Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the province’s NDP Opposition, at a campaign rally on March 17 last year in Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I don’t imagine running Alberta is much fun right now. I’m afraid, though, I can’t summon up much sympathy for Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party.

Be careful what you wish for, goes the ancient proverb, you just might get it.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney during his rambling presentation at the provincial COVID-19 daily briefing in Edmonton yesterday (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

From the UCP’s perspective, this isn’t the way things were supposed to work out.

Jason Kenney’s political strategy, which seemed to be working pretty well for a spell, was to make big promises about bringing back the good old days and rely on the oil economy to take one more turn for the better in time to run for re-election smelling like the proverbial wild rose.

When the money returned, it could be used to cover the impact of the neoliberal policies Mr. Kenney and his cabal intended to implement, and if they caused grief for some future generation of Alberta conservatives, that wouldn’t really be their problem.

But a global pandemic and an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, driving what Alberta bitumen would fetch beyond the bargain basement and into the liquidation sale on the floor below? Who expected that?

Throw in 25-per-cent unemployment, with no possibility to export the worst of it back to Atlantic Canada as we’ve traditionally done here in Alberta, plus the United States crumbling under the leadership of a childish, ignorant sociopath who, embarrassingly, the UCP’s own guys cheered and, in a couple of cases, campaigned for, and you start to have the formula for a real disaster.

Who could have predicted all that happening at the same time?

Yeah, I know, there were latter-day Cassandras who foresaw such things. We can all point to repeated warnings in online media by those who forecast global pandemics, sometimes even featuring SARS-like coronaviruses. And there were certainly many on the left in particular who predicted terrible outcomes from the worst features of neoliberalism — globalization, global warming and fragile just-in-time supply lines.

But this combination of circumstances, you have to admit, is the classic perfect storm — the “black swan event” that should have been obvious, wasn’t, and now that it’s happened is completely out of control.

Premier Kenney is going to do what? Tell the Kremlin and the House of Saud to stop playing rough or they’ll have to come inside? Shout at the coronavirus to slouch back to the Wuhan wet market and go back to sleep? Good luck with that!

The UCP has very few options and no ideas except propping up the oil and gas industry. You can hear the panic in the tone of the online screeching by Mr. Kenney’s mostly powerless ministers, irrelevant MLAs and troll-dominated communications brain trust.

No one else has good options either, of course, although some — like our suddenly all-grown-up sounding prime minister — obviously have a better strategy for getting us through the worst if the next few weeks with as little harm done as possible.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at the same briefing (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

But it’s an immutable rule of politics that if the stuff hits the fan — even if it’s not your fault — you’re going to end up wearing some of it. And the worst of the splatter is landing right here in Alberta.

So there’s a case to be made that the outcome of the provincial election on April 16 last year was an incredibly lucky one for Rachel Notley and the NDP, hard as it must have been at the time for them to give up power just as they felt they were moving things in the right direction.

The NDP’s time in power seemed to be a story of one bad break after another — mostly things entirely outside the Notley government’s control. Nevertheless, as tends to happen in such circumstances, they had to wear it.

But instead of being wiped out, they emerged as a strong Opposition — and, in the rear-view mirror, the very model of a moderate government that coped with hard times with thoughtful maturity and a steady hand. They even had a plan of sorts for dealing with the end of oil, which is certainly more than Mr. Kenney can say.

There are worse places to be than in Opposition when your province starts to resemble a rudderless plague ship!

If coronavirus and the price war had hit in mid-2018, or if the NDP had been unlucky enough to somehow eke out a victory a year ago, they truly would have been done for. Now, maybe not so much. I’d even bet a few of them realize that, too.

Well, as conservatives have always told us when it wasn’t them shedding the tears, nobody ever said life was fair.

Who knows what the world will look like after COVID-19 has done its worst? I sure don’t, but I’m certain it won’t look the same. Dimes to dollars it won’t be a world in which demanding more bitumen mines and more pipelines, spending billions on a job program for Montana, and campaigning against carbon taxes is going to look like a good bet.

But whether I’m right or wrong about that, I can guarantee you this is no time for a guy with only one plan. And Jason Kenney sure looks like a guy who has only one plan.

