Alberta Politics
Premier Jason Kenney with his “blue ribbon” panel in May 2019. From left to right: retired business professor and former politician Mike Percy, banker Dave Mowat, Finance Minister Travis Toews, Chair Janice MacKinnon, Mr. Kenney, former B.C. deputy minister Kim Henderson, senior Alberta civil servant Jay Ramotar, and economist and Fraser Institute associate Bev Dahlby (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Freedom of information filing reveals supposedly independent ‘Blue Ribbon’ Panel had help from staff in Alberta premier’s office

Posted on January 30, 2020, 1:25 am
5 mins

It turns out Janice MacKinnon’s six-member “expert panel” was using a script cooked up in Premier Jason Kenney’s office at least part of the time it was supposedly taking its “deep dive” into Alberta’s books last year.

Alert readers will recall that when freshly elected United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney announced the creation of the so-called Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances back on May 7, 2019, he gave it the mandate of getting the province’s books back into the black in less than three years without raising existing taxes or introducing new ones.

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As was observed in this space at the time, Mr. Kenney’s promises on the campaign trail notwithstanding, there was only one way to do that, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Albertans are starting to understand that reality now.

Mr. Kenney chose Dr. MacKinnon, a University of Saskatchewan history professor and former Saskatchewan NDP finance minister whose political claim to fame was closing 52 rural hospitals in that province in the early 1990s, to head the handpicked panel of representatives from business, government and the academy.

Now, Dr. MacKinnon was obviously the kind of New Democrat the UCP liked, and the ideological reliability of the panel was never in much doubt regardless of the premier’s claims about its independence.

Even so, it was a surprise to learn yesterday thanks to the freedom of information filings of an intrepid researcher for the Alberta Federation of Labour that UCP political staffers wrote speaking notes and a newspaper opinion piece for Dr. MacKinnon.

Never mind the op-ed’s byline and chatty first person tone. “When I was finance minister in Saskatchewan in the 1990s, I faced the prospect of the province going into bankruptcy …” The government emails uncovered by Tony Clark’s FOIP filings show that the May 9 op-ed run in Postmedia’s newspapers was written entirely by Kenney Government functionaries.

As AFL President Gil McGowan observed in a news release, “Jason Kenney used the government’s resources to get the report he wanted.”

A department official, name apparently redacted, emailed Dr. MacKinnon: “Premier’s office would also like an op-ed to go out from you as Chair. Can you take a look at the following draft, which is based on your speaking notes?”

Dr. MacKinnon responded cheerfully: “The op-ed is great. Well done I have no changes.”

The MacKinnon Panel produced pretty much exactly what Mr. Kenney wanted in its report, the deep cuts and recommendations of privatization of public services that are now unfolding as policy — apparently as a shock to many of the voters who cast their ballots for the UCP.

Chances were high Dr. MacKinnon would recommend what the premier wanted because she’d already advised much the same thing in another op-ed — co-authored with University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz, beloved by the Kenney Government for his market fundamentalist views, in 2017.

Still, given this revelation, it’s certainly fair for Albertans to wonder if there was anything independent at all about the panel’s investigations, which were conducted at double time in less than four months, or if the entire script was stage-managed from the Premier’s Office.

That kind of manipulation should matter, although in this cynical era there’s plenty of evidence it isn’t likely to make conservatives blush.

Environment Ministry to staffers: Do as you’re told and no backchat

We’re informed that about 300 officials from Alberta Environment and Parks Ministry were summoned to the confusingly named but provincially owned Federal Building in Edmonton Tuesday to receive new marching orders, presumably straight from the office of Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

To wit, differing views about the UCP Government’s land management and resource exploitation philosophy are no longer welcome, and ministry staff, regardless of qualifications, are expected to implement decisions of the government with no backchat.

If anything was written down, it doesn’t seem to have been handed out to the assembled civil servants, many of whom are said not to have been very happy.

14 Comments to: Freedom of information filing reveals supposedly independent ‘Blue Ribbon’ Panel had help from staff in Alberta premier’s office

  1. Farmer Dave

    January 30th, 2020

    Not only the Environment Ministry has told staffers do as your told and no backchat, apparently several other Ministries have told staff the same thing. One Ministry, the CEO told staff I don’t want to hear one bad thing about this government. Kenney has become the worst Premier Alberta has ever seen.

  2. Dave

    January 30th, 2020

    I suppose it is not much of a surprise that Mr. Kenney, a star graduate from the Harper University of Micro managenent, doesn’t just have staff write press releases and speeches for kamikaze candidates.

    Perhaps he should get his staff to help out the war room too, as they seem to badly need help with their messaging. Maybe he already has and we just don’t know it yet, can’t FOIP everything, or maybe they are too busy trying to thought police those environmental employees. So much to micro manage these days

    • David Climenhaga

      January 30th, 2020

      Email me the details if you can — time, place, department. Scans of documents if available. Many thanks. DJC

  3. Bill Malcolm

    January 30th, 2020

    You should collect your last year’s worth of blogposts, and the three years to come and publish them as a book for a disbelieving world, as the almost day-by-day account of how totalitarian nonsense from little seeds doth grow. In Canada, no less, where we think of ourselves as wonderful modern folks, not subject to mind control. But we assume the fifth column will fight fair. That’s the last thing on kenney’s mind – why bother being fair if you can get away with being a total self-absorbed jackass, constantly probing the limits of how to treat people badly and not get sued.

    harper (oh how we loved him didn’t we?) began by muzzling federal scientists, so kenney follows suit on forest rangers. Next thing will be telling doctors how to diagnose diseases on UCP principles or face loss of billing privileges. Wait, isn’t that sort of happening already? It’s so easy to make people compliant by threatening to upend their lives by loss of job or income reduction if they don’t toe the line, it’s a doddle. Tyrants everywhere know this basic trick. Put the fear of the Lord and his wrath upon the lazy parasitical folk using up government tax revenues by drawing salaries, who cares their profession — they must parrot Jason’s views to the public, no matter what their professional judgement might be. They’re not real Albertans if they’re not out here digging tar for Jaysus, er Jason. He really is, without exaggeration, the most self-interested politician in the country. An incredibly nasty piece of work.

