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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!

Recommended reading/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!

Recommended reading/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

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!

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Alberta Politics

Kenney declares victory but the pipeline fight is nowhere close to over

The 1358th chapter of the ongoing saga of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project ended today as the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously ruled to dismiss four challenges by First Nations in British Columbia.

Speaking in Montreal today, Premier Jason Kenney lauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, telling reporters that “I have my disagreements with Prime Minister Trudeau on a number of issues … but I think they did realize there has to be at least one project that gets Canadian energy to global markets so we can get a fair price.

3000 kilometres away from Alberta is probably a safe distance for Kenney to effuse some praise for Trudeau, something he likely wouldn’t be caught dead doing back home. But praising Trudeau for a pipeline that is deeply unpopular in Quebec while he is in that province’s largest city is a shrewd piece of political theatre on Kenney’s part.

Since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017, Kenney has used the pipeline as a cudgel against his political opponents, tarring Trudeau and former premier Rachel Notley as opponents of a project they spent incredible amounts of political capital to see completed.

Nationwide support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion dropped by 11 per cent since 2018, according to a poll released by Angus-Reid last month. Urgency about climate change has become a more front and centre issue since then, most effectively demonstrated by tens of thousands of Canadians participating in climate strike marches across Canada, including more than 10,000 people in Edmonton. And since Kenney’s United Conservative Party formed government in April 2019, his government has taken a hyper-aggressive approach to responding to opponents to oil industry expansion, which may have had an impact on national opinion. 

The creation of the publicly funded Canadian Energy Centre (aka The Energy War Room), a government-sponsored public relations company run by failed UCP candidate Tom Olsen and boasting a $30-million annual budget, has been front and centre in the government’s new approach.

The CEC largely duplicates public relations work typically done by industry associations like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and had a rough first few months as it was forced to replace a plagiarized logo and tell its staff not to identify themselves as reporters when writing content for the War Room’s blog.

The Canadian Energy Centre, the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns (which has been dogged by an alleged conflict of interest scandal), the pledge to open Alberta government offices in provincial capitals across Canada, and Kenney’s steady schedule of international travel, are part of what the UCP government calls it’s “Fight Back” plan.

The court ruled that First Nations have no veto and cannot refuse to compromise or insist a project be cancelled, and found that the federal government made genuine effort to consult and accommodated concerns raised by First Nations communities.

While this decision is expected to be appealed by First Nations groups at the Supreme Court, and will likely have political implications if UNDRIP is implemented in Canada, it is likely that the next round of opposition to the pipeline project will come in the form of civil disobedience and direct action.

This isn’t over yet.

UCP releases radical health care report, and look! Jason Kenney is leaving the country, again!

Tyler Shandro, Dr. Verna Yiu, and John Bethel (Source: YouTube)
Tyler Shandro, Dr. Verna Yiu, and John Bethel (Source: YouTube)

Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it seems pretty darn convenient that Premier Kenney was on a plane to Quebec when Health Minister  Tyler Shandro shared a stage with Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu and Ernst & Young spokesperson John Bethel (who attentive readers will remember as the 2004 federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-East) in announcing the release of the international management corporation’s $2-million report on Alberta Health Services.

The report is big and bristling with the kind of ideological and predictable recommendations that you would expect from the right-wing Fraser Institute, which was cited a few times in the report. Privatization of services ranging from long-term care to security, gutting of collective agreements and salary rollbacks, and closure of rural hospitals were among the many recommendations included in the report.

While Shandro was clear that he would not risk further alienating his party’s rural base by closing rural hospitals, despite the report’s recommendations, the report did deliver the UCP with a powerful talking point – $1.9 billion in potential savings.

The report suggests that if all its recommendations were implemented, the government could potentially save $1.9 billion in costs to the health care system (of course, many of those costs could be transferred to patients). It might be unlikely that all of the recommendations will be implemented, but expect to hear Shandro repeat that $1.9 billion number, a lot.

Meanwhile, Kenney will soon leave Quebec for meetings in Washington D.C.

Kenney’s office stops releasing public travel itineraries

The Premier’s Office under Kenney appears to have stopped publicly releasing the Premier’s itinerary ahead of inter provincial or international trips. Previous premiers commonly released a brief daily itinerary that listed who or which organizations the Premier and their staff were scheduled to meet with.

A lack of publicly released itinerary meant that Albertans discovered on Twitter that Kenney’s trip to New York City in September 2019 included a speech at a reception hosted by the right-wing Manhattan Institute. It was also revealed by the Alberta Today newsletter through Freedom of Information requests that Kenney also held court at a historic speakeasy in midtown Manhattan, an event that was not listed in the standard government press release announcing his trip.

