University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz, head of Jason Kenney’s “emergency panel” on the economy (Photo: McGill University).

In trench warfare, before the shock troops go over the top, the artillery softens up the defenders with a barrage at the point of the attack.

In the midst of a great struggle with a mysterious coronavirus that threatens all mankind, we are being subjected to such a barrage by some of the most trusted economic commentators of the neoliberal right.

Conservative Party of Canada Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre (Photo: Manning Centre/Flickr).

Yesterday, University of Calgary Professor Jack Mintz — “the brilliant economist,” as Conservative supertroll Pierre Poilievre recently called the man — joined the cannonade.

In a short jeremiad complaining public sector jobs are too secure published in the financial pages of the National Post, Dr. Mintz asked, rhetorically, “How about some public sector sacrifice, too?”

I will leave a detailed critique of Dr. Mintz’s commentary to economists. Suffice it to say he argues that since there are heavy job losses in the private sector as a result of the worldwide fight to control the spread of COVID-19, there must be corresponding losses and rollbacks in the public sector too — including, presumably, among the health care workers we are praising now for their efforts to protect us from the virus.

This is unlikely to be a popular policy prescription with that huge segment of the public that has grown wise to the depredations of neoliberalism’s Shock Doctrine.

Yesterday, Stephen Harper published a similar screed behind the paywall of the Wall Street Journal. The former Canadian prime minister argued that, “after coronavirus, government will have to shrink.”

Mr. Harper, who was never really an economist except in Conservative election brochures, nevertheless uses the bully platform provided by his current position as titular head of the neoliberal internationale to say of most governments’ responses to the coronavirus that “all this intervention has been economically ruinous.”

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 (Photo: Tavis/Flickr, Creative Commons).

This is a sneaky and deceptive argument, designed to undermine the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. After all, the intervention he’s complaining about was designed to keep the economy on life support while COVID-19 threatened our economic and actual lives. But we expect no less from Mr. Harper, whose habits are familiar to Canadian voters if not to the WSJ’s principal audience south of the Medicine Line.

As it happened, also yesterday, an April 9 article in the Post by Philip Cross, a “senior fellow” at both the neoliberal Macdonald-Laurier and Fraser “institutes,” was creating a stir in Alberta where local politicians were re-tweeting the author’s “modest proposal” to cut public sector pay by 20 per cent.

The Post headline notwithstanding, it seems unlikely the proposal was intended as Swiftian satire by Mr. Cross, another fellow referred to as a “brilliant economist” by Mr. Poilievre, whose day job despite the time he spends on Twitter is federal Conservative finance critic.

All this stuff is being peddled now, of course, for a reason.

Nationally and internationally, the neoliberal stream of capitalism hopes once again to find way to use the coronavirus catastrophe to implement policies that are the opposite of what ordinary people all over the world are praying for.

Expect to hear “we can’t afford it” a lot whenever policies to save us from some future global pandemic or the depredations of neoliberalism are proposed.

Fraser and Macdonald-Laurier institutes “senior fellow” Philip Cross (Photo: Macdonald-Laurier institute).

Here in Alberta this poses special danger because Mr. Harper’s acolyte, Jason Kenney, is premier, and our province has the bad luck to be the beachhead for their destructive plans.

Dr. Mintz, another Fraser Institute fellow, was appointed in March to lead Mr. Kenney’s “emergency economic panel” to create policies to counter the collapse in oil prices that struck just as COVID-19 began its march through Canada. Mr. Harper, troublingly, is also a member of that group.

Dr. Mintz already has a history of telegraphing Mr. Kenney’s punches through his writing, as he famously did when he co-authored a paper in 2017 with Janice MacKinnon, a former Saskatchewan finance minister, calling for legislated rollbacks in public sector salaries in Alberta.

After Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party won the election in 2019, Dr. MacKinnon was appointed to lead a “blue ribbon panel” that, lo and behold, recommended pretty much what she had proposed with Dr. Mintz.

It hardly strains credulity to predict Mr. Harper’s and Dr. Mintz’s bloviations this week foretell exactly what we Albertans are going to face when Premier Kenney’s emergency panel reports.

As has been argued in this space before, Dr. Mintz is likely to recommend exactly what Alberta doesn’t need in response to a recession — lower taxes for the already wealthy, more privatization, elimination of public sector jobs, use of legislation to force front-line public sector workers to take pay cuts, elimination of regulations that protect workers and citizens (from COVID-19, among other things), the usual neoliberal bromides.

