Alberta Politics
It should be a crazy week under the socially distanced dome of the Alberta Legislature (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Canada, keep your eye on Alberta — it’s not going to be pretty, but it should be instructive

Posted on July 28, 2020, 2:34 am
9 mins

You can just tell it’s likely to be a crazy week in Alberta politics.

To understand just how crazy, you have to think about what the Kenney Government is noisily focusing on, and what is actually happening.

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

In the Legislature, Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party government are busy ramming through a couple of bad laws — one setting the stage for further privatization of public heath care and the continuation of the government’s mid-pandemic war on physicians, the other designed to reduce the rights of working people in the name of cutting “red tape” and to hamstring unions by smothering them in the same stuff.

Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, will allow businesses to run medical clinics that treat doctors as employees, let private surgical clinics be fast-tracked and permit the Health Ministry to write contracts with doctors to cut the Alberta Medical Association out of the process.

As AMA President Christine Molnar asked in a letter to her members yesterday: “Could this support a scenario where all physicians’ funds for a particular specialty are given to a for-profit corporation, resulting in the physicians having no option but to seek employment from that corporation to practice their specialty in Alberta?”

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Bill 32, the tendentiously named Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, would allow employers to avoid paying minimum wages, deny employees overtime pay in the form of a “work averaging” scam, and try to force unions put every single activity not defined by the government as basic labour relations to a membership vote in which each member was assumed to have opted out. The goal is to immobilize unions with red tape. The bill also includes provisions that make organizing unions harder, breaking them easier and picketing ineffective.

I don’t, in my career as a lawyer, in this House, recall ever seeing a bill that breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as many times and in many ways as Bill 32 does,” remarked Opposition Leader Rachel Notley.

But don’t expect fulsome debate in the Legislature. Both bills have already passed Second Reading and UCP House Leader Jason Nixon has given notice the government will use closure to limit debate on both to two hours if the NDP Opposition tries too hard to illustrate the flaws of the bills in the House.

Naturally, debate is less likely to do the government harm if it’s restricted to partisans yelling at each other on social media, letting Premier Kenney get the session wrapped on Thursday.

UCP House Leader Jason Nixon (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

At the same time, the government is pushing ahead with its plan to reopen schools in September with less funding than last year and no thoughtful safety plan to counter the spread of COVID-19 among children beyond a wing and a prayer that Alberta can somehow pull this off first and Mr. Kenney can look great for whatever job he plans to go after next.

Probably the only things that could stop this jerrybuilt back-to-school plan now would be a mass refusal by parents to send their kids go back, or a wildcat teachers’ strike. Both seem unlikely, but neither is impossible.

Meanwhile, the story the UCP would very much like all of us to ignore, the resurgence of COVID-19 in Alberta, proceeds apace thanks to Mr. Kenney’s hurry to be the first Canadian premier to completely reopen his province’s economy.

“The curve is no longer flat in Alberta,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at yesterday afternoon’s daily COVID-19 briefing. This may sound faintly illogical, but I think we all understand what she was trying to say. To wit: the progress of the coronavirus disease is trending upward again, and if we’re not careful we’ll end up in the same fix as Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and the other places Mr. Kenny looks to for his economic and social models.

Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

How bad is it? Not quite as bad as some predicted on Friday, but not great. There were eight more deaths and 304 new cases on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the highest level of active cases in the province since May 10.

Remember that with this disease infection spikes lag dumb decisions by about two weeks. The government sent large numbers of civil servants back to their offices yesterday, so we can probably expect an increase in cases as a result of that by mid August.

On the other hand, Calgary starts mandatory masking in public spaces on Aug. 1, a policy conspicuously not supported by the UCP, but that may create an improvement by mid-month for which Mr. Kenney can claim credit.

Finally, on Aug. 27 the government plans a one-day debate on Finance Minister Travis Toews’s quarterly fiscal update, which is expected to be dire. The result, almost certainly, will be austerity, austerity, and more austerity, with the possibility of another tax cut thrown in. The chances the government will acknowledge reality and impose a sales tax are, it is said here, nil.

Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

We Albertans, of course, are going to have to live with this stuff. But it’s important for Canadians in other provinces to pay attention to what’s happening here too.

After all, Alberta is the test bed for what they will be subjected to if the Conservative Party of Canada somehow manages to get another kick at the national can.

When Stephen Harper and the CPC were run out of power in 2015, Alberta was the place they retreated to nurse their grievances with a Confederation that didn’t see much benefit in a rigidly neoliberal future.

When Mr. Kenney, Mr. Harper’s loyal retainer and chief lieutenant in Ottawa, became premier here last year, they imagined Alberta would be the beachhead of their campaign to regain the government of Canada.

It’s hard to believe that what they’re doing here on a policy level will play in Prince Rupert, Peterborough or Pointe-Claire, but Canadians still need to be alert to what happens when ideological fervour and dangerous incompetence are mixed during a real crisis like the one caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The result isn’t pretty, as we’ve already seen south of the Medicine Line. Keep your eye on Alberta too.

CORRECTION: Mandatory masking in Calgary takes effect on Aug. 1, the debate on the fiscal update will take place on Aug. 27. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this post.

13 Comments to: Canada, keep your eye on Alberta — it’s not going to be pretty, but it should be instructive

  1. Dave

    July 28th, 2020

    To paraphrase a famous political statement, one person’s red tape is another person’s health, safety and labour regulations. Ok not totally original, but I think it makes the point. I’ve never understood why the right has been almost ceded a monoply on pithy sound bites. The type that might get the attention of the majority of voters who are not interested in longer much more drawn out political debates.

    I do think Kenney’s radical experiments which he tries falsely to portray as just a return to PC happy days will be noticed to some degree by the rest of Canada and that will not be good news for the Federal Conservatives. Although, at least one of their main leadership contenders has had some sense to distance himself a bit from Kenney. I suspect the Kenney reactionairies will become the victims of their own success much like Harper’s government was. They could appear a bit more moderate when constrained by a minority, but showed their true colours after getting a majority and they were out of step with the country.

    I suspect the UCP in its haste or zeal is also starting to become out of step with Albertans too, with nothing to really constrain it. After all, a majority government can do what it wants to a large extent. It takes a while for people to realize what they voted for – a deficit that is a bit lower and an economy doing a bit better is not what they got. In fact so far it is the exact opposite. Yes, the UCP will have many cleverly worded speeches to explain this failure, but I think failure is what the majority voters will ultimately see it as, including some who voted UCP last time.

    Reply
    • Carlos Beca

      July 28th, 2020

      Hi Dave

      Good comments but just one warning – I doubt the majority of voters will ultimately see it.
      That can happen in a normal environment but the UCP is no longer a party and never was in my opinion, it is a cult and to admit errors in cults takes its total destruction or ban and that is not likely to happen.
      Jason Kenney is a bully and a con artist and this will destroy the province before his fans stop supporting him.
      Unfortunately many people are planning to leave rather than witnessing this burning of such a wonderful place.
      I am one of them – I cannot see that it is possible to mount a solid opposition to all of this garbage. Alberta has never been a province with strong opposing skills and with most of the media behind them and a majority we are in horrible shape.
      Those that always opposed the Proportional Representation system because of their view that we need majorities have their dreams realized now.

      Reply
  2. Political Ranger

    July 28th, 2020

    ” … ideological fervour and dangerous incompetence …” seem to be the virus that conservatives all across N.America have caught.
    There will be no good outcomes from this. The darkness is falling.

    Reply
    • Gilles

      July 29th, 2020

      You are quite right

      It makes one wonder about mankind intelligence

      Reply
  3. Abs

    July 28th, 2020

    Let it be said that Monsieur le Kenney can make old people cry like no other premier in this country.

