Alberta Politics
University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz (Photo: McGill University).

Appointment of conservative economist Jack Mintz to head Jason Kenney’s latest economic panel is not a good augury for Alberta

Posted on March 10, 2020, 1:20 am
7 mins

Come into my office, Alberta, and sit down.

I’m sorry to have to tell you that your prognosis is not good.

I’m not talking about coronavirus. That will be painful, but you’re strong and young and I’m confident you could survive coronavirus …

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

When Premier Jason Kenney says there’s a “global coronavirus recession,” what he really means is don’t blame him and his United Conservative Party for any of Alberta’s economic woes — even the 70,000 or so jobs that disappeared on his watch when all most Albertans thought about when you said corona was a cold Mexican beer. (Hard to believe that was just a few days ago.)

And I’m not talking like about price of oil, which has been falling to earth the last few days faster than pieces of an old Russian satellite exiting its decaying orbit.

Admittedly, that’s very bad news if you’re the leader of a Conservative party that tabled a budget less than two weeks ago full of rosy predictions about soaring oil prices. But it would be bad news too, if you were a radical green who wanted to see oil cost so much folks would get serious about looking for alternatives.

But I am talking about what Mr. Kenney is likely to do next to deal with the first two problems.

We know what he’s already done — yesterday he announced he’ll strike yet another “expert panel,” this time an emergency panel, and he’s already chosen the expert he wants to run it.

As Albertans are starting to understand, this is Mr. Kenney’s go-to strategy when he wants us to take some medicine that certainly won’t taste very good, and probably won’t help very much either. In this case, it might even be fatal.

Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein (Photo: Moizsyed, Creative Commons).

The person Mr. Kenney has chosen to run this latest panel is none other than Jack Mintz, and that’s bad news indeed. It strongly suggests that despite his diplomatic and conciliatory tone yesterday, Mr. Kenney has decided not to let this perfectly good crisis go to waste, and will go all Shock Doctrine on us and really do some damage.

Dr. Mintz is the University of Calgary economist who is one of the UCP’s favourite professors — because he espouses their utopian market fundamentalist ideology almost perfectly.

The Shock Doctrine, with which most readers of this blog will be familiar, is social activist Naomi Klein’s term for the neoliberal strategy of exploiting disasters to implement disastrous neoliberal policies when citizens are too distracted to respond effectively.

So if you thought Mr. Kenney might respond to the coronavirus crisis by declaring a truce in his war on public health care, or to plunging oil prices by abandoning the province’s foolish policy, which predates the UCP by decades, of relying on fossil fuel revenues to deliver services while asking citizens and corporations to pay very little tax, thereby suffering repeated booms and busts, the appointment of Dr. Mintz means you are virtually certain to be disappointed.

Dr. Mintz is the fellow who in 2015 declared Alberta was on its way to turning into Greece, then in the midst of an economic crisis, because the just-elected NDP had promised a small tax increase for corporations, a review of the province’s petroleum royalty structure and an increase in the minimum wage.

He’s grumbled about “unrealistic ‘climate emergency’ environmentalists,” commented that “Alberta has better reasons for Albexit than Britain did for Brexit” (yes, he did say Albexit), mused about separation, and argued that diversity makes countries weaker. Naturally, he’s a favourite of the National Post, which frequently reprints his bloviations.)

He’s a “fellow” of the Fraser Institute, consistently argues for business tax cuts, and thinks income taxes should be lower too. He sits on the board of Imperial Oil Ltd. (and also Morneau Shepell Inc., federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s family firm) and back in the day at least held about $1.4 million in Imperial shares.

He is, in other words, someone who is likely to recommend exactly what Alberta doesn’t need in response to a recession, whatever the cause — lower taxes faster, more privatization, eliminating public sector jobs, using legislation to force front-line public sector workers to take pay cuts, eliminating regulations that protect workers and consumers, and other neoliberal bromides. Interestingly, he has argued for a sales tax, as long as there’s a Texas-style “significant reduction in personal income taxes” to go with it.

