Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in the cake section during yesterday’s news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Jason Kenney chooses the cake department to unexpectedly announce one-time pandemic ‘bonus’ for front-line workers

Posted on February 11, 2021, 1:48 am
8 mins

Was Jason Kenney channelling Marie Antoinette when he appeared in front of an Edmonton grocery store’s cake counter yesterday to announce a one-time $1,200 pandemic payment to front-line workers?

Many of the front-line workers risking COVID-19 to deliver us services from health care to retail confections may be badly paid, but they’ll have a little extra cash soon, and the pastries looked delicious, so why not let them eat cake? 

Alberta Labour Minister Jason Copping, now sporting a sinister pandemic beard (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Whoever the Alberta premier was trying to channel, it was pretty clear that the decision to finally hand out the predominantly federal cash, which seemed to have been organized rather hastily, was a desperate attempt to change the channel on Mr. Kenney’s recent political woes. 

What with sun-seeking MLAs, that pipeline-cancelling American president, a popular uprising against his government’s plan to lop off some mountain tops to mine coal, and now an open rebellion by a couple of COVID-denying MLAs on the loony right of his disunited United Conservative Party Caucus, Mr. Kenney has suffered an undeniably catastrophic start to 2021. 

So why not try to change the channel and let Justin Trudeau pay for it? 

Presumably that was the conclusion of some bright spark in what’s left of the premier’s strategic brain trust – diminished by recent resignations, lateral moves and, in the case of Mr. Kenney’s well-travelled chief of staff, a politically necessary firing.

Mr. Kenney did his best to keep a smile on his face at his news conference as he and Labour Minister Jason Copping, now sporting a sinister pandemic goatee, talked up the plan to distribute $465 million to some 380,000 Alberta public and private sector employees classified rather haphazardly by the government as “critical workers.” 

Recipients of what the premier termed “bonus pay” will include health-care, social services and education support workers in the public sector, and grocery store staff, food production workers, and other private-sector employees who earn less than $25 an hour. 

They can’t be certain they’ll get the money, however, as their employers must apply to the government by March 19 for them to get the payments.

To qualify, recipients will need to have worked at least 300 hours between Oct. 12, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021 – a determination, presumably, also to be made by their employers. 

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, as painted by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty in 1775 (Image: Public Domain).

“We trust this support will help these workers continue to protect lives and livelihoods as we keep fighting this pandemic together,” said the premier.

The government’s news release mentioned the federal government in passing, but passed rather lightly over the fact the bulk of the cash will come from federal funds for top-up payments for low-paid essential workers that the UCP government has left lying on the table for months. The provincial share will come to $118 million.

But for the most part, even the tight controls applied at UCP virtual news conferences nowadays couldn’t keep journalists from focusing on the defiance of MLAs Drew Barnes and Angela Pitt, who signed on Tuesday with something called the End the Lockdowns National Caucus to undermine the UCP’s half-hearted effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

UCP issues managers and their ilk were quick to complain about this lack of interest in the actual topic of the news conference by the journalists who called in to yesterday’s effort in the cake shop. 

Normally, this would seem fair. But under the circumstances, the most important part of the story was arguably its political motivation, and why it was being announced now after nine months of foot dragging on distributing the federal cash. 

It’s the government, after all, that sets the rules for its rigidly controlled events, with their short time spans, limits on questions reporters may ask, and pro-government columnists usually available to run out the clock on their competitors’ tougher questions. 

Mr. Kenney seemed testy when asked if he would allow Mr. Barnes and Ms. Pitt remain in his caucus. 

As Mr. Barnes predicted yesterday, he will. 

“We have a wider latitude for MLAs to speak their views in this province and in the party I lead than perhaps is the case in other parties and other parts of the country,” the premier said piously. Given his well-known micro-managing tendencies, this seems unlikely to be the reason. 

Nor are questions about the program necessarily going to please the government. 

Dean Bennet of the Canadian Press asked: “As you stand there today offering $1,200 and saying to public sector workers, ‘we’ve got your back,’ at the same time isn’t your government pursuing with these unions cuts to their salaries, 3 per cent or more? So how do you square that … when your government plans to claw back that and a whole lot more starting with the budget two weeks from now?”

