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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 72: The COVID 18 and the Curriculum Catastrophe

Alberta politics moves at a mile a minute and there’s no time to waste. On this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, we dive into the United Conservative Caucus rebellion against mild public health restrictions to fight COVID-19 and challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, the controversial draft K-6 curriculum, and the government’s toxic relationship with Alberta doctors and public sector unions.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

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.

Music featured in this episode: Prairie Soil by Johnny Bomblast and Dave Harris.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta back to Step 1 after a long-weekend of confusing COVID communications

While most Albertans stuck close to home or gathered in small groups to celebrate Easter over the long weekend, the usual fun of watching the kids hunt for chocolate eggs on Sunday morning was accompanied by a growing unease about the third-wave of COVID-19 that has hit Alberta.

Cases started to rise late last week, and over the weekend the province was reporting up to 1,100 new cases of COVID each day. But despite the growing spike of new cases, our elected officials were nowhere to be seen.

A daily thread of ominously vague tweets from the office of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was the source of most information released by the government over the four-day long weekend.

Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets also announced a series of outbreaks of COVID-19 variants in parts of the province but did not include any specific details about where those outbreaks were happening. The tweets also stated that the variant came to Alberta from a traveller, but it appeared as though reporters who asked where that traveller came from were given different answers.

Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo tried to put a positive spin on Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets when she tweeted that it was good news that hospitalizations were “stable” but there was no explanation what that meant and it was clear the backbench United Conservative Party MLA was just as out of the loop as the rest of us.

The third wave of COVID had arrived and our leaders took the weekend off.

A press conference originally scheduled for Monday was bumped to Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. It was then rescheduled to 4:30 p.m., but as Premier Jason Kenney was joining Dr. Hinshaw, it ended up being delayed until 4:45 p.m.

When he finally arrived at the podium, Kenney announced that the province was going back to Step 1 restrictions. When Kenney was done, Health Minister Tyler Shandro took to the podium to essentially repeat the Premier’s speaking notes.

This is far from a circuit breaker that we are seeing in other provinces or a lockdown that we have seen in other countries or the COVID Zero approach that has nearly eliminated the virus in the Atlantic provinces and northern territories.

Kenney acknowledged that many Albertans are frustrated with the length of the pandemic and has tried to square the blame on the federal government over vaccine supply. A good part of Kenney’s speech was dedicated to caucus management, as many of his UCP MLAs are openly critical of public health restrictions and many more have expressed these views behind closed doors.

But it has become clear that Kenney’s start-stop approach to dealing with the pandemic and his government’s selective willingness to enforce the rules has contributed to the fatigue – and growing anger that Kenney is unwilling to make tough decisions that could alienate part of his conservative base of supporters.

Taking a step back to Step 1 today was a good choice, but it seems likely that it will take more serious actions to stop the renewed spread of the COVID-19 variant in Alberta. If this doesn’t work, look for increased restrictions in the next week or two.


Nenshi not running for re-election

The big political news coming out of Calgary today was the announcement by Mayor Naheed Nenshi that he will not seek re-election in the October municipal elections.

First elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2013 and 2017, Nenshi has dominated Calgary politics and reshaped many Canadians’ views of Calgary as a more urban, more progressive and more forward-thinking city. He is a giant in Alberta politics and he will be missed.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 70: Who was the most unpopular Premier in Alberta history?

We dive into our mailbag and answer some great questions sent in by Daveberta Podcast listeners. From the possibility of a United Conservative Party leadership review to Premier Jason Kenney’s new health care-friendly talking points to the Alberta Party leadership to the unpopularity of premiers Richard Reid and John Brownlee, you sent us a lot of great questions!

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

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.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

Some Assembly Required: Wildrosers make for a raucous caucus

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is back in session next week after a weeklong Constituency Break that immediately followed last Thursday’s budget announcement. While Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have been testing out their new health care friendly talking points this week, pandemic politics inside the United Conservative Party caucus threaten to derail the Premier’s Spring agenda.

An unofficial “end the lockdown caucus” inside the UCP caucus, which originally included outspoken MLA Drew Barnes and Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt – but now appears to have expanded to include former Wildrose MLAs Todd Loewen, Ron Orr, Dave Hanson and rookie MLA Michaela Glasgo (according to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell) – is causing problems for Kenney.

The group of disgruntled backbenchers are unhappy they are being kept out of the loop on public health decisions and want COVID public health measures lifted more quickly and on a regional basis. That most of the six-pack of UCP dissenters come from the former Wildrose caucus is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.

