Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at his largely news-free news conference in Calgary yesterday (Photo: Government of Alberta).

No fiscal reckoning for health care – just yet, anyway – Alberta premier tells largely news-free news conference

Posted on March 03, 2021, 1:23 am
8 mins

O Budget, where is thy fiscal sting? O Premier, where is thy fiscal victory? 

From 2016, when he first cast his eyes on Alberta provincial politics, until a few weeks ago when his polls slipped into the basement, the words “fiscal discipline” and “fiscal reckoning” were often on Premier Jason Kenney’s lips. 

Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu at the same event (Photo: Government of Alberta).

The first was going to be imposed by Mr. Kenney’s government on Alberta; the second was to be the result of that imposition. 

It wasn’t going to be pleasant, but like bad-tasting medicine, Mr. Kenney crowed to his supporters, it was going to be good for us.

Yesterday, Mr. Kenney stood up in front of a display of headache tablets in a Calgary grocery store’s pharmacy aisle and tried to change the tune without actually changing the song. 

That is to say, he was trying again to change the narrative about what’s eventually coming, without actually changing too many of the details. As noted in the coverage of last Thursday’s provincial budget, though, the global coronavirus pandemic and parallel economic downturn have played merry hell with Mr. Kenney’s planned schedule for imposing harsh discipline on Alberta. 

There seemed to be very little actual news at the premier’s news conference beyond the effort to rebrand the UCP plan for stinging fiscal discipline as a historic investment in health care. 

With Finance Minister Travis Toews and Health Minister Tyler Shandro supporting him, the premier earnestly assured Albertans he has no plans to bring a fiscal reckoning down on the health care system – just yet, anyway. 

Naturally, he engaged in a bit of ritual Ottawa bashing, blaming the Trudeau government for Alberta’s vaccine delivery problems – a story that grows less persuasive as vaccine doses flow into the province faster than the province can get them into arms. 

Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Mr. Kenney’s only concession to the fiscal reckoning of old crept into his response to a sympathetic reporter’s question about implementing a sales tax. “The next big challenge in front of us,” he said, will be “coping with COVID, the pandemic and recession, and while at the same time operating more efficiently.

“And here’s the bottom line,” he went on. “We get to 2023, around the time of the next provincial election, we currently expect to have a deficit in the range of $8 billion and by that point … to have found savings through some really tough decisions that will bring us to the average spending amongst major Canadian provinces.”

Between the lines, this sounds very much as if the government has given up on its plan to cut programs for now, but to achieve as much of the same savings as possible through layoffs and wage rollbacks in the public sector.

That, of course, is a formula for labour strife, which the UCP may well think it can win, and use to defeat the NDP challenge to boot. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Government of Alberta).

But that’s for later. Right now the prescription calls for a course of soothing anodynes to calm jittery Albertans, both those hunkered down anxiously awaiting a COVID-19 vaccine and those angry at any restrictions. 

To that end, Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu was also at the news conference, assuring anyone listening that “the government of Alberta has been our partner and supporter through all of this, ensuring that our health care system had the additional support it needed.”

As for the tieless trio from cabinet, their symbolic lack of neckwear was presumably meant to make the point they’re getting down to business about lives and livelihoods, as the UCP’s ubiquitous new plum-coloured signs proclaim.

And good for Mr. Kenney that he can get his cabinet ministers to behave themselves. Even Mr. Toews had a smile on his face, belying the rumours he and the premier had some tense conversations behind closed doors about the speed and severity of the fiscal reckoning.

Central Peace-Notley UCP MLA Todd Loewen (Photo: Facebook).

As for the premier’s caucus, though, things don’t seem as amiable. 

At least five UCP MLAs yesterday published nearly identical social media posts complaining that their constituents pleas for a Texas-style total pandemic reopening are falling on deaf ears and the premier doesn’t even tell them about his plans.

“As an MLA, I learned about yesterday’s announcement the same time and way as most Albertans did,” complained Todd Loewen, Central Peace-Notley, Drew Barnes, Cypress-Medicine Hat, Angela Pitt, Airdrie, Ron Orr, Lacombe-Ponoka, and Michaela Glasgo, Brooks-Medicine Hat. The post seems to have originated with Mr. Loewen.

The rebels’ tone was defiant, and even mildly threatening. “I will take the concerns of my constituents back to my government colleagues in hopes it will make a difference,” they all concluded.

And if it doesn’t? 

They didn’t provide an answer. 

Uh-oh! Cancel culture comes to coal! 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (Photo: Mark Garten, UN).

