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Alberta Politics

More Nots than Hots as Alberta MLAs wrap up heated summer session at the Legislature

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta five months ago, our Legislative Assembly was one of only a handful of provincial assemblies that continued with a mostly regular sitting schedule. Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers frequently quoted Winston Churchill and compared the current pandemic to the Nazi blitz of the United Kingdom during World War II. But the narrative of fighting on the beaches and uniting Albertans did not stick around for long.

United Conservative Party MLAs were eager to continue the regular business of the Legislature and Kenney barely skipped a beat in continuing to implement a political agenda aimed at dismantling government regulation and imposing swift changes to health care, education and labour laws.

While the UCP enjoys a big majority in the Legislature, and the continued support of enough Albertans to probably form another majority government (albeit likely smaller) if an election were held tomorrow, the government’s decision to move forward with a business as usual approach further entrenched some political divides that grew more conciliatory in other provinces. While other premiers were pulling their provinces together, and enjoying popularity bumps as a result, Alberta’s premier actively pushed people apart.

Politics as usual meant that unlike other provinces, where government and opposition parties generally worked together or at least put partisan politics on hold, in Alberta, politics remained heated and partisan.

Along with a flurry of attacks on provincial parks and public sector unions, and pushing for increased autonomy from Ottawa at the same time as the provincial government was increasingly relying on federal funding, the UCP, usually led by Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon used every opportunity to attack the New Democratic Party opposition. Rachel Notley and the NDP responded in kind.

If someone out there was keeping a political scorecard of Alberta’s MLAs, here is look at a few individuals who stood out during this session:

Tyler Shandro Alberta Health Minister Calgary Acadia
Tyler Shandro

Not: Health Minister Tyler Shandro (MLA Calgary-Acadia): Appointed to oversee a major overhaul and dismantling of Alberta’s public health care system, Shandro’s combative and confrontational approach has undermined much of the good will generated by the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shandro’s ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, including a temper-tantrum in the driveway outside a physician’s house, has poisoned the relationship between the government and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. The threat of doctors leaving rural Alberta practices has created an uncomfortable divide in the UCP Caucus between rural MLAs worried about the impact of losing doctors in their communities and Calgary MLAs not wanting to back down from a fight.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg announced this week that the town’s council had to step in to convince doctors to not withdraw their services from that community’s hospital. Anderberg condemned Shandro and accused him of not being honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community.

Adriana LaGrange Alberta MLA Red Deer North
Adriana LaGrange

Not: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (MLA Red Deer-North): The soft-spoken former Catholic school trustee from central Alberta spent much of her first year in office battling with school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, leaving her with few allies when schools were forced online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, with a return to school plan that appears woefully inadequate, LaGrange faces opposition and a lot of unanswered questions from parents, teachers and students who will be returning to school as normal in September.

Hot: Janis Irwin (MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood), Rakhi Pancholi (MLA Edmonton-Whitemud), and David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre): These three NDP MLAs stood out to me as some of the most effective voices and sharpest critics in the opposition benches during this session.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Not: Finance Minister Travis Toews (MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti): The provincial budget was barely tabled when the international price of oil plunged once again, putting the Alberta government’s optimistic projected natural resource royalty revenues in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future. The drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic changed Alberta’s reality, but that did not stop Toews from shepherding an outdated budget through the legislative approval process.

With its revenues in the tank, the government continues to refuse to consider options to diversify its revenue streams, meaning Toews, who usually fills the roll of the adult in the room, will likely be announcing big cuts and layoffs when the Legislature returns for a one-day fiscal update debate on August 27.

To top it off, Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has declared Alberta is now a “have-not” province.

Hot: Mike Ellis (MLA Calgary-West): Ellis’ role as chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills will be unnoticed by most Albertans, but he has succeeded in fairly navigating some contentious issues that have arisen at committee hearings on private members’ bills this session. The expanded committee process for private members bills is new and is a very procedural and important part of how laws are made in Alberta.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Not: Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu (MLA Edmonton-South West): Carrying a definitively paternalistic approach to the provincial government’s relationship with municipalities, Madu introduced changes to local elections laws that led the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to declare that their relationship with the minister was broken.

