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Alberta Politics

Premier Kenney’s 54-minute long PowerPoint lecture

While Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s warnings about COVID-19 during his April 7 televised address were on-point, the same cannot be said for his attempt to explain the province’s COVID-19 modelling during an April 8 press conference.

Kenney took to the stage in the Legislature press room and delivered a 54-minute long PowerPoint presentation during which he meandered and was clearly unprepared and unfamiliar with the content of the presentation. At many points during the press conference he was simply reading the text on the slides.

It was one of the strangest press conferences I have ever seen and it was a stark contrast from his clear and concise messaging from the night before.

We should all be a little more forgiving of our political leaders as they respond to crises in the moment, but it was clear that the Premier was wading into unfamiliar territory the moment he clicked on the first slide.

It was perhaps a case of too much micro-managing on Kenney’s part.

Usually a pretty competent political communicator, Kenney’s performance has been all over the map during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it appears clear that he would like more media focus on the government’s economic and political agenda, the Premier should leave the scientific presentations to the public health and medical professionals, like Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. Verna Yiu.

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Alberta Politics

Kenney delivers bleak message about COVID-19 but falls into old trope about foreign enemies of Alberta oil

Premier Jason Kenney‘s televised address on April 7 was bleak, but he struck the right tone when warning Albertans about the pandemic.

Kenney warned that by the end of summer, the province could see as many as 800,000 COVID-19 infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths. Anyone listening to his speech will have heard loud and clear that this pandemic is serious and all Albertans have a role in stopping its spread.

Kenney presented a number of government measures to flatten the curve, including expanding tracking of COVID-19 contacts, encouraging and facilitating safe use of masks, stronger border screening, and stricter enforcement of quarantine rules through mobile devices.

He also warned that the provincial government’s deficit may increase to $20 billion as a result of the pandemic and economic collapse.

It is fair to say that the combined challenges of a pandemic and economic collapse facing our elected officials today are ones that have not been faced in generations. This may be why Kenney has decided to frequently invoke the words and memory of political leaders from the Second World War.

During his televised speech he quoted former American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, telling Albertans that “the only thing we have to fear but fear itself,” and he and his ministers have frequently referred or alluded to former British prime minister Winston Churchill in their press statements and speeches in the Assembly. The government even named its “Bits and Pieces” program after a Second World War program of the same name.

Our public health care system, government, and society are mobilizing against an “invisible enemy” but while the war-inspired rhetoric is useful for signalling the importance of the situation, it can be taken too far. A public health emergency is not an armed military conflict and fighting a virus is not the same as fighting an invading army – our democratically elected representatives should be reminded of this.

It only took Kenney one breath to shift from warning about the pandemic to returning to his old trope of blaming foreign powers for Alberta’s economic condition.

The Premier repeated his criticisms of Saudi Arabia and Russia for their role in the collapse of the international price of oil on which we continue to over-rely, but then spoke about Alberta controlling its own economic destiny by investing $7.5 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Kenney is trying to project an image that he is in control of the economic situation, but clearly no one is. And his devotion to the oil and gas industry is a position he has refused to waver from during this pandemic and economic crisis.

No one can blame Kenney for the collapsing international price of oil, but he can be criticized for doubling-down on the oil industry at the expense of other sectors, like the technology companies now considering leaving Alberta.

With projections of 25 percent unemployment ahead, it would be easier to understand why his government wants to help create 7,000 trades jobs to build a pipeline if the same government had not cut funding last week that will lead to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs.

Kenney’s pipeline investment can also be seen as an attempt to save one of the three key points his United Conservative Party campaigned on in the April 2019 election. With jobs disappearing and the economy looking bleak, pipelines might be the only one of the three main campaign promises he has a hope of salvaging in the remaining three years of his term in office.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 52: Jobs, economy and pipelines? COVID-19 pushes small business to the brink.

Justin Archer joins Dave Cournoyer and Adam Rozenhart on this remotely recorded episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, how our political leaders are responding to the pandemic and crashing oil prices.

