Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at Friday’s news conference in Edmonton (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

Can Jason Kenney pass the UCP budget, prorogue the Legislature, and get out of town before COVID-19 really hits the fan?

Posted on March 15, 2020, 2:45 am
7 mins

Beware the Ides of March!

It’ll be interesting to see if Premier Jason Kenney can find a way to pass his budget, prorogue the Legislature, and get the heck outta Dodge before the really bad stuff from the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival in Alberta starts to hit the fan.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw at yesterday’s COVID-19 news briefing (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

On Friday, as we know thanks to the Toronto Star, Mr. Kenney was begging Opposition Leader Rachel Notley to be a good sport and help him fast-track passage of the budget, supposedly so everyone could concentrate on the fight against the novel coronavirus that’s wreaking havoc on the world economy and the health of tens of thousands of people on every continent except Antarctica.

Thanks to the double whammy delivered by COVID-19 and the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that at almost the same moment sent petroleum prices plunging, quite possibly for a very long time, Finance Minister Travis Toews’s budget was way past its best-before date almost the instant he read it in the Legislature on Feb. 27.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley and Opposition Finance Critic Shannon Phillips (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Moreover, recent polling strongly suggests the UCP’s honeymoon with Alberta voters is over, and a big fight in the Legislature over the idea of health care budget cuts with the coronavirus bearing down on Alberta like a freight train probably isn’t on Mr. Kenney’s list of fun ways to spend a week. With travel to the States out, it might even be enough to push the guy into 14 days of self-isolation.

As the Angus Reid Institute put it in a statement on Friday, “Jason Kenney’s approval has been deteriorating since the election less than a year ago, down from 61 per cent to 47 per cent, and … his party’s lead on vote intention is also softening. The UCP won 55 per cent of the vote at the time but currently holds the vote intention of just 40 per cent of residents.” The pollster pegged NDP support at 36 per cent.

Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party has a big majority, of course, so it can pass its budget if he wants it to — but not without a budget debate in which the NDP Opposition could beat up his government for going after physicians and cutting health care funding right in the middle of a global pandemic.

Matt Wolf, Mr. Kenney’s director of issues management (Photo: Linked-In).

Or the UCP could prorogue the House immediately and avoid the fight. And — who knows? — maybe they’ll do that today.

However, that would mean they’d have to bring down a new budget in the next session — one that could hardly avoid the harsh new reality that’s emerged in the short time since February ended. It would be a budget with a breathtaking deficit, far bigger than any the NDP’s finance minister, Joe Ceci, ever tabled.

They could introduce a motion to adjourn on Monday, but they can’t make it an emergency motion because the Opposition has already given notice for one of its own, and the rules permit the Legislature to deal with only one such motion every day.

This is called finding yourself on the horns of a dilemma.

Well, they could always ask for the unanimous consent to adjourn now, and debate the budget later.

How will this play?

Premier @jkenney has asked us to pass the budget now and then trust him to do the right thing,” Ms. Notley tweeted Friday. “Let’s be clear that his budget is a direct attack on health care at the time we can least afford it.”

Calgary-Buffalo NDP MLA Joe Ceci, finance minister in the previous NDP government (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“We need more nurses, not fewer. We need more hospital beds, not fewer. We need support for doctors, not fights. We need financial support for folks who are unable to work and families impacted by this pandemic,” she continued in another tweet.

A spending bill is needed to keep government services running,” responded Matt Wolf, the premier’s director of issues management. “Money runs out in weeks,” he continued, perhaps hoping voters would confuse the Alberta Legislature for the U.S. Congress. “Vast sums will be spent on emergency pandemic response. Ms. Notley knows all this, but is choosing the play politics.” (sic)

Shannon Phillips, the Opposition’s finance critic snapped back: “Matt’s lying. Cabinet can run the province on special warrants through a crisis. Instead, Premier Kenney and UCP want the Opposition to vote for a budget full of health care cuts. Budgets are about choices. The NDP will not choose a blueprint for chaos in health care.”

Stay tuned.

Meantime, yesterday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw said there are now 10 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, six in Calgary and four in Edmonton, bringing the total to 39. She said two patients, both in their sixties, are in intensive care.

“We can expect cases of COVID-19 to continue in Alberta, and Canada, for months,” she warned. If she makes the decision to close schools, she advised a reporter, “we will be looking at school closures until the end of the school year.”

