UCP leadership candidate Travis Toews, sixth from left, MLA Searle Turton, in black shirt and jacket, and Building Trades of Alberta leaders yesterday (Photo: @BuildingTradeAB/Twitter).

Probably more than a few politically alert Albertans choked on their post-prandial drinks last night when they noticed a tweet from the Building Trades of Alberta mentioning that Travis Toews had just dropped by their Edmonton office for a friendly chat. 

Mr. Toews jumped aboard the anti-vaxx bandwagon with this image (Image: @ToewsforAlberta/Twitter).

According to the tweet, the BTA officers at the afternoon meeting complained about at least one part of the tendentiously named Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, likely unconstitutional 2020 UCP legislation that heaps red tape on unions and tries to make it difficult for working people or organize to bargain collectively. 

The message thanked Alberta’s former finance minister for listening “to concerns over recent labour leg that hinders our ability to donate to communities we live & work in through charities & non profits,” one of the many negative impacts of Bill 32, as the law is better known. 

Mr. Toews, of course, is now the United Conservative Party’s establishment candidate to take over from Premier Jason Kenney next fall and as such stands a good chance of inheriting the job and then having to face off against NDP Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley in the next general election. 

Given the harsh rhetoric about unions from UCP circles for most of the past three years under Mr. Kenney’s leadership, though, this news will probably put some folks right off their eggs and bacon this morning in both union and UCP circles. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess, and Mr. Toews had someone pick up the phone and call BTA’s officials to see if they were up for a meeting. That someone was probably Spruce Grove-Stoney Plain MLA Searle Turton, named “private-sector union liaison” by the Kenney Cabinet in May 2020, who tagged along to yesterday’s get-together.

UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith in her Wildrose days (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The folks at the Building Trades, obviously, said yes. 

This kind of thing isn’t exactly unheard of in politics, of course. Eight building trades unions endorsed Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party during that province’s election campaign in May, causing bitter division in the labour movement and undoubtedly helping Mr. Ford win a second term. 

And back in the day, Alberta building trades unions had senior officials with PC cards in their pockets and Conservative MLAs’ numbers in their Rolodexes – a practice they felt helped keep the worst ideas of anti-union construction employer lobby groups from becoming law. 

Alert readers, too, will recall that not long before the 2015 provincial election, PC premier Jim Prentice met with public-sector labour leaders, promised not to roll back their members’ wages, and agreed to repeal controversial legislation that would have restricted union activity. In the event, that gesture didn’t prevent an NDP victory on voting day. 

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley when she was premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And back before the 2012 election, then Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith – now one of Mr. Toews’s rivals for the UCP leadership – called on some public sector union leaders looking for support, or at least neutrality in her campaign against PC premier Alison Redford. 

Still, the UCP has been so relentless and self-righteous in its attacks on unions under Mr. Kenney’s leadership that Mr. Toews’s social call has to be a surprise. 

Some Building Trades leaders may have gotten the impression the candidate was unhappy about the red tape created for them by Bill 32. But it’s hard to believe that as minister of finance directing negotiations with public sector unions Mr. Toews didn’t know exactly what is in the legislation, which was foreshadowed by the UCP platform on which he campaigned.

A UCP government, the platform promised in 2019, would “protect workers from being forced to fund political parties and causes without explicit opt-in approval.”

And now he considers restrictions on donations to charitable causes by unions to be red tape? This seems unlikely. 

Ms. Notley’s chief of staff, Jeremy Nolais (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Building trades unions weren’t the only folks Mr. Toews was wooing yesterday. 

In the afternoon, he jumped aboard the anti-vaccination bandwagon that seems to be carrying most serious UCP leadership candidates now, tweeting a message that falsely claimed Ottawa says two vaccine doses are no longer enough, and adding that he says “enough is enough.” 

Calling public safety measures to control COVID-19 “meddling in people’s private lives,” Mr. Toews has now aligned his message with the screechy and paranoid anti-vaxx rhetoric of Brian Jean’s and Ms. Smith’s campaigns. 

