Alberta Politics
The headquarters of the Alberta Workers Compensation Board in Edmonton (Image: Google Street View).

UCP’s Friday Morning Massacre purges NDP appointees from Alberta’s boards, agencies and commissions

Posted on August 17, 2019, 2:08 am
8 mins

You almost have to admire Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government for the thoroughness of its sudden purge of NDP appointees to government agencies, boards and commissions yesterday.

The Friday Morning Massacre began with news the UCP was clearing out NDP appointments on the boards of 10 post-secondary institutions and the Banff Centre.

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

Through the day the purge extended to governing boards of the Workers Compensation Board, the Alberta Health Services Board, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Municipal Governance Board and sundry similar bodies.

Premier Jason Kenney, Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides and other ministers appear not to have been around to defend the dramatic restructuring, leaving that task to premier’s press secretary.

New appointees included a former Ottawa crony of the premier, a member of Mr. Kenney’s transition team, a failed UCP candidate, a lawyer for the Ethical Oil Institute, and a former Canadian Taxpayers Federation chair and signatory to the notorious 2001 sovereignist Firewall Manifesto that called for Alberta to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Health Act.

At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws. A scan of financing disclosures by Duncan Kinney of Progress Alberta showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were appointed to post-secondary boards yesterday. Progress Alberta will publish a more detailed report on Monday.

In truth, though, something like this is what the NDP needed to do when it came to power in 2015.

Former NDP premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

After 44 years of Conservative government, an NDP premier would have had considerably more justification to act decisively as well, given the depth to which agencies, boards and commissions, not to mention the senior levels of the civil service, were packed with Conservative sympathizers.

The government of Rachel Notley, however, chose to do what it believed to be the responsible thing and left much of this potential Conservative fifth column in place to do what it could to derail or delay the NDP program.

Not only did the NDP leave likely Conservative sympathizers in senior public jobs where they could do real damage, it waited politely to fill board, agency and commission governing boards until vacancies came open.

The NDP also professionalized the selection process — holding interviews and insisting applicants were genuinely qualified for the role they were selected to play.

This showed either commendable respect for the Canadian tradition of a disinterested public service as a key democratic norm — or a degree of naivety that suggests there’s something to the old adage nice guys finish last.

The UCP, by comparison, are not nice guys. Whether you like it or not — and some Albertans do, of course — that should be quite evident by now.

Progress Alberta Executive Director Duncan Kinney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Nevertheless, Friday’s events in Alberta can also be a teaching moment for progressive parties that come to power in Canada’s provincial capitals, and in Ottawa.

It is all very well for progressives to defend the idea of professionalism in the civil service and on public boards. But it’s also important to remember that if a government wants to implement even a moderately progressive agenda, it had better be prepared put in place people who will carry it out.

As for the UCP’s very, very angry base, it will be delighted — even though the events it presages may blow back in their faces. It will be hard to feel much sympathy for them when it does — when rural hospitals are closed, for example — but I suppose we’ll have to summon up the effort.

For their part, most Alberta New Democrats will be outraged — and therefore risk learning little or taking the wrong lessons from the purge.

The Kenney Government’s changes yesterday, and the way they were made, are harbingers of both how radical the UCP program is likely to be after the Oct. 21 federal election, and the strategy it will use of making swift changes hatched in secret before its opposition has a chance to organize.

That said, NDP appointees who claim to have been blindsided by yesterday’s events have no excuse. It was obvious from before the April election that the UCP would do this if given the chance, and some of those NDP appointees’ friends told just that and were scoffed at.

Looking ahead, if you are a health care worker like a nurse, don’t expect the Alberta Health Services Board to oppose a government attack on your pay and working conditions.

If you’re a public employee of any kind, don’t expect the so-called “Blue-Ribbon” Panel to conclude you deserve fair pay and a decent pension.

If you are a student, don’t expect your institution’s board to defend you when tuition fees rise stratospherically.