22 Comments to: Can Jason Kenney pass the UCP budget, prorogue the Legislature, and get out of town before COVID-19 really hits the fan?

  1. Athabascan

    March 15th, 2020

    Did you say, “double whammy”? I think for Alberta it’s multiple whammies.

    1. Alberta is $4.7B poorer. We could use that money to fight COVID-19.
    2. Kenney declared war on health workers. How many nurses laid off April 1? Tearing up the doctor’s contracts. Ten-minute visits.
    3. Proposing a stupid budget based on $58 barrel?
    4. Stealing pensions and flushing the money into fossil fuels.
    5. Declaring war on Alberta’s premier research university by slashing funding.
    6. Cancelling the super lab in Edmonton.

    It’s a lot more than just low oil prices aggravating the Alberta situation. It’s Kenney who we should fear as the most virulent virus endangering us.

    Reply
  2. J.E. Molnar

    March 15th, 2020

    Personally, I wouldn’t extend a scintilla of empathy for Jason Kenney and his tail-wagging coterie of underachieving front-bench MLAs.

    Whatever poor press, disgruntled voter fallout or political upheaval results for the UCP during this Alberta rollercoaster ride to hell in a handbasket—it is of their own making. Jason Kenney and the UCP—hoisted on their own petard—somehow feels like political justice with the added touch of “the NDP told you so!”

    Reply
  3. jerrymacgp

    March 15th, 2020

    Granted, it’s three years until the next election, so polls taken right now have little weight. But, still, it’s interesting to see where the UCP is now compared to Election Day. I looked at P J Fournier’s 338.com provincial projections for Alberta — https://338canada.com/alberta/#reg — and they’re fascinating. Unsurprisingly, the NDP remains far ahead of the UCP in Edmonton, at 52% vs 36%. In rural Alberta, the UCP remains far in the lead — I guess rural voters haven’t yet decided they don’t want to be abused anymore.

    The real shock is Calgary, where the NDP & UCP are neck & neck, at 44% & 43% respectively. If an election were held today, his projections would give the UCP a significantly reduced majority, and the NDP would get 13 seats in Calgary. Neither the Alberta Party nor the Liberals are a factor in his projections.

    Again, this is not all that relevant to the results of an election still three years out, and the Kenney Government is not in danger of falling, since it has a healthy (for them) majority — but it does show how fickle the electorate can be, and also how little attention the average voters must have been paying, since they telegraphed everything they’ve done in the lead up to the writ drop.

    To paraphrase the quote often attributed to Sir Winston Churchill — although its veracity is suspect — “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average rural Alberta voter.”

    Reply
  4. tom in ontario

    March 15th, 2020

    Your Wexiteer MLAs seem to be silent. Are they self isolating in Jason’s mother’s basement apartment?

    Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    March 15th, 2020

    It’s pretty rich to play the ‘special circumstances’ card to get the NDP to support the UDP budget when the UCP isn’t prepared to revise the budget to reflect those same special circumstances.

    Reply
  6. Abs

    March 15th, 2020

    They are indeed on the horns of a dilemma, as you put it, but instead of a Texas longhorn, it’s more like Baphomet.

    Thank you, Toronto Star, for keeping us informed about what’s happening here in rancho Alberta.

    Will Michaëlle Jean 2.0 happen in Alberta, or will Kenney’s Crüe come to grips with reality, and show some common sense and compassion for the people of Alberta in this time of crisis? Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Aren’t we all supposed to be focusing on the poor oil companies right now, in their time of great need, and isn’t their suffering more important than people dying?

    Kenney runs away and hides. He always does. Will the cat come back?

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      March 16th, 2020

      Re the Star: they have posted all their COVID-19 online stories outside their paywall, so even non-subscribers can read them without running afoul of the “free article” limit. While their parent corporation, Torstar, is financially vulnerable, they have decided to engage in a behaviour that is far too rare today … responsible, community-minded journalism. Props to them.

      Of course, they aren’t perfect — they’re far too enamoured with the Ontario Liberal Party for my taste, for instance. But they’re still far superior to the failing Postmedia chain’s CPC-UCP cheering section.

      Reply
  7. Scotty on Denman

    March 15th, 2020

    I’d love to see the play politics.

    I know where to go for the review.