But they aren’t alone. I’m told that there may be another 10 to 20 UCP backbenchers who are supportive of the six-pack but haven’t said so publicly and number of them are agitating for a leadership review to happen before the 2023 election.

Barnes in particular continues to play a game of chicken with Kenney, almost daring the Premier to kick him out of the caucus. After he was overlooked for a cabinet spot following the 2019 election, Barnes has been outspoken on his support for Alberta autonomy from Canada, has called on Kenney to appoint him as Minister of Autonomy, and most recently declared that he has not yet decided whether he will endorse the budget tabled by Finance Minister Travis Toews last week.

Kenney has been very cautious not to alienate the right-wing of his party, which explains why he hasn’t come down hard on Barnes in the past, but with more UCP backbenchers speaking out against the Premier it is beginning  to look like he’s losing control.

That Barnes remains in the UCP caucus today is a sign that Kenney is desperate not to have another conservative party represented in the Assembly – a split that would immediately undermine the entire “United Conservative” project that Kenney helped spearhead four years ago.

Already 1 Independent

Already outside the UCP Caucus is Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, who is sitting as an Independent after he was removed from the UCP caucus following a chorus of calls for his resignation by local municipal leaders and the revelation of questionable expense claims. This all happened after a Christmas vacation to Mexico got him caught up in the hot holiday scandal.

While he now sits in the far corner of the opposition benches, Rehn has been acting on social media as if he is still a UCP MLA by regularity posting government press releases and statements.

New Municipal Affairs Minister?

And speaking of the hot holiday scandal, Kenney has yet to appoint a new Minister of Municipal Affairs following the resignation of former minister Tracy Allard after her unfortunate hot holiday in Hawaii.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver has been serving in a double-role as Municipal Affairs Minister, and there is some speculation that that Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton might be up for a promotion. The affable former Spruce Grove city councillor i chair of the UCP Capital Regional Caucus and Kenney’s special envoy to private sector unions.

Rodeo is back

Calgary-North UCP MLA Muhammad Yaseen has introduced a private members’ bill that would make rodeo the official sport of Alberta.

This is not the first time this idea has come up in the Legislative Assembly. Another UCP MLA introduced a private members’ motion calling for this last year and way back in 2008, outgoing Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft did the same (I worked on the caucus communications support for Taft’s motion).

The naysayers may claim it is just a distraction, that it would be controversial, and just play into outdated stereotypes. They are probably correct, but I say go for it. Yahoo! Yeehaw! Saddle up!

(Photo source: Travel Alberta)

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Alberta Politics

The first week of January is usually a sleepy time in Alberta politics – not this year!

The first week of January is typically a sleepy time in Alberta politics, but 2021 is an incredible exception.

They found Tany Yao! And he’s staying in Mexico

Tany Yao UCP MLA Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo
Tany Yao

MLA Tany Yao has re-emerged in Mexico and appears to be defying Premier Jason Kenney’s directive to MLAs to immediately return home after “disconnecting” following a stressful year of passing a one-page private members’ bill that easily passed through the Legislative Assembly on November 16, 2020.

The United Conservative Party MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo apparently turned his cell phone off after he arrived in Mexico on Dec. 26, avoiding news of the hot holiday scandal that started to envelope his government last Friday. He will return to Alberta on Jan. 9, according to media reports.

Kenney goes into hiding after firing cabinet minister 

Kenney was nowhere to be seen the day after he announced on Facebook that he was asking for the resignations of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard and his Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay and demoting the handful of UCP MLAs who ignored advice to stay home and jetted off to hot destinations over the Christmas break.

Leger Poll Disapprove Kenney COVID-19 Alberta
A recent Leger poll showing that 69% of Albertans disapprove of how the Kenney government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and new Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver took point at the COVID-19 press conference yesterday, thanking Albertans for being angry at the government over the MLAs ignoring the recommendations to stay home and avoid non-essential international travel, claiming the government feels the same way.

Kenney’s last public appearance was on last Friday, when he took to the podium to defend Allard’s Hawaiian vacation and claim that he has been encouraging international, despite 9-months of telling Albertans to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

On top of the troubles in his sun-seeking Caucus, a recent Leger poll showed that 69 per cent of Albertans disapprove of how the Kenney government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slave Lake Town Council calls for Pat Rehn to resign

Pat Rehn

The biggest political news of the day came from up north.

With his Mexican vacation cut short by public outrage, Pat Rehn will have returned home to face a letter signed by the entire Slave Lake Town Council calling for his resignation as the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake. But the letter isn’t about his hot holiday.