Dr. Mintz is a very charming fellow, quite entertaining to chat with. There’s absolutely no reason to believe he’s anything but completely sincere in his beliefs, and that he genuinely believes they will do good.

But that only goes to show that good people can sometimes do real harm with the best of intentions, and the course of treatment that Dr. Mintz is likely to prescribe for Alberta will do far more harm than good.

So I’m really sorry, Alberta. Your 10 minutes with me are up and you’ll have to leave. But on you way home, you might want to think about making sure that your last will and testament is up to date.

The nurse will show you out.

17 Comments to: Appointment of conservative economist Jack Mintz to head Jason Kenney’s latest economic panel is not a good augury for Alberta

  1. David Harrigan

    March 10th, 2020

    Very good post. Except for the end.

    “So I’m really sorry, Alberta. Your 10 minutes with me are up and you’ll have to leave. But on you way home, you might want to think about making sure that your last will and testament is up to date.
    The nurse will show you out.”

    This is the new Alberta – it should read:

    “So I’m really sorry, Alberta. Your 10 minutes with me are up and you’ll have to leave. But on you way home, you might want to think about making sure that your last will and testament is up to date.

    The untrained underpaid woman in the white uniform who replaced the nurse I recently had to layoff will show you out.”

    Reply
  2. Dave

    March 10th, 2020

    In a crisis people tend to retreat to the comfortable, so it is not surprising our Premier would appoint fellow ideologue Mintz to his next expert, blue ribbon or whatever he is calling it this time, panel. He is not even trying to appear non partisan this time.

    Yes, the next few years will be very bumpy for us, but if it is any consolation they will be even bumpier for Kenney. In the end voters blame those in power if things do not improve as promised. Only a little after a week, his first completely UCP budget is in total shambles and his promise to balance the budget before the next election looks like toast too. Much like that jobs growth promise the UCP made in the last election that has also been totally broken.

    The economic news is really, really bad. I predict the voters of Alberta will turn viciously on Kenney and the UCP. It is no longer a question of if, but when. Baring a miracle or something more nefarious like the kamikaze candidate, Kenney may not even make it too the next election as UCP leader. Mintz will be of no help to him, but might provide some comfort for him to cling to as his political fortunes go down the drain dramatically, much like the price of oil.

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      March 10th, 2020

      I wish I could share your confidence in the silver lining. But when exactly have Alberta voters ever held a conservative party accountable for anything? Even if we had MMPR, we’d be shifting relative dominance between the glibertarians and the fundies, no matter what they did, and no matter what happened in Ottawa or the big bad outside world.

      I know I am a bit of a One Note Charlie on this point, but after waiting almost 50 years for some light to penetrate the petrified reactionary skulls of Fred and Martha, I’ve decided to start waiting for some less improbable event. Even if Zombie Peter Lougheed rode in on a pale horse, they’d never elect him now….he’d at best be regarded as an NDP-curious squish.

      Going on four generations, Alberta has eagerly dug itself into a very deep hole, and so far shows no sign of wanting to get out, if that is even possible now.

      Reply
  3. ronmac

    March 10th, 2020

    Speculating here but once things get back to “normal” and the coronavirus recedes, we could be headed for a sharp uptick in the price of oil.

    Basically the US doesn’t have nearly as much oil as they’re leading everyone to believe. Shale oil have been hyped to lure in investors and they are not producing that much. Shale oil was already in free fall before these OPEC production boost.

    Reply
  4. Sam Gunsch

    March 10th, 2020

    So we’re probably going to hear Mintz and his Calgary Policy School pals/Postmedia cheerleaders tell Kenney-UCP to ignore a former Bank of Canada governor’s 2016 advice to NDP to borrow and spend when
    oil prices crashed and interest rates were low like they are now?

    EXCERPT: ‘The former Bank of Canada governor says he supports the Alberta government’s plan to invest in long overdue capital projects — despite oil prices continuing to decline and record low interest rates.

    “This is absolutely the right time to make that (capital) investment,” said David Dodge, reflecting on recommendations he made in his economic report commissioned by the province’s NDP government leading up to its first budget in November.’