Jason Kenney, micromanager, grabs the podium and hangs on for 53 minutes

Premier Kenney’s excruciatingly bad performance at yesterday’s COVID-95 briefing indicates that while the premier may have a new speechwriter, no one on his staff is able to stop him from micromanaging the professionals who actually know what they’re talking about.

Alberta Health Services President and CEO Verna Yiu at the briefing (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Pushing aside Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services President and CEO Verna Yiu, two physicians Albertans trust, Premier Kenney latched onto the podium and incoherently worked his way through a series of technical slides for 53 minutes.

When a Globe and Mail reporter asked him why he didn’t just let the doctors do their jobs, he responded, “I presented the information because I’m the premier of Alberta …”

The quality of his presentation is illustrated by his rambling commentary on nurses and other health care workers who want access to personal protective equipment sufficiently effective for the task at hand when they treat patients with the coronavirus.

“… Let me be blunt, some folks, from different, uhh, work environments have, have been demanding a, a constant supply of the very highest-end, -end masks, the N95s, for example. Umm, and the view of health pro-, experts is that those masks are necessary and appropriate in certain clinical settings, like when you’re dealing with uh, uh, incubate.. inba… in … uh … I’m sorry, putting somebody on an ent, on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. Um, but, that they are not, eh … generally necessary in day-to-day functions. And so, please understand that we are doing our best, and if we are able to get redundant supplies we will make them more generally available. But we must ensure that there is adequate supply of certain critical protective equipment for our acute care and ICU workers for when we hit the peak.”

I haven’t transcribed the premier’s verbal ticks to be mean, but to illustrate how badly prepared he seemed to be when he bulled his way to the front of the briefing. It’s the opposite of reassuring.

You have to know, Rachel Notley would have handled this with fewer words and more grace, and would have let Drs. Hinshaw and Yiu do their jobs.

Join the Conversation


  1. This:

    “Well, as conservatives have always told us when it wasn’t them shedding the tears, nobody ever said life was fair.”

  2. It is true that terrible, unimaginable things sometimes happen and catch us all by surprise. Lokking back it often seems more inevitable than it was forseen. Take Trump’s cuts to those that were supposed to deal with pandemics, add in China’s overly centralized government, focosed on or diatracted by other matters and gaining international power and it becomes clearer why this wasn’t stopped earlier. Of course, there is plenty more blame to go around, but these are two big ones.

    However, in a few months the worst will be over and the rest of Canada get eventually get back to some normalicy. The oil supply and price debacle is the greater long term problem for Alberta and the UCP in particular. I am sure Kenney’s plan was to repeat the Klein play book, cut early and ease up enough as oil prices recovered to win reelection. Kenney was here in the 90’s to see that plan executed, except this time energy prices are just not co-operating.

    It’s questionable that oil prices will ever rise again in a cyclical way, but even if they do, we should remember in the 80s and 90’s it was around 10 years before the price recovery. Even if the same holds true again, that means sometime around 2024 for a noticeable price recovery. This would be after the next provincial election. So I think Kenney’s timing is off. Now he can go uber doom and gloom and talk about 25% unemployment and praise himself if it only gets to 15% or 20%. Yes, it is about expectations, but it is also about jobs and if Kenney fails to deliver what he led people to expect in the last election, voters will not give him a second chance. He seems to have bet big on oil, but this time the cards do not seem to be in his favour.

  3. Last week, kenney was boasting about the sheer volume of Covid-19 testing in Alberta, and that it was in the lead on a per capita basis among provinces. Yet when I go to : I see a decline in daily testing. April 8 from the bar graph looks like only 500 or so. What’s going on? No question that Alberta was and still is in the lead, but we’re doing more testing than 500 a day in NS with a population a quarter the size. In Ontario, it’s abysmally low — no wonder Ford is upset.

    Jumped up little cockerels always want to take centre stage whether they know what they’re talking about or not. Look at Trump — of course being American he is at perpetual war with everyone who might possibly challenge the US hegemony in every sphere of endeavour. The Americans don’t do the milk of human kindness routine because it’s been bred out of them. kenney seems to want to blather away in the limelight because he’s worried about his public image, nothing else. He’s unique among the premiers in that regard.