    Pulling off every dirty trick in the book to further his personal agenda like the pre-ordained conclusion MacKinnon panel, laying off provincial public servants and cutting the salaries of the remainder, using public money to set up the fascist (what else can it really be called — it’s one-sided propaganda) War Room is the kenney prerogative. That and cutting taxes for friendly corporations and wealthy friends and absconding with provincial employee pension funds to dig tar as an exclusive investment for their futures are further examples of a deranged man eager to run everything himself, his way. Now he’s telling people how to think. I called him sub pope Emperor Jason 1 in this comment space last year, just a lot further right than the Pope, who Jason probably thinks is an environmental ninny on the level of Greta. Oh, and yes, the Imperator berates the rest of Canada for not thinking like him, and getting local people with woolly brains and no intellectual capacity beyond being able to recite woof-woof in unison, to threaten Wexit if his cringeworthy nonsense and whining isn’t given #1 priority in the country. He’s a laugh-a-minute, aint’t he?

    Edmonton now having the highest unmployment rate of any major city in Canada is all the fault of anyone but Jason, it’s them federal pinko socialist Liberals and the carbon tax. The low grade crap that Alberta peddles as “heavy oil” sells for no more than $35 a barrel to yankees who laugh all the way to the bank, and makes a loss overall for the province. So employing the GM strategy where Wagoner lost $70 billion of shareholder value in the 10 years before the 2008 bankruptcy, you make up losses with more volume. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    Smoke, mirrors, fear-mongering, lies. Jason kenney’s bid for ultimate self-aggrandizement marches forward.

    Oh joy.

  4. Bob Raynard

    January 30th, 2020

    “Still, given this revelation, it’s certainly fair for Albertans to wonder if there was anything independent at all about the panel’s investigations…”

    Really, this also calls into question the independence of all of the other panels the Kenney government has convened.

  5. Bob Raynard

    January 30th, 2020

    “…differing views about the UCP Government’s land management and resource exploitation philosophy are no longer welcome, and ministry staff, regardless of qualifications, are expected to implement decisions of the government…”

    One of the most reprehensible things Stephen Harper did, in my mind, was muzzle government scientists. Jason Kenney learned from his mentor.

  6. Albertan

    January 30th, 2020

    Here some of us thought that the Kenney UCP, at worst, was a populist authoritarian government. Now, dictatorship comes to mind.
    In watching Jason Nixon be interviewed yesterday by CBC’s Power & Politics Vassy Kapelos re: the Frontier Teck mine, I was reminded of a deer-in-the-headlights bumbling dolt. He was no match for her direct, pertinent questions and his answers were awful.
    And, to think that if Kenney decides to run for, and win, the federal Conservative leadership, that this guy might one of the ones up for grabs for the premier’s job? Unreal……How much worse do things have to get?
    I spoke to my rural county reeve/councillor a couple of days ago about some local issues, but, the topics of the increased cost for rural policing and the $173 million shortfall that the rural municipalities are experiencing because the oil and gas sector not paying their taxes, came up. I said that I guess we would be expected to pick up the increased cost of policing and the $173 million shortfall with increased property taxes. The response was, “It’s coming.” And the UCP got most of their votes in rural Alberta? How far is the bending over going to go? And, in consideration of the $173 million there have been suggestions that farmers/ranchers should cut off the power supply to well sites and Kenney saying that we can’t “wring money” out of struggling oil and gas firms.
    It seems to be a situation of “doing and saying whatever is wanted” with impunity while not dealing with diversifying Alberta’s economy and generating other forms of revenue? What a gong show mess.

  7. Athabascan

    January 30th, 2020

    Albertans voted for Kenney. They even gave him a majority in the legislature.

    I’m so dissapointed in my fellow Albertans that it’s getting in the way of my compassion for them.

    The real shame is all this could have been avoided.

  8. Just Me

    January 30th, 2020

    Given Kenney’s long history of micromanaging every single scam and boondoggle he couldn’t resist, should anyone be surprised by these revelations? Electing him premier, while conveniently ignoring what a slimy character he is just proves without contradiction that Albertans are the stupidest people alive. Worse, they are hoping that Kenney returns to federal politics so be can save Canada. Well, hoping that you can dump your misery onto others is plain idiotic wishful thinking. The rest of Canada knows all about Kenney’s nonsense and are wise enough to see through his bafflegab.

  9. Jim

    January 31st, 2020

    Dave you need to stop referring to Jack Mintz by only one of his titles, it gives the impression he is impartial. My suggestion Jack Mintz representing Imperial Oil and Morneau Shepell, with a side gig at the University of Calgary to secure a publicly funded pension. The last part about the pension is just speculation.
    To the revelation the Kenney government controlled the independent panel I am shocked I tells you, shocked!

  10. February 2nd, 2020

    Re; MacKinnon responded cheerfully: “The op-ed is great. Well done I have no changes.”

    Janice should have said, “one correction”, “the reason for closing 52 rural hospitals in Saskatchewan in the early 1990 was because Grant Divine’s conservative government had beggared the province.”


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