The same can be said of Mr. Harper, with a cynical strategy tossed in to somehow use federal money to keep Alberta afloat while portraying the resulting national deficit and debt as a disaster, the better to take back Parliament Hill.

But first, we Albertans will have to face austerity on steroids. We are being softened up for it now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Minitz has been arguing to an end to the Royalty Program and replacing it with a PST.

    So much for the Alberta Advantage.

    When it comes to reasonable thought, Alberta always fails the test. For one thing, Alberta cannot stop telling lies about itself. Where do these lies come from? It’s the nonsense from the usual blue ribbon panel of suspects, always defending more austerity and the never-ending race to the bottom.

    Considering these many neoliberal talking heads are largely at the public trough themselves, the irony is lost in favour of the sickest of jokes.

    Kenney claims to defend the free market and the private sector, yet, he’s never worked a day in either. Harpo, the so called noted economist, who took sixteen years to write his M.A., only knows one thing: fossil fuel good…fossil fuel still good. Incompetence and stupidity is their stock and trade.

    So, as we await the second Covid-19 wave, public health care will be gutted, and the body count will rise with the private health insurance premiums.

    Welcome to this brave new world.

    1. Alberta does spend far more per capita on health and education per capital than do BC or ON. That is indisputable fact. What does the province get in return for over-funding?

      1. Shorter waiting lists? higher professional to patient ratio? Quicker access and shorter stays? I’ll bite – what DOEs the province get?

        I’m sarcastic, of course. Alberta doesn’t spend its money as well as some others like Manitoba and BC so it doesn’t achieve the results you might expect. Nonetheless, it still does pretty well. And now that they’ve maintained a ready supply of well-trained nurses, there’s ready market to export to other provinces who need ’em – like BC with its heavy influx of geriatric refugees from the RoC, particularly Alberta.

        Ain’t Confederation a wonderful thang?

      2. Hey Doug: Your “fact” is meaningless without a context. The context is Alberta has a much higher level of costs for everything compared to other provinces, largely because the Cons over-heated the economy by approving too many Tar Sands projects all at once. The PC “lilies of the field” did not consider the need for pipelines or understand DilBit from the Tar Sands is not in high demand, so the more that is delivered to the world market, the lower the price goes. Post Covid, all bets are off.

      3. Creepy. You slipped in that a priori logical fallacy like a born cult-leader. Do you have a collection of selfie-potato chips?

  2. How much does a part time economics professor make anyway? We all appreciate Jack giving up his job and pension for the cause, maybe he can pitch in some Imperial Oil shares although those aren’t worth what they once were. Wouldn’t want anyone to accuse him of feeding at the government trough now would we. It’s funny they all seem to be feeding off the taxpayer, couldn’t Kenney find anyone that has a real job?

  3. The Wall Street Journal is a Murdoch rag, like so many formerly august publications such as the Times in the UK, the defunct News of the World (wiretappers of the rich and famous) and of course Fox News where people of subhuman intelligence deliver a brand of non-reality to the fundamentalist Christian Crowd and those who floundered at Grade 4 but just know there’s “something wrong” out there. The WSJ would welcome a screed from a right wing former PM non-practising economist who succeeded in preventing fed scientists from publishing anything he did not approve of, and providing “handlers” at conferences just like Stalin. A rather notorious right wing git hisself, Murdoch prides himself on running the Tories behind the scenes in the UK.

    There in England, clearly discombobulated in his address to the nation this past Sunday night, Tory PM Boris Johnson urged: “You should go to work if you can’t work from home.” And because social distancing cannot be guaranteed on buses and trains, he added: “If possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle.” All to start on Wednesday, causing chaos and plenty of non-social distancing yesterday. Pictures abound. I spent some time reading the Guardian, whose journalists and management seem shocked and highly aggravated by the crap government Boris is providing for England. The commenters merely use swear words not fit to repeat here. I confess I found the situation there somewhat frightening to contemplate, nearing madness. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are excepted, because they are run by different sane people on the health front. See, they are separate countries to some degree.

    For shocking Canadian entertainment, and overlooking Legault and Gallic logic I simply do not understand as Quebec sinks below the waves, a Doug Ford who is doing better than anyone ever dreamed he would, we travel west to the Twilight Zone of Alberta, the province with the second highest per capita rate of viral infection after Quebec. Provided you’re not a Calgarian or Brooksian, however, today you can get your hair cut and tonight go to a restaurant, eat and get blind drunk in public. The new Covid-19 outbreak in Northern Alberta was dismissed by a bovine-sounding kenney with a “Lets’s be reasonable here …” Gotta keep the tarsands work camps going, come what may. The world is crying out for dilbit, for heavens’s sake!