Mr. Kenney’s answer: “This is a one-time payment, a bonus of sorts, to recognize a one-time unique circumstance.” As for the planned cuts, he went on, “Money does not grow on trees. … We have to protect the health of the province’s finances.” 

Well, around here money only grows on federal trees, at any rate. 

It is true, though, that no one had a chance to ask why front-line workers like jail guards and social workers, employed directly by the provincial government and at great risk from COVID-19, were denied the payments. Or why the rules don’t allow the 26,000 front-line education workers who were laid off last March to qualify. 

As for Mr. Kenney, it seems distracting Albertans from his string of recent disasters won’t be a cake walk. 

He can take comfort, though, from the knowledge that in 21st Century Canada his troubles will never be as bad as those of the 18th Century French Queen whose purported remark about cake we remember still. 

21 Comments to: Jason Kenney chooses the cake department to unexpectedly announce one-time pandemic ‘bonus’ for front-line workers

  1. Bill Malcolm

    February 11th, 2021

    Silly bugger still doesn’t get it. Publicly maskless indoors in a bakery? Spouting jason-speak as supreme leader or not, that would be a big no-no for any pol around here — we all have adapted to understand the mumbling.

    Of course, being a man known for his well-chosen homey backdrops, OUTDOORS last March ole unca jay wore an N95 mask and blue nitrile gloves when handing out sandwiches HE didn’t pay for to the great unwashed at Hope Mission. Gotta watch that Covid!

    https://albertapolitics.ca/2020/03/no-one-should-fault-jason-kenney-for-his-hope-mission-photo-op-but-that-n95-mask-is-another-matter/

    Reply
  2. Al Gold

    February 11th, 2021

    You’re right. Sending a message with the allure of food really gets the point home. The smell of a loaf of bread in the oven, tables of cheeseburgers spread out enticingly, or cake for hard workers so critical they may be terminal. What can go wrong. Well, I think Kenney’s expert panel of image branding staff must still be in Hawaii and leaving the hard work of optics to the premier. But hard as he tries, our premier’s problem is that he’s never met Kenney.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    February 11th, 2021

    The UCP is trying to redeem themselves for the many major errors they have done. They are doing it predominantly with money that comes from the federal government that the UCP despises so much. I can hardly wait for 2023, when the UCP get thrown out.

    Reply
  4. ayeamaye

    February 11th, 2021

    “We have to protect the health of the Province’s finances”
    Giving us a 24 Billion dollar deficit…the largest in Alberta history, Which is over and above the 56 billion dollar operating budget. Jason Kenney campaigned as an economic genius but in reality is just a Svengali, a Populist Demagouge who doesn’t have a clue how to LEAD, just campaign to get himself elected. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode where the campaign never ends. Thus the cake shop announcement.

    Reply
    • Hana Razga

      February 11th, 2021

      Yeah, we have to protect the health of the Province’s finances by betting $1.5 billion on Trump’s election victory!

      Reply
  5. tom

    February 11th, 2021

    Apparently that latitude for letting MLAs speak their minds didn’t extend to letting them even be present for the debate on the abortion clinic bubble zone bill. Maybe Mr. Kenney likes to have his cake and eat it too.

    Reply
  6. Public Servant

    February 11th, 2021

    Smoke and mirrors.

    Kenney can’t disguise his contempt for workers when he smirks after being asked about the wage cuts he wants for them. This “bonus” wouldn’t pay for one of Kenney’s stays at the Banff Springs resort.

    Money does grow on trees. How else could we afford billions in corporate tax giveaways, billions on a high-risk bet that Kenney’s hero Trump would be re-elected, millions on the embarassing war room, millions on Kenney’s obscene pension, and on and on…?

    Let them eat cake indeed.

    Reply
  7. tom in Ontario

    February 11th, 2021

    “Money does not grow on trees …We have to protect the health of the province’s finances.”
    Nevertheless, the arboretum of the rich leafs out far and wide. After billion dollar tax cuts in jurisdictions run by Blues Brothers Kenney and Ford, millionaires and corporations have prospered all the way to the bank. In Ontario Ford cut a measly one dollar minimum wage increase and as the blogger reports, Kenney does his best to roadblock one time payments and cut the salaries of front line workers.
    Which proves the old adage time and again, “the poor have too much money and the rich don’t have enough.”