“We have lost faith that you have the ability and the desire to undertake the work which is required of an MLA. On behalf of the Town of Slave Lake and those we represent, we are asking for your resignation as MLA for the Lesser Slave Lake constituency,” the letter, signed by Mayor Tyler Warman and all the town Councillors said. 

Warman used to be a supporter of Rehn’s and donated $500 to the Lesser Slave Lake UCP association in 2019, according to Elections Alberta records.

Tyler Warman

The letter accuses the first-term backbench MLA of consistently missing meetings with local officials, not living in the constituency and spending “more physical time managing his business in Texas” than being physically present in the constituency.

In all my years writing about Alberta politics, I cannot recall a municipal council being forced to take this sort of drastic action against a local MLA. The town council must have felt they had exhausted all other options in trying to work with Rehn, who was first elected in 2019 after unseating NDP cabinet minister Danielle Larivee in the UCP sweep of rural Alberta.

Rehn responded on Facebook with a statement that does more to spin the issue than address the concerns raised by Slave Lake town council.

His response does not deny missing meetings with local officials or refute the allegations that he spends more time in Texas than in his constituency by saying he “doesn’t own property in Texas.”

But perhaps the most tone deaf part of Rehn’s response is when he accused Slave Lake Town Council of trying to “sow political division.”

Rehn, who just returned from a hot holiday in Mexico after his government asked every Albertan to cancel their own Christmas gatherings and holiday trips, has no moral authority to accuse anybody in Alberta of “sowing disunity.” He has done that himself.

Here is the letter:

Categories
Alberta Politics

What lies ahead for Alberta’s political parties in 2021

With 2020 on its way out here is quick look at what might await Alberta’s political parties in 2021:

United Conservative Party: The UCP will continue pushing through a legislative agenda and ideological project that includes mass privatization of public services and public land, and big job losses for public sector workers.

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

The UCP’s inability to pivot off its agenda has been demonstrated clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic as Health Minister Tyler Shandro continued his fight against Alberta doctors, planned layoffs of thousands of nurses and health care workers, and schemed to privatize large swaths of the public health care system.

Kenney’s inconsistent approach to the pandemic has likely alienated him from both Albertans who would like to see more serious public health measures taken and those who think being required to wear a face-mask in public spaces is too far.

A federal election in 2021 might distract Albertans from the UCP’s mismanaging of the COVID-19 pandemic, so expect the UCP to ramp up attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. Increasing attacks of the federal government and next year’s promised referendum on equalization and Senate nominee election could also serve as a distraction from poor economic growth and the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit by incoming United States President Joe Biden.

Kenney’s approval ratings took a big hit in 2020 and the UCP has dropped considerably in the polls since 2019. If their leader looks like he has become a liability for re-election in 2023 then expect a change at the top. Conservative parties in Alberta are ruthless with leaders who stop looking like winners, just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

The good news for Kenney is that he is only two years into his government’s four year term in office which leaves him with some time to turn around his political fortunes. But the clock is ticking and the tire-kickers could soon be kicking.

Alberta NDP: It is not often that political leaders in Canada are given a second chance, but despite losing the 2019 election Rachel Notley remains in firm control of her New Democratic Party.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Notley’s moderate NDP is leading or tied with the UCP is three of the four recent voter intention polls released during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and has maintained competitive fundraising levels, but the next election is still more than two years away.

The potential for strikes by public sector workers in 2021 could test the NDP’s political coalition. The NDP’s opponents will inevitably try to use any major labour disputes as a wedge between the party’s union activist wing and its more moderate and centrist supporters.

The key to an NDP victory in 2023 will be a breakthrough in Calgary, smaller urban centres like Lethbridge and Red Deer, and a small handful of suburban and rural ridings scattered across Alberta. The NDP swept those regions in 2015 and Notley has already signalled through her constant visits and social media posts that her focus in 2021 will be Calgary, Calgary, and more Calgary.

Alberta Party: Finding a new permanent leader should be the top focus of this tiny moderate conservative party. The Alberta Party has become home to a small group of disenchanted former Progressive Conservatives unhappy the combative tone and social conservative politics of the UCP. The party lost all its seats in 2019 but continues to poll around 10 per cent support in most surveys. In a two-party political environment, the Alberta Party needs to give Albertans a reason to vote for it that is beyond just not being the UCP or NDP.