    Meanwhile, in New Brunswick, which has essentially escaped the plague scot free because it’s not a place anyone wants to visit, being a conduit to places people do want to travel to, is under far more restrictions than Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. Nobody’s going to wrest the title of CV-19 Champ away from Premier Higgins, he’s bound and determined. Border controls there are strict, and he couldn’t care less if they’re unconstitutional, taking a so sue me approach. With Quebec and the US next door, who can blame him? In Nova Scotia, which is about two-thirds as badly off as Alberta, restrictions are still mostly in place, and unlikely to change much for a further 28 days, we’re told. So who’s got the brains and who’s a dummy? Time will tell. Quebec is three times as bad per capita as Alberta and Ontario which are tied, and all are sort of re-opening. Beyond my ken.

    Unfortunately, so far as Alberta is concerned, it does rather look as though the province is sunk. Whatever platitudes kenney spouts for the faithful, the “oil” industry is done. Short, sharp and quick. Even without Covid-19, the low world oil price has done what nothing else could – stop the tarsands. Being run by ideologues, no empathy for the population is on the cards, no coming together in a social context. Rather, you’ll have the right wing decimate the place with pitiless austerity, and hundreds of thousands face ruin with real estate pricing collapse. Luckily for the latter folk long-term, they live in a country called Canada, and can pick up and leave for greener pastures. Gopher holes, cattle, grain and tens of thousands of abandoned oil wells and hundreds of square miles of tailing ponds will be all that remains of the glory boom and bust days. Too bad. It could have turned out so much better but for lack of vision. No doubt “world class ecomomists” from the Fraser Institure and U of C will delight in lecturing farmers in future. But imagination and forward vision is not part of the Conservative mindset – shovelling raw resources to America was the limit of their brainpower, while regression and a longing for the “good old days” is all that they covet, and all we “libtards” can go hang. We will, presumably free of Alberta pols telling us we should run Canada the way they have Alberta, while being amazed the idea never really took hold.

  4. Yesterday the IMF said taxes should be raised on the rich and lowered on everyone else.

  5. Harper was tossed out of office on his derrière bilingue, because Canada didn’t want him any more. Mintz isn’t elected either, because he’d quickly be minced at the polls. And so they hide behind Kenney’s apron, who by the way is a fan of hiding abroad whenever the heat is on in Alberta’s kitchen. They belong together, but not in the dystopian future Gulag Alberta of their dreams. Let them drool over inflicting pain on the citoyens somewhere we else. Can we ship them to a remote, disused oil sands camp? They’d find plenty of the discomfort and pain they enjoying inflicting on others…heat and forest fires in the summer, great swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes. Yes, this could work, for the publick good. Summer camp for dictators, all allowed under Covid rules.

  6. When Kenney-Harper-UCP deepen and enlarge their cuts to government spending, as per Mintz et al, causing a deeper and longer AB recession due to more unemployment, what’s the best shorthand name for their current *conservative* economic insanity?

    Would be great if we could find something that more clearly signifies another round of *conservative* economic insanity than was found in the 1930s, i.e. the ‘Bennett buggies’ signifying “conservative” economic policy insanity

    EXCERPT: ‘After the prosperity of the 1920s, people who couldn’t afford gas for their vehicles hitched horses or oxen to their cars and called them Bennett buggies to mock the prime minister who had been elected on a promise to bring an end to the depression. Bennett was often perceived to be unaware and unresponsive to the economic problems facing Canadians.’

    Leader-Post, Regina 23 May 2014

    history here:

    AB economy will need every bit of spending possible to reboot and bring jobs back.

    Kenney-Harper-UCP would again be engaging in economic insanity to make more spending cuts that bleed more spending out of economy.

    1. My suggestion for a “shorthand name for their current *conservative* economic insanity” is AIMCOed. As in: They really AIMCOed Alberta. They AIMCOed the hell out of LAPP. #ABLeg, #dontpullout, #AIMCOfail,

  7. Brilliant analysis, DC. With respect to Dr Mintz’s qualifications as an economist, I was struck by this claim in his article: “Taking into account skill levels and other factors, Fraser Institute studies have estimated that public sector employees earn a wage premium equal to 12 per cent for comparable jobs. Normally, those with job security would be paid less not more than those facing risky outcomes.” That last sentence has to be 180 degrees backwards. To the extent there is better job security in the public sector (in some cases true, in some cases, as we have seen recently with school board employees, not) it can be explained easily with classical economics: public sector workers who enjoy better job security and better compensation are in high-demand occupations. The pay as we know was hard-won. The job security is not some kind of “gift” from their benevolent employers.