Kenney’s office also did not release an itinerary for his December 2019 trip to London, UK, citing concerns that individuals he was meeting with could be targeted by climate change advocacy groups.

With no journalists from Alberta accompanying Kenney on his international trips, the release of public itineraries is an important way to ensure some basic accountability and transparency when the Premier is travelling out of province on the public dime.

Note: Past requests for public itineraries of Premier Kenney’s international trips have gone unanswered by the Premier’s Office.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 47: If you ain’t oil, you ain’t much. A deep dive into Alberta’s oil well liability crisis.

Oil well liability became a big issue in Alberta politics this month when rural municipal politicians raised giant red flags about the estimated $173 million in unpaid municipal taxes as a result of some oil and gas companies nearing insolvency and many more companies just believing paying taxes is voluntary.

Tina Faiz and Regan Boychuk joined Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the growing issue of oil well liability, and the political and policy repercussions created in its wake.

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and political strategist based in Edmonton and Regan Boychuk is the lead researcher and oilfield liability expert with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project.

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

15 years ago I started a blog about Alberta politics

It is remarkable how quickly time flies by. Fifteen years ago I was probably sitting on my couch in the living room of my heavily-subsidized and very run-down University of Alberta-owned residence in north Garneau when I first clicked the publish button on my brand new blogspot.com website. That was probably how Daveberta was born.

Dave Cournoyer in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)
Dave Cournoyer at a political event in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)

I was in the fourth year studying an undergraduate degree in Political Science that would be drawn out for a not insignificant number of more years as I threw myself into student union politics and activism, and then provincial politics.

I had no idea that 15 years later this website would still exist, and that it would also spin off into a podcast and lead to hundreds of media interviews, conference panels and speaking engagements, because at the time blogging was a novelty and something that a lot of people were just trying out.

Maybe I am just one of the few who had staying power?

The name Daveberta was inspired, somewhat mockingly, in response to Paulberta t-shirts donned by Paul Martin delegates attending the 2003 Liberal Party of Canada leadership convention in Toronto (which I was among at the time). I figured Daveberta both sounded better and was more authentic (I am a third-generation Albertan and Martin was not).

Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.
Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.

A lot has changed in politics over the past fifteen years, for myself and Alberta.

Fifteen years ago I was heavily involved in student politics at the U of A and in Liberal Party politics, mostly at the provincial level. This website certainly had a partisan inclination when it was launched and along with CalgaryGrit.ca and AlbertaDiary.ca (now AlbertaPolitics.ca) became one of the go-to blogs focusing on Alberta politics.

Back then I was a proud a partisan and largely depended on blog aggregators, links from other blogs, and keyword searches to generate website traffic.

Today, I enthusiastically hold no party membership (my political inclinations have also significantly shifted) and depend much more on Facebook and Twitter to reach my readers.

Dave Cournoyer Justin Trudeau
Dave Cournoyer and Justin Trudeau in 2014.

Alberta politics used to be boring, or so I am told, but the past fifteen years have been anything but boring. The political landscape has witnessed a number of political upheavals, and might be a little confusing to someone from 2005. Here’s a quick look at a few of the things that have changed in Alberta politics since Daveberta.ca was launched fifteen years ago:

Alberta Legislature

Then: The Progressive Conservative Party formed a majority government with 61 MLAs, the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition with 17 MLAs, the New Democratic Party had 4 MLAs, and the Alberta Alliance had 1 MLA. Ken Kowalski was the Speaker and serving his 26th year as an MLA.

Now: The United Conservative Party forms a majority government with 63 MLAs, and the NDP forms Official Opposition with 24 MLAs. Nathan Cooper is the Speaker.

"...Dave Cournoyer isn't some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut." - Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)
“…Dave Cournoyer isn’t some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut.” – Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)

Premier of Alberta

Then: Ralph Klein was in what would soon be seen as the dying days of his premiership. Klein led the PC Party to win a reduced majority government in the November 2004 election, which was dubbed the “Kleinfeld” campaign because of the lack of central narrative of the PC Party campaign. Klein would be unceremoniously dumped by PC Party members at a leadership review in 2006, and he would resign from office months later and fade into obscurity after hosting a short-lived TV gameshow in Calgary.

Now: Former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney leads a UCP majority government, after successfully staging the merger of the membership of the PC Party and Wildrose Party, and leading the party to victory in the 2019 election. Like Klein, Kenney is hell bent on dismantling the high-quality public services that Albertans depend on each day. But unlike Klein, Kenney appears to committed to a much more ideologically-driven free market agenda.

Leader of the Official Opposition

Then: Kevin Taft had just led the Liberal Party from what appeared to be the brink of oblivion to more than triple the party’s number of MLAs. The Liberals regained most of the seats it lost in the disastrous 2001 election and made a major breakthrough in Calgary, electing three MLAs in Alberta’s largest city.

