Say what you will about the United Conservative Party, they wear their contempt for Parliamentary democracy on their sleeves.

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

Jason Kenney, the first UCP premier, handed out bright pink earplugs to members of his caucus in June 2019 when the NDP Opposition rose to do its job and debate a government bill intended to override collective bargaining rights.

This was decidedly unparliamentary behaviour, and never would have taken place in a Legislature run by grownups.

Criticized for the obvious disrespect of the Legislature, Mr. Kenney, who had campaigned on a promise to restore decorum to the House, blew it off the next morning as a “harmless and light-hearted attempt to boost government caucus morale after being forced to listen to the NDP’s insults, lies and over-the-top rhetoric for hours on end.” (Emphasis added.)

Yesterday, Danielle Smith climbed to her feet in the Legislature to respond to NDP criticism of the UCP Government’s aggressive use of “time allocation” to reduce the debate on a series of bills that have been assailed from many quarters, including some rural conservatives, as authoritarian and undemocratic.

During the current spring session, the UCP has used time allocation to stifle debate on Bills 18, 20, 21, and 22, and to pass the appointment of a new ethics commissioner with an obviously partisan history. Only 115 minutes were allocated to debate on legislation to dismantle Alberta Health Services, a policy that has profound implications for Alberta’s struggling health care system. 

Jason Kenney, the first UCP premier of Alberta, in 2019 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told the House that “the premier has shut down debate from the Opposition and all Albertans at least 10 times in the last four days. Our government used closure only four times in all four years of our term, and when we did it, it was after 10 times the amount of debate that this government has allowed on devastating laws that Albertans do not want.”

Razzing the premier during Question Period about reports of unhappiness among some of the government caucus members with the premier’s determination to push through bills that would prevent municipalities and university researchers from accepting federal cash, and allow cabinet to overturn local bylaws without due process, Ms. Notley continued:

“You know, it is ironic that this premier is subverting democracy in this House in order to subvert democracy in houses all across Alberta. Meanwhile, her own caucus is telling reporters they don’t understand her focus on these draconian laws no one asked for. 

“Very good question they have,” Ms. Notley added, moving to her question. “To the premier, is the real reason she’s ramming this stuff through because she’s gonna lose the support of her own caucus members, hearing from their own constituents they don’t like this?”

Premier Smith, wearing a rather unparliamentary Edmonton Oilers hockey jersey, responded: “Our caucus is unified. In fact, the extra time that they get” … she paused for some applause … “the extra time that the members take between votes, there was actually a push-up contest last night and the honourable member from Calgary-Shaw ended up winning it with 54 push ups!”

The Hon. Member for Calgary-Shaw, alleged by the premier to have executed 54 push-ups (Photo: Legislative Assembly of Alberta/Flickr).

“Mr. Speaker,” she continued, “we would be more than happy to be here for some constructive debate …” (Emphasis added again.)

Notwithstanding the performative give and take of Question Period, the answers of both UCP premiers are revealing: They don’t recognize the value of Parliamentary debate and will blithely shut it down on the fatuous basis that the Opposition party isn’t supportive enough in what it has to say. 

This, obviously, indicates contempt for the role of the Opposition, and not just the particular Opposition the government faces nowadays. 

As for the use of childish gimmicks like pink earplugs and push-up contests, their purpose would seem to be to show disrespect for Parliamentary debate. 

All that said, it needs to be observed that the NDP focus on Question Period doesn’t really do much to advance the cause of the Opposition in the House or the broader opposition to UCP policies throughout Alberta. 

Most voters, if they notice at all, dismiss it as inside baseball at best and childish shenanigans at worst. 

The NDP will have a new leader soon, and whoever that leader is, they need to finally develop a disciplined communications strategy that hammers the government daily inside the House and outside on three or four key issues. 

The UCP’s destructive and misguided dismantling of AHS to please its MAGA base, which is still wound up about COVID vaccines, would be an excellent place to start. 

By all means, debate the government’s terrible policies as best you can. But the task of the next three years is to persuade Albertans of the harm the UCP is doing, not to have fun in Question Period, which almost no one watches in its entirety and which is reduced to meaningless snippets by news coverage.

As for whether Rebecca Schulz successfully executed 54 push-ups, we’ll just have to take the premier’s word on that.

NOTE: I have skipped much context of the back and forth between Ms. Notley and Ms. Smith, and probably have included too much as it is. Those who are entertained by Parliamentary debate, as I am, can find the full exchange on pages 1655 and 1656 of Hansard. DJC

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  1. The UCP have an utter contempt for democracy, and it shows, on multiple occasions. The bills they put forth, including Bill 20, and many others, show that. Danielle Smith has made it even worse. The Alberta Legislature sittings, which were already the lowest in Canada, from an Alberta PC cabinet minister, Stockwell Day, cutting them down, have been reduced to hardly anything by Danielle Smith, and when there are sessions, the UCP treats it like an utter joke. In the Alberta Legislature, there were bad moments, with Ralph Klein’s abrasive behavior, but it is on a whole new level with the UCP. Handing out earplugs, guzzling booze, and so on, are as juvenile as it gets. This is what we have to put up with now in Alberta. Totally avoidable, if voters would have smartened up, and the media weren’t kissing the UCP’s butt.