Every planned coal project on earth should be cancelled to end humanity’s “deadly addiction” to the most polluting fossil fuel, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday.

Thereafter, thermal and coking coal should be phased out in the West by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040, Mr. Guterres told the Powering Past Coal Alliance conference.

In addition to cancelling all global coal projects now “in the pipeline,” the Secretary-General urged an end to international financing of coal plants and a global effort to provide a just transition for coal industry workers everywhere. 

So, yes, that would include open-pit ethical metallurgical coal mining in the Rockies, in case you were wondering.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage might want to keep that in mind when she does her planned review of Alberta coal policy, whenever.

15 Comments to: No fiscal reckoning for health care – just yet, anyway – Alberta premier tells largely news-free news conference

  1. Dave

    March 3rd, 2021

    Yes, Mr. Kenney seems to have toned down his rhetoric and even seems to be cutting back on the cutbacks a bit for now. At this rate, perhaps he can go online and find a good deal on a sweater vest, only slightly used, by previous owner relocated to Calgary from Ottawa. Kenney also seems to be avoiding the cake aisle on his most recent outing, perhaps finally heeding the concerned advise from Brian Jean about healthy eating. Understandable though, if all of this is leading him to the headache medicine aisle instead.

    If there wasn’t enough headaches, the rebels seem to be becoming a bit bolder. Perhaps it was the gang of five stirring, also leading him towards pain medication. Mr. Kenney might still have grand plans over the next few years, but if he hasn’t already figured it out other things happen while some people are busy making plans.

    Reply
  2. !?

    March 3rd, 2021

    Can we please talk about the eastern elitist foreign radical anti-coal activist for a moment please: He was advocating for funders to realign behind alternative energy just as Alberta needs them now to back coal seam dreams. Traitor! Jason needs to rein in the UN Special Envoy on Climate and Finance – Mark Carney.

    Reply
  3. Abs

    March 3rd, 2021

    The most interesting thing about Jason Kenney’s appearances now is the subliminal messaging in the background. From protein drinks, to cake to headache tablets, what is he trying to say now? Pain tablets for the giant pain in the derrière? That Jason and his UCP are like the migraine-inducing Chinook wind that blew into Calgary on Monday? That he can taint many more businesses with his painful appearances than anyone can imagine? No pain, well, no pain?

    2023? Hahahaha! The premier should watch out for those freedom penguins that like to march on the legislature. Although it is March now and things are getting a little melty, look at what young Australians are doing.

    https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/09/11/australian-teens-class-action-climate-lawsuit-coal

    Now let us have our vaccines and exit stage right.

    Reply
  4. Bull Malcolm

    March 3rd, 2021

    Yet another pic of the invincible and uncaring kenney posing in public in a goddam store (or other public place) without a mask on while he puts verbal polish on his turdish budget and pollcies. Try that in NS or NB, jason, posturing like an idiot without a mask indoors. Jaysus, talk about being idiotic — it never ends with this man. Nor, apparently, with some of his followers, judging by the previous comment.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    March 3rd, 2021

    I know it, and we all know it. Ralph Klein was the one who started to make a mess of healthcare in Alberta, with the cuts, the layoffs of the nurses, the neglect of maintaining our hospitals, among other things. This was so he could force private for profit health care in Alberta. The UCP are off to finish that job. Here’s a bit of proof. Janice MacKinnon was on the UCP’s Blue Ribbon Panel. She was an NDP cabinet member in Saskatchewan, and the NDP government there had to fix the big mess made by Grant Devine’s PC government. She closed down rural hospitals in Saskatchewan, just like Ralph Klein did in Alberta. The UCP picked her for their Blue Ribbon Panel, so they could make excuses for privatization of health care in Alberta. It will be another bumpy 2 years in Alberta, under the UCP.

    Reply
  6. Hana Razga

    March 3rd, 2021

    If I may, Jason Kenney should not be seen in public without a tie. Very unappealing look. There, got it off my chest.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      March 6th, 2021

      You know, I almost hate to say this, because I think JK’s such a [insert diminutive of Richard here], but if it’s wrong to comment on how women in public life dress, it’s equally wrong to comment on how men in public life dress.

      There are far more substantive issues on which to legitimately criticize Mr Kenney. Whether he wears a colourful strip of silk around his neck isn’t one of them.

      Reply
    • Athabascan

      March 6th, 2021

      I’ll go one better: Kenney should not be seen or heard in public. There, fixed it for you!

