Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alberta’s United Conservatives: They can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

Well, Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP wasn’t the first political party to discover turnabout is fair play, and it’s unlikely to be the last.

United Conservative Party Caucus Deputy Executive Director Ryan Hastman in 2011 when he was the federal Conservative candidate in Edmonton Strathcona (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Still, it was amusing to watch UCP activists and staffers clutching their pearls on social media Monday night and yesterday as word got around the Alberta Federation of Labour planned to name and shame businesses that make big donations to political action committees bankrolling the UCP agenda.

It wasn’t the shaming bit that seemed to bother the angry government supporters and staffers – it was the political B-word: Boycott.

Or as the AFL described the purpose of its website — — giving Albertans “the information they need to make informed consumer choices.”

Some UCP supporters asked plaintively: How could you kick businesses when they’re down? Don’t you know we’re in the middle of a pandemic?

“It’s hard to put in words how crappy this is,” tweeted Ryan Hastman, deputy executive director of the UPC Caucus. “For shame.”

“It is an attempt to intimidate businesses (who are suffering through tough times) from participating in the political process,” huffed former UCP nomination candidate Len Thom in a supportive tweet. It was Mr. Thom, alert readers of this blog will recall, who in a politically ambitious moment once promised “to get rid of nanny state speed limits on secret provincial highways.”

Mr. Thom, presumably, would prefer that we forgot the AFL’s boycott call targets only businesses that donated to political action committees to circumvent the province’s NDP-era political financing laws, which prohibit donations by companies and unions and impose limits on the size of donations.

One well-known mainstream media commentator, experiencing a pearl-clutching moment of his own, called the AFL campaign “McCarthyism,” surely the lamest take of the day. The tweet appears to have been deleted, so we won’t name the usually sensible tweeter to protect the guilty.

Former Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Well, these are tough times, it goes without saying, that are being used by Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP as an excuse to kick significant numbers of Albertans while they’re down — not least among them recipients of Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, education support workers, public university employees, the working poor, and outspoken women brave enough to speak up against the government’s policies.

“Why should a nurse, a teacher or a firefighter buy a car from an auto dealer who wants them to be fired or have their wages cut?” asked AFL President Gil McGowan in the news release announcing the website.

He went on: “Why should Albertans who believe in a strong public health care system and a strong public education system patronize a business that is cheerleading cuts and privatization? Why should workers spend their hard-earned money in establishments run by people who want to suppress their wages, eliminate their overtime, silence their voices and limit their rights?”

Indeed, why should any Albertan who wants a secure retirement do business with any donor to the generously funded Conservative political action committee called Shaping Alberta’s Future that’s been trying to persuade us to let Premier Kenney grab our Canada Pension Plan?

It’s important to remember when we contemplate this uproar that Alberta’s conservatives have not exactly been strangers to the idea of boycotting businesses — or even whole provinces — when the idea suits them.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Who can forget the boycott of Tim Hortons coffee shops for yanking a pro-pipeline advertisement from its in-house ad screens? If memory serves, Premier Kenney and other big-name Conservatives quickly jumped on that bandwagon.

Or what about the successful boycott of Earl’s Restaurants for replacing Alberta beef on its menu with beef from the U.S. that was “certified humane”?

Then there was Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen demanding that we all cancel our Globe and Mail subscriptions because the newspaper ran an op-ed by an animal rights activist, Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda and Premier Kenney suggesting we boycott HSBC when the bank decided not to lend money to new oilsands projects, or the boycott ginned up by UCP activists of Lush Cosmetics for the company’s opposition to new pipelines.

Mr. Kenney, of course – and his predecessor, the NDP’s Rachel Notley – seemed to think that boycotting the entire B.C. wine industry was a fine idea. And if that didn’t work, Mr. Kenney vowed to “turn off the taps” to the whole province next door.