Now: Rachel Notley became leader of the official opposition after four years as Premier of Alberta. She becomes the first official opposition leader in 48 years to have previously served as premier. Notley announced in December 2019 that she plans to lead the NDP into the next election, expected to be held in 2023.

The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)
The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)

Alberta separatism

Then: The week that I launched Daveberta.ca, former Western Canada Concept leader Doug Christie was traveling through Alberta trying to start another western separatist party. The Western Block Party was unable to elect any MPs and was dissolved in 2014.

Now: Fringe politicians rally around the separatist flavour of the week, now known as Wexit, and a former respected newspaper owner and a defeated Toronto politician spoke in favour of separatism at a conservative conference in Calgary. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

It continues to be a wild ride, and a pleasure to share my thoughts on Alberta politics on this website and on the Daveberta Podcast.

Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)
Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)

There are a few people who I would like to recognize and thank for inspiring and supporting me along the way (this is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many people I am thankful for who helped me a long the way):

  • My family, and my beautiful wife Kyla in particular, have been incredibly understanding and tolerant of this hobby and my indulgences into Alberta politics.
  • My friend Chris Henderson, whose advice and friendship helped me navigate a number of politically challenging times.
  • My former boss at the Liberal Party, Kieran Leblanc, who is a dear-friend and someone who I definitely need to make time to meet for lunch with more often.
  • Adam Rozenhart and Ryan Hastman for helping start the Daveberta Podcast more than two years ago. The podcast continues to be a highlight for me, and a medium that I have enjoying focusing on over the past few years. (The Daveberta Podcast has been nominated in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in this year’s The Canadian Podcast Awards).

And a sincere thank you to everyone who keeps on reading this website and listening to the podcast. I may not still be writing on this website fifteen years from now, but regardless of how much longer it lasts, it has been a great experience.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney is the closest thing the Conservatives have to a “Svengali-like genius”

Six weeks after the federal election, Andrew Scheer has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, raising instant speculation about who might enter the contest to replace him.

Rona Ambrose
Rona Ambrose

While there does not appear to be an obvious heir apparent, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s name immediately comes to mind as a potential successor. But is appears as though Kenny could just be a visitor in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.

Kenney told Postmedia columnist Don Braid yesterday he had “absolutely no intention” of running for the leadership and offered what appears to be an early endorsement of former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.

In response to rumours of his federal ambitions, Kenney told Postmedia’s  Stuart Thomson that “I should be flattered that they think I’m some kind of Svengali-like genius.” The thing is, Kenney is probably the closest thing to a Svengali the Conservatives have. Whether you believe he a brilliant political operator with good intentions or a sinister political beast plotting to smash his growing list of enemies likely depends on whether you are his ally or opponent (ask Rachel Notley and Brian Jean). But there is no doubt he is a skilled career politician.

He also checks a whole bunch of boxes on the list of Conservative constituency groups.

Kenney started his political career as a social conservative anti-abortion activist at a private Roman Catholic university in San Francisco. He returned to Canada to become a founder of the anti-tax Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He spent 19 years in Ottawa as a Member of Parliament and, after briefly losing some favour with the party during Stockwell Day‘s disastrous time as leader of the Canadian Alliance, proved to be a loyal solider to Stephen Harper and worked his way into a senior cabinet role. And he has deep connections to conservative think-tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (recently merged with the Fraser Institute) and New York City-based Manhattan Institute.

In less than two years, Kenney commandeered Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party and merged its membership with its decade-old bitter enemy, the Wildrose Party, by winning the United Conservative Party leadership. He then led the party to win the 2019 election. Plus, he, or his closest advisors, were not above testing the limits of what was acceptable in order to win. And since entering the Premier’s Office, he has been a master of sowing chaos and creating crisis in order to implement his political program.

Kenney is respected by Conservative partisans and, as long as he can keep up his winning streak, will remain one of the most prominent leaders of the Conservative movement in Canada.

Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit.

Winning as a Conservative in Alberta is a much easier task than winning in other parts of Canada, including populous regions like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario during the federal election resulted in dismal returns for Conservative candidates, and a recent poll shows his approval ratings in Alberta have plummeted by 15-points since his government tabled an unpopular provincial budget, which serves as a reminder that while he is a skilled politician, he is not invincible.

Which is why he might be reluctant to jump back into federal politics.

Being premier of a large province is certainly a more influential office, at least it is in 2019, and comes with more prestige than being leader of the official Opposition in Ottawa. But staying in Alberta means he is not one-step away from becoming Prime Minister of Canada, which many people still speculate is his goal.