    Reply
  8. Roger

    March 15th, 2020

    Wow, you got to work early today! Some basic math: you report 39 reported cases so far in AB. The 2020 estimate for the population of AB is 4.8 million. So my math indicates that those 39 cases represent: 0.0000081% of the population.

    From the Gov’t of Canada site(week-10-march-1-7-2020) on flu watch: https://bit.ly/39SoOTx
    Detailed information on age and type/subtype has been received for 37,972 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases (Table 1). To date this season (weeks 35 to 10):

    Cases of influenza A(H1N1) (3,164) were primarily in adults; 25% 20-44 years, 26% 45-64 years and 29% 65 years of age and older.
    Among cases of influenza A(H3N2) (1,934), the largest proportion of cases was in adults 65 years of age and older (46%).
    Cases of influenza B (16,591) were primarily in younger age groups; 57% under 19 years of age and 30% between 20 and 44 years of age.

    To compare apples to apples, the population of Canada is estimated at 37, 645,349. Using the 37,972 cases of influenza reported, we get a rate of: 0.0010086% of the Canadian population got influenza during the reported time period.

    I guess ordinary(?) influenza and toilet paper aren’t, some how, connected!

    Reply
    • Abs

      March 15th, 2020

      Exponential growth occurs in pandemics. Expect a doubling of cases until hospitals cannot cope. So 39 cases today become 78 cases tomorrow, and 156 the day after that, unless the cycle of transmission is stopped. With the long incubation period, any action has to be taken pre-emptively. Today’s cases were contracted up to two weeks ago.

      This is not “just” the flu. If we don’t learn from other countries, we are in big trouble. A more virulent strain is spreading in Italy.

      If 50 percent of Canada’s 37,645,349 people contract Covid-19, and 20 percent of those need medical care, it’s bad. Death rates and case fatality rates can be debated, but shocking numbers of people will die. Our country’s hospitals cannot cope with 2.4 million gravely ill people. And that is not even the worst case scenario. Tens of thousands of deaths could occur in each of Alberta’s two major cities. No one would be unaffected by so many losses. This is not the flu.

      Remembering the generation of my family wiped out in the Spanish Flu epidemic of the 20th century. It was “just” the flu.

      Reply
      • Murphy

        March 15th, 2020

        There is no evidence whatsoever to support your contentions about the manner in which this episode is likely, or even possible, to unfold. The bug has been loose in Wuhan for at least two months, a city with a population at least twice that of this province and a population density of 1200 per square kilometre, as opposed to 6 in Alberta. There are less than 85 000 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 disease in the entire country of China, with less than 3200 deaths. The number does shock me, given the global pandemonium concerning an event that is kililng less people than car wrecks each day. The average age of those dying from the disease in Italy is 81. The people most susceptible have diabetes and or other underlying health problems. “Exponential growth” does not necessarily occur in pandemics, and given the following statement, such growth is hardly a portent of doom.
        “Coronavirus symptoms are generally mild and most people recover within six days.”
        https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/14/what-is-a-pandemic-coronavirus-covid-19
        As Count Floyd said, “scary!”.

        Reply
        • Abs

          March 16th, 2020

          Good luck to you. I am inclined to believe Italy over China, a country that is hardly known for full disclosure and honesty.

          Reply
        • Kang

          March 16th, 2020

          Murphy:
          Isn’t the point that Korea and China have been very successful in containing the problem by using aggressive organization backed by a huge increase in public resources? Korea learned from China. In contrast Italy learned nothing and continued to manage their health care system exactly as we do: a lean, “just in time” system. So, Italy is unable to cope with even a very small increase in demand for ICUs. Covid 19 will be with us for a long time and we need to increase our system capacity to accommodate that new reality.

          You are mistaken about who is affected. Formerly healthy young people are also dying from this in China and elsewhere, they are just doing so at a very much lower rate. In China and Korea most are surviving because they have a fully resourced health care system. In Italy it is because they are triaging patients and letting the old die. That’s why the high percentage of mortality for older people you cite is misleading. In that triaging process they are also cutting out anyone with a BMI of 26 or greater, regardless of their age, although for younger ones they do offer some palliative care like extra oxygen. The absolute numbers you cite just do not tell the whole story.

          If history is any guide, there will be another surge of infections this fall which will actually kill more people than the first wave. It is also an opportunity for the little tin-pot wanna-be dictators like Kenney to discredit our political system – and in Alberta that will not take much.

          Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      March 16th, 2020

      @Roger: you’re decimal places are incorrect. The population-level infection rate of influenza, using your figures, is more like ~0.1%, or — using the denominator most used in epidemiology — 100.87 per 100,000 population. But the case fatality rate for COVID-19 appears to be much higher than for influenza, at 2-4% of known, laboratory-confirmed cases. This is far higher than the 12.8 deaths per 100,000 person-years for seasonal influenza (https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/seasonal-influenza/facts/factsheet), but lower than two previous novel coronavirus outbreaks: SARS (2003), 9.6%, and MERS (2012-14), 34.4% (https://www.who.int/emergencies/mers-cov/en/).

      We must neither exaggerate nor minimize the seriousness of this outbreak. Clinically, the signs & symptoms of COVID-19 appear very similar to influenza, or in milder cases like just a common cold — of which, BTW, various other coronaviruses are among the many causative viruses. But antigenically this is a distinctly different bug. Firstly, unlike influenza or a cold virus, there isn’t a single human on Earth who has immunity to this novel coronavirus — except, perhaps, those who have had it and recovered, although we don’t yet know if that confers lifelong or even persistent immunity. Secondly, it kills more of the people who get sick with it than influenza does. Thirdly, there is as yet no vaccine, nor any other proven antiviral agent for this virus.

      So, the only effective management strategy for this bug is what public health authorities are telling us: social distancing, effective hand hygiene, staying home from work or school if sick, etc.

      Reply
  9. Abs

    March 15th, 2020

    This caught my eye: “Calgary Flames organization won’t pay event staff during COVID-19 suspension; Edmonton Oilers offer assistance”.

    Good to know. Alternate headline: “Oil company guys benefit from $4.7-billion taxpayer handout; Tell taxpayers to get stuffed, and take the orphan wells with them”.

    Reply
  10. Political Ranger

    March 15th, 2020

    If this duffus and his mob of slobbering idiots thinks they can just shut down the gov’t and go home to self-isolate for the next few weeks, they may as well stay home and look for a new job.
    We don’t need a conservative gov’t during the good times, the corporations do. We NEED a government during the bad times and the especially the times of crisis and emergency.

    These clowns need to step up and start providing the guidance and supports required to get on top of this pandemic and to start planning for the new economic circumstances once that’s over.
    A term that is massively over-used in this province and is almost always wrongly applied is “world-class”. But it is safe to say that we do have a world-class research facility in the U of A medical department. This gov’t needs to instruct those facilities to ramp up Covid-19 testing abilities. Many of our hospitals in this province have labs and they need to be put on emergency footing to be able to conduct testing.
    Rather than fire a bunch of gov’t employees this gov’t needs to commandeer and train them into testing facility support workers.
    We need a thousand tests per day, likely more.

    If this stupendously selfish and stupid group running the show do not get themselves, and us, on a kind of war footing this disease will go on for months and infect hundreds of thousands of Albertans with all the morbidity and mortality that goes along with that.
    If they do step up, well that’s what is expected of a reasonable and responsible government, and the impact of this disease on community health and the economy will be greatly lessened.

    This we know.

    Reply
  11. Just Me

    March 15th, 2020

    There can be no doubt that Kenney’s pitstop on his way to the PMO is not going well. In fact, it’s been an outright disaster.

    The current proposed budget is loaded with astonishing errors that will leave all the UCP’s projections completely out of whack, resulting in a deficit that will be spectacular by any measure. Kenney’s move to ask Notley to be a good sport and pass the budget immediately, without a debate, was surely the sleaziest move one could imagine. Why should Notley hand Kenney a moment of reprieve that would give him a rationale to blame everything on PMJT? Yes. The Saudis and the Russians are not talking because it’s all Trudeau’s fault. Nope. Notley will not play nice (because she’s a nasty woman) and happily leave Kenney to hang himself on his own petard.

    Kenney must act on his only two options 1) submit a new proposed budget that accepts the extraordinary realities of the last two weeks, or 2) prorogue the legislature and leave things as they are for the time being, and use special warrants to cover expenses. The second option is not doable in Kenney’s mind because it effectively is an admission of defeat. Oh, no. Kenney blinked! That leaves the first option, which Kenney will pretend to reluctantly consider and implement.