Alberta Liberal Party: The Liberals not only need to find a new leader, they need to find a reason to exist. After forming Official Opposition for 19 years, the Liberal vote collapsed in 2012, saw almost all of its supporters migrate to Notley’s NDP in 2015 and lost its only seat in the Assembly in 2019. With the NDP now comfortably occupying the space held by the Liberals in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals need a raison d’être in Alberta.

Green Party: Yes, Alberta has a Green Party. The Greens have been issuing a steady stream of press statements that plant the party firmly to the left of the moderate NDP on climate change, the environment and pipelines. It seems unlikely that the party will make any electoral breakthroughs in the near future, but they could put pressure on the NDP to remember that it still has a progressive wing.

Wildrose Independence Party: Also looking for a new leader in 2021, the child of a merger between the Freedom Conservative Party and the Wexit group in 2020 is now led by former Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

While separatist sentiment appears to be waining the further time passes from the last federal election, Hinman has clamped on to the anti-mask and anti-COVID restrictions groups as his focus, appearing at demonstrations in the two cities.

A number of UCP MLAs have expressed similar views, leading some political watchers to believe that one UCP MLA in particular – Drew Barnes – could be auditioning for Hinman’s job if his public comments become too much for the UCP.

The other fringe separatist parties: The Alberta Advantage Party and Independence Party of Alberta are also looking for new leaders. Advantage Party leader Marilyn Burns, a former Wildrose supporter, resigned in the fall amid a leadership challenge and has announced plans to run for the position again. Former Wildrose constituency president Lenard Biscope is now interim leader.

Communist Party of Alberta: Carry on, Comrades.

Thoughts? What do you think awaits Alberta’s political parties in 2021?

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney introduces Alberta’s not-a-lockdown lockdown

Amid a month-long spike in new COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government introduced increased measures and restrictions on businesses that include closing casinos, bar and in-person dining in restaurants, and a province-wide mandatory face-mask requirement. The measures are necessary but come after weeks of feet-dragging by provincial leaders.

Weaker measures introduced two weeks ago proved ineffective but you will not hear Premier Jason Kenney admit it, and you will not hear him call the new measures a lockdown.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Despite loud warnings from physicians, public health professionals and health care unions over the past month that the government was not taking serious enough action to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, Kenney’s government attacked and mocked those calling for some of the same measures he introduced today.

At times it has seemed as as though Kenney was more concerned with not doing anything that might alienate elements of his political base than he was in taking measures to actually stop or slow the spread of the virus. This concern about his voter base appears to also include an avoidance of the word “lockdown,” despite it being an appropriate description of what the government has implemented.

The government’s new measures still fall short of the “circuit-breaker” lockdown proposed by health care professionals and the more comprehensive plan proposed by New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley.

As of today, there are 20,388 active cases province-wide and have been 640 deaths caused by COVID-19.

Still no federal app

The measures announced by Kenney still did not include the activation of the federal CovidAlert app in Alberta. The federal app has become one of the latest targets of partisan attacks against Ottawa, with cabinet minister Jason Nixon referring to it as the “Trudeau Tracing App.”

Despite the adoption of the ABTraceTogether App early in the pandemic, it has proven ineffective and is reported to have only been effectively used 19 times since it was launched in the spring.

Unlike Alberta’s app, the federal app allows contact tracers to track the spread of COVID-19 across provincial boundaries.

Schweitzer shows a little humanity, some leadership potential

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Along with Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the press conference announcing the increased measures featured Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer.

Engaging in a bit of mischief-making, Lethbridge-West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips mused about Schweitzer’s performance and potential leadership ambitions. While Phillips’ commentary was certainly designed to create mischief, she may have a point.

Compared to Kenney, who remains robotic, unemotional and prone to partisan outbursts, and Shandro, who appears to perpetually carry a giant chip on his shoulder, Schweitzer sounded like a real human being. While he does have a serious ‘dude bro’ vibe and his comments today were weighed down by business jargon, he was a much clearer and sympathetic communicator than his two colleagues.

Shannon Phillips NDP MLA Lethbridge West
Shannon Phillips

Kenney has displayed almost complete command and control over the United Conservative Party and Caucus since taking over as leader in 2017, but he has clearly failed to demonstrate leadership during the biggest crisis in a generation. Recent polls show Kenney’s leadership approval ratings have continued to plummet, the NDP are leading in province-wide support, and only 25 per cent of Albertans approve of how the UCP government has responded the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenney may be in complete control of his party today, but history shows that Conservative parties in Alberta can be ruthless towards leaders who become liabilities at the ballot box. Just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 64: Pandemic, Partisanship, and Post-Secondary Education in Alberta

Melanee Thomas University of Calgary
Melanee Thomas

Melanee Thomas joined Dave Cournoyer for a deep dive into Alberta’s politics during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the relationship between the provincial and federal governments, and how Albertans’ political self-identification could be influencing Premier Jason Kenney’s decision to avoid serious public health measures including a province-wide mandatory mask mandate. Thomas also shared what it has been like to teach at a university during the global pandemic.

