Alberta Politics
The University of Alberta, circa 1914 (Photo: Edmonton Historical Board).

Alberta’s UCP deploys the red tape weapon: an example from the War on Education

Posted on January 19, 2020, 12:19 am
9 mins

Never let it be said Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government hates red tape.

On the contrary, Premier Jason Kenney’s Government loves the stuff – at least if you define red tape as most dictionaries do, to wit, excessive bureaucratic rules that make it more difficult to get stuff done.

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides (Photo: Facebook).

Notwithstanding the UCP’s creation of a “Ministry of Red Tape Reduction,” if we judge the UCP by its actions not its words, we can see that what the Kenney clique hates is regulation that costs big business money, even if it saves workers’ lives, preserves the environment, or protects vulnerable citizens from commercial predators.

But they adore regulations intended to harass people and organizations they don’t like, for example, trade unions, teachers, and most recently, high-quality academic institutions like the University of Alberta.

For these targets they will pile on pointless and inconvenient regulations designed to make work harder to do, more expensive, and disruptive of core functions.

In other words, as my old desktop Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary puts it, “official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction.”

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

The difference UCP red tape and the other kind is that rather than well meaning, but overly complex rules intended to do good but inclined to be counterproductive, the Kenney Government’s version has been weaponized, used to harass and stymie people and institutions they see as enemies or obstacles to the implementation of their radical market fundamentalist and social conservative agendas.

In other words, talk back to the UCP, or even let your stakeholders get away with saying what they think about the Kenney Government’s austerity, and you too may find yourself tangled in red tape.

A small example appeared on the province’s political radar last week, when Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides told Alberta’s post-secondary institutions they weren’t responding to the government’s deep funding cuts with sufficient enthusiasm.

The UCP Government, alert readers will recall, has just whacked post-secondary institutions with an immediate 5-per-cent cut to operations funding, which will grow to 7 per cent over the next four years. The UCP also lifted the previous government’s cap on tuition increases, presumably to ensure students feel some of the pain too.

As we have seen with the government’s lionization of the trades in terms that imply disdain for academic pursuits, the UCP is not a group that particularly likes eggheads — unless they happen to be very well heeled, and educated at elite institutions, preferably in other countries.

Accordingly, Dr. Nicolaides sent a micromanaging letter to most Alberta post-secondary institutions demanding that as they try to figure out how to deal with the UCP cuts, they ensure they freeze spending on travel, hosting and new hires.

University of Alberta President David Turpin (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Since the cuts they had already made weren’t painful enough to suit the UCP, he complained, he would now demand monthly financial reports from all but a few privileged religious institutions to ensure their obedience. Officials from Advanced Education and the Finance Ministry will be closely monitoring spending, he warned.

As for the absurdity of a major research university like the U of A having to tell its academics they can’t travel for research or conferences, and that they also mustn’t let their colleagues from other universities visit either, that’s just another front in the UCP’s War on Education.

Back in 1906, when the University of Alberta was chartered by the Liberal government of the year-old province, a conscious decision was made to create and support an elite academic institution in Western Canada.

The U of A opened in 1908, and generations of Albertans have benefitted enormously ever since — but as a cost, from the UCP perspective of 2020. Elite research universities are a font, after all, of the sorts of things Mr. Kenney and his caucus colleagues fear and despise, like climate science, to name an obvious example.

Former Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Freezes on hiring, travel and conferences are an excellent way to attack sober, unbiased scholarly inquiry. They will drive tenured professors to greener pastures, and allow cowed administrators to replace them with easier-to-discipline sessional instructors. If the quality of work declines, in the arts in particular, who cares? Certainly not the UCP.

Even the president of the U of A, Dr. David Turpin, has prudently made plans to get the hell outta Dodge as soon as possible.

It should surprise no one this would appeal to a government led by a resentful college dropout, who couldn’t even succeed at forcing a small religious university he attended to bend to his social conservative will. (What did he expect? The place was run by Jesuits, a Roman Catholic order steeped in intellectual rigour.)

Dr. Nicolaides’ threat of monthly administrative meddling has, from the perspective of this government, the dual advantages of terrifying administrators and punishing some of the UCP’s deeply resented enemies.

In other words, it is nothing more than a classic example of revenge red tape, the kind Canada’s increasingly anti-intellectual, post-factual, conspiracy-theorizing Conservatives love.