    The result will be massive, massive cuts to everything. Nothing will be safe; Edmonton will be slammed even harder, but Calgary will get it just as bad. And rural Alberta, which Kenney promised to leave untouched by his scorched earth policies, will have to bear a huge slam. All that guaranteed crop insurance payouts in the billions in peril? Yes, it will happen.

    Of course, using his unique brand of pretzel logic, Kenney will find some crazy way to blame everything on Trudeau. Kenney will write even more letters to the PMO, demanding, begging, threatening, pleading, screaming, yelling, crying for the imaginary billions of dollars that Ottawa supposedly extorted from Alberta.

    At this time, I suspect Ken-Doh may as well get out of the country for a while, once he locates a place that COVID-19 hasn’t found. Will he ever comeback? I hope not, because watching Jason Nixon get thrown under the bus is more fun that I can handle.

    Reply
  12. Murphy

    March 15th, 2020

    The “really bad stuff” from the disease is already here, that being the inculcation of the population with the concept that a terrible threat is upon us. Apparently, nobody moves, nobody gets hurt. The US economy was poised for another 2008-style collapse, and ours along with it. For most of the period since the US Civil War, oil has been priced in a band, in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation, around $38 per barrel. Any significant deviations from that have produced economic disruption and recession. By 2008 oil was at $148. The cheap energy economy of the last hundred and twenty years is not built to operate with the commodity at that level. The absurdity of the ND’s or the Used Car Partiers banking on $75 or even $55 oil is beyond words.
    However, there is a very significant question as to whether or not oil can be viably produced at $38 in the future.
    Fracking in the US was a massive Ponzi scheme, which received support for the usual motivator, greed, but also because it took pressure off the failing Global War on Terror™ operations to secure control of energy on the Eurasian land-mass while isolating China with military bases.
    The stock market bubble generated by three rounds of Quantitative Easing and the fracking scam was beginning to go Hindenberg, and there has been no benefit to the real economy from that money, as it was all used for stock buy-backs.
    So the factors that allowed the Alberta Griftocracy to bump along for the last twenty-eight years no longer work in the favour of the corporate thieves who looted this province for three decades.
    I cannot recommend Kevin Taft’s “follow the money” with adequate zeal. While Taft is not capable of facing down the fact that the corporate-owned system is the problem, the compiled data is astounding in it’s aggregate. The province has been looted like an African dictatorship. The ND’s did absolutely nothing to educate the population about what really happened to us from ’91 on, and bent over backwards for our oily overlords, only to be thanked for their service with a relentless corporate-owned media attack for the duration of their mandate. The successive governments gave away the royalties and let the corporations keep the profits. The economy ballooned, but personal incomes came nowhere near to matching that growth. A pittance was paid into government revenues, and we have crumbling streets and post-secondary educational institutions laying off staff. 42% of Calgarians were low-income in 2004, with oil at $50 and headed to $!40 in the next four years. While corporate profits increased over 300% in under twenty-five years.
    As the money to be creamed off by the griftocrats cannot be generated by the “market” under current global conditions, new welfare, in the form of looting virgin portions of the economy, such as the public pensions, will have to be generated for the Great Calgarians.
    Covid-mania is providing breathing room for the global shot-callers to figure out the next move in order to avoid the reckoning that should have arrived in 2009. But like any smokescreen, it’s effectiveness is highly dependent on stable conditions.

    Reply
  13. Pogo

    March 15th, 2020

    Even your hillbilly plutocrats will be delivered all the roadmaps they need to take advantage of this disaster. It’s what they have been born for (according to them)! Gutless socialists? That’s another story for a different day!

    Reply
  14. Dave

    March 16th, 2020

    My thought on your questions:

    1. Yes, Mr. Kenney can pass his budget, even if it is now not worth the paper it is printed on and outdated. He has a majority government and may have to endure a bit of embarassment in the process, but he will get it through.

    2. Prorogue if necessary, blame it on the virus or possibly Trudeau and then

    3. Go into hiding and not say anything more about the changed financial situation for as long as possibly possible. Given that international or even inter provincial travel is not very advisable now, perhaps he will self isolate in his mom’s basement in Calgary, if such a place really exists. To clarify, I mean the basement suite, not the city.

    Reply
  15. e.a.f.

    March 16th, 2020

    In answer to your headline question: yes he can do all of those things, if done quickly, but he may not be able to get back into town without being hung. there may not be capital punishment in this country, but Kenny may find he is politically dead. People who have friends and family who die, have very long memories.

    Reply

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