    Still and all, Alberta seems to be doing well in the CV-19 stakes, so someone is doing something right.

  4. “…screeching by Mr. Kenney’s mostly powerless ministers, irrelevant MLAs and troll-dominated communications brain trust.” Pretty much says it all.

  5. This is a thought provoking piece, David. Thank you.

    A common UPC talking point during the NDP government was that while the NDP had no control over the international price of oil, the NDP’s strict adherence to its ideology made the situation worse. I think the same criticism now needs to be directed at the UCP. Cutting doctor salaries in the midst of a global pandemic can only be described as blind ideology. I do wonder how many of the necessary, but budget devastating, policies the federal government has implemented would have been implemented by President Kenney if we were an independent country.

  6. I just couldn’t watch the trainwreck, and I tried. Fortunately, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s presentation with Adrian Dix was taking place at the same time on another channel.

    What is going on with Kenney? His people seem to be letting him experience the natural consequences of his own actions. To put it politely, is he well?

  7. “When a Globe and Mail reporter asked him why he didn’t just let the doctors do their jobs, he responded, “I presented the information because I’m the premier of Alberta…”
    Shades of Le Grand Orange in Washington. All that’s missing is the buffoonish MAGA hat.

  8. With Jason Kenney at the wheel, the road to “hell in a hand-basket” becomes more precarious every single day.

    Jason Kenney’s propagandists, led by a plethora of right-wing Postmedia boosters, are constantly trying to polish a turd. One tendentious future Postmedia “Hall of Shame” scribe yesterday weighed in with a piece on what a fine job Mr. Kenney is doing in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Fox News would be mightily proud — and likely Sean Hannity too, for that matter.

  9. I would argue that the pandemic gives Kenney cover to destroy public services and democracy.

    Hopefully a few more performances like yesterday’s nutty professor routine will let Albertans see the real Kenney.

  10. Anyone who was paying attention should have anticipated a massive shock in the oil sector. Unlike the perception held by Albertans, the Alberta oil industry is not like a lemonade stand in competition with other lemonade stands, although the mentality of those in the industry would be indistinguishable from that of your average aspirational ten-year-old. Oil is a strategic asset and as such it is wielded like any other weapon. It has been thus since Jackie Fisher and Churchill colluded to set up Anglo Persian Energy to control the oil that accidentally ended up with those shady Iranians on top of it. That entity by the way, was headed by our very own last spike driver, Lord Strathcona, and heir to the semi-continent stolen by Charles II and given to his nephew, Prince Rupert, who in turn handed it to the Hudson Bay Company.
    Despite all the ridiculous and infantile claims about Saudi duplicity, the House remains an instrument of US policy. The family dog can figure out after about ten seconds what happens to oil regimes who deviate from the CIA game-plan. No Shock and Awe about to unfold in Ryadh any time soon. Imperial Oil was using estimates of oil’s value at $11 for their holdings back when it was around $100 per barrel, and the notion that Alberta Government leadership, NDP included, banks on $60 or $80 oil makes their ignorance painfully obvious.
    Oil kept the Soviet Union alive in the seventies, and oil was used to knock the legs out from under the Soviet Union in the eighties. Which means that Alberta is subject to the geostrategic whims of the degenerates who run the US Empire as long as it’s government chooses to depend on the revenues from a weapon whose effect is the result of manipulating the price up or down.
    There is no mistaking the fact that the NDP were planning on rolling out the barrel for good times some around 2021 as they forecast oil over $60, a ridiculous proposition given the volatility of the commodity since the US established the Petro-dollar almost fifty years ago. I guess some folks are just slow learners.
    Tail-gunner Jay reminds me more every day of the criminal Mikheil Saakashvili, the US stooge who set Georgia up to be pummelled by the Russians after yet another failed US militarist scheme, and who then magically ended up as Governor of Odessa in the Ukraine a few years later. Ukrainians not only tolerated, but embraced the parachuting-in of a neo-con scumbag. The fact that a majority in this province ate up the insertion of the odious carpetbagger Tailgunner Jay, and asked for more, says something about people who are willing to lie to themeselves no matter how bad things get, in the name of deluded self-identity.