Yet the same people now want us to think encouraging some Albertans not to do business with companies that finance PACs that support a government bent on putting nurses and teachers out of work, declaring war on doctors in the middle of a pandemic, privatizing public services, ending consumer protections for car buyers, and gutting our pensions is somehow shameful.

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

Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt!

Nothing could be more Albertan than a politically motivated boycott of a business you don’t agree with. It’s just that — quelle horreur! — we don’t all disagree with the same things.

I’m not persuaded the AFL’s website will be all that effective, or cause any of those businesses much pain. And if there’s a unionized company on that list, the AFL is sure to hear about it from its own members.

What’s more, similar unauthorized efforts by NDP supporters have gone awry before, as in 2011 when a staffer in then Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason’s constituency office threatened to launch a boycott of an Edmonton rental company that was putting signs for the federal Conservative candidate in front of rental properties he owned in the nearby federal Edmonton Strathcona riding. (Mr. Mason shrugged it off, as any sensible politician would.)

The Tory candidate in question? Why, none other than Ryan Hastman!

So, is this an outrage? Not a chance. And it doesn’t hurt businesses that enthusiastically support the UCP’s worst policies to know their customers are paying attention.

Join the Conversation


  1. For a bunch of populists, the UCP sure hate it when populism is directed against them.

    Of course, Kenney can get all imperious and declare that he is the duly elected premier blah blah blah.

    In the end, nothing distresses donors more than being caught donating in exchange for political favours. All those car dealerships didn’t throw money at the UCP because they were being charitable — they wanted in on the goodies.

    Now that the UCP is relying on federal aid because their donations dried up, things are starting to look critical for them in the war chest.

    Not to worry. Now that there’s a “handyman” in Ottawa, Kenney may feel the urge to take his angry midget act to where the pastures are greener.

    1. Its not populism. Its capitalism. And I think there should be more of it.

      Its ironic that progressives want to get rid of something that has these sorts of checks and balances. There needs to be these sorts of checks and balances applied to government unions to save our democracy.

        1. Since globalization, government unions have turned into purveyors of votes to, well any party they figure can payup after the election.

      1. Hey Brett,

        Here’s a novel idea: Why don’t we apply a system of checks and balances for the UCP government so we can preserve democracy for Albertans. Let’s start there.

  2. Ouch, this hurts the Used Car Party right in the chassis a bit, don’t you think?

    Well they don’t call them the Used Car Party for nothing. They were quite succesful in getting money from certain businesses and industries with certain political interests, over the last few years.

    Well that was then and this is now. The economy is not doing well, so some of these businesses might not be so free with political contributions now or in the future. Also, UCP popularity has taken a hit and I suspect even some used car dealers have noticed the UCP is looking more like a clunker than a shiny new model these days.

    So UCP political contributions were already a bit wobbly. I doubt this boycott will hit those businesses who contributed before too hard, but it does give some past contributors a good reason to say no the next time the UCP bagman comes calling, or potentially even worse for the UCP for those contributors to try hedge their bets.

    Personally, I think PACs in Alberta were getting way out of hand anyways, so perhaps some good might come out of certain businesses being more careful about throwing around money like candy to a favored child. I suspect the golden era of UCP fundraising is now over and that is what is really upsetting the UCP most about this.

  3. All this talk of boycotts is not productive. I think that the UCP may have stumbled on the correct answer in their Bill 32. That is the Act that deals with union dues. In that Act, to quote from the Government web page: “Employees will be able to opt-in to pay the portion of union dues that go towards funding political parties and causes.”

    Why not make that apply to all? That way, if I want to purchase a Toyota Corolla, I could either go to an Edmonton Toyota dealership that is not listed on the AFL site and buy a Corolla, or I could go to a Calgary Toyota dealership that is listed, but I could get a break on the price of the Corolla, by saying “I don’t opt in to the portion of the costs that go towards funding political parties and causes.”

    That sounds completely reasonable to me.

    Then again, I drive right-hand-drive vehicles from Asia.