Justin Archer
Justin Archer

We also discussed the Alberta government’s investment in the Keystone XL Pipeline and the need to support economic diversification and the tech sector in Alberta.

Justin Archer is partner at Berlin Communications and a professional communications strategist based in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Alberta Politics

Talking Alberta pandemic politics with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED

I was thrilled to spend an hour (remotely) with Ryan Jespersen and panelists Rosa Ellithorpe and Melissa Caouette on 630CHED today to talk about Albertan, Canadian and American politics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We covered a lot of ground, including President Donald Trump’s decision to order 3M to not ship N95 masks to Canada, and how premiers Jason Kenney and Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have responded to the pandemic and a collapsing economy.

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Alberta Politics

Guest column: Prescribing a dose of reality for Alberta’s Health Minister

By Aaron Manton

Aaron Manton
Aaron Manton

As a Press Secretary for Alberta’s NDP government, I had the pleasure of working with five cabinet ministers, spending countless hours with them at more events than I can remember.

There are, however, a few events I can’t forget.

Like the time the Executive Protection Unit – the EPU, sort of the Premier’s “secret service” – pulled me aside to let me know a threat had been made against the minister I was staffing. They never said where it was from, or what the nature of the threat was, only that we had to go – now.

They discreetly escorted us out a back door to the minister’s vehicle and we drove away. Everyone was fine. It was quick. Swift. Professional. Painless. The whole incident might have lasted five minutes, but my heart was in my throat the whole time.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I follow the events surrounding Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro being accused of berating a physician and intimidating citizens in response to a Facebook meme and alleged threats made to his wife, Andrea Shandro, regarding their part ownership in a private health insurance company, Vital Partners.

Though I haven’t seen or read the threats, and I sincerely hope they weren’t dangerous or serious, I have seen the Facebook meme, and to call it derogatory is to be a bit hyperbolic.

People are losing their jobs. People are getting sick. The person responsible for health care in Alberta is worried about losing Facebook friends.

Now, having worked as a New Democrat in Alberta, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have anyone say something critical of my work on the internet and have my friends and neighbours share it…

As part of my work, I helped manage social media accounts for a handful of female politicians, including two women health ministers. I’ve seen what social media attacks look like. I’ve seen the kind of vitriol spewed at them daily. Bullying, defamation and harassment don’t come close to describing some of it, and I know none of it came close to what some other women in politics have experienced. I also saw these ministers able to keep their focus on the critical portfolios they were responsible for, rather than on their mentions.

There is a process for dealing with concerning or threatening emails and social media posts. It doesn’t involve politicians or their staff harassing constituents. You report threats to the EPU. They are the professionals who advise you on whether the threat is serious and if you should go to the person’s house to yell at them.

Just kidding.

The point is, there are folks who know what they are doing when it comes to keeping ministers and those around them safe, and that’s who should be dealing with any threats the Shandros were receiving. I only felt the need to use this process a few times, and only when something felt a bit off. Thankfully never because of a threat to myself, and thankfully everything always turned out fine.

I can understand why Shandro feels passionately.

I love my partner too.

I get upset when people say things to hurt her. I get worried when people say things to make her feel unsafe. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I wouldn’t respond passionately to defend her, as Shandro says he was doing for her wife. That’s why I was really concerned when Jason Kenney’s opposition staffers doxed her Twitter account and put it on an enemies list last year. I was also pretty freaked out when they started stalking my roommate and releasing creepy videos online around the same time. When a conservative staffer snapped a picture of me smoking by a no smoking sign at the Legislature, I just thought that was weird. Just don’t tell my grandma, man.

But joking aside, it can get pretty rough when these things start happening, close to home, you know?

The fact remains, the Facebook meme that enraged Shandro wasn’t threatening. Frankly, compared to what one sees regularly on the #ableg feed, it’s not really even that bad.

Shandro’s statement in response to all of this doesn’t take any responsibility for what was a significant failure of judgement and character during a time when he should be bringing his best to his work.

