Categories
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.

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP backbenchers revolt against mild public health restrictions as COVID third wave hits Alberta

New cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and the third wave of the global pandemic is hitting Alberta, but that did not deter a group of nearly 20 United Conservative Party MLAs from publicly speaking out against the provincial government’s implementation of mild public health restrictions in response.

Like the virus, the group of COVID critics inside the UCP Caucus has grown exponentially from the original six-pack of MLAs who publicly spoke out against public health measures at the beginning of March. The public letter signed by 15 UCP MLAs criticized Premier Jason Kenney for moving back to Step 1 of the province’s mild public health measures in response to the spike in new cases, which is largely a result of a vicious new variant of the deadly virus.

The group of 15 includes Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who made an unusual move for a Speaker of the Assembly to publicly criticize the government, and already open COVID critics Drew Barnes and Angela Pitt, who recently split from the national End the Lockdown Caucus after Ontario MPP Randy Hillier posted a social media meme comparing public health restrictions to the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The UCP group also includes Tracy Allard, whose Christmas vacation to Hawaii cost her her job of Municipal Affairs Minister.

The letter signed by the 15 MLAs was soon after endorsed by Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell and West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, who also serves as the parliamentary secretary for small business. Also signalling support for the letter’s intentions was Calgary Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel-Garner, who serves as the Official Opposition Health Critic in Ottawa.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams, a long-time Kenney acolyte from Ottawa, did not endorse the letter but posted a video on social media criticizing the decision by Alberta Health Services to close down the rebel GraceLife Church, which had been holding in-person services in defiance of the government’s public health orders. He was joined in this call by Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the federal Conservative caucus for his extreme social conservative views.

Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)
Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)

That the leaders of the UCP caucus mutiny appear to largely be from the former Wildrose caucus, or Wildrose-wing of the party, 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.

It was also clear during Kenney’s press conference on Tuesday that he expected a negative reaction from his caucus. A significant portion of Kenney’s lecture was dedicated to managing MLAs expectations and acknowledging the differences of opinion in his caucus. Difference of opinion is one thing, but this is something entirely different.

The public health restrictions that Alberta fell back to earlier this week are nothing close to what restrictions have looked like in jurisdictions that have actually implemented lockdowns. Alberta schools are still open for in-person classes, and Albertans can still gather with up to 10 people outside, go shopping for non-essential items, get a haircut or a massage, dine or have drinks on a restaurant patio, and exercise at a gym with a personal trainer.

Jason Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney on April 6, 2021.

There is no doubt a lot of Albertans are frustrated about how the provincial government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Kenney government has not helped itself by releasing a string of confusing and inconsistent public health measures and messaging to Albertans about the government’s response.

While public opinion polling suggests many Albertans would like the government to impose stronger measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus, there is a loud minority who want to see the current restrictions lifted.

It is yet to be seen whether the revolt will extend beyond this strongly worded letter, but there is little doubt these MLAs are actively undermining the work being done by public health professionals and health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The caucus revolt is probably a reflection of deepening regional and partisan divides in Alberta, with most of the COVID Caucus MLAs representing largely rural and small town districts. It is notable that no UCP MLAs from Calgary, so far the hardest hit in the third wave, have publicly joined the revolt.

It also suggests that the United Conservative Party is not as united as its leader would like Albertans to believe.

Kenney’s personal approval ratings and support for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic plummeted over the past 13 months, and his party has floundered in the polls, finishing behind Rachel Notley’s NDP in a handful of recent voter opinion polls. The rise of the separatist Wildrose Independence Party in rural Alberta has some backbench UCP MLAs nervously looking over their right shoulders.

In some ways, the revolt probably serves as a welcome distraction to some in the UCP from the never ending string of scandals and policy failures, most recently the failure to stop the Carbon Tax at the Supreme Court, the loss of $1.5 billion of public money when the Keystone XL Pipeline was cancelled, the failure to sign a new contract with Alberta doctors, the retreat on open-pit coal mining, and the open rebellion by parents against the draft K-6 curriculum.

Under normal circumstances it would be hard to believe that this kind of caucus revolt would happen on a day when more than 1,300 new cases of COVID were reported and doctors are calling for a circuit breaker response, but in today’s world of Alberta politics, it would be harder to believe this would happen if the UCP were not floundering so deeply in the polls.