    Oh, full disclosure – I am not looking to buy a Corolla. I am in the process of importing one of these :

    1. To my knowledge, in 2011 only the local Ford dealer in Vegreville publicly refused to join the Motor Dealers Association effort to bankroll UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s campaign through the PAC scheme. “Although we are a member of the MDA, we have chosen not to contribute to the ‘Shaping Alberta’s Future’ 3rd party marketing campaign,” wrote Vegreville Ford Principal Brian Baron in a Facebook post at the time. “Our position is that we do not feel that this action supports what we feel the MDA’s or our purpose should be. Vegford is nonpartisan and it neither endorses nor supports financially any politician or political party. Our job is to take great care of our customers and our staff. We care about Albertans and we vote, but in a world that is already too divided, we feel no need to engage in controversy.” I don’t know how Vegford feels about right-hand-drive automobiles. DJC

      1. I am likewise unaware of any other dealers with the courage to publicly refuse to donate to the UCP, but when I looked at the map on the AFL website there were several dealers in SE Edmonton missing. My guess is they just ignored the entire issue.

        1. Ditto in Grande Prairie: none of the GP Auto Group or Revolution Auto Group dealerships are on the list, & neither are the other Ford dealer in the city, nor either of the GM dealers or the Toyota dealer. There are probably about a dozen dealerships here, and only three are on this list.

  4. I went through the list last night, eagerly looking for businesses to avoid. Sadly there was only one that I might occasionally patronize, but will now avoid.

    As I went through the list, I was struck by the number of car dealerships on the list. Clearly the dealership organization had success convincing its members to contribute. Since my focus was for businesses to avoid, I may have missed a few exceptions, but I never saw many Mom & Pop type operations that you think of when you think of struggling small businesses.

    The website also lists how much money each business donated to the PAC. The most common amount was $5000 – hardly something a struggling small business could afford.

    Since there were very few businesses everyday consumers could punish, I don’t think this list will have the impact on vulnerable businesses the UCP says it will. What it will do, however, is make small businesses owners hesitate to make donations in the future, especially if their business is of a nature that is vulnerable to a boycott.

    The UCP overreaction, then, is not about protecting vulnerable small business; it is about protecting their donations.

    1. The amounts don’t seem random. I would suspect that for $5.000, $10,000, $20,000, … you get increasing levels of access to UCP ministers.

      David, I couldn’t find any mention of how the AFL got this list.

  5. David, I am not sure how you feel about naming businesses, so I saved that for a separate post that is easily moderated out

    The business I will avoid is the Canadian Tire in Millwoods. It is easy to miss; the other Canadian Tire locations have the same products and the same price.

    Missing from the AFL website is Vienna Bakery in Edmonton. While I guess it did not make a donation to one of the PACs the AFL targeted, it did host Jason Kenney for him to make his minimum wage announcement.

    1. Some businesses that have partaken in Kenney photo ops have received emails from their customers reading, “Due to your decision to play politics with the UCP, I will be taking my business elsewhere.” Most people act without sending a courtesy email. They have a choice and so do their customers: to Kenney, or not to Kenney.

    2. I noticed that Canadian Tire store, too. To be fair, it seems to be not the store itself, but the franchise owner which made the contribution. I’m perfectly happy not to shop there, anymore. I don’t buy much from CanTire, their “money” is a bad joke (I estimate 1/2% rebate or less), and when I go there what I want is usually sold out. So–no loss.

      1. You are exactly correct, Mike, it is only that one particular CT store. That is what makes it so easy to avoid; Canadian Tire devotees don’t even have to give up their store, just the one location.

  6. The AFL has found Jason Kenney’s kryptonite. There’s nothing like turning off the UCP tap to send a message. The little man from Oakville didn’t count on this. He thought maybe he could crush a general strike, but this? This is a strategy that worked extremely well for Gandhi against the British. You know, in India, the place Kenney associates with “cow dung”.