Surely even the minister himself must wonder in hindsight why at some point on the way to confront a neighbour in person about an internet meme he didn’t ask himself, “should I be doing this right now, or ever?”

The statement does, however, fit with his government’s serial habit of playing the victim and mobilizing its resources to intimidate citizens when deflecting criticism. The language makes clear that a physician criticizing Shandro is doing something he shouldn’t, that Albertans expressing concerns about a minister’s potential perceived conflict of interest is unacceptable, and that the only folks who should feel wronged in any of this are the Shandros.

The minister, for his part, apologized for getting distracted.

Thankfully, Shandro pledged not to let Facebook distract him anymore, and I think that’s great. Every politician should avoid looking at their notifications. But this incident shows that it might just be time for Shandro to put the phone down.

Besides, the very capable communications people at Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services can handle communicating with Albertans about all that pesky public health care system stuff that doesn’t seem to be his priority. In a pandemic.

When I’ve felt like social media isn’t the best presence in my life, I’ve replaced it with more productive things, like when I deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone and downloaded Duolingo. Ahora, mi español es perfecto! Shandro may want to consider some other projects he can direct his passion towards, perhaps the health care system serving over four million people he is responsible for. In a pandemic.

In all seriousness, during these uncertain and sometimes scary times, citizens want to feel assured that their leaders are focused on the things they are worried about. The perception that the government isn’t prioritizing the well-being of the people it serves can be detrimental to the public trust at a critical time. Just look south of the border.

Tyler Shandro is still new at this. He says he knows what he signed up for when he got into politics.

I thought I did too, but working in politics comes with many surprises, not all of which are pleasant.

I never saw myself putting my body between a candidate and a man inches away from his face yelling about how we wanted to make his children gay. I never predicted having to eject someone from the campaign office I was managing for hate speech. I didn’t think any of my aunts would block me during an election. I didn’t anticipate far right websites posting videos of my friends and making petitions to get them fired.

But I did expect a few mean things to be said about me on Facebook, and I mostly tried not to let it ruin my day.

Aaron Manton was a Press Secretary for Alberta’s NDP government from 2015 to 2019 and has volunteered, worked on and managed political campaigns across the country. You can say nice or mean things to him @mantonaaron on Twitter.

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Alberta Politics

UCP cuts 25,000 jobs via Saturday afternoon press release

Never let a good crisis go to waste” is a quote sometimes attributed to former British prime minister Winston Churchill though widely believed to be an example of Churchillian Drift.

The quote could certainly be inspiring Alberta Jason Kenney as his United Conservative Party government continues to implement a five-month old fiscal agenda that is in no way reflective of a rapidly changing world of COVID-19 and $5 a barrel oil. 

In a heartless move, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced in a surprise 1:00 p.m. press release on Saturday that funding would be cut for school boards across the province, resulting in 25,000 education workers and education assistants losing their jobs.

This announcement came only 13 days after LaGrange publicly reaffirmed that school boards would receive their full allotment of funding for the 2019/2020 school year.

This may turn out to be one of the largest mass layoffs in Alberta’s history.

According to University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, these layoffs could amount to 1 percent of Alberta’s workforce.

LaGrange’s press release stated that the now jobless Albertans could look to a new employment insurance program offered by the federal government to support them, which is certainly one way for a provincial government to shift costs to Ottawa. Alberta also appears to be the only province making mass layoffs in the middle of this crisis.

The press release stated that the cost savings will be directed towards the fight against COVID-19, which is a spurious claim at best. The UCP government even listed the layoffs as one of the key ways they are providing economic support during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is ridiculous.

These are not the only public sector workers being laid off. It was announced this month that more than 1,000 staff at the University of Alberta would lose their jobs because of UCP budget cuts. And it would appear that the government is pushing forward with its plans to begin restructuring the public service on April 1. 

At least the UCP delayed plans to layoff hundreds of nurses until after the pandemic.

Under normal circumstances, in a pre-COVID-19 world, these kind of mass layoffs would result in large and loud protests outside the Legislature Building and MLA offices. But gatherings of more than 15 people are now banned in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Again, never let a good crisis go to waste.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 51: A new Alberta. Responding to COVID-19 and Oil Crash with Chris Henderson.