If you are injured at work under the new setup at the Workers Compensation Board, you can count on it being just like the old corporate setup before the NDP came along, only worse.

If you’re trapped in precarious work, don’t expect the minimum wage “expert panel” to discover that the majority of economists are right after all in their view your $15-per-hour minimum wage does no harm to the economy and plenty of good.

And even if you’re a UCP supporter who imagines your government is doing battle with “elites” on your behalf, I expect you won’t have to wait long before discovering the big money and perks like golf club memberships are being restored to the UCP apparatchiks who run government ABCs.

But if you’re any of these things, don’t despair either.

The complete absence of moderate, restraining voices in the organs of this government clears the decks for the only response that is ever effective against an authoritarian regime: solidarity and direct action.

Democracy doesn’t only happen in the polling booth.

13 Comments to: UCP’s Friday Morning Massacre purges NDP appointees from Alberta’s boards, agencies and commissions

  1. Dave

    August 17th, 2019

    I think the reasonable starting point of discussion on this issue is to acknowledge governments can and do appoint whomever they want to various boards and agencies. However, I don’t think that is the problem here. I think one concern is the UCP by acting abruptly in such a sweeping way and by not letting cuurent appointees complete their terms, may not be governing in the best way. The abrupt change will be disruptive to and diminish the effective operations of these various organizations.

    I think on the part of the UCP there is the fear that some of the previous appointees may drag their feet or try to subvert their, at least at tihis time, relatively secret cost cutting plans. I suspect this is less of a risk than the UCP actually thinks. In fact the real risk for the UCP is that these relatively high profile and often respected community leaders now freed from the constraints of responibility to various organizations, but with a deep knowledge of their operations and past contacts can now speak more freely and knowledgeably about the damage the UCP cuts will cause.

    In addition to looking a bit mean spirited, clumsy and petty, did the UCP just perhaps inadvertently add a dozen or so fairly respected, knowledgeable and high prolie community leaders to its opposition?

  2. J.E. Molnar

    August 17th, 2019

    Arrogance, entitlement, privilege, cronyism, nepotism and rascalism — the “Boys (Ladies) are Back in Town.” No one should really be surprised — it’s the friggin’ UCP after all. What did we really expect? Professionalism?

    The Boys Are Back In Town (Nashville Bluegrass Band)

  3. Expat Albertan

    August 17th, 2019

    Scary times in Alberta. Here in Ontario, the government’s actions are hobbled by the naked incompetence of the guy at the top. Even when trying to go soft on things like the budget, the Ford government has angered a super-majority of Ontarians who would vote them out if an election were held today.

    I expect things will get much, much worse for provinces led by conservative governments after the election, regardless of who wins. The only thing that might keep their powder dry, temporarily, is if we have a minority government situation in Ottawa.

  4. Dwayne

    August 17th, 2019

    It will certainly be a long 4 years, until the next provincial election in Alberta. The damage the UCP will do, will be extensive. As if what the Alberta PCs did wrong, since Peter Lougheed was not the premier, was not bad enough, we have this.

    • Bob Raynard

      August 18th, 2019

      Maybe we should name the campsite along Edmonton’s LRT tracks just NE of downtown Camp Kenney, although given our current premier’s attitude toward business and education, I expect he would prefer Kamp Kenney.

  5. Scotty on Denman

    August 17th, 2019

    The NDP government would have been justified in reviewing the appointments of previous governments, not least because four-plus decades of one-party rule tends to foster cronyism and worse. Having eschewed a partisan “massacre” the Dippers avoided falling into this trap, at least as far as can be discerned of a one-term government.

    But the UCP “massacre” of NDP appointees appears to be totally partisan, with no review or assessment of the formerly appointed—other than they were appointed by the “enemy” NDP—nothing to measure their performance or possible partisan favouritism—except, of course, that the NDP did not affect a partisan “massacre” when it won government and, further, retained many who were appointed by previous Conservative governments, presumably for the expertise they’d demonstrated.