Thomas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

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

Alberta politics this week… where do I even start?

It’s 9:30 p.m. I’m sitting down in my living room with the intention of writing a piece about what happened in Alberta politics this week. But where the heck do I even start?

I could write about Premier Jason Kenney‘s growing focus on not alienating anti-vaxxers following his recent announcement about the potential distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021. Or I could write about how Health Minister Tyler Shandro amplified Kenney’s comments that basically amount to protecting anti-vaxxers from a vaccine that could stop a pandemic that has almost ground many part of our society and economy to a halt this year.

I could also write about Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s announcement today that there were more than 1,800 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths in Alberta. Overworked doctors and nurses also remain concerned that understaffed hospitals could be overwhelmed by the growing number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta. And Alberta remains the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.

I would like to write about the steady stream of information leaks coming from the Alberta government to the media and the NDP opposition, which has led to stories about public health advice presented to cabinet, modelling projections and the government’s plans to set up Red Cross and federal government field hospitals in Alberta.

I could write about how in a radio interview this week, Kenney singled out the South Asian community in northeast Calgary as spreaders of COVID-19. I could also write about City Councillor George Chahal‘s response, tweeting that Kenney “should focus on those knowingly putting our frontline workers and their families at risk by violating public health orders, not the people working the jobs we need to keep our city going during a global pandemic.”

I might also write about the handful of recent public opinion polls that suggest the Kenney government is continuing to flounder. Kenney’s approval rating has dropped to 40 per cent, according to a recent Angus Reid survey, and the United Conservative Party fell behind the New Democratic Party in a voter intention poll conducted by Environics and commissioned by CUPE Alberta.

But I also might pen a piece about how politicians from other provinces are starting to refer to Alberta to downplay the spread of COVID in their own provinces.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, the wife of Kenney’s former colleague the late Jim Flaherty, singled out Alberta during Question Period at Queen’s Park earlier this week.

“You want to speak about who is in crisis? Have you taken a look at Alberta, where they’re doubling up patients in intensive care units? We’re not doing that in Ontario,” Elliott said.

And our neighbours to the north are even asking questions about us. Northwest Territories MLA Kevin O’Reilly is asking whether the territory will stop sending patients to Alberta.

I might delve into why the Alberta government has left at least $300 million on the table that could be used to pay top-up wages to health-care workers, correctional officers, first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alberta Senator Paula Simons asked about that in Ottawa this week.

Or I could write about how the Alberta government’s own data seems to contradict Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon‘s claims about provincial parks being shuttered and privatized because of low usage.

I could try to figure out what in the world Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan means when he raised red flags about “socialist decarbonization” during a private members statement in the Legislative Assembly this week. But that might take a series of think-pieces to even attempt to explain.

Now I’m getting tired, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts and a tweet from William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk, about the Alberta government’s stubborn refusal to adopt the federal CovidAlert Tracing app.

Good night.

Categories
Alberta Politics

#1 for the wrong reason: Alberta leads Canada in new COVID-19 cases. Where is Jason Kenney?

Alberta broke its daily record for new COVID-19 cases and led the country in new cases. With 1,584 new cases, Alberta had more new cases than Canada’s two largest provinces, Quebec with 1,154, and Ontario with 1,534. 

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Alberta hard, and our leadership is sending out mixed messages. While the pandemic was of upmost importance earlier in the year, provincial leaders shifted their focus to the economy over the summer and resisted calls from health care experts for a province-wide mandatory mask requirement. Alberta is now the only province without a province-wide mask mandate.

Miranda Rosin Banff Kananaskis UCP MLA
Miranda Rosin

Premier Jason Kenney, who is in his second period of self-isolation after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 during a trip to northern Alberta earlier this month, has been silent on the daily record breaking cases. But although Kenney has been publicly silent on the surge in COVID cases and the many recent tragic deaths as a result of the virus, he was said to have recently appeared via Zoom at the Edmonton-South West United Conservative Party annual general meeting and a screenshot of him speaking via Zoom to the Canada India Foundation was circulating on social media this evening.

While no one is expecting Kenney to have all the answers, his disappearance is puzzling.