    1. Mintz is a graduate of the University of Alberta and was tenured professor at both Queens and the University of Toronto. He grew up in Edmonton. He is practically a heretic.

    2. When times are good, oilpatch workers made out like bandits, with five-figure year-end bonuses not unusual. Meanwhile, even when oil was $100/bbl, public sector workers’ wages have been constantly under restraint. We haven’t seen those big, greater-than-inflation increases since the final years of the Klein era, when his government was pouring money into public services to recruit nurses and teachers from elsewhere in Canada & around the world to accommodate a population boom.

      Instead, we’ve seen our real purchasing power slowly eroded by inflation while our wages have been frozen for years. And now, just while Canadians are nice again finding out how valuable their teachers and health care professionals are, these UCP dinosaurs are calling for even more public sector wage rollbacks? It makes you want to tear your long, uncut, raggedy hair out.

      1. Those same high paying oil-patch jobs drove the average weekly earnings index up – which resulted in some negotiated public sector wages going up, too. It was never the other way around.

  8. I posted a link to this story before, but it’s always worth perusing again. The Great Calgarians, and make no mistake, that is who calls the shots in this province, see themselves as a benevolent elite whose magnanimity should determine how everyone else lives in Alberta. The guest list and photos for this emission from Posteriormedia’s own offspring cloned from Hedda Hopper’s personal garbage can is a super-emetic. The War Room’s Tom Olsen, Tailgunner Jay, Craig Chandler, etc.
    Years ago my Dad gave me a column to read from the Sun. I think it was written by Jack Peach, but memory does not serve particularly well. Regardless, it was the story of how badly the Great Depression had affected even Calgary’s better people. A little boy’s family had been affected so badly by the economic down-turn that he had to wrap a piece of wood and pretend it was a toy donation in order to take part in his local charity drive for the poor. Never mind the kid on the receiving end of a piece of firewwood in lieu of a toy, think of the pain endured by our betters when they can’t afford to toss us whatever they feel they can spare!
    The Alberta version of neoliberal (crypto-fascist, surely?) fantasy equates the work of people who keep the effluent flowing away in the sewers, and the iv bags flowing and traffic lights working, with wedding planners and people selling artisanal pigs-in-blankets. Meanwhile, a gathering of a thousand Great Calgarians is able to come up with $500 a head in lieu of the taxation of billionaires and multi-millionaires. We’re not worthy!

  9. It seemed just last year, the UCP could afford tax cuts to large corporations, no talk about reversing that so far. Now the talk is about how we can’t afford public services, probably in part because maintaining them might jeopardize being able to brag about Alberta having the lowest corporate tax rates in Canada. This isn’t people first, in fact it seems a bit backward in that way. What is wrong with this picture?

    So the usual Conservative chorus is out making a full court press for their latest half baked idea. I suppose if they push it hard enough the hope is enough Albertans will buy it, or at least accept it. Expect to see a few or more articles in support of this to pop up “coincidentally” in those media outlets sympathetic to the UCP and their federal cousins. The argument we can cut our way to prosperity does not stand up well to scrutiny, so of course don’t expect much scrutiny of this fom those media outlets. It will be mostly cheer leading fluff. I suppose the target audience is those suffering, the campaign’s tactic in part being misery loves company, so lets create more misery and somehow we will feel better.

    I am always amazed by the lack of wealth of business experience the reliable Conservative spokesmen have – Mr. Harper, who I think briefly worked in the mail room of an oil company before a long career in politics. Mr. Poilievre, seems to have gotten into politics at a young age and seems to be making it a career and Mr. Mintz, who seems to be comfortably ensconced in an academic institution. He claims to be an economist, but seems only slightly less partisan than Mr. Poilievre. For the sake of truth in academia, the University should change his official title to Conservative shill, as he seems to be a regular and constant one, often in seeming co-ordination with Mr. Harper or other party luminaries.

    I bet Mr. Morneau, the Finance Minister they all love to deride at times actually has more real world business experience than all three of them combined. None of these three guys would recognize the private sector, even if they were handed a broom and told to clean the floors at their local Tim Hortons – they would be dumbfounded. They are living, breathing examples of the insulated, disconnected Conservative elite and know little, perhaps nothing about the real economy. The sooner Albertans and Canadians figure that out, the safer our economy will be.