Many rural municipalities have spoken out about oil and gas companies that are either unable or refusing to pay their municipal taxes and now tax structure changes implemented by the province threaten to strip oil and gas tax revenue from those same rural municipalities.

According to a statement from Camrose County: “Council and administration are extremely concerned about the serious impacts of this decision because it will mean an increase in property tax, reduction of services, or combination of both to make up for this lost revenue.

While the stated intention of this decision is to increase the competitiveness of oil and gas companies in this hard time, these changes will disproportionately benefit large oil and gas companies and harm smaller local firms.”

Sonya Savage

Not: Energy Minister Sonya Savage (MLA Calgary-North West): It is a pretty grim time to be an Energy Minister in Alberta. Former pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage had some success in negotiating funding from the federal government to clean up orphan and abandoned well sites, but her brave rhetoric has not matched the reality of the world’s energy market. Big oil companies like Total are pulling out of Alberta and barely a week goes by without a major investment house or bank divesting its funds from Alberta’s oil sands.

The much-lauded “Fightback” strategy touted by Savage and Kenney, which features a scandal-plagued Canadian Energy Centre and a $3.5 million secret public inquiry, seems to amount to the minister accusing companies like Total and financial institutions like Deutsche Bank of being “highly-hypocritical.” The world is moving away from Alberta’s oil sands and the government is either unable or unwilling to face that challenge.

Marlin Schimdt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar Alberta Election 2019 politics
Marlin Schimdt

Not: Shane Getson (MLA Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland): Getson’s adolescent behavior – telling the NDP that they have a special VIP section reserved in Hell and allegedly making inappropriate gestures toward opposition MLAs – are unbecoming of an elected representative. Grow up, Shane.

Hot: Speaker Nathan Cooper (MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): An effort to demystify the Legislative Assembly, Cooper’s weekly videos highlighting different parts of the Legislature Building and functions of the Assembly has been entertaining and educating. Cooper and his staff should be commended for recognizing the opportunity to open the Legislature to Albertans through social media.

Not: Marlin Schmidt (MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): Schmidt’s comments about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were an unnecessary distraction at a point when it looked like the NDP were on a role. Smarten up, Marlin.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 58: Summer in Alberta Politics Q & A

You sent us your questions and we answered! In this edition of the annual Alberta politics Q&A episode, Daveberta Podcast host Dave Cournoyer and producer Adam Rozenhart dive into the mailbag to answer listener questions about provincial parks, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the reopening of schools in September, political party fundraising, how previous governments might have handled the COVID-19 pandemic differently, how the government could do a better job convincing more Albertans to wear face masks in public, and much more.

We also chat about your recommendations for the Alberta politics summer reading list, which will be published later this week.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of 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

Paul Hinman is back, again, maybe! Former Wildrose leader to lead new Wildrose separatist party.

Alberta’s oldest newly rebranded separatist party has a new interim leader, maybe.

Paul Hinman leader of the Wildrose Independence Separatist Party
The tweet from the Wildrose Independence Party announcing Paul Hinman as its interim leader.

A now deleted tweet from the newly renamed Wildrose Independence Party announced that former Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman is the new interim leader of the party. Unless the party’s account was hacked, it would appear that Hinman is launching another attempt at a political comeback.

The press release included with the now deleted tweet said that Hinman would speak to his new role at this week’s Freedom Talk “Firewall Plus” conference, a pro-separatist event organized by former Wildrose candidate and right-wing online radio show host Danny Hozak that features speakers including former arch-Conservative MP Rob Anders, conservative lawyer John Carpay, Postmedia columnist John Robson, and federal Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan.

The newly renamed party is a merger of the separatist Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party, which since 1999 has been known at various times as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party, and the Western Freedom Party. The party’s most recent name was adopted when banished United Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt became leader shortly before the 2019 election.