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/former-bank-of-canada-governor-stands-by-alberta-s-capital-investment-plan-1.3391142

    Reply
  5. Bill Malcolm

    March 10th, 2020

    So last night, kenney was right on the old “Canada give us all your money” routine. Yes sir, coming right up, sir – Alberta is the most important place in the world. Nowhere else matters.

    This morning on CBC’s The Current, some investment guy from Alberta was on the same theme. Nothing else in the country was as important as giving Alberta money AT ONCE. It must be the water – Albertans never mention any other part of the country, it’s all me, me, me and screw the rest. Hell, the oil price dip is only a day old and nobody has any idea what’ll develop, but the outstretched capitalist hands are spring-loaded to deploy the minute anyone’s riches are threatened for an hour. After a WHOLE day with no relief, why, the pain is simply excruciating! Same story with the stock market guys, we need to bail ’em out NOW. Nothing like the well-off feeling the pinch and immediately if not sooner begging-for/demanding public support. At least CBC dug up some old investment coot from Bay Street who seemed far more measured than the panic stricken prairie chickenhawk. Environment? Not mentioned once.

    I want to survive the covid-19 thing, as my demographic means I’ll be dead before you know it unless that’s where resources are deployed intelligently. I have all the bad things the docs go on about including age. Screw oil prices. I’m selfish about myself as are millions of older Canadians.

    The stock market rise was greatly fuelled by corporations buying back all their shares over the past half-dozen years. No productivity gains, just paper notions, so it was the foam on top of the real beer anyway.The panicky Calgary investment guy was obviously young and about as bright as you describe this Dr Mintz, a person I’ve never even heard of before – must be an old Alberta landmark they dusted off and polished up. These two brainiacs say diversification wasn’t needed. The young dope had no idea of history and how royalties were pissed away – for him life started only in 2000, and the boom bust cycles meant that diversifying could never have been funded. Huh? What’s that you’re babbling on about, son? Mintz, from your intro, is just another Fraser Institute goon, now recycled to help kenney squeeze the pips out of us all.

    Alberta can Wexit anytime, as far as I’m concerned, so the rest of the country can be spared pouring money down a rathole of undeserved entitlement and third rate oil. But of course, right now kenney thinks he needs us, so Wexit’s off the table unless he wants to commit suicide – gotta get that money first! I gather the oil economy is about 10% of Canada’s total from all these experts nattering away, so if it shrank it would be bad but not the end of the world.

    Lord, Save me and the others from these right wing ideologically entitled dolts. About time they sweated for their sins.

    Reply
    • tom in ontario

      March 10th, 2020

      “…must be an old Alberta landmark they dusted off and polished up…”
      “The young dope had no idea of history and how royalties were pissed away – for him life started only in 2000…”
      “What’s that you’re babbling on about, son?”
      “…to help kenney squeeze the pips out of us all.”

      Ye gods, Malcolm, prose like that and the rest of your post makes me forget to panic over the coronavirus.

      Reply
    • K. Larsen

      March 11th, 2020

      Bill: You said Dr. Mintz must be an old Alberta landmark. In my view, most economists, Dr. Mintz included, are simply a modern incarnation of a 17th century Vicar. Back in the day, a few oligarchs owned all the land and all the peasants living on it. They employed Vicars to tell the peasants that God had decreed the order of the world and they should be grateful to the oligarch for granting them crumbs from his table.

      The oligarchs styled themselves “Royal” and gave the local Vicar a Vicarage which included a house and a modest income. In return the Vicar had to keep the peasants docile, usually by expressing concern for their heaven-inflicted suffering, warning them of God’s wrath should they stray, and assuring them their hardships purified them for a more pleasant future in the next world.

      Instead of a Vicarage Dr. Mintz has held comfortable positions at various academic and private institutions and enjoys other morsels from the tables of the oligarchs who still own almost everything and certainly take almost all of the income.

      Instead of asserting the authority of God, Dr. Mintz and most of his colleagues assert the authority of an even more improbable deity, the invisible hand of the market place. Always in the background are the threats of consumption-based taxes, poll taxes, and other assaults if the peasants are too restive and suggest actually taxing the oligarchs.