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay at home.

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the plummeting price of oil has sent shockwaves through Alberta politics over the past two weeks.

Chris Henderson, Chief Strategist and Partner at Y Station Communications and Research, joins Dave Cournoyer and Adam Rozenhart on the Daveberta Podcast to try to make sense of the rapidly changing political landscape in Alberta and Canada.

Chris reflects on how political leaders Jason Kenney, Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump are responding to the crisis and shares some of the results from Y Station’s recent polling of Albertans on COVID-19 issues.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Accolades: The Daveberta Podcast is the winner in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in the 2020 Canadian Podcast Awards. Thanks to everyone who voted for and continues to listen to our made-in-Alberta politics podcast.

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Alberta Politics

COVID-19 overtakes plummeting oil prices as biggest worry in Alberta this week

A week ago, Alberta’s politicians were reeling from another spectacular drop in the international price of oil and debating what that could mean for the province’s budget. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, felt like a distant threat seven days ago, but that is not the case tonight.

The provincial government announced today that all classes at Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools and in-person classes at post-secondary institutions are cancelled until further notice and that daycares and pre-schools would be closed as measures to avoid spreading the virus, which has been confirmed to have infected 56 Albertans.

The closures will certainly send many families scrambling to make childcare arrangements for tomorrow morning, but was likely a necessary decision.

The City of Calgary has declared a local state of emergency, though city manager David Duckworth is quoted as saying that, as of Tuesday, City employees who need to stay home to look after their children will have to use banked time or vacation time. This feels like the kind of unpopular decision that the City will be forced to walk back in the next 48 hours, similar to the public shaming the Calgary Flames received over the weekend.

Working Albertans forced to stay home because they are sick or need to take care of their children because of the school closures should not only be assured their job security, they should be assured their pay.

A period of social distancing is upon us and it is necessary.

The House of Commons and other provincial legislatures have announced plans to suspend their current sittings in order to avoid playing a role in spreading the virus. Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was diagnosed with COVID-19. Edmonton Members of Parliament Michael Cooper and Kerry Diotte recently attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C., where an attendee was later diagnosed with COVID-19.

Political watchers in Alberta will be watching to see if similar measures are taken when our Alberta Legislature reconvenes tomorrow.

The United Conservative Party government of Premier Jason Kenney is in the midst of pushing its budget through the legislative committee process, but the decline in the price of oil, the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s decision today to pour an additional $500 million into public health care, means the budget tabled by Finance Minister Travis Toews two weeks ago is unrecognizable and unneeded.

The UCP government should completely halt its austerity agenda of cuts and layoffs, which has already resulted in thousands of public sector job cuts, and focus on supporting Alberta’s public sector workers as they play a critical role in facing this global pandemic.

What should Albertans do?

Listen and trust the advice of public health professionals. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw continues to do an excellent job presenting her daily public updates in a clear, concise and plain-spoken manner.

It is important for all of us to take this situation seriously.

Practice social distancing, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, clean your phone. Just as importantly, be kind and reach out to friends, family and neighbours who might be having a difficult time. We can get through this.

Also, pick up your phone, call or email your MLA and tell the government to stop picking fights with Alberta’s nurses, doctors, and health care workers – the public sector workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Alberta Politics

Remember “Albexit?” Economist and political pundit Jack Mintz to lead UCP economic advisory panel

With the international price of oil taking another nose-dive this week, Premier Jason Kenney announced at a press conference this afternoon that Jack Mintz, a fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and board member of Imperial Oil Limited and Morneau Shepell, will lead the latest in a series of expert panels appointed by the United Conservative Party government.

Mintz’s panel will be tasked with providing economic advice to the government in light of the recent drop in oil prices. Mintz tweeted the idea about 5 hours before Kenney announced it, leaving political observers to wonder which came first: the tweet or the appointment?