Even Health Minister Tyler Shandro has made only rare appearances outside the Legislative Assembly chamber lately, with most appearances related to defending Alberta’s ineffective COVID-19 tracing app.

In the absence of leadership, some UCP MLAs are filling the void with confusing information and mixed-messaging that undermines the work of public health professionals like Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin mailed pamphlets to thousands of her constituents last week claiming that the worst of the pandemic was over and that now was the time to focus on the economy.

And a video circulating on social media showed Associate Minster of Mental Health and Addictions and Calgary-Foothills MLA Jason Luan claiming that the government’s COVID-19 plan was to wait for hospital intensive care units to reach full capacity before changing course. Luan later retracted his comments in a carefully prepared written statement.

Meanwhile, the situation in hospital ICU’s across Alberta has reached serious levels. Not only are ICU beds filling up, but the pandemic is taking a serious toll on the health care professionals required to staff these intensive units. Most staff are overworked and having to work many additional shifts to cover for co-workers who have been exposed to COVID and are required to go into self-isolation.

In many cases, nurses and health workers are taking time-off without pay because their sick leave banks have run dry and a special self-isolation leave was ended by Alberta Health Services in July.

New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley has announced that she plans to ask for an emergency debate about the COVID-19 pandemic when MLAs return to the Legislature tomorrow.

And rumours are circulating tonight that Kenney may break his silence and join Dr. Hinshaw at a press conference tomorrow to announce a new series of measures to combat the pandemic, maybe even more stringent than the strongly encouraged voluntary measures that have clearly not been working.


David Khan to step down as Liberal Party leader

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader
David Khan

The Alberta Liberal Party will soon be looking for a new leader. A press release sent out by the party today announced that leader David Khan would soon step down to pursue his legal career.

The congenial Khan has run under the provincial Liberal Party banner four times since 2014 and was chosen as party leader after launching a last-minute candidacy in 2017.

While Khan placed a strong third in Calgary-Buffalo in 2015, he finished a distant fourth in Calgary-Mountain View in 2019 as his party’s fortunes collapsed across the province. While he performed respectfully in the televised leaders debate, the Liberals were unable to break into what was largely two-party race between the UCP and NDP.

The 2019 election marked the first time since 1982 that the Liberals did not elect an MLA to the Legislative Assembly.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 62: Maybe Keystone XL wasn’t a very good investment after all

In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast we discuss:

  • the election of Joe Biden as President of the United States and the future of the Alberta government’s $7 billion investment into the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  • the Kenney government’s response to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s plans to lay-off 11,000 health support workers.
  • the Auditor General’s report and what it had to say about the Canadian Energy Centre.

We also take a deeper look at what Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes could be up to after he backed Edmonton-Ellerslie NDP MLA Rod Loyola’s motion to debate Canadian unity in the Alberta Legislature (Dave also nerds out about Alberta’s 1982 election, which took place 38 years to the day that Loyola introduced the motion).

And we dive into the mailbag to answer some great questions from our listeners.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

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.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

COVID was supposed to be Jason Kenney’s Battle of Britain. What happened?

When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta many months ago, Premier Jason Kenney was front-and-centre.

Ever the Anglophile, Kenney quoted Winston Churchill and compared the pandemic to the Battle of Britain. Under Kenney’s leadership we were going to fight COVID on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets.

He delivered a bleak televised address to Albertans, presented an awkward to watch 54-minute powerpoint display in an attempt to explain Alberta’s pandemic modelling, and elbowed his way to the front of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s press conferences on a weekly basis. It was clear that he wanted Albertans to know he was their Commander-in-Chief in the war against the pandemic.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney at a March 15 press conference about COVID-19.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney at a March 15 press conference about COVID-19. (Source: Government of Alberta)

In one of his more notable comments, Kenney compared Albertans to a herd of buffalo that “move closely together and go into the storm head on, coming out of it faster, stronger, and united.”

But at some point over the summer, as new cases of COVID dropped into the teens and single digits, Kenney shifted gears. He stopped showing up at Dr. Hinshaw’s press conferences and his government ostensibly shifted toward an economic recovery message. But in reality the UCP government began a game of catch-up after the pandemic delayed the United Conservative Party‘s political agenda by five-months – a political agenda designed for a pre-pandemic Alberta.

Health support workers on a wildcat strike outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.
Health support workers on a wildcat strike outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

The glorious battle was over and it was time for Kenney’s government to resume its multi-front war with nurses, doctors and health care workers.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced plans to privatize large swaths of the public health care system and lay-off more than 11,000 nurses and health support workers. As a result, many physicians have indicated their plans to leave Alberta and health support workers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees walked off the job at more than 40 hospitals and health centres in a one-day wildcat strike last week.