Peak Trudeau Derangement reached in Alberta?

Has Alberta reached Peak Trudeau Derangement?

Conrad Black on a previous visit to Calgary (CEP Local 115A photo archive).

One wonders, with a long list of frustrated loudmouths from the rightward fringe of the Canadian conservative movement so angry at Canadians for electing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals again in October that they got together in Cowtown yesterday to talk about why Alberta should separate from Canada.

The so-called Value of Alberta Conference was apparently organized by an organization hitherto specializing in creating nasty social media memes trolling Mr. Trudeau, generously funded in part by the soon-to-be-renamed Manning Centre.

Getting the most media attention was Conrad Black, also known as Lord Black of Crossharbour. The former newspaper magnate, who was knighted by the British, jailed by the Americans, and pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump – not only isn’t a Canadian citizen, but renounced his Canadian citizenship 19 years ago to go sit in the House of Lords, apparently soon to be relocated north of England way.

Radio host and former Okotoks politician Danielle Smith, billionaire Twitter nuisance W. Brett Wilson, California-born University of Calgary instructor Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had, and Joe Oliver, an elderly man from Toronto who once voted in Parliament for the now-reviled federal equalization formula, were also on stage during the day-long event.

In the event Alberta separates, of course, not one of them will have to live here.

NOTE: I’ll be on the road for a few days. Posts on this blog may be less frequent than normal as a result. DJC

30 Comments to: Alberta’s UCP deploys the red tape weapon: an example from the War on Education

  1. Keith McClary

    January 19th, 2020

    ” in the arts in particular”
    More likely the sciences.

    “what the Kenney clique hates is regulation that costs big business money”
    But they have a bureaucracy to hand out subsidies and tax breaks to oilcos for “innovations”.

    Reply
    • Lars

      January 20th, 2020

      No, the arts promote the examination of issues from more than one side – that’s something that the UCP cannot tolerate.
      The environmental sciences will take a beating, of course. But areas of inquiry with potential industrial payback – the geological sciences, medical sciences, biotechnology and engineering physics, for instance – can look forward to relatively smooth sailing, as long as they deliver the goods.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    January 19th, 2020

    This group of people are nothing more than a big joke. Conrad Black is a crook, and has a dislike for Canada, yet he is in Canada. Danielle Smilth had some absurd ideas, such as giving rotten beef to the needy, bribing Albertans with “Dani Dollars”, (a mimic of Ralph Klein’s voter bribery scheme), did not rein in bigoted candidates, and then was lured by longtime carbon tax supporter, Preston Manning, to join Jim Prentice’s PCs. Danielle Smith was also involved with the Fraser Institute in B.C. The Fraser Institute advocates absurd and detrimental policies, like low minimum wages, deregulation of utilities, and private for profit health care. The Wildrose were simply Alberta PC clones, with really bad candidates thrown in. Ted Morton was part of the Alberta PC corrupt crew, that ruined what Peter Lougheed created for the benefit of all Albertans. He also denied being part of the $26 billion Northwest Upgrader fiasco, that had $9 billion in added costs. Also, Ted Morton was supportive of the firewall. W. Brett Wilson is a Conservative mouthpiece. Joe Oliver had a hand in making Canada’s debt skyrocket. Not a good bunch here. Then, we have the UCP, who are basically doing the unethical behaviour, and the big scandals like the Alberta PCs did, after Peter Lougheed left office. They are doing the Ralph Klein type cuts too. Oil booms have gone the way of the dodo bird, close to 6 years ago, and what is the UCP going to do about that? Brian Mulroney abolished the ‘NEP’, so who will the UCP blame?

    Reply
  3. Dave

    January 19th, 2020

    I find the micro management of post secondary education a bit ironic, as the department will probably also have to hire a small army of extra bureaucrats to process and review all those reports, so much for fiscal restraint. I am also sure the academics are a clever bunch who will figure out some ways to get around the UCP’s heavy handed and short sighted rules, although it may frustrate many and cause some to consider going to places that are more friendly to intellectual thought. In the end, often bureaucratic micro managers end up wrapped up in their own red tape and that could well happen in this case too.