    Reply
  8. Abs

    February 11th, 2021

    I guess I’ll be boycotting Sobeys now that mini-Marie has caked us. Is cake on his keto diet? The meat department might have been a better keto choice, what with the state of Covid in Alberta’s open-for-business slaughterhouse industry.

    Reply
  9. Bruce

    February 11th, 2021

    Is that a wee bit of Twinkie” cream on his tie…..?

    Reply
  10. Abs

    February 11th, 2021

    It should be pointed out that because MA Kenney has chosen to make employers responsible for applying for wage top-ups, many people will be left out, even if they have worked the requisite hours.

    Not only might some corporations decide that this process is too onerous for them, or cuts into their benevolently-bestowed time, many workers in these types of essential but underpaid jobs string together a living from multiple jobs with multiple employers. So unless all income comes from one source only, too bad, so sad. These workers are child-like, and incapable of applying for the benefit themselves, in the eyes of MA Kenney. Proving hours and income with pay stubs, and applying for the benefit themselves? Nah. Pat them on their precious little heads. Aren’t they cute? Now running along, darlings.

    Reply
  11. David

    February 11th, 2021

    We have to protect the province’s finances. What was he doing when he gave 4 billion in tax cuts to big corporations shortly after getting elected?

    Tax cuts that will do nothing because it didn’t create any jobs. Now spending predominately federal money on essential workers where it will be spent quickly and will help small business.

    But still planning on cutting 11,500 health care workers in the midst of a pandemic though. Bass backwards!

    Reply
  12. Hammer

    February 11th, 2021

    Money may not grow on trees when it comes to Govt employees, but it sure in hell does when it comes to half cocked inquiries, ” warrooms”, and the Granddaddy of them all, the KXL.

    Reply
  13. Dave

    February 11th, 2021

    I’m not sure how our Premier initially stumbled upon the cake department – maybe he has a sweet tooth, or he discovered it through stress eating. Perhaps Brian Jean can tell us more about Kenney’s eating habits. In any event, I suppose using private companies and perhaps unwitting employees as a backdrop for government announcements is nothing new for the UCP. It appears this is part of the faux populist image they try to create, you know getting out and about, although I am not sure if getting a cake really quite comes across as man of the people.

    On the more substantive side, I do agree with the criticisms of this. First, it took so long. This mostly Federal money has been sitting unused by Alberta for at least over six months, I think while most other provinces used it more quickly. Second, it seems to focus mostly on private sector employees. It is good they are included, but I think the original intention was that much of this would go to people like health care workers who had to deal with COVID patients or whose job was impacted directly by COVID.

    I also do wonder if the absence of Kenney’s chief of staff is causing PR events like this one to run less smoothly. Of course, Mr. Barnes, Ms. Pitta and whomever else is in their group are also caucus issues that need management. Perhaps his former chief of staff was more diplomatic, I can’t see the Premier’s blustery approach working well here either. Therefore, I doubt this possibly growing gang will be easily silenced and may even become emboldened. Kenney seems to be somewhat losing his grip on them, so perhaps there will be more late day trips to the cake department and more stress eating for him in the near future.

    Reply
  14. Jimmy

    February 11th, 2021

    His Facebook of November 6th 2020 gave Sobeys a mention.

    Reply
  15. Jimmy

    February 11th, 2021

    Does a belated announcement really merit a photo op? He did in Lacombe last August to announce an internet speed up. Maybe a dairy next time. Say cheese – pun intended.

    Reply
  16. Brett

    February 11th, 2021

    Isn’t that the stale bread area where Kenney is speaking from? Yesterday’s bread.

    Reply
  17. Just Me

    February 11th, 2021

    Jason Kenney surrounded by cakes.

    Sounds like his Field of Dreams.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 12th, 2021

      No matter which way you slice it! DJC

      Reply
  18. Valerie Jobson

    February 12th, 2021

    Poor old Marie Antoinette never said it, I think the same story had been told about someone else before her time. And she was slandered by the 18th century France version of twitter trolls hoping to be hired as issues managers.

    Reply
  19. Bill_L

    February 12th, 2021

    Considering what he is doing to our beautiful Province, he should choose being filmed while sitting on the toilet.
    The level of ineptness from this buffoon is inexhaustible.

    Reply

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