      Reply
      • Anne

        March 7th, 2021

        Sigh. But men and women aren’t equal. So comments about dress are different. Any one in public life ought to put the best foot forward, obviously. Women are stuck being judged to a ridiculous degree on appearance, but not men. So I agree with Hana, Kenney looks sloppy.

        Reply
  7. Kang

    March 3rd, 2021

    Of course, they would like to silence the calls to raise royalty rates and corporate tax rates, but that is exactly what is needed. Royalties are set by what amounts to regulation and can be raised and lowered anytime Cabinet chooses, just as they chose to lower corporate tax rates not so long ago.

    I should also point out a legal precedent established by the Harper Cons when they took the Canadian Wheat Board away from farmers. In Federal Court, one step below the Supreme Court, a group of farmers (The Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board) demanded $17 billion in compensation for the value of the CWB. Ottawa’s lawyers agreed that the CWB had been entirely paid for by farmers and had value, but said that Parliament is supreme, and since the legislation taking the CWB had no provisions for compensation, no compensation was owed to the farmers who paid for it. The Federal Court, dismissed the farmer’s case.

    Through a convoluted legal process, the farmers appealed this decision to the Supreme Court who declined to hear the appeal. This reaffirmed the legal right of Parliament, and the Legislature to take, without any compensation to the owners, any corporation, property, interest, or brand value it chooses.

    So, the Government of Alberta certainly has the legal authority to raise royalty rates, tax rates, or simply seize the assets of non-compliant companies without compensation.

    Reply
  8. Covkid

    March 4th, 2021

    Let’s not forget that this photo op takes place at Calgary Coop that decided to forgo its relationship with Federated Cooperatives in western Canada and, instead, purchase their groceries from the impoverished Jim Pattison of Save On foods. This resulted in the layoffs of about 200 positions at the Co-op distribution centre in Calgary.

    Reply
    • Kang

      March 4th, 2021

      Good point Covkid: As with the Alberta Wheat Pool and the Canadian Wheat Board part of the Con game plan was to place Quislings within those organizations to sabotage them so their cronies and handlers in the private sector could pick up the organization on the cheap. In health care the saboteurs are elected.

      Reply
  9. Mickey Rat

    March 4th, 2021

    “Thereafter, thermal and coking coal should be phased out in the West by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040, Mr. Guterres told the Powering Past Coal Alliance conference.” DJC, are you being a little disingenuous here? Mr. Guterres said nothing about metallurgical coal in any of his statements, it was all about energy, specifically electricity from coal – thermal coal. Coking or metallurgical coal is almost exclusively used for steelmaking.

    Now I’m not in favour of removing mountaintops and polluting water supplies for any kind of coal but as a good journalist you shouldn’t be distorting, unintentionally or not, what the Secretary General of the UN says. This is where journalism has failed us, opinion stated as fact – fake news someone called it. A little over half of the coal mined in Canada is metallurgical coal so we’re not doing perfect but not bad either. BTW the only commodity which can replace thermal coal in the near-term is methane, i.e. LNG.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 4th, 2021

      There may have been some disingenuity involved, Mickey, but it wasn’t mine. I also read this story in the Guardian which certainly leaves the impression that coking coal is being targeted by the Secretary-General as well. On reading it a second time, it is not crystal clear about that, so maybe there’s some jiggery-pokery going on, or maybe not. I’d say the jury’s out about that because coking coal used in steel production certainly does produce carbon outputs both when it is being extracted and when it is being used. It’s not as if it’s clean simply because it’s used to make steel. The problem, of course , is that we have to make steel, and how the hell are we supposed to do that without coal? There are alternatives proposed, and certainly steel can be recycled in electric-arc ovens, but this is pretty airy-fairy at the moment. It would of course be good if all thermal coal production were stopped even if coking coal continued to be mined. By the same token, it would be good if a viable alternative to using coking coal could be produced. But for the moment, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Guterres did have metallurgical coal in mind. If he didn’t, I blame the Guardian, just as Alberta’s Mr. Kenney blames Justin Trudeau. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. DJC

      Reply
  10. Alan K . Spiller

    March 4th, 2021

    I still remember Ralph Klein’s comments “Albertans aren’t smart enough to understand our plans for health care reform so we aren’t going to tell you what they are”. It cost him his job and it should have. Kenney has proven that he is even worse than Klein and has done enough damage already.

    The big question my true conservative friends and I have is why haven’t these fools who elected him been smart enough to demand a leadership review ,like they did with Klein ,and kick him out?

    Reply

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