The challenges facing Alberta has been clear for a long time: the Alberta government is over-reliant on revenues from unreliable oil and gas royalties to fund the daily operations of government. This has been the case for decades, including all the previous times the international price of oil has collapsed, leaving the province in an economic crisis.

The need to find alternative revenue streams is something the UCP and previous governments have been unable to accept or accomplish.

Kenney has already said a provincial sales tax is off the table, so a major solution favoured by many economist is likely a non-starter.

Mintz’s views about government spending and economics are no secret in Alberta, nor are they to Conservative politicians and political leaders who he has lent his advice to in the past. While it might be unfair to prejudge Mintz’s yet-to-be-named panel, it would be a great surprise if a strong dose of austerity, privatization, or a version of Janice MacKinnon’s Report on steroids were not included in its advice.

As one of the province’s most prominent conservative economists his appointment to lead this panel is probably predictable, but it is his political views that make the choice more interesting.

For years, Mintz has moonlighted as a political pundit in the pages of the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, penning a regular opinion column that has included some fairly cringeworthy claims targeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s federal Liberal government, Alberta’s former New Democratic Party government and, more recently, providing fuel for supporters of Wexit and Alberta’s separation from Canada.

A column published in June 2015 aimed at the newly elected government of then-premier Rachel Notley claimed at “Alberta is not yet Greece, but it’s heading along that path,” in reference to the Greek economic crisis of the mid-2010s.

In “Alberta has better reasons to Albexit than Britain did for Brexit,” published in December 2018, claimed that “if Brexit happened, then Albexit is just as possible” and “[w]hatever negatives Alberta would face are easily swamped by the positives that would come with separation.”

And a recent column following Mintz’s participation at a right-wing political conference focused on Alberta separatism touted a “nuclear option” and ended with the claim that “…Albertans are looking for the shackles to be taken off.”

While the advice given by Mintz’s panel will certainly be of interest to many Albertans, how his own political views are reflected in the recommendations might be just as interesting, and concerning, to watch.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 50: Supervised Consumption Services in Alberta with Dr. Elaine Hyshka

Dr. Elaine Hyshka, assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health, joins Dave Cournoyer to discuss supervised consumption clinics in Alberta and the flaws in the United Conservative Party government’s recent review of the facilities on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

Elaine shares her insights into the history of harm reduction and recovery efforts in Alberta, how these programs help Albertans, and what the future of supervised consumption clinics might be in Alberta.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

As always, a big thank you to our producer Adam Rozenhart for all his hard work in making the show sound so great.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening!

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Alberta Politics

Alberta Budget 2020: This is no way to run a household.

It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.

But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.

The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.

The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.

Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.

The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.

The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.

With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.

While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.

Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.

If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.

This is no way to run a household.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 49: Radical Sabbatical. Climate justice and Alberta politics with Chris Gusen

Is Alberta ready to face the challenges of climate change?

Climate activist and communicator Chris Gusen joins Dave Cournoyer to discuss Alberta politics, climate justice, and a Green New Deal on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

Chris shares some insight into his transition from his role as the Alberta government’s Director of Identity to his current volunteer efforts with Extinction Rebellion and Climate Justice Edmonton, and what meaningful action against climate change could look like in Alberta.

Daveberta Podcast Alberta Politics Dave Cournoyer Adam Rozenhart
Daveberta Podcast

As always, a big thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making the show sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening!

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Alberta Politics

War Room’s Twitter tirade against New York Times sends embarrassment shivers across Alberta.

Time to shut down the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Shoot, shovel, and shut up,” was how former Alberta premier Ralph Klein suggested some of the province’s self-respecting ranchers could deal with the mad cow disease crisis of the mid-2000s. And it is time that Premier Jason Kenney heeded Klein’s words and applied the same advice to the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

The Energy War Room, as Kenney called it during and after the 2019 election campaign, has been fraught with embarrassing missteps and blunders since it was created in October 2019, but today marked peak embarrassment for the CEC.