    There’s always a downside to such an exclusively partisan criterion for appointing party cadres to public service positions: for one thing, it quickly becomes very difficult to see through the haze of cronyism and thus inefficiencies, favouritism, compounding cronyism and nepotism, conflicts of interest, breaches of public trust and corruption can go unnoticed and, even when they are, not prosecuted. The UCP has the perfect insulation from such: it is massively underwritten by a rural electoral sector which hardly grasps the byzantine nature of commissions, bureaucracies and urban complexities, and is currently ginned-up to believe in simplistic, bumpkin-like notions about immigrants, racial diversity and economics—graphically illustrated by the completely urban redoubts of progressive politicians and voters, the wicked Sodoms, Gomorrahs and Lethbridges of Alberta.

    A totally partisan civil service also evolves its own immunity system, making perfidy more than merely ungraspable, but also indiscernible and unassessable. The only way to purge it for citizens’ sake is to do exactly what the UCP has done: a thorough scrubbing out of every nook and crony.

    …except the UCP did not have this handy rationale because its own NDP predecessor eschewed an exclusively partisan criterion for appointing civil servants. This distinction is probably far too subtle for good, honest farm folk to grasp but, if I know anything about farmers, they always do well by taciturnity, and these UCP appointments will eventually become as suspect as they almost certainly will become perfidious.

    • Kang

      August 18th, 2019

      Geez Scotty: I’m not sure you have a good understanding about contemporary rural Alberta. Farmers and ranchers are largely the victims of that byzantine and industry captured regulatory system. Most of us would be very pleased to see that whole lot of spying and lying creeps dismissed and the organizations dismantled and changed to work in the public interest. That is what the NDP ought to have done. Didn’t happen, and it will be theft, bullying, and environmental destruction as usual.

      The UCP appealed to the vast majority of rural residents who depend on the oil and gas service sector with the promise that Jason would take the magic wand Rachael used to lower oil prices and bring back the good old days.

  6. Bill Malcolm

    August 17th, 2019

    If working people cannot get respect for a job well done, either in the public or private sphere, the social standard of living in Alberta will fall for everyone, rich or poor.

    And typical of the rich/poor divide in our neoliberal society, all the rest of us ever hear on national news is the carping of rich Alberta complaining about equalization payments. The rich somehow think they’re rich due to their innate genius not because of the accident of natural resources or inheritance, and they’re not about to share their wealth with the lesser orders like those blighters in Quebec. Apparently Kenney thinks Alberta can be turned into a rich island of prosperity where the social mores of the late 19th century will triumph and women no longer have control over their bodies, the faithful worker emerging from his log cabin to begin his daily work will tip his cap to the good rich soul who hired him for peanuts and at least got him out of a tent, and everyone respects authority – or else. Sounds like a grand scheme out of a dystopian novel. Farmer Brian will love it, and all those who can peel a wad of twenties off a fat roll can pay for their own doctors and their kids’ education as God intended. With any luck the serfs can be turned into obeisant forelock tuggers, although one supposes long term there may well be a shortage of people willing to hang around and enjoy the abuse. Then Alberta can indulge fully in the undocumented migrant worker or illegal immigrant as they do in the US and pay those unfortunates even less while moaning that they’re being overrun by nasty unlawful foreigners. Alberta, the gated community of Canada, where climate change and global warming is unknown, and sports stadiums are provided gratis to the exceptionally wealthy gorging off the merely well-to-do.

    I look at it this way, there are other areas in Canada where health care workers are needed and won’t be treated as leeches on society. Places where things have not degenerated utterly into ideology, and where premiers actually held productive jobs before advancing into the prat-worthy lordliness of conservative nonsense. Although Stevie sorted mail and got his hands dirty before deciding he needed to reform Canada into a Mrs Thatcher wonderland where the proles know their place and the rich are grateful for the help from a demagogue to keep the masses down and quiet.