      Alberta’s squandering of its natural resource wealth more than demonstrates the financial bromides suggested by even very well-meaning Vicars provide no useful guidance for public policy. But we do seem to love our antiques so perhaps not even the plague will deter the UCP from continuing to follow its religious proclivities, both financial and spiritual, over the cliff.

      Reply
  6. Sam Gunsch

    March 10th, 2020

    Ok… Postmedia cheerleaders for corporate tax cuts already beating their drum this morning, March 10, 2020… and honest, I had not read this before posting my previous comment suggesting we’d see this.

    ‘…it’s no time to second guess corporate tax cuts.’ Rob Breakenridge, for the Calgary Herald
    Updated: March 10, 2020

    EXCERPT: ‘If anything, one could argue that these unusual and exceptional economic challenges might even call for further reductions in those rates, perhaps even offset by a sales tax.’
    ===

    How many decades has it been now with Alberta’s media functioning as a dangerous market fundamentalist force preaching this failed ‘trickle down’ economic religion?

    Sam Gunsch

    Reply
  7. Scotty on Denman

    March 10th, 2020

    In BC we get fifteen minutes.

    Reply
  8. Bob Raynard

    March 10th, 2020

    I guess things aren’t bad enough for Kenney to hire somebody smart.

    Reply
  9. Abs

    March 10th, 2020

    So Kenney is running off to hide from the coronavirus, leaving the whole Albertarian mess to a man over 60. Anyone over 60 should be very concerned right now. Everyone should be concerned, period, as the entire country of Italy shut down yesterday. Italy is suspending all mortgage payments. Mr. Mintz, this is beyond your control. Stay in isolation in your ivory tower for your own safety. 60 is not the new 50 this time around. Albexit has a new meaning in the 2020 coronavirus context.

    Chaos coming soon to a hospital near you.

    Reply
  10. J.E. Molnar

    March 10th, 2020

    Beware the Ides of March!

    It won’t be long before the Postmedia cadre of right-wing toadies, who unabashedly offer blind ideological support for Jason Kenney and the UCP, start hurling their tendentious brand of bullsh*t over the new iteration of this Jack Mintz-led expert panel. Time to head to Costco for more hand sanitizer.

    Reply
  11. Alex Polkovsky

    March 10th, 2020

    Oh, poop! Now if it’s nailed down it’ll be sporting a meter or a coin slot soon. And the disappearance of front line workers (the nurses and teachers you see on Sesame Street) will be offset by the army of back of office gremlins sending out invoices and telling doctors that treatment is refused. Compare these two kids show segment:

    Voice: Hi, Sal, what do you do?
    Sal: I work the crain on this construction site! Up and down and up and down…
    Voice: Oh wow! Here’s Howard. What are you doing, Howard?
    Howard: I’m building a technocratic regeme which will quantify everything and provide nothing.
    Voice: Oh.

    Once again, how do you put out a forest fire with tax cuts?

    Reply
  12. Carlos Beca

    March 10th, 2020

    This is not surprising, at least to those of us that have followed the disastrous neo-liberal extremes. Considering that Alberta has very limited reacting power, the possibility of an economic collapse Greece style is very real. It seems that Mintz wants to make his dream come true. Along with another obsessed Jason Kenney we could very well be in for an event that will determine the future of Alberta for decades. I wonder what the wexiters are going to do when their spiritual leader gives them a have not province. Will they join the US of A?

    Reply
  13. R.U. Daft

    March 10th, 2020

    I’m tired of all the negativity! Give us a chance to repair decades of NDP ineptitude! Why we’re empaneling a genuine mahogany panel that will tell us what we want them to know! What more could you want! What? You want us to contract government to Norway?

    Reply
  14. Just Me

    March 10th, 2020

    It should also be remembered that Mintz proposed that the Royalty Program was an unreliable and unpredictable means of generating revenues. Mintz’s was to abolish the program and replace it with a PST or an HST tied to the GST.

    He might be right on both counts.

    Reply

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