“Campaigning for Premier on messages opposing vaccines for a highly transmissible virus is, perhaps, not a strong signal of leadership,” University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe observed coolly in response. 

“Toews proves he’s just as extreme as the rest,” scoffed Ms. Notley’s chief of staff, Jeremy Nolais. “No wonder your campaign is on life support.”

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17 Comments

  1. While the CONs are dealing with their own divisions between the Crazy and the Uber-Crazy, the NDP have their work cut out for them in keeping the support among the entire labour vote. As was the case in the recent Ontario election, Doug Ford divided the labour vote, grabbing the support of the industrial trades unions. Without a doubt, this traditional base of support for the Ontario NDP was not only lost to them, it was effectively abandoned by Andrea Horwath in her mad rush to find any kind of support from anywhere. It looks like the UCP is pulling the same move in Alberta, and they will likely repeat Ford’s own success.

    In regard to Rachel Notley’s own initiatives in support of labour during her tenure in the Premier’s Office, the glass can best be called half-full. Notley sought to institute desperately needed labour reforms; but when the going became hard, rather than argue the merits of their policies, Notley folded up. She neutered much of her own legislation and gave away far too many loopholes that left her programs impotent. Of course, unlike the UCP now, Notley didn’t have an oil boom to pad her arguments for the industrial trades unions. At this point, Mr. Toes can call himself a friend of labour and play the anti-union card time and time again. Clearly, oil booms make everyone stupid — that’s what the UCP is counting on.

    Meanwhile, Skippy Pollivere has decided to skip the debate in Calgary in favour of attending a fundraiser at Brett Wilson’s house. Wilson, who is notorious for being a mercenary partisan bag man for Jason Kenney and PMJT, is now looking to buy the influence of Pollivere. Judging my Wilson’s Twitter feed, he has been posting pro-Pollivere memes and other nonsense like a madman. I’ve always been of the belief that only the simple-minded and those with addictive personalities spend anytime on Twitter. Considering the abundance of crazy that comes from real people and the bots, social media will offer even more poison in an already toxic political environment.

  2. Travis Toews is just another pretend conservative and Reformer, and isn’t fit to be the premier of Alberta. Where did the $4 billion in federal Covid-19 aid money go to? It’s gone, without a trace. No records are there to show what it was used for. This is like Adscam, from Jean Chretien and Paul Martin on steroids. It’s worse, and by a very wide margin. Danielle Smith, Brian Jean, and the rest of the UCP leadership candidates are all the same. They aren’t like the true conservative we had under Peter Lougheed. Improper oil royalty rates, bad corporate tax rates, the most priciest shenanigans, lax environmental protection laws, and hacking apart our public services, like healthcare and education, just so they can privatize it. It’s Ralph Klein 2.0, with this bunch. Where is the sense in this?

  3. Speaking of Ontario, it’ll be interesting how/if the Ford government delivers to the trade unions that supported it. My sense is that they will try to in the early stages but will quickly buckle under pressure from the business lobby, which always holds the strings in a conservative government (and governments of many other stripes as well). One thing I can say about being in Ontario, we are are clearly easily fooled by conservative governments behaving badly.

  4. Mr Toews and other vaccine skeptics may have found some grist for their mill. To quote a CTV news article:
    “Alberta is reporting an unprecedented increase in ill-defined and unknown causes of death in 2021.
    That category is leading the way over dementia, which has been in the top spot since 2016, and COVID-19, which began adding to the death tally in the province in a big way in 2020.
    In 2021, ill-defined and unknown causes of death snagged the first spot with 3,362, up from 1,464 in 2020 and 522 the year before that, according to statistics from the Government of Alberta.”
    https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/majority-of-alberta-deaths-in-2021-attributed-to-unknown-causes-province-1.5975536

    Alberta is not alone. In the UK it seems hundreds of people more than usual are dying each week not from Covid, nearly 16% above the five year average. There are calls for an urgent investigation into the causes.
    https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19/latestinsights