    Get out while you can.

  7. Jerrymacgp

    August 18th, 2019

    “…The government of Rachel Notley, however, chose to do what it believed to be the responsible thing and left much of this potential Conservative fifth column in place to do what it could to derail or delay the NDP program…”. Thank you. This offers me an opportunity to expound a little on what happened in May 2015 after the NDP victory.

    Unlike in the United States, where after a Presidential election there is a wholesale changing of the guard between the outgoing Administration and the incoming one, even when both are from the same party. Conversely, in Canada, as in other Westminster-style Parliamentary systems of government, such is not normally the case, at least in the core public service: Deputy Ministers and ADMs, as well as their direct reports, are normally able to seamlessly transition from serving one government to another, providing non-partisan policy guidance and support regardless of which party is in government. Where there is turnover, other than that caused by public servants’ own personal career trajectories, it tends to be in that “ABC” sector that is normally more ripe for patronage than the public service now is.

    Of course, until about the middle of the 20th century, the federal public service was still a hotbed of patronage as well, and provincially patronage in the public service persisted long after it had been largely cleaned up on the federal scene, with the Maritimes being a particularly prominent example. But the professionalization of the career public service is now largely complete even in the provinces.

    All that being said, what happened in 2015 was exceptional. Here we had a new, inexperienced, left-leaning Government taking office after 44 years of single-party Conservative rule, who inherited both senior public servants and ABC leadership who had never served any other government, and many of us—myself amongst them—thought they’d fire each and every DM & most ADMs, and every ABC board member and CEO, immediately, to prevent them from putting up barriers to their success. But, much to my surprise, they didn’t, and I still suspect that is one reason why the new government got off to such a rocky start with Bill 6, the farm safety legislation that was—and remains—so contentious that it triggered the conservative unity movement that put us where we are now. I think the first iteration of Rachel Notley’s Cabinet was ill-served by the bureaucracy in the Ministries of Labour and Agriculture, and the result was the groundswell of opposition to what should have been a straightforward and uncontroversial modernization of the province’s workplace health and safety legislation.

    However, the UCP have come into office after only a brief 4-year NDP interregnum, and have no such excuse for this kind of US-style purge. In fact it is likely that many senior public servants also served the PC governments before 2015, although perhaps not in their same posts. As for the ABC sector, which serves at the pleasure of the Lt-Gov-in-Council, the UCP is clearly setting up for a wide-ranging, ideologically-driven restructuring of most of our public institutions.

  8. Athabascan

    August 19th, 2019

    Boo hoo!

    Hey Albertans, you voted this crook into office with a majority no less. I have no sympathy whatsoever. You get the government you deserve.

    You have a scandal-free Notley government for 4 years, and you rewarded her how? Quit your fucking whining. You did this to yourselves. Enjoy the next 4 years in hell.

    • Jerrymacgp

      August 20th, 2019

      While I do not entirely disagree with the sentiment, please be advised that I, along with our blogger & many of his loyal readers, did not vote for these clowns, and do not wish to be blamed for what they do. In fact, I actively campaigned for both NDP candidates in my city, and am also a paid-up member and regular financial supporter of the Alberta NDP and have been for many years.

      But it is frustrating to see how so many voters can be so hornswoggled as to keep voting these near neo-fascists into office, against even their own best interests.

  9. Eric

    August 21st, 2019

    I can’t believe that HSAA linked to this rag in their newsletter, this article is so biased that its laughable! Find a reputable source for news and leave this author to write his middle school position papers in peace.

    That being said, Kenny is, and will continue to be an aggressive policy maker. I don’t agree with many of his moves (the superlab cancellation will be a costly mistake in the end since it was so last minute and the minimum wage rollback was unneccessary), and I pray that these leadership changes don’t lead to another deKlein in healthcare


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