    In a TV interview yesterday, presumably staged to take the heat off the boycott list (seriously, who announces that they will do something about the current situation in 20 years, providing that voters return them to office five more times first?), Mr. Kenney decried anyone who boycotts his donors as un-Albertan. That’s rich: some guy from Oakville calling Albertans whose families have lived in Alberta for six generations un-Albertan. He’ll be the judge of that!

    Believe it or not, some Albertans of the long-time and many generations variety, had already been boycotting Kenney’s contributors without fuss or fanfare. No one can force you to buy a “not-un-Albertan” car made overseas or in a factory in the U.S. Nobody can force you to eat food in a restaurant. People make choices. Choices have consequences in a democracy. Teachers, nurses, doctors, and public servants still have the right to free choice and independent thought, as do the rest of us. For now. The nanny state cannot shove cars and fast food down our throats.

    It should be very interesting when we get to the passive resistance phase. That was part of Gandhi’s plan, too.

  7. I’d like to boycott organizations whose employees are forced to contribute to the AFL. Oh wait, I can’t as most work for government run essential services or monopolies.

    I’d also like to boycott organizations that contribute either directly or through forced employee contribution to pro-NDP PAC’s like the ironically named PA / PP whose Alberta chapter is run by DK. Oh wait, I can’t as most work for government run essential services or monopolies.

    1. Sir: in point of fact, the union representing most Alberta provincial public services, AUPE, is not a member of or affiliated with the Alberta Federation of Labour. So, your statement is based on ignorance.

  8. Thanks for such a great blog. The big question that remains is the donors list to the premier of Alberta isn’t there. Who were the donors? We know the NDP did ban union and corporate donations to political parties in Alberta. Also, the UCP reversed things, and does allow corporate donations to political parties in Alberta. Furthermore, without union and corporate donations, the NDP has gotten more donations to their party than the UCP has. This shows that the UCP are likely on their way out in 2023.

  9. As any market-fundamentalist grifter/yokel will tell you, vote with your dollars. Unless you vote against grifter/yokels. The McCarthy bit is too rich, given that the grifter yokels will actually refer to Notley’s neoliberal-lite as communists, reds, pinkos, etc. Man, I am getting tired of waiting for the extinction-even asteroid to end this madness.

  10. I had a look at the AFL web site earlier. As Bob Raynard noticed, many of the donors were car dealerships. They might end up regretting that, if the Covid-19 downturn continues. Who’s gonna buy all those gas-guzzling half-tons after the next round of oil patch layoffs?

    One other thing. Is anyone surprised at the high number of donors identified in Calgary? The downtown core disappeared under red flags….

  11. Today, during another one of his plentiful photo-ops, Kenney went off about the NDP hate-machine and it was a thing of beauty. Not a beauty in the sense that Kenney offered a coherent and credible response to the assault on the UCP’s policy agenda over the last 18 months. Rather, Kenney went off, becoming hysterical, and playing the victim card.

    While Kenney’s conversion from angry midget to poor muffin was hard to fathom, what he was concealing was that the damage is being done to the UCP is real and he’s begging the opposition (which right now is close to 2/3rds of the province) to stop beating on him.

    While the question of the future of AISH remains in doubt, one thing that is certain is that the UCP has been alarmingly tone deaf during their ideology crusade to make whatever is inside Kenney’s head reality.

    One thing we can take away from Kenney’s scene is that we all know now the reason why he’s still single. Alberta is beginning to come to grips with the reality that Kenney is the worst boyfriend ever.

    1. I agree, it’s such a shame people tend to be so short sighted. 40 billion dollars in bribes from the ndp reign has had the affect of coalescing the rent seekers vote and sentiment towards the ndp, even if it isn’t readily apparent how it could be extended into the future.

  12. What a great article.

    That is great at displaying the hypocrisy and ignorance of the progressive set.