The name change does not appear to have been approved by Elections Alberta, which still lists the party under its most recent previous name on its official website. But it was reported last week that former Wildrose activist and FCP candidate Rick Northey was the party’s new president. Former Social Credit leader James Albers is also on the party’s executive.

The oldest newest separatist party on Alberta’s right-wing fringe should not be confused with the also recently renamed Independence Party of Alberta (formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party and now led by past UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell), the Alberta Advantage Party (led by former Alberta Alliance Party president Marilyn Burns), and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance (led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise).

Edgar Hinman
Edgar Hinman

The United Independence Party name was also recently reserved with Elections Alberta, presumably by another former Wildrose candidate trying to start another new separatist party.

But back to the new interim leader of the new separatist Wildrose party…

The grandson of former Social Credit MLA and cabinet minister Edgar Hinman, Paul Hinman’s first foray into provincial electoral politics saw him elected in Cardston-Taber-Warner as the lone Alberta Alliance MLA in the 2004 election. Hinman inherited the leadership of the tiny right-wing party when Randy Thorsteinson (who had previously helped found the Alberta First Party) failed to win his election in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake. He endorsed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton in 2006 and led the party through an eventual split and re-merger with a faction branding itself as the Wildrose Party – and thus the Wildrose Alliance was formed. 

Hinman lost his seat in the 2008 election in a rematch with former PC MLA Broyce Jacobs. He announced plans to step down as leader shortly afterward and then surprised political watchers when he won a 2009 by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore, pumping some momentum behind Danielle Smith when she won the party’s leadership race a few months later.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose
Danielle Smith with Wildrose MLA’s Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson in 2010.

In 2010, Hinman was joined by floor crossing PC MLAs Heather Forsyth, Guy Boutilier, and Rob Anderson (who four years later crossed the floor back to the PC Party and now hosts a Facebook video show where he promotes Alberta separatism), but, despite the party’s electoral breakthrough in 2012, Hinman was again unable to get re-elected.

Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman's side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.
Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman’s side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.

He endorsed Brian Jean for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 and announced his candidacy to seek the Wildrose nomination back in his old Cardston-Taber-Warner district in that year’s election but withdrew from the race a month later. Standing by Hinman’s side at this nomination launch was Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, now de facto leader of the UCP separatist caucus.

A year later he mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Conservative Party nomination in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner in 2016 but was defeated by now Member of Parliament Glen Motz.

More recently, Hinman launched a brief bid for the UCP leadership in 2017, announcing a campaign focused on parental rights and conscience rights, but when the Sept 2017 deadline to deposit the $57,500 candidate fee passed, he did not make the cut. Hinman later endorsed Jason Kenney‘s candidacy.

Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.
Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

Now he might be taking over the interim leadership of the fledgeling fringe separatist party at a time when public opinion polls show that Albertans’ appetite for leaving Canada is cooling as memory of the 2019 federal election fades. If historic trends hold, then the desire for separatism will drop if it looks like the next federal Conservative Party leader can form a government in Ottawa.

Separatism is ever-present on the fringes of Alberta politics and is more of a situational tendency than a real political movement with legs but a half-organized separatist party could syphon votes away from the UCP in the next provincial election.

And with next October’s Senate nominee election likely to be a showdown between candidates aligned with the federal Conservative Party led by whoever wins this summer’s leadership race and the federal Wexit Party led by former Conservative MP Jay Hill, expect the UCP to be paying a lot of attention to these fringe separatist groups sniping at its right-flank.

If he actually does become the leader of the oldest newest separatist party, Hinman will provide some profile and credibility in political circles where conservatives are perpetually disgruntled with New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and newly disgruntled with Premier Kenney, presumably for not pushing hard enough for Alberta’s separation from Canada.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 57: A deep dive into diversification, oil pipelines and petro-patriotism with Andrew Leach

Andrew Leach joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of Alberta’s economy, economic diversification and how the politics of oil and pipelines are developing in 2020. He also shares some thoughts and reflections on climate change policy from his time as chair of Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel in 2015.