  2. I remember speaking to a former NDP leader at an event I attended, several years ago. They said to me that the Alberta Legislature had much better behaved MLAs when they were there. It definitely has gotten much worse. I remember when Ralph Klein made a fool of himself in the Legislature. The UCP MLAs are expanding on that. Children do attend the Legislature, with their teachers, and they have to witness this juvenile behavior. A parent asks their child how school was, and what did they do. We went to the Alberta Legislature today. How did it go? A UCP MLA was drinking a can of beer in there. Childish behavior and no regards for democracy is the UCP way. The UCP are creating a style of government that any dictator from history would be proud of.

  3. Not to belabour the obvious, but the quality of those elected is a reflection of the quality of the electorate. If people really believe their side is more deserving of being in power, their anger and energy would be better directed toward getting the vote out than single-mindedly heaping scorn on the governing party, however justified the scorn might be. Such a focus, first and foremost, is not a condemnation of one’s foes, but of democracy itself.

    1. Ucp got 31 percent of eligible voters’ vote. Hardly a real majority or reflection of Alberta. Besides, part of refocusing is slam dancing and mocking the ruling party, get the eider raised. We’re organising. Comments are even a small but important part of that. Let the people speak, get mad, outraged and act. Absolutely must act. Enough is Enough

      1. The opinions of those who didn’t vote Simply. Don’t. Count. The UCP received a commanding majority of the votes the electorate actually cast

  4. I read yesterday even the mayor of the town that she lives in had had enough with this bill 20 nonsense.

    Dani pick up the phone your mayor wants to talk to you, oops you thought it would just be Calgary and Edmonton huh.

    Turns out all elected officials don’t really like the sound of being unilaterally removed by a cabinet unelected by their constituents. Who would’ve thought.

  5. This is a very good point about the opposition needing to be disciplined. For good reasons oppositions generally tend to be reactive – they normally respond to what governments say or propose. However, that approach does not always work well.

    One situation where that does not work well is when the government is a cacocracy, like the current UCP. There is just too much to respond to so the opposition can easily lose focus, like a dog reacting to every car going by on a busy road. Those that are so incompetent at governing are usually only in power because they are better at politics or communications but they at least know that distraction can also work to their advantage.

    So a disciplined opposition will focus on a few key things and while it may react to events, it will fit things in this larger framework and always clearly tie it back to them. Some of those larger frameworks could for instance be health care management, ethics or affordability. The Wildrose Party when attacking the PC’s was very successful and relentless in tying many smaller events into its overall themes of competence, ethics and corruption. The current Federal opposition constantly ties things back to affordability in its current messaging.

    So an effective opposition needs to be focused and disciplined in its messaging unless it want to start looking like a dog that just yaps at every passing car. People find that dog annoying and also start to ignore it.

  6. So once again we see Albertans getting what they deserve, too dumb to understand the difference between a Reformer and a true Conservative. Vote for the word Conservative and ignore who’s behind it. While we watch them continue to help the rich steal Albertans oil and corporate tax wealth municipalities continue to struggle and our property taxes have increased by $70 per month. While it certainly doesn’t hurt us you can bet there are others that it does, especially widows, widowers, and single parents. But you can bet these Reformers don’t care , do they? Looking after the well-being of the people is not in their mandate.
    I wonder how long it will be before Ted Morton gets an opportunity to fill his pockets with taxpayers money like these other Reform Party pals have done. They must be proud of how stupid Albertans are with the fools supporting them still hurling their sarcastic comments at anyone who isn’t as stupid as them, while newspapers continue to support them and refuse to print any Letters to the Editor that dares to criticize anything they do to the people.

  7. Nenshi has the communications acumen and team to slam the ucp instantaneously inside and outside of the ledge. Nenshi, Ganley, Hoffman, Calahoo are pretty wicked on their feet. They’ll all be in caucus no matter who wins, Gil too.
    The ucp will get whiplash! Sitting on her throne Marlaina Antoinette Kolodnicki Smith better fasten her seat belt. Or not…Ya, better not.

  8. For me, this reminds me of that brilliant retort from News Room’s Jeff Daniel’s when he remarked to the token liberal on a discussion panel, “If liberals are so f@ckin smart, how come they lose so GODDAMN ALWAYS?”

    This is the problem with the ABNDP: they fear the UCP. Notley’s kid gloves handling of Smith during the leader’s debate was par for the course on wanting to lose. No aggression, no commitment, no anger, no engagement…nothing.

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