    “a government bent on putting nurses and teachers out of work, declaring war on doctors in the middle of a pandemic, privatizing public services, ending consumer protections for car buyers, and gutting our pensions”

    The above statement is propaganda at best. At worst it is a firmly held personal belief. After all, its not what you dont know that hurts you. Its what you think is so that isnt.

    Some truisms provide context:
    Around the globe, and since humanity left Eden, the extent of available government services is based on a societies ability to pay for them.
    Government services tend to cost more than services provided by the public sector. There are different and justifiable reasons for this, however it remains a truism.
    People work hard or less hard, use or use less based on incentives and disincentives.

    Government services rely on taxes. Taxes provides a disincentive to productive work. If you want to maximize productive work then there is a maximum amount of taxes to affect such a thing.

    This is not unusual, for instance there is a positive relationship between an amount of lawyers in a society and an efficient economy. However, past a certain percentage of lawyers the relationship becomes negative.

    Now the evidence we have to resolve is that of the budget deficit. Two conclusions are possible. We are taxing too little or the government services cost is too high.

    If we were taxing too little. industries and people would be flocking to Alberta.

    That is not what is happening.

    Deal with it.

    1. Another fine neo-Marixist analysis with a little JM Keynes thrown in. Alas, your ‘truisms’ are not statements of fact. Take the idea that privately provided services cost less than the same service provided by government. Once you add in the necessary 40% or so profit and R.O.I. required by a sustainable private enterprise, there is lots of room for a government service or enterprise to cost less. Without government regulation, the cost of private enterprise seldom includes ‘externalities’ like pollution, bill padding, cutting corners on services, and the like which are typical of the private sector.

      Now to your nod to JM Keynes. For a profitable business, taxes provide an incentive for the business to invest in plant and equipment to avoid taxes. This produces the virtuous circle of increased productivity for the business and the spin-off benefits to those businesses providing the better plant and equipment. Think of it as the “paradox of Keynes” when it comes to corporate taxes. Premier Stelmach’s five buck carbon tax has moved Alberta from 80% coal fired electricity down to around 25% now.

      Lastly your bromide about individuals working only for monetary incentives is just partially true. People also work for the self-fulfillment of producing something of value, social connection, and identity. In my experience the very best and most skilled work only for those reasons.

      1. Ill start at the bottom. I never said people only work for money, and neither does the argument require it. And in your discussion about taxes it seems you agree with the incentive/ disincentive portion.

        I agree, taxes are government holding their thumbs on the scales of markets and changing prices. The issue is that when governments start setting prices the first price that is set is the price of the government(this is not a good thing).

        As to, “Once you add in the necessary 40% or so profit and R.O.I. required by a sustainable private enterprise, there is lots of room for a government service or enterprise to cost less.”

        Business in a competitive market dont always make money. And that is the benefit. Consumers choose the service they want to pay for and companies which provide the service at the price they want to pay are successful, the others are not. Now what can you say about an unsuccessful government? Well, they borrow 40 billion dolllars from their children.

        1. The point of high corporate taxation is to force companies to invest in the future. Alberta is now facing the consequences of a low tax, low royalty environment for big business. Kenney and the UCP are not wise enough to see that process for the downward spiral it is even though they have given it a push with their tax cuts and privatizations. Aside from the now much needed super-lab, the Notley NDP were too timid to take action.

          Your understanding of how the economy works has not conformed with reality for at least 120 years. Once you take farmers out of the equation, independent business is simply a trivial distraction from the real economy which is run by a handful of giant companies known to many economists as “the invisible giants.” Free enterprise is one of those “great in theory, but cannot exist in the reality of an industrial economy” things people like to believe in to give themselves a sense of control. But the sky is not falling and it is never too late to take corrective action. Join a union or trade association and vote. It worked for the used car dealers.

          1. So, high tax environments are great for business? How does that explain the business exodus from NY state? How does that explain the Celtic lion?

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