Leach is a Canadian energy and environmental economist and an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta. You can follow him on Twitter and read more about him on his Wikipedia page.

This episode sounds great because of the skills and technical expertise of our hard-working producer, Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of 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

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Alberta Politics

4 reasons why Kenney’s approval ratings are low and Albertans aren’t rallying around the flag during the pandemic.

Alberta is used to being a political outlier. And in the first six months of 2020, when governments and opposition parties in most provinces put aside their political differences to face the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown, Alberta remained an outlier as neither the United Conservative Party government nor the New Democratic Party opposition put aside their differences to rally around the flag. Here are a few reasons why:

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

1. Jason Kenney is unpopular. This is not new and has been a problem that has dogged him and his party since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017. Pulling off a coup by taking over the Progressive Conservative Party and merging it with the Wildrose Party to form the UCP may have solidified his popularity among conservative partisans, but most polls have shown his approval and performance ratings dragging far below the high-water mark of UCP support in the 2019 election.

2. The United Conservative Party government is using the pandemic and economic crisis as cloud cover to continue to implement a divisive political agenda. The UCP campaigned on the slogan of “jobs, economy and pipelines,” but during the pandemic the government has barely skipped a beat in continuing its fight with rural and small town doctors, cutting funding that led to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs and thousands of layoffs at Alberta’s technical colleges and universities, and pushing the privatization and closure of Alberta’s provincial parks. And plans to layoff nurses and health care workers? That has only been delayed.

And while claiming that the government is broke, the UCP invested $1.5 billion and pledged an additional $6 billion towards the construction of a pipeline that entirely depends on Donald Trump being re-elected as President of the United States in November.

Donald Trump (source: Facebook)
Donald Trump (source: Facebook)

Probably one of the most distinguishing features of the UCP government is the inability of its ministers to admit it is wrong or has made a mistake, ever. Instead, the UCP responds by aggressively blaming its opponents, whether it be the Alberta Medical Association, the New Democratic Party, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan, secret foreign-funded anti-Alberta campaigns, or nefarious urban green-left radicals with growing influence over New York City-based credit rating agencies.

Barely a day goes by where the UCP does not release a meme or video on social media attacking its opponents. Long gone are the days when the old PC Party government would focus on governing and pretend the opposition parties didn’t exist.

3. The New Democratic Party official opposition is very aggressive. While the tiny 2-4 MLA NDP caucus of the past would frequently run circles around the other opposition parties, the current 24-MLA NDP caucus is striking a different tone and operating in a similar aggressive manner to how the Wildrose Party did during its time in opposition benches from 2012-2017.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

It is perhaps not a surprise that the UCP is now trying to paint the NDP with the same “Team Angry” moniker that the PC Party slapped onto the Wildrose Party a decade ago. But the political landscape in Alberta is drastically different as both parties now exist in a competitive environment where Albertans have a taste for electoral change.

With former premier Rachel Notley at its helm and a front bench of former cabinet ministers in its caucus, the NDP are the first official opposition in decades that can legitimately call itself a government-in-waiting. But in a big way, the NDP needs to start acting like a government-in-waiting and talking confidently about what new ideas it will implement and bad UCP ideas it will repeal if or when it forms government again in 2023.

4. Nothing is actually getting done for Albertans who now face record unemployment levels and a very uncertain economic future.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 54: That’s a great Alberta politics question.

We dive into the mailbag in this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to answer questions about Alberta politics sent in by our listeners on topics ranging from the United Conservative Party’s influence on the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race to the details of the Alberta government’s Keystone XL Pipeline investment to Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s never-ending fight with Alberta’s doctors to how the 1918 Spanish influenza impacted Alberta politics and more great questions.

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:

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 53: COVID-19 provides cloud cover over Alberta’s economic crisis

“…in a crisis there are no capitalists left. Everybody is a socialist.”