    After his remarks earlier in the year about The Expendables, Pepe Le Premier decided to visit some old folks for a look at people who don’t know how to die when they reach their 82nd birthday, or average expiry date of an Alberta citoyen. Perhaps he was looking for a basement to commandeer? He found he wasn’t welcomed with open arms by the people whose visits with their family members were cancelled due to his photo op. Seems they value their family members, certainly far, far more than they value a callous, opportunistic politician.

    “The average age of death from COVID in Alberta is 83, and I’ll remind the house that the average life expectancy in the province is 82,” he said a mere two months before this visit.

    Elephants have long memories and long lives, just like the residents of that facility, and their genetically long-lived offspring.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/premier-visit-millrise-1.5665302

    Reply
  4. TENET

    July 28th, 2020

    UCPidiots. I have no patience or tolerance remaining.

    Reply
  5. Murphy

    July 28th, 2020

    Welcome to the World’s Greatest Double-bind Psychological Experiment. Inculcation is the key! We’ve been taught that representative democracy, in mass societies is the most moral and practical of all systems. And yet, the Used Car Grifter-Yokel iteration of the Kon is precisely what one gets in this province. Covidmania is by far the most evolved scenario for paralyzing the “left” or “progressives” we have seen since the Second World War. Virtually every aspect of the post-war social system is being strangled to death in the name of Covid. Ford’s dream of online school came true, and the progressives are literally begging for more, as part of Covidmania. Public education in Alberta will be destroyed by Covid. Halving class-sizes, trying to force children to wear masks, which will result in any sane parent keeping them at home, etc., when Tailgunner Jay was already starving the system through tax-cuts pre-panic. I remain absolutely baffled by the degree to which people who should know better are willingly placing their necks on the chopping block for crypto-fascist neoliberals.
    Dumb decisions and a two-week interval? Funny how six weeks after every single public sphere was either closed or implementing the pseudoscientific kookery rituals, we experienced the highest daily totals of positive tests. And now, with the young people who are simply not at a high risk of severe outcome, ignoring the kookery, we still can’t quite get to fifty percent of those numbers from April and the only people dying are very, very, very old, and very sick. Did all those twenty-somethings in Calgary who tested positive kill all the old people in the Edmonton care homes?
    Reason, we hardly knew ye.

    Reply
  6. pogo

    July 28th, 2020

    Ah yes! Thin mansplainin’ how creative destruction isn’t some zero sum game for all the right folks! Mmm yummy! https://youtu.be/P3fYwWlb4Wo

    Reply
  7. Just Me

    July 28th, 2020

    This paves the way for a US-style HMO industry, which was an unqualified disaster in many instances. (Yes, dental HMOs actually killed their patients because of faulty wisdom teeth extractions.)

    In the end, I presume the UCP wants to be more like Arkansas, because slavery is a “necessary evil”. It should be noted that Kenney also got a selfie with Sen. Tom Cotton (R. ARK) at the National Prayer Breakfast recently, so it’s a matter of time before the UCP begins proclaiming the glories of the Antebellum and the heroism of the Confederacy. (Bonnie Blue flag…Huzzah! Huzzah!)

    I expect to see the Ministry of Health abolish the College of Physicians and Surgeons because…standards, schmandards.

    The Law Society of Alberta a likely target? Wouldn’t that be fun?

    Open conceal and carry should level the playing field in no time.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      July 28th, 2020

      I think you can have open carry, or concealed carry, but the idea of combining them sounds novel. DJC

      Reply
      • Just Me

        July 29th, 2020

        Some states do allow both because…FREEDOM!!!!

        Reply
        • Eric

          July 30th, 2020

          Freedom..?
          Is that when ppl have no right to their own safety, bec. every nut bar & wing nut is armed, & maybe calling the cops isn’t a good idea either, bec. they’re trolling the public for a beat down..
          There’s no freedom in that.

          Reply
  8. Athabascan

    July 29th, 2020

    Lesson: How to steal the leadership of a party, vilify gay teens in high schools, steal an election from a competent scandal-free female Premier and her party, and bankrupt a province.

    Reply

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