  11. Well, we saw what happened to the NDP when oil was tanking (and this was happening before she was elected as well). Kenney rode in on his blue horse..err, truck and the rest is history.

    What he is dealing with (and badly) is much worse in comparison so it will be instructive to see how Albertans respond to the UCP going forward.

    1. Albertans will still vote in UCP regardless what happens, because they lack common sense, and conservatism runs deep in Alberta.

      Basically, Albertans are mostly dumb.

  12. Your optimism is good but this is what Albertans voted for austerity, pain and suffering as well as payoffs to political donors. Notley was blamed for the slump in oil prices will Kenney be blamed for this pandemic, likely not. Will Albertans suffer, we already are and will continue.

    Perhaps you or someone can shed some light on a rumour that has been floating around. Have the superintendents been delivered a threat that if teachers continue to criticize and speak out they will be laid off? I am assuming if this thing continues there will be serious talk of laying off teachers at the end of June given what happened to EAs.

    1. they voted for pain and suffering but not for themselves, just for that other guy, you know the other one, the one who isnt a real albertan

      1. firing teachers? great i think we still need a few here in B.C. housing isn’t too expensive in the more rural areas and hey we aren’t at war with the doctors either. read the doctors are suing Jason and company. that ought to be fun. we have a real shortage of them. Jobs every where. personally I’d recommend Nanaimo. close to skiing and vancouver

        Notley is luck to not be Premier, on the other hand she most likely would be doing a better job than Jason. The boy may have to face the fact he is going to have to implement a sales tax to just stay afloat.
        fired teachers for speaking out. at war with doctors. gee what could possibly go wrong a friend used to tell me of the days of the depression in alberta and some of the lean timesl looks like they[re coming again.

      2. Agreed, I think it’s envy at this point that is being used and the average voter isn’t awake enough to realize they are being played. How does your life improve when your neighbour is fired from their public sector job? The sick satisfaction received from others suffering isn’t going to cover your mortgage or rent payments.

        “But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
        And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

  13. “Rachel Notley and the NDP can thank their lucky stars they didn’t eke out a victory last April…..”

    David, so many times I have been thinking the same. They would absolutely not be forgiven, even though I would think they would handle this crisis in way more competent way.

    And you hit the nail on the head again characterizing Jason Kenney’s presentation as rambling, for ever and ever, after he yet again hijacked the Covid-19 update from Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. Verna Yiu.

  14. “I haven’t transcribed the premier’s verbal ticks to be mean, but to illustrate how badly prepared he seemed to be when he bulled his way to the front of the briefing. It’s the opposite of reassuring.”

    But, I would say, completely appropriately. If you followed comments sections in national newspapers or twitter, conservative partisans were doing the same to Justin Trudeau. It may even have been deserved, as Trudeau sounded pretty unsure of himself in his first few years. Well, what’s sauce for the goose…

  15. I understand the sentiment, but not the result. In every possible way, the NDP was and still is a far superior party with a far superior leader. The UCP are a fumbling, bumbling clown-car full of mean-spirited egotists and self-serving Dunning-Krugerites dragging the province down to backwater status. I am in despair that the NDP are not in power right now, and these useless buffoons are.

  16. “I haven’t transcribed the premier’s verbal ticks to be mean….”

    No, but it would be OK if you did. Schadenfreude in this case incurs no moral penalty. I have to admit myself to greatly enjoying watching Jason Kenney flailing around in free fall. Couldn’t happen to a better guy.

  17. “Premier Kenney’s excruciatingly bad performance…”

    I didn’t think he did badly at all. Yes, there were a lot of verbal stumbles, but almost every sentence that came out of his mouth was clear (not the same thing as articulate), substantive and to the point. There’s also surely something to be said for the leader of a government giving such an address, and therefore implicitly taking responsibility for the content.

    One bit of good news that Kenney didn’t mention is that we seem to be beating even the government’s “probable” scenario, at least with respect to hospitalisations. The probable scenario predicts around 200 hospitalisations on April 9, and I’m reasonably sure that’s meant to indicate an estimate of 200 people being admitted to hospital with confirmed cases of the virus on that date. Well, here it is April 9, and the government is reporting that only 97 people have been admitted to hospital IN TOTAL. It’s too soon to open the champagne, of course, but early signs suggest that this province may not be in for all that much real pain either.