    I really think we have finally passed peak Trudeau derangement. Its main purposes were really to get the UCP elected in Alberta (as Trudeau was easier to attack than Notley) and win a few more seats in the west in the Federal election for the Federal Conservatives, so I suppose missions accomplished. There will not be any elections for a while, so the UCP and the Federal Conservatives will not spent much more effort now in whipping up the frenzy that seemed to be their full time focus just a few months ago.

    The Federal Conservatives will be particularly distracted by their leadership race and thoughts about what type of party they want to be when they grow up – one that tones it down and wins or lets the kooks yell and scream so they feel good. Kenney’s government will be preoccupied with making cuts, dealing with cuts and trying to balance the budget which he has ironically made much so harder for himself with the errors he has made on the revenue side, such as the huge corporate tax giveaway.

    Those previously whipped up into the Trudeau derangement frenzy by the UCP and Federal Conservatives will also likely turn their focus to these other thing and without adding more fuel to the fire, so I suspect it will naturally start to settle down somewhat on its own. Mr. Black might still have a bit of a grudge against the Liberals for forcing him to choose between his citizenship and the British Lordship he so coveted. I doubt he will ever let that go and while certainly Mr. Trudeau was not responsible for it as Trudeau was not even an MP at the time, I suspect Black will use every opportunity he can to try inflict some sort of revenge on the Liberal Party as payback. Mr. Morton would probably be happy for Alberta to be a part of his country, the US. Ms. Smith seems to have settled into her career as a radio talk show host, where she can say kooky things with none of the responsibility that generally comes with political power and the more outrageous it gets usually helps ratings, so don’t expect her not to seem deranged either. Their particular derangement go far beyond Trudeau and I suspect will continue for quite some time.

    Reply
  4. January 19th, 2020

    You seem pretty fearful of the Climate Science when it suggests that the Notley Government might have accelerated climate change by converting coal plants to frack gas, sir.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      January 20th, 2020

      VALERIE KEEFE: Actually, it was Jim Prentice who was in the CPC, as the Environment Minister, and the Alberta PC premier, who wanted coal fired power plants phased out of Canada and Alberta. Brian Mason actually wanted fracking stopped, or halted, because of seismic activity and environmental degradation fracking caused in Alberta.

      Reply
  5. Just Me

    January 19th, 2020

    There was a time when even the importance of quality higher education in Alberta was considered to be something that was not only to be encouraged with words and funding. Crazy old Bible Bill Aberhart and the Social Credit did some looney things, including believing in the value of higher education. In his days at the venerable University of San Francisco, a highly Jesuit university, Jason Kenney spent many a day immersed in the intellectual pursuits that could only be offered at institution where academics and athletics were prized. I’m kidding. The historical record shows Kenney was an indulgent troublemaker, in active pursuit of making everything around him that much more Catholic. Of course, when the subject turned to women’s health, Kenney was all over it. The student union’s health services office was going to provide women’s health services, which could also included family planning. Well, if Kenney couldn’t get a date, why should anyone else? His crazy little man rage made it onto CNN, getting him into a heap of trouble with the university. His threat to take the matter to the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Vatican pushed everyone to the limit. Jesuits, noted for their discipline in the face of suffering, had enough of his midget tantrums. So, offering him a trip to anywhere – Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Fordham, anywhere – the university sought to get him out of town and out of their hair. Ken-doh decided to return to Saskatchewan and help out Ralph Goodale, then leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party. Of course, Kenney managed to turn this into a positive, declaring that his intellectual pursuits will not be morally compromised. Even if it means that others reject his rigid moral prescriptions, they will bend to his superior will and morality. It’s not just liberal universities under threat. Even the University of Calgary, a place not known for being that liberal, is under attack for not being conservative enough. Wait until moral codes are prescribed and watch the mayhem unfold.

    Maybe this is all a plan to get Alberta to back Kenney’s coming bid for the CPC leadership? Get him out of town, already.

    Reply
    • Lars

      January 20th, 2020

      In my experience with Jesuits (I was taught by them in high school), they might have discipline in the face of suffering, but they tend to deal with those causing it with considerable dispatch.

      Reply
  6. tom in ontario

    January 19th, 2020

    Thank you Albertans for luring Lord Almost from his comfy nest in Hogtown’s Bridle Path for a few days. Do you think you could do us a bigger favour and keep him there longer, say forever? Maybe raise cattle with Danielle in Okotoks.