The Calgary-based publicly-funded private public relations company and blog was caught under fire today for posting a series of tweets attacking the New York Times and sharing links claiming the 169-year old newspaper of record held anti-Trump and anti-Semitic biases and a “very dodgy” record.

The CEC’s childish tirade of tweets appear to have been posted in response to a Times article about the decision by some of the world’s largest financial institutions to stop investing in oil production in Alberta.

Some international banks, pension plans and financial institutions appear to have included the impact of climate change into their long-term investments plans and have decided to move away from investing in some carbon-intensive resource extraction industries like Canada’s oilsands.

According to the Times, “BlackRock, the worlds largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands.”

Sonya Savage

The Times article noted that “Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday,” which is a shocking departure from Kenney’s pledge he would use “the persuasive power of the premier’s bully pulpit to tell the truth of our energy industry across the country.”

CEC Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Tom Olsen publicly apologized on Twitter for the unprofessional tweet storm against the Times, a statement that is now being widely reported.

Olsen, a former United Conservative Party candidate and lobbyist, was appointed to the role when the CEC was launched in October 2019. The CEC is a private corporation created by the Alberta government and receives $30-million annually from the Alberta government to ostensibly correct misinformation about the oil and gas industry, but in reality appears to be doing a poor job conducting public relations for the oil and gas industry.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Another member of the CEC’s staff is Mark Milke, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, former senior fellow of the Fraser Institute and lead author of the UCP’s 2019 election platform. Milke is the Executive Director in charge of Research, according to the CEC’s website.

Existing as a private corporation with a board of directors that includes Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, the CEC is not subject to the freedom of information rules that make other government institutions and agencies more transparent to the public and the media. Despite receiving $30-million annually from the government, the CEC appears to have no accountability mechanisms and its internal operations are kept secret.

While Kenney was recently lauded for changing his message about an eventual transition away from of oil (I suspect he is coopting language rather than changing his mind), some of the good for Alberta that his trip to Washington DC last week may have done has at least been partially damaged by the latest PR disaster exploding through the War Room in downtown Calgary.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

What started a few months ago as a $30-million annual public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry is starting to become a running joke that might hurt Alberta, and its oil and gas industry, more than it helps it.

As Finance Minister Travis Toews asks Albertans to accept deep cuts to public health care and education and for public employees to take salary rollbacks in his Feb. 27 provincial budget, it will become increasingly difficult to convince Albertans that the CEC’s $30-million annual budget is not a giant waste of money.

In this case, Kenney should take his own conservative free-market advice and let private sector industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the legions of public relations professionals working for Canada’s oil and gas companies handle their own public relations.

As Ralph Klein might suggest, it’s time for Kenney to take the Canadian Energy Centre behind the proverbial barn and stop this embarrassing initiative from doing any more damage to Alberta’s reputation at home and abroad.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 48: An urban big city agenda in Alberta. Municipally Speaking with Mack Male

More than half of Albertans live in Calgary and Edmonton, so why does it feel like big city issues are an afterthought for the provincial government?

Daveberta Podcast Alberta Politics Dave Cournoyer Adam Rozenhart
Daveberta Podcast

Mack Male joins Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of local media in Edmonton, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu’s paternalistic approach to municipal relations, the review of the Local Authorities Election Act and how it might change the rules of the 2021 municipal elections, and whether there is hope for ever getting a real urban agenda for Alberta (plus free transit and gondolas).

Mack is a co-founder of Taproot Edmonton and co-host of the Speaking Municipally podcast, which focuses on Edmonton City Council and municipal issues in Alberta’s capital city.

A big thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for making this episode sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta politics talk with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED

I was thrilled to spend an hour with Ryan Jespersen on 630CHED today to talk about American and Alberta politics.

We covered a lot of ground, including the political theatre between United States President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union address, the federal Conservative Party leadership race and whether a Draft Kenney campaign will start anytime soon, political party fundraising returns from 2019, Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the NDP into Alberta’s 2023 election, and whether the Canadian Energy Centre is worth it’s $30 million annual budget (spoiler: it’s not).

Thanks again to Ryan for having me on the show!