    1. Mourneau’s real world experience involves working for his dad and marrying into one of the country’s wealthiest families.

      1. “… involves working for his dad…”

        So he does have more real life work experience than Jason Kenney.

  10. I am sure all the elected leadership in Canada are glad, be they a hair centre-left or far to the right in persuasion, that pay for nurses and other public sector workers doesn’t triple every time oil hits $95 a barrel. If the members of AUPE stick it out when putting a satchel over your shoulder and hitching rides all the way to McMurray in a boom year when burger flippers are suddenly being paid like plumbers and plumbers like pirates, would be more lucrative.

    But wishful economics being what it is, and memories being short, Albertans will continue to suffer this government at least until the end of this term.

  11. I couldn’t agree more, David. The neoliberal ideologues appointed to Kenney’s “Economic Recovery Council” have been sent forth to try to shore up their crumbling regime. These are the trumpet calls of a campaign to turn back the wave of appreciation for the work of public sector workers that has arisen with the Covid-19 pandemic, and to retrench the neo-cons’ decades-old strategy of pitting private sector workers against public sector workers.

    The United Conservative Party government will continue to wage war against public goods and public employees, using the debt incurred during the pandemic as a tool of division. “Here’s the quid pro quo for a sales tax, Albertans: slashing public services and sticking it to the fat cat public sector workers.” “After all,” says Jack, “why should anyone have a secure pension and good benefits?”

    This is a plan to weaken trade unions and push down wages. It’s an attack on women’s employment. It’s an attack on the whole working class disguised by a populist rhetoric of ressentiment.

    If this is what Kenney’s Economic Recovery Council has in store for us, they might be unprepared for what we have in store for them. These intellectually and morally bankrupt attempts by the old boys to scapegoat public sector workers and privatize public goods –at the very moment when we need them most—belong in the dustbin of history.

    They have no answers for the crises we are living through, and no vision for a better future.

  12. “after coronavirus, government will have to shrink.” That is always the case and it is always the plaintive wail; after, the state has gone into debt backstopping and bailing out private capital and a failing economic system. Yet, the taxpayers never tire of the endless charade, the tiresome quasi-intellectual burps and farts of professional do nothings, and the endless economic voodoo peddled by partisan corporate hucksters, masquerading as academics.

    The dead end kids must know they have a problem when private investment capital starts walking away:

    “One of the world’s largest investment funds says it will exclude four Canadian oilsands producers after concluding they produce unacceptable levels of greenhouse gas emissions.”

    There is, of course, always the bank of last resort:

    “Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Premier Jason Kenney see a need for $20 billion to $30 billion injected into the province’s oil sector.”—

  13. From Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian: “It is an unwillingness at the top of government to see our society as a collective where everyone matters rather than, say, [merely] a herd.” No, UCP goons, “some of us are [not] more equal than others.” The men who pick up our garbage are actually more important to our everyday survival than any CEO or Premier, or PM. Our immediate and continuing health depends on these people much more than on any of you.

  14. Was Philip Cross more than a “fellow” when he was a senior economist with the Federal Government?

  15. Cuts to public services, to public spending by govt, are medieval ‘blood-letting’ economic idiocy in a recession but reducing the size of govt to give control of our economy to private interests is their ideological agenda, so of course Kenney-UCP-Harper gov’t intends to do that.

    EXCERPT: Cutting government spending when the economy tanks makes things worse. Reducing spending might seem sensible because that is how households deal with cash shortfalls. But applied to entire economies, it’s like medieval bloodletting to cure the patient. Money, like blood, must circulate. Remove money from the economy and it gets sick, just as with taking blood from a person. That’s why it would be foolish to follow Wisconsin state Sens. Steve Nass and Duey Stroebel’s advice to cut public employees’ wages. That would reduce demand at the very time the economy needs more money circulating.’

  16. When there is a cyclical downturn, the opportunity cost of higher education is lower than usual–an important consideration in a province where PSE participation has been historically lower because people were drawn by all the well-paying jobs in the oil fields. WHen, in addition, there is also a structural downturn–because of permanent changes on both the supply side and the demand side of the petroleum industry–it is doubliy important to give citizens improved access to higher education. And of course, I dont need to explain why health spending should be maintained while an ageing population is suffering through a global pandemic. Or do I?

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