A sensible political leader would appreciate that picking a very public fight with health care workers in the middle of a global pandemic is a bad way to run a government. But despite his falling approval ratings, Kenney appears to be moving forward as if everything has returned to normal. It clearly hasn’t.

Now the second wave of COVID-19 has hit Alberta. Dr. Hinshaw reported 800 new cases today, shattering previous records. The public health care system is showing signs of strain as nurses and health care workers are over-worked and understaffed, and COVID outbreaks are being reported at hospitals around the province.

The beaches are being stormed, but, unlike eight months ago, Kenney is no longer showing up at Dr. Hinshaw’s press conferences, confidently quoting Churchill or comparing Albertans to buffalo stampeding together through a thunder storm.

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Alberta Politics

UCP advisors erase Residential Schools and inject Anglophilia into primary grades’ Social Studies curriculum, show leaked documents

Perhaps it should not be a shock that a government initiative ostensibly aimed at “removing political bias” actually includes a whole lot of bias, but the curriculum advisory panel struck by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange appears to be doing just that.

According to draft copies leaked to CBC reporter Janet French, all references to residential schools will be removed from kindergarten to Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum if recommendations from an advisory panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government are accepted.

The authors of the draft copies have deemed residential schools to be “too sad” for younger students, but lighter topics like feudal societies, the Roman Empire and Chinese dynasties were considered appropriate by the panel.

The draft, which appears to be written partially in first-person, is also filled with strange Anglophilia like teaching students to memorize a Gilbert and Sullivan song and recognize the chimes of the Big Ben clock tower in London. It oddly describes Queen Elizabeth II as “Canada’s ruler” and claims that the monarchy represents “unity in diversity,” seemingly sugarcoating the legacy of British colonialism (this does not sound like the model of a modern major education system).

CBC reported the curriculum advisory panel also recommended the removal of all references to “equity” (which was deemed too politically partisan and charged), and that first grade students should learn Bible verses about creation as poetry and fourth grade students should learn that most non-white Albertans are Christians. It is not clear how the injection of a pseudo-religious curriculum would fit into the role of secular public schools, which the vast majority of Alberta students attend.

The handpicked advisory panel includes former political staffer Chris Champion as the Social Studies advisor. Champion was a senior advisor to Jason Kenney during his time in Ottawa from 2007 to 2015 and has been criticized for a 2019 article in which he described First Nations perspectives in school lessons as a fad.

“The Indian Residential School system was created to erase the cultures, histories, languages, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples within Canada, and these recommendations perpetuate that erasure,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association Staff Officer for Indigenous Education Melissa Purcell in a press release this afternoon.

“The recommendations perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing of the draft curriculum. These recommendations cannot be taken seriously and must be rejected outright,” said Purcell.

This is not the first time someone with close ties to Kenney has been criticized for comments about residential schools. Paul Bunner, who worked as Kenney’s speechwriter from 2019 until this fall once wrote an article dismissing the “bogus genocide story” of Canada’s residential school system.

Both Bunner and Champion are former employees of the Alberta Report, a now defunct conservative weekly news magazine.

Between the early 1880’s and 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools operated by church organizations and the Government of Canada.

The children were strictly forbidden from practicing their culture and speaking their language and were forced to assimilate into ‘white Canada.’ The number of school-related deaths is estimated to range from 3,200 to more than 6,000.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and held its final hearing in Edmonton in 2015, recommended that provincial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Residential School survivors, Indigenous peoples, and educators create “age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students” and implement “Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools” (Calls to Action 62 and 63).

The TRC final report described the residential school system as cultural genocide, a description that was adopted by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in 2019.

Grande Prairie and District Catholic School Board Chair Michael Ouellette told MyGrandePrairieNow that leaving out residential schools from learning plans is a terrible idea.

“It’s concerning where it’s going, it’s concerning where they’re going with education in this province,” Ouellette said.” “Other provinces are so much further ahead of us with the curriculum.”

Education experts interviewed by CBC described the recommendations included in the draft as “utter nonsense,” “a laughingstock” and out of touch with the past 30 to 40 years of research.


In 2016, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute about the heart-breaking story of 12-year old Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, whose death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.


COVID hits UCP cabinet

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

It was announced today that Kenney is in self-isolation after Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard contracted COVID-19. Allard was appointed to cabinet last month. Also self-isolating are Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie and Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf.

