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Alberta Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP cuts 25,000 jobs via Saturday afternoon press release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, never let a good crisis go to waste.