Kenney will probably have the hugest hissy fit if anything is leaked – it would be fun to watch that. Probably the recommendations will not be revealed until after the Federal election, so if Scheer loses or does not do as well as Conservatives hope, Kenney can remain blameless. Mr. Kenney seems to be emulating Mr. Harpers very secretive style of governing and so much for the grass roots now – the blue ribbon panel will just tell them what is good for them.

  5. Albertan

    August 15th, 2019

    Re: having for any of us to make use of the health care system one of these days… brings to mind a UCP voting acquaintance of ours is going to have open heart surgery in a major Alberta city in a few hours. It comes to mind that this life, hopefully post-operatively, is largely in the hands of the very skilled and knowledgeable Cardiac Intensive Care United Nurses of Alberta Registered Nurses. What they have to know, and the training that it takes, for the average of us, is incredible, and 24/7.
    Not only would these RNs, and the whole highly trained team, be reponsible for the cardiac and respiratory/ventilator observations and treatment, but for everything else in the most personal ways, i.e.urinary, gastrointestinal, emotional, family support…..the whole gamut. And yet, sadly, these folks vote for UCP politics which by all appearances, have no respect for United Nurses of Alberta members and their contract, let alone keeping them and their expertise here.
    Again, it brings to the fore that how one votes and health care expectations once one is in the system, are intertwined. So if one’s expectations are not met in whichever way, perhaps due to shortstaffing or getting bumped for a more ill patient, not enough funding, etc., perhaps a suggestion would be, ‘talk to Jason Kenney,’ just like the Klein era when frontline health care professionals who took flak from patients and their families as a result of the Klein era health cutbacks finally, said…’talk to Ralph Klein.’ Again, many of them, then, left Canada for the USA who were thrilled to have us well-trained Canadian health professionals on board.
    If it is thought that it cannot happen again, think again. The RN graduates of today are required to write, and pass, the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) exam for the licensing of Registered Nurses in both the United States and Canada, so going to the USA if things go backward again in Alberta for RNs, is a distinct possibility.

    • Bob Raynard

      August 16th, 2019

      You have made several excellent points, Albertan. I really believe the UCP supporters don’t think they will feel any pain from the cuts.

      • Jerrymacgp

        August 20th, 2019

        What frustrates me about this whole matter, is the phenomenon wherein voters elect a government devoted to slashing & burning public services, then protest when that same government then goes ahead & does it. We’re seeing the same thing over in DoFo’s Ontario, where people are screaming at the “PC” government over cuts that surprises nobody who was paying any attention before the election.

        When are voters going to learn, elections have consequences? Don’t like what your new government is doing? MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE VOTED FOR THEM!!! Gone are the days when you voted for a government, then lobbied them after they had power to try to change their minds, which was more likely to be effective with the old-style, non-ideological brokerage parties of yore. Nowadays, voters need to understand: be careful what you vote for, you just might get it.

        • Alan K. Spiller

          August 12th, 2020

          After reading these comments written in 2019 they are all coming true. Kenney is treating his supporters like morons and they are letting him do it.
          I find it hilarious that he can feed these supporters the lie that our huge health care costs are the fault of our doctors, then turn around and tell them that he is going increase the doctors wages with privatization. How stupid does he think we are? The fact is he knows it. He got elected didn’t he.
          Then feeds them the lie that he will pay it out of government coffers when we are in financial ruin and he is making the financial mess worse by slashing taxes for his rich friends. I don’t believe for one minute that he doesn’t intend to dump the costs onto the backs of the people, like Klein did with the power industry.
          When Klein was trying to do this doctors pointed that it was a good way to take the health care system away from the people and give it to his rich friends , giving them first priority to the system leaving those who couldn’t afford it in a horrible mess.


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