Zain Velji Daveberta Podcast
Zain Velji

Zain Velji, campaign strategist and Vice President Strategy at Northweather joins host Dave Cournoyer and producer Adam Rozenhart on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the how COVID-19 is providing cloud cover to and accelerating Calgary’s economic problems and how the pandemic could provide an opportunity to reshape politics and policies at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

We also discuss whether the United Conservative Party government is pushing forward with a now outdated agenda and we dive into wild speculation about how this pandemic and economic crisis could impact the 2023 election 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.

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

Recommended reading:
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Alberta Politics

Facebook ads suggest UCP trying to build social license for pipelines through PPE donations

It appears that the Government of Alberta spent between $14,000 and $20,000 buying targeted advertisements on Facebook to promote Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement last week that the Alberta government was donating Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators to British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The breakdown of locations targeted in the Alberta government's largest Facebook ad buy on April 11-12, 2020.
The breakdown of locations targeted in the Alberta government’s largest Facebook ad buy on April 11-12, 2020.

According to information publicly available through Facebook’s Ad Library, the three ads ran on April 11 and 12, 2020. A French-language ad targeted users in Quebec, a smaller English ad targeted Alberta users, and the largest ad buy targeted users across Canada but primarily located in Ontario and British Columbia.

Similar ads are reported to have been seen on Twitter as well.

The PPE and ventilator donations were widely reported on by the mainstream media in Alberta and across Canada, so the unusually large purchase of targeted social media ads suggests that the Alberta government very much wanted Canadians in other provinces to know about their gesture of goodwill.

The Alberta government has advertised in other provinces in the past, but in most cases it was a concerted campaign over a number of weeks or months. The current and past governments have launched out-of-province advertising campaigns promoting oil pipelines and the oil industry.

But this particular two-day ad buy is unusual for other reasons.

While it would be nice to believe the donation was a genuine gesture of solidarity by Alberta’s government to its provincial brothers and sisters, it is easy to be cynical about the politics behind it.

The out-of-province Facebook ads and Kenney’s focus during his announcement on reminding Canadians about the challenges faced by Alberta’s oil and gas sector suggests there is a motive beyond pure generosity.

That motive was essentially confirmed by Matt Wolf, the Premier’s Director of Issues Management, who tweeted today in response to the Facebook ads that “If we learned nothing else in recent years, Alberta needs allies. When Alberta steps up to help the rest of Canada, best to let the rest of Canada know.”

Kenney has frequently spoken about the need for “allies” in the context of his government’s opposition to the federal carbon tax and its enthusiastic support for oil pipeline expansion in the face of “foreign funded radicals.”

In his search for “allies,” it appears as though Kenney might be attempting to build a “social license” for a post-COVID-19 pipeline agenda. There would be some irony to this effort considering tomorrow marks one year since the 2019 election in which the United Conservative Party effectively attacked Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government for its attempts to use the Climate Leadership Plan to build social license to support oil pipeline expansion across Canada.

Fair Deal Panel report was due on March 31

Fair Deal Panel Edmonton Alberta Politics 1
The Fair Deal Panel at a town hall meeting in Edmonton in December 2019.

It was not long ago that the Kenney government was taking a much less conciliatory approach to defining Alberta’s role in Confederation.

The Fair Deal Panel tasked with recommending policy changes to increase Alberta’s autonomy within Canada was scheduled to deliver its final report to the UCP government on March 31, 2020.

The panel was created following an announcement at the November 2019 Manning Centre conference and was tasked with making recommendations that included whether Alberta should withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and whether the province should form its own police force.

With the price of oil in collapse and a pandemic sweeping the country that is demonstrating the importance of the Alberta government being able to work closely with the federal government in Ottawa and other provinces, there is likely little public appetite for this report at the moment.

Talk of Alberta autonomy and the Wexit threat was all the rage shortly after the October 2019 federal election but the separatist fury seems to have petered out.

Expect the report to be shelved in some dusty warehouse until the next time the federal and provincial government’s get into a public squabble.

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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 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

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

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 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.

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

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!