Alberta Politics
Some of the Budget Day protesters at the Alberta Legislature on Thursday afternoon (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Budget Day: Creatures of the night return to the hallways of Alberta’s Legislature as boisterous protesters chant outside

Posted on February 28, 2020, 1:51 am
9 mins

The thing about Budget Day at the Legislature that news media seldom gets across is that the real news usually isn’t the budget.

The budget’s broad strokes are all known long before the details roll off the press at the Queen’s Printer or its privatized equivalent.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews braces himself for a post-speech TV interview (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

There was certainly news at Alberta’s Budget Speech yesterday, but very little of it had much to do with the anodyne words Finance Minister Travis Toews recited competently if unconvincingly on the floor of the House.

Everything is going to be fine, oil prices are headed up, up, up, eventually those tax cuts will generate jobs, and nurses and teachers just need to be reasonable and work with the government, Mr. Toews said, if not exactly in those words. Coronavirus? Global warming? Don’t worry about ’em.

There you go, dear readers, Alberta’s entire 2020 Budget Speech summarized in 37 words!

Mr. Toews is apparently the only member of Premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet who sounds like a grownup when he speaks. This makes him an excellent spokesperson for the government when the job is to try to persuade voters the unpleasant remedy it’s proposing is going to make us feel better when all the evidence suggests it’ll do the opposite.

In other words, Mr. Toews did yesterday what lots of other Alberta finance ministers have done over the past half century — tried to sound positive while he prayed for higher oil prices. As the Globe and Mail put it: “Alberta is banking on a significant recovery in the oil patch to pull the province out of its economic doldrums.”

But actual news?

Inside the Legislature Building the creatures of the night are back. The bloodless corporate lobbyists who used to haunt the place as if they owned it in the days of the now defunct Progressive Conservatives are once again lurking in the marble hallways, their pasty faces staring out of office doorways.

But despite that big United Conservative Party majority and Mr. Toews’s happy talk, not very many of them looked all that happy. It was like a night at the casino in the Legislature yesterday — everybody supposedly having fun but not very many of them smiling.

Outside the building, if you ask me, the real news was that a haphazardly organized rally, the March for What Matters, mainly drummed up on social media by a group with little experience in organizing public demonstrations, attracted about 7,000 energized people chanting “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! UCP has got to go!”

Former NDP premier Rachel Notley was warmly greeted in front of the Legislature (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Yes, there was an Edmonton Public Schools teachers’ convention that had just ended, attracting lots of teachers, and many public employees work nearby. Plus the weather was unseasonably warm — if such a concept applies any more. But still, that doesn’t fully account for either the size or the energy of the noisy crowd.

When former premier Rachel Notley showed up, protesters spontaneously broke into chants of “Rachel! Rachel! Rachel!” Repeatedly.

Yeah, it’s Edmonton, which maybe is to Alberta what Austin is to Texas. But still … A UCP staffer inside the building was overheard grimly dismissing the throng as “a little smaller than Greta’s,” a reference to the 12,000 Edmontonians who greeted Greta Thunberg’s visit to the Legislature’s grounds in October last year.

I don’t know if this worries Jason Kenney and the UCP, but if I were in their boots it would worry me. Especially with precious little evidence their “job creating tax cuts” are creating very many jobs outside the ones that went to Denver. An estimated 70,000 jobs have disappeared in Alberta since Premier Kenney came to power in April last year with his supposedly sure-fire plan to restore the Alberta Advantage and Make Oil Great Again.

It’s probably also news in this context that all the rude signage put in the building’s windows by UCP political staffers last fall appeared to have been discreetly removed before yesterday’s events.

A few actual tidbits of news emerged from the media lockups for those with the fortitude to attend them — an exclusive club that included Progress Alberta’s Duncan Kinney, who had little choice under the circumstances.

There’s the fact the UCP intends to cut total public-sector compensation by $610 million in fiscal 2020-21 “through staff reductions and by simplifying service delivery methods.” Alberta Health Services compensation will drop $212 million, budget documents say. That of members of the Alberta Public Service, direct employees of the government, will fall by $138 million.

Former Alberta Teachers Association President Larry Booi (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As Alberta governments often do, this budget depends on ridiculously optimistic estimates of what the price of oil will be to paint a rosy picture. Ms. Notley, now the Opposition leader, called the budget’s forecast of $58 US per barrel for West Texas Intermediate crude “magical thinking.” WTI fell to $45.59 yesterday.

As for Mr. Kinney, he described what’s to come in his colourful post-lockup report as a “grind of brutal austerity and class warfare.” The budget, he wrote, is principally an ideological document, “and the UCP have the napkin tucked into their shirt and they’re digging into the trash can of ideology like it’s a sloppy lobster dinner.”

A couple of well-known reporters from far-right fake news outfits — interestingly not on the list of media sent to Mr. Kinney’s lawyer when he was fighting for admission to the lockup — put in surprise appearances, he noted.