Kenney tested negative for COVID-19 but a statement released by his office says he plans to remain in self-isolation until October 29, 2020.

The total number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta announced today hit 406, a record daily high since the pandemic began.

Despite the emergence of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced last week that the UCP government plans to lay-0ff 11,000 health support workers and Alberta Health Services reiterated its plans to layoff 650 Registered Nurses.

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Alberta Politics

Failing Upwards: Kaycee Madu promoted to Justice after disastrous year in Municipal Affairs

Edmonton’s lone United Conservative Party MLA got a big promotion today in a mini-cabinet shuffle. After a year as Minister of Municipal Affairs, Edmonton-South West MLA Kaycee Madu has been appointed as Solicitor General and Minister of Justice.

Madu replaces Doug Schweitzer, who is the new Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, a rebranded Economic Development, Trade and Tourism department. Current EDTT Minister Tanya Fir moves to the backbenches and Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard is the new Municipal Affairs Minister.

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

The mini-cabinet shuffle, the first since the UCP formed government in April 2019, is a minor readjustment and not nearly what many had expected, with controversial Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange retaining their cabinet posts.

Madu’s promotion will be a surprise to many of Alberta’s municipal leaders, who watched the junior cabinet minister take a paternalistic approach to municipal affairs by interfering in the construction of major infrastructure projects, overhauling municipal election laws to the point where the AUMA publicly described its relationship with the minister as “broken,” and sparking an uprising by traditionally docile rural municipalities over exemptions to oil & gas taxes.

It was the uproar in rural Alberta that most likely lead to Madu being shuffled. Dozens of rural municipalities have spoken out against the government exemptions for municipal oil and gas taxes.

Rural governments that were already having a difficult time collecting taxes from oil and gas companies said the new changes imposed by the UCP government force them to hike property and business taxes in their counties. And rural MLAs, who make up the majority of the UCP caucus, have been receiving an earful from normally supportive local leaders over the tax changes.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Madu may have spent a year burning bridges with municipalities but he is the only UCP from inside Edmonton city limits and a loyal party soldier, a geographic fact and trait that has now earned him a senior cabinet role. Control of the UCP cabinet and caucus is so firmly held by Premier Jason Kenney and his inner circle of political staff that unflinching loyalty is the key to promotion.

Madu is now expected to oversee changes to the Police Act, and provincial election finance laws proposed by the Select Special Democratic Accountability Committee. He will also oversee the implementation of MLA recall legislation and the Fair Deal report recommendations, the government’s never-ending fight against the federal government over the carbon tax, and the expected referendum on equalization in October 2021.

Doug Schweitzer: This appears to be a demotion for Calgary-Elbow MLA Doug Schweitzer, who has recently been bearing the brunt of the criticism about the public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns.

The public inquiry, which has been conducted in complete privacy, is over-budget and behind schedule and has had its mandate changed twice since it was formed, suggesting that the one-man commission is having troubling completing its goal of rooting out the alleged global conspiracy against Alberta.

Tanya Fir MLA Calgary Peigan United Conservative Party Alberta
Tanya Fir

Schweitzer’s move signals that the UCP is desperate to recover the “jobs and economy” part of their election slogan that has been sideswiped by the collapse in the international price of oil and economic shutdown in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Schweitzer will be responsible for the new Invest Alberta crown corporation.

Tracy Allard: The first-term MLA from Grande Prairie and owner of Tim Hortons restaurant franchises in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and in Grande Prairie is now the ninth Minister of Municipal Affairs since 2010. Her first order of business will likely be trying to repair some of the many relationships damaged by Madu during his short tenure, and, as Kenney announced in today’s press conference, oversee the creation of a spending report card for municipal governments in Alberta.

Tanya Fir: It is unclear what led to Fir’s demotion to the backbenches. The first-term UCP MLA from Calgary-Peigan appeared to be well-spoken and had not caused much public drama for the government. Fir appears to have avoided controversy but her election campaign manager, long-time conservative activist Craig Chanlder, has never shied from controversy and was recently a featured speaker at a separatist rally.

Who was left out: Not making it into cabinet in this mini-shuffle are a number of UCP MLAs who are rumoured to be cabinet contenders: UCP Caucus chairperson Todd Loewen, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao, Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner, and Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo.

Also missing from the shuffle is former UCP finance critic Drew Barnes, now the third-term MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, who was left out of cabinet when the party formed government last year. Barnes recently made comments in support of separation if Alberta fails to get Ottawa’s attention regarding issues brought forward from the Fair Deal Panel.

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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.