  18. Everyone loves and respects Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw. Jason Kenneys fragile ego couldn’t handle that. So he has to make himself the expert now.

  19. Now more than ever, being careful what you wish for could be the biggestion decision anyone ever makes. And wishing for your own success will surely get you into more trouble.

    Watching Kenney struggle through a Powerpoint presentation about the medical/scientific response to the pandemic was both painful and hilarious. He decided to not wear his jacket, but it was clear that his was sweating throughout the broadcast. And, of course, Ken-DOH! was going on and on about the amazing and heroic response of the doctors and the frontline medical staff in “flattening the curve” and the commitment to ramp up testing. Hmmm…seems to me he’s talking about doing what B.C. did in the early stages of this pandemic and secured a healthy amount of success. (Why is it left-wing governments are able to manage the pandemic situation, but the CON ones are falling over themselves trying to screw up even more?)

    What is even more comical is that the UCP and its fellow travellers are claiming victory at every moment. Some, I understand, are ready to lift the restrictions ASAP. Following Trump’s maxum, Alberta was not designed to be closed. (Who is?) Hoping that there will be no second wave of the pandemic is really wishful thinking. And, I hear, that regardless of the ban on church services, there will be Easter services at the mega-churches and they will not be streaming. Just as they do in many parts of the US, the evangelicals (BIG UCP voters) believe that they are super-human because they are “covered in the Blood of Christ”. It’s not like this sort of behaviour was not unforeseen. And I suspect those citations for unlawful gatherings will be torn up on the spot and forgotten about because of Religious Freedom. Don’t let the secular-humanists run your life! (And it not like that kind of stupid was unforeseen, either.)

    As with the Spanish Influenza Pandemic (1918-1919) many used the public emergency to further various political agendas. More often than not, these agendas used fear and religion to push impossible initiatives. Who knew that a public health crisis would pave the way for the destruction of public health care?

    Only in Alberta.

  20. Amazing. The K-Boy’s rambling, high-school-project-like recitation of stats was so painfully like the almost identical tactic employed by The Orange One. Why? He doesn’t really need to do it, so why bother?

    The presidunce seems to have a better rationale: he has an election approaching in eight months and, deprived of campaign rallies (which he’s never shelved since the 2016 election—until, that is, COVID19, the epidemic he’d tried to blow off, much to cheers at the last few of his rallies while the virus quietly got a firm death-grip on his country) and relieved of competitive primaries (which he’s used party rules to preclude—just in case a Republican would dare challenge him), he needs to keep his mug on the tube (his greatest achievement for which the presiduncy is merely a vehicle) in order to promote his incumbency bid (and not lose the legal immunities of his office without which he’ll be in very tremendous, strongly perfect trouble) despite his increasingly plain incompetence. I mean, it kinda makes sense in tRumptext.

    But the K-Boy? What’s up with the aping? The province of which he’s premier is still part of “Canda” (that’s Prestonese for “Canada”) and thus systemically immune to much of America’s incapacity to deal with COVID19; and the premier hasn’t appeared to fumble his responsibility, certainly not like the erratic, contradictory, vindictory, poly-dick-headed-tory Tangerine Candyflossed presidunce has. Kenney looks positively cherubic in comparison. Maybe that’s the reason—just like Canada looks so much better at dealing with the epidemic next to the abject unpreparedness of the US of A. (But “I’m-better-n-tRump”?—I dunno if it’s such a winner…)