  5. I certainly wish the MLAs I got to know were still alive to witness what they taught me. Everything they said has come true. These reformers will do anything or say anything to get elected and they don’t give a damn about who they offend. Trying to trick the ignorant Albertans and Canadians is all they care about. As David has pointed out bashing unions has been a national sport with these fools for years and trying to blame Ottawa for trying to control COVID is another one. They don’t give a damn about the lives that were lost. Of course getting rid of someone who threatens your chance to get re- elected like we saw with Kenney’s pal Jason Nixon when the people wanted to replace him and now with Poilievre it’s fair game to these guys, there is nothing democratic about them. Kicking out Andrew Brown when he was beginning to show signs of defeating Poilievre doesn’t surprise me. If they weren’t so dangerous it might be hilarious. Yet we still have seniors believing every lie they feed them.

  6. “falsely claimed Ottawa says two vaccine doses are no longer enough”

    “COVID-19: Canada to update its ‘fully-vaccinated’ definition” (Global News, June 14, 2022)
    “Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos: ‘Although two doses still protects significantly well against severe disease and death, two doses are not enough now to protect against infection and transmission. That is why we are transitioning now to an ‘up-to-date’ vaccination definition of what it means to be adequately protected against COVID-19.'”
    https://globalnews.ca/news/8919947/covid-canada-update-fully-vaccinated-definition/

    “It’s ‘high time’ that authorities revise definition of ‘fully vaccinated’: experts” (CTV, June 7, 2022)
    https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/it-s-high-time-that-authorities-revise-definition-of-fully-vaccinated-experts-1.5929898

  7. It is interesting Mr. Toews decided to drop by and visit the Building Trades of Alberta. I don’t know if it indicates he is desperate for support, he wants to present a more moderate image or he truly has some different ideas than what he and his party have enthusiastically embraced up until now.

    If anything, this leadership race has mostly been about fealty to the UCP’s existing ideology. If mistakes were made, most candidates would say they were mainly of tone, not substance. There are some occasional departures, particularly by candidates less likely to to win, but for the most part they stick to the party line. Interestingly, Mr. Toews seems to be the most establishment candidate and generally departs the least from the current UCP party line.

    I am not sure this situation is comparable to Ontario, where polls were fairly clearly predicting Ford’s re-election for some time and he actually decided a more moderate approach would work best this time. Here in Alberta, the re-election of the UCP is uncertain and leadership candidates seem to be outdoing themselves to either be somewhat right of centre or far right.

    I suspect someone told Toews he needed to get out and shake up his staid image a little bit, which was good advise, and so he did. I am not sure this will work, but regardless slightly over half of the UCP members were ok with Kenney and I suspect that is audience Toews is ultimately playing too.

  8. Mr. Toews obviously tried to smile for the photo op, but couldn’t quite manage it. The best he could offer was a pained grimace, reminiscent of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. As they say, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Grim is as grim does. Nice touch communing with the common folks by not wearing a tie — a regular commoner, one of the guys, but not a jeans-and-casual shoes guy on this mission. Someone has to remind the peasants who’s really in charge.

  9. Spotted Jason Kenney down at one of the Stampede events. It’s the usual thing: Kenney’s tossing pancakes around and pretending to be a premier, all the while trying to look relevant yet inconsequential. It seemed to me that it was at this time last year that the ‘Greatest Summer Ever’ was in full swing and Kenney was on top of the world. How things have changed.

    Now, he’s just another person into the cowboy cosplay and trying not to feel awkward about it. I presume that after the pancake thing was done, he was going to head over to Brett Wilson’s house and hang out with Skippy Pollivere. They would reminisce about the old days, when they were powerful men. And then they will plot about how to return to those halcyon days, when Canada trembled at the mere mention of their names. It’s strange that Kenney has hitched his wagon to Pollivere’s train, because it’s obvious that Pollivere is no master of the universe, like Kenney. Skippy needs guidance and the encouragement to stop doing stupid shite. Kenney is just the sort of master to guide him in the dark arts of politicking.

    Skippy skipped out on the Calgary leadership debate to boost Wilson’s special political fundraiser. No doubt Wilson was working the room, bidding those donation amounts up, and declaring that Skippy will eat PMJT’s lunch. As long he doesn’t mention his work working fetish, everything should be just fine.

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