    Reply
    • Jim

      January 20th, 2020

      Short answer no, we are all stocked up on crazy here.

      Reply
  7. Abs

    January 19th, 2020

    Well of course Kenney & Co. want all university instructors to be paid per course, with no guarantee of work from term to term. This is already done in other great authoritarian regimes, like Fordland. They’re not oil workers, and besides, some of them are women. And heck, why pay for a PhD, when a private religious university hired my neighbor, with a B.A., to do that job? A fine example of why those private/religious institutions deserve superior funding for their frugality model. And best of all, no research! That’s what it’s all about: cheap = good; research = bad.

    I guess the bottom-up effect of Wexit isn’t convincing average Albertans to bang the separatist drum, given the poor attendance at the Wexit rally at the Legislature recently. So now we have the top-down approach, bringing Ex-con Conrad the Conservative confabulator (that’s a lot of cons for one man), and a bunch of men to support the covert UCP agenda of threatening separatism at every opportunity, until all Albertans pull out their Kenney-brand earplugs to block the braying. Never mind if these men (men/white/old/privileged) are not Albertans or even Canadians. That didn’t stop Charles De Gaulle, did it? Vive Alberta libre!

    Reply
  8. David McNeillyt

    January 19th, 2020

    Dr. Nicolaides does not seem to realize that most, if not all, travel and hosting expenses are covered by research grants. It is unclear how curtailing this activities will help the Alberta Government’s bottom line, since the grants are often not supplied by the Province.

    Reply
    • Michael

      January 20th, 2020

      Exactly !
      Faculty travel to conferences and so on is mostly paid for from research grants, or from Professional Expense Reimbursement allowances, or out of the Faculty member’s own pocket. The Universities, while they claim research funds as part of their overall budget (and it is a large fraction, too, for U of C and U of A) don’t have much control over spending of a lot of that money, as the various granting agencies (which will have approved the budget of the grant in some cases) are the ones that call the shots in terms of allowable uses of funds.

      Here at U of C, we did get a memo back in November or so about curtailing all non-essential travel (which raises the question, why was this travel taking place anyway), which I assume refers more to the admin end of things – trips to China to drum up collaborative agreements, trips for alumni functions, and anything else paid for directly out of the University’s non-research budget. Also no spending on food unless it is for a function involving students (a strange one, that). Anyway, 250 positions are disappearing this budget year through terminations, retirements, and not filling vacant positions. More will follow next year. The Provost has said there will be voluntary retirement incentives, but these have yet to be negotiated with TUCFA and AUPE, so we don’t know what they will look like. Interesting times.

      Reply
    • Lars

      January 20th, 2020

      It’s more complicated than that. Individual faculty members’ travel etc. costs are covered by their own grants, true, but departmental seminar series (for instance) have to be covered out of the department’s budget. If you want to ensure that faculty and students don’t have exposure to leading academics from out of town (let alone out of the province or country), you make sure that departments can’t afford to run seminar series involving such people.

      Reply
  9. Abs

    January 19th, 2020

    To quote Lester B. Pearson, “The people of Canada are free. Every province in Canada is free. Canadians do not need to be liberated.”

    Reply
  10. Athabascan

    January 19th, 2020

    Meanwhile, Athabasca University is busy putting together a scheme that will devastate the faculty association, by carving out 67% of their members. In other words, over 240 employees will be left without representation, which means they will lose pay and benefits they have earned.

    Administration hasn’t said how they plan to motivate those 240 staff members after the dirty deed is done.

    Reply
  11. Public Servant

    January 19th, 2020

    Kenney’s trip to London to do some Christmas shopping would seem to me be “unnecessary travel”.

    Has anyone discovered why he went and if he accomplished anything (other than a free holiday)?

    Reply
  12. Ryan Lee

    January 19th, 2020

    Did I understand your point to be that financial reporting is your example of red tape? Don’t they do monthly financials anyway? Sending an email to the minister with an attachment seems pretty minor, unless I’m missing something….

    Reply
  13. Abs

    January 20th, 2020

    Today at 9 a.m., postsecondary education in Alberta becomes tied to employability. Manic Monday from a manic government.

    Reply
  14. TENET

    January 20th, 2020

    This is just plain scary. Shades of Trump conventions. Alberta is headed down a dangerous path.