Outside, there were speeches, too, but they were mostly shorter and more entertaining than Mr. Toews’s, even if there were far too many of them.

I’m only going to quote one, by former Alberta a Teachers Association President Larry Booi, who observed that “this government is like a collective case of obsessive compulsive disorder. The obsession is the oil industry and the compulsion is to cut public services.”

In this life, especially in this province, Mr. Booi reminded the throng, “you don’t get what you need and you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you fight for and you get what you settle for.”

They cheered lustily.

It’s going to be an interesting year. The people who should be in despair are full of beans. The people who should be having the time of their lives look like they’re dodging potentially deadly sunbeams.

No wonder Mr. Kenney’s government would like to make protest illegal!

8 Comments to: Budget Day: Creatures of the night return to the hallways of Alberta’s Legislature as boisterous protesters chant outside

  1. Dave

    February 28th, 2020

    The budget was a fanciful political document, as many are, but not quite what I expected of the UCP.

    Yes, there are the various petty and mean spirited cuts targeted against those you would expect the UCP to attack. For instance, funds to municipalities for maintenace of low income housing . There is also ongoing austerity when it comes to public services in general.

    Yes, the present is grim, but when it comes to the future, the UCP are wild eyed optimists when it comes higher oil prices and increases in government revenues. It almost seems to be the Conservative version of “the budget will balance itself”. Higher revenues through higher growth will magically eliminate the deficit. I notice even the mainstream media which has been fairly indulgent of regurgitating UCP talking points, seems to be becoming a bit sceptical about this one.

    The UCP seems grim because they know they are whistling in the political graveyard, whether it is evident or not to most Albertans yet. There is no growth or recovery of oil prices likely soon or on the horizon. The first UCP deficit will be higher than the last NDP one, although they will blame their pedecessors for that.

    This budget is still full of happy talk, but the next budget and the ones after that will likely be a series of disappointments as deficit targets are missed and more cuts are made to try desperately get it back on track. By that time the UCP will fully own its economic record and not be able to blame its pedecessor any more.

    Their biggest worry is after a series of disappointments, voters will react you might expect. The UCP can see the road ahead and it is not as nice for them as they are unconvincingly trying to portray it right now.

  2. Abs

    February 28th, 2020

    It all comes down to my grandfather’s folk wisdom.

    He came of age when the world was at war, then went into the Great Depression, and the world at war again. He remembered the defining moments of labour history in Canada during the first decades of the 20th century, the marches and strikes, and attempts by governments to crush the labour movement with force, including lost lives. Yes, this kind of thing happened here, and the gains workers made, like the five-day work week, were not given without a fight. And he said, “Idle hands make work for the devil.” Let the government remember that. Yesterday’s march on the Legislature was a loose collective of varied interests, but in normally passive, submissive Alberta, there is no explaining it away. Trouble is brewing. Continued arrogance by Alberta’s premier is ill-advised. The climate for his behaviour, like the actual climate, is changing.

  3. Just Me

    February 28th, 2020

    Toews maybe be declared the only adult in the room, but he is willfully ignorant or blissfully unaware of the nonsense that mascarades as policy. I am pleased that the budget’s projections are already out of whack. Oil prices are crashing and China is headed for recession. Worse the hallowed stock markets are headed deep into bear market territory that is, for now, a repeat of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Unless Kenney is hoping for a the same spectacular recovery that occurred then, he maybe in for a rude awakening. Of course, can always spin another conspiracy theory that drops the whole blame on Trudeau, and the idiots that follow him will lap it up.

    Alberta’s failure will just another trophy for the neo-con cabinet of despair and chaos.

    • David Climenhaga

      February 28th, 2020

      I didn’t say he was the only adult in the room. I just said he sounded like it. DJC

  4. Lars

    February 28th, 2020

    “…outside the ones that went to a Denver.”

    If this isn’t a typo, then what is “a Denver”?
    Not trying to be frivolous here.

    • David Climenhaga

      February 28th, 2020

      It’s a typo, of a particularly insidious sort, caused by writing on an iPad. The iPad shift key — which, of course, isn’t a key — sits adjacent to the lower-case “a” key. It’s very easy to tap “a,” which then appears, when intending to capitalize a letter in the text. And it’s hard to see what you’ve done, for reasons mysterious to me. The only solution I can think of is never to write a post on an iPad — which is not always possible in this household. DJC

  5. Laurie

    March 3rd, 2020

    Edmonton Police said the crowd was 13000-14000 strong not the numbers quoted in this article

    • David Climenhaga

      March 4th, 2020

      I have subsequently reported the Edmonton Police Service estimate, which you quote accurately. This was my own estimate made at the rally. It’s interesting to me that the EPS estimate for the Greta Thunberg rally, which was visibly much larger, was significantly smaller — about 7,000 as I recall. I’m prepared to go with the cops on this one, but if so, based on my personal observations, the size of the crowd that greeted Greta needs to be adjusted upward to around 20,000. Sound fair? DJC


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