    The tRumpster obviously wants to erase all recollection of his initial COVID19 nose-thumbing; in his inimitable way he just says it, right out loud: ‘as soon as Easter’s finished, quickly forget everything about COVID19, okay?’ Unfortunately for him, he has to do it ironically by doubling down during every subsequent charlatanism-test —all of which are about that very same COVID19—while struggling to change the channel to Easter bunnies hopping back to work —like, on Tue’s Day next!—or to scapegoat Democrats or Democrat governors or Obama-appointed public health officials or the Chinese or the Iranians or the Italians or the hundred-thousand COVID19-deaths supposed to actually prove how heroic his “war presiduncy” really is (in fact, the US epidemic has materially weakened American strategic readiness —which, unstated, is supposed to be a state secret, admission of which might have earned a court martial—if such insubordination didn’t also confirm the diminishment of strategic power). Even his bait-and-switch to some kind of malaria drug or acne cure or dandruff shampoo keeps coming around to sting him on the ass, over-spray his ablution-tan, make his coiffure look all the more suspect. Still, he feels he has to do it, hour or hour-and-a-half word-salad pressers, mug on the screen, Election Day getting closer and closer, defeat unthinkable…

    I suspect tRump’s problem is the inevitable, ongoing erosion of obedience and sycophancy he demanded on Day-One of his presiduncy (Comey’s firing has dogged him since), the slow but steady blunting of his retaliatory threats as the Big Day nears, necessitating hands-on invigilation—including the rapier-quick cut-off of questions to his medical expert (something about why the presidunce is talking about malaria when it’s actually a corona virus stalking the land). Dr, Fauci of course does make public comments about unproven treatments while out of the presidunce’s reach—but as tactfully as humanly possible. Nonetheless, refutations of presiduncial nonsense have been happening more frequently, these days, for all to see, sometimes on the very same podium within minutes of his most recent extrusion of baloney. Instead of “draining the swamp,” tRump’s getting swamped at the drain where his problems —personal, personnel and personal protection-equipment —swirl around him like a vortex gone viral.

    He’s got plenty of reasons to sing his swan song as broadly as possible: it’s quite probably his last gasp.

    But The K-Boy? The virus—which he’s never dismissed—is as well in hand as can be expected, ministers and caucus remain as loyal as Captain Chauvin’s crew, and the next reckoning with voters is over three year away. Why resort to the same towering babel as tRump?

    The Donald would love to change the channel from a subject in which he’s plainly losing credibility (as incredible as an unabashed liar can ever lose credibility might seem, it is, at this point, vitally important for him to maintain that critical base of incredibly gullible ‘ever-trumpers ‘)—almost any alternative issue would be better than having to wear the devastation of COVID19, but nothing tried seems to stick. The K-Boy, in contrast, is embracing COVID19 rather than trying to evade or diminish it because he’d rather diminish, not substitute alternative issues, certain of which relate to the pandemic: his government’s agenda to reduce public healthcare costs on the backs of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers on whose heroism all Albertans now depend. He uses the pandemic to obscure the very agenda which, it turns out, only makes it worse, a feat of separation that only a certain conceit would attempt. One wonders how long Kenney would have to blather away about his COVID19 book-report before reporters forget to ask him about that healthcare-busting agenda —I mean, reporters are very well known for not getting bored to death, no matter how boring the story, and for doggedly pursuing any important story no matter where the trail leads. (Me, having worked for, but never having been a reporter myself, did nearly nod off during the K-Boys stage act—something that’s never happened to me during any of tRump’s now-extra-long pressers, as preposterous as they are.) And of course the premier is likely to be held to account for sticking to his recent budget, never mind that it has been made even more inappropriate by the pandemic. But, in spite of the close connection between the tanking of petroleum prices (especially brutal for the lowest-grade product, bitumen, Alberta’s main product which has struggled for years before COVID19) and the pandemic (the resulting economic shut-down has turned the existing global glut into a morbidly bloated distension), the K-Boy uses one to obscure the other—that is, try to impress with his surfeit of diligence in compiling and collating viral factoids as if still in high school in order to distract from the boneheadedness of his dubious petro-policy.

    I guess he simply cannot plead that things were going so great and still would be if it weren’t for COVID19, like the Orange One is attempting—because in Alberta, naturally, they weren’t and his whole victorious campaign was based on that one fact (that is, not on the other, singularly partisan anti-NDP rationales he so successfully bowl-floated).

    Whatever his reasons for aping tRump, one aspect likens them as well as any equalization payment: both of their podium passion plays are failing abjectly.

    It remains to be seen how many more times the K-Boy tries to buy the teacher’s affection with such a big, shiny apple.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.