    Reply
  15. Abs

    January 20th, 2020

    Did anyone hear of “Red Tape Reduction Week” until today? What a catchy name, too. It started off with a bang. More red tape for post-secondary institutions, tracking graduates to determine their employment status and income levels after graduation, assuming they’ll be willing to disclose that info. Of course, if these post-secondary institutions cannot prove satisfactory graduate income and employment, they can kiss a significant portion of their funding goodbye. I just can’t see sending my post-secondary institution my tax return, can you? Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?

    Reply
  16. Dave B

    January 20th, 2020

    The Kenney gang is only taking Alberta backwards by hampering their own university with red tape. How far back do Albertans really want to go? When other places are making progress Alberta is making regress.

    Sometimes people have to give up their old antiquated ideas and decide to be part of the future. Though I suspect most of this is just to keep the redneck base riled up. Gotta feed your pets a little red meat now and again.

    Reply
  17. Abs

    January 20th, 2020

    Wow, much speed. With the announcement made at 9 a.m., most of the data for the post-secondary metrics has been gathered by 1:56 p.m., same day. (Or perhaps whenever Ontario did theirs.) Universities and colleges won’t need to lift a finger or get involved in any way. Happy Red, but not transparent, Tape Day, people!

    https://mobile.twitter.com/demetriosnAB/status/1219362995693936641

    Reply
  18. Lars

    January 20th, 2020

    Small niggle here – shouldn’t “…in terms that imply distain…” be “…in terms that imply disdain…”?

    My department just offered a tenure-track position to a very good candidate, one who was actually trying to return to Alberta after over a decade in the States. However, when he and his wife looked at the health care situation now that we have the UCP in power, and the funding cuts that our university has already had to deal with, and the state of the provincial economy under the UCP, he turned the job offer down.
    So it looks like the UCP’s postsecondary education plan is working as it should, driving away first-rate academics and degrading the status of our universities.
    This guy’s research was in biomechanics, by the way – research that would quite possibly have yielded medically-important findings. Not one of those post-modern Marxist types that the Cons get so worked up about.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 20th, 2020

      Your small niggle is fully justified. Written in haste, etc. It has been fixed. DJC

      Reply
    • Athabascan

      January 21st, 2020

      Lars, it’s not only job candidates who are repudiating Alberta. The president of the University of Alberta is leaving in June, and the president o McEwan University has accepted a job out of province. Two of my neighbours have moved to B.C in the last year.

      Is it too early to talk about the Kenny exodus? Let’s see what the net migration out of Alberta is in the next few months.

      Reply
      • Lars

        January 21st, 2020

        It’s never too early to talk about the Kenney Exodus.

        Driving non-UCP supporters out of the province. Not a bug, but a feature.

        Reply
  19. Bill Malcolm

    January 21st, 2020

    Sounds more like A Fifth Column of traitors than a supposed government. And beyond kenney’s ancient social understandings from the Edwardian era, we all know who’s behind the giving away of the province’s wealth and indeed dignity — those with already far too much, and mostly foreigners at that. Yessir, Alberta’s a fat cow to milk for just a while longer, then the corporate pullout begins leaving the citizens to clean up the mess. Nobody’s getting rich on the $35 per barrel dilbit itself besides the refiners and they’re mostly US-based and owned. The local corporate petro-crowd probably made more cold hard cash off the corporate tax cut than on operations. Quite why the UCP would treat its fellow citizens as dupes to milk is beyond my ken – hence my Fifth Column remark. Perhaps kenney and harper before him, safari Albertans at best, actually hate people enough and are interested only in themselves to such an extent they’re willing to ruin lives for a fee. It seems like it to me.

    The passing of bad faith and likely unconstitutional legislation of the type which is being challenged by Progess Alberta mirrors the horse manure harper tried to impose on Canada and which the Supreme Court rejected on several occasions. We’re talking really nasty people here who deliberately pass unconstitutional legislation on the chance it may not be court-challenged and thus sticks like tar all over its unfortunate recipients – citizens apparently too dim to put two and two together to realize they’ve been had. Further, in Alberta, they have ingested the ridiculous logic put about by the UCP, pronounced it good by a majority vote, and beg to be shot in the foot again and again because they love it so much.

    Reply

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