The original 15 UCP MLAs who signed the letter

  • Tracy Allard, MLA Grande Prairie
  • Drew Barnes, MLA Cypress-Medicine Hat
  • Nathan Cooper, MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  • Michaela Glasgo, MLA Brooks-Medicine Hat
  • Dave Hanson, MLA Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul
  • Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler
  • Todd Loewen, MLA Central Peace-Notley
  • Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka
  • Angela Pitt, MLA Airdrie-East
  • Roger Reid, MLA Livingstone-Macleod
  • Miranda Rosin, MLA Banff-Kananaskis
  • RJ Sigurdson, MLA Highwood
  • Mark Smith, Drayton Valley-Devon
  • Jason Stephan, Red Deer-South
  • Glenn van Dijken, Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock
Categories
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.

Categories
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

MLA Tany Yao MIA in Mexico. 6th UCP MLA caught on hot holiday.

In the midst of its biggest scandal since the United Conservative Party formed government in April 2019, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao is still vacationing in Mexico, but, according to reports, no one can get ahold of him.

Reports online say that neither the Premier Jason Kenney’s office nor the UCP caucus have been able to contact the MIA MLA. Maybe Yao turned off his cell phone to avoid any distractions and enjoy a hot holiday on the beach while the rest of us are stuck at home?

Yao is the sixth UCP MLA we know of who ignored his government’s recommendations to cancel all non-essential international travel and stay home to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Yao was first elected in 2015 as a Wildrose MLA and was re-elected under the UCP banner in 2019. He was one of three MLAs appointed to the UCP government’s “Fair Deal Panel” on Alberta autonomy in 2019.

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

The other UCP MLAs who ignored the COVID-19 recommendations include Minister of Municipal Affairs and Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard, Calgary-Klein MLA and parliamentary secretary Jeremy Nixon, Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, and Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan.

Even Kenney’s own Chief of Staff, Jamie Huckabay, ignored the recommendations and recently travelled to the United Kingdom with his family.

Closer to home, it was also revealed yesterday that Energy Minister Sonya Savage recently made a trip to British Columbia to check on some recent maintenance work in her vacation home in that province.

At a press conference last Friday, Kenney said he would not remove Allard from cabinet because she technically did not break any rules by flying to Hawaii for a Christmas vacation with her family.

Former Energy minister calls on Kenney to sack sun-seeking MLAs and staffers

Adding to the growing chorus of voices calling for consequences for MLAs and political staffers flouting the public health recommendations is former Energy Minister Mel Knight. The former Grande Prairie MLA took to Facebook to call on Kenney to sack all the UCP MLAs and staffers who ignored the government’s COVID-19 advisories and went on hot holidays last month. Knight wrote that Kenney would no longer have his support if he failed to act.

Knight served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2001 to 2012 and as Minister of Energy from 2006 to 2010.

Another former PC cabinet minister, Greg Stevens, told the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid that “I cannot believe how stupid and unbelievably ignorant he (Kenney) has shown himself to truly be, when the issues demand strong and principled decisions.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

Braid and Bell blast Kenney over weak response to UCP MLAs hot holidays

Postmedia’s two main political columnists in Alberta’s daily newspapers blasted Premier Jason Kenney for his weak response to UCP MLAs who ignored government recommendations to stay home and cancel all non-essential international travel to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

At least four UCP MLAs, including Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard, parliamentary secretary Jeremy Nixon, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, hopped on planes and jetted off to hot holiday destinations this December. Kenney’s chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, also travelled to the United Kingdom to visit family. 

Don Braid in the Calgary Herald:

While most of us were painfully isolating ourselves from family and friends, trying to decide if we should even risk the grocery store, these people were heading to Hawaii, Mexico the U.K. and the U.S.

By Saturday morning there were seven confirmed UCP politicians and officials who jumped ship for holiday, the latest being MLAs Tanya Fir and Jeremy Nixon.

Maybe Kenney can’t fire any because there are so many. This is a genuine scandal that shows no sign of fading away.

Rick Bell in the Calgary Sun:

Premier, what the hell is going on?

To quote George Orwell, one of your favourite authors, it appears some in your government believe “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Premier, you won’t be able to smart your way out of this one with a few show-off quotations from Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister.

You won’t be able to get us to buy what you’re selling this time by talking about keeping calm and carrying on, patting us on the head and rolling out the keep-a-stiff-upper-lip routine.

It’s a cruel insult now.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Mele Kalikimaka from Tracy Allard and the UCP

Aloha Alberta! 🌺

It’s been a great week on the sunny Big Island! The weather in Hawaii is fantastic and we are really enjoying continuing our family tradition this year. The pandemic has been a real drag back in Alberta, so it felt like a great time to hop on a plane and escape to a tropical paradise! Wake boarding is a real thrill!

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

At the tiki bar yesterday we were thrilled to bump into some UCP staffers who are spending Christmas in Hawaii too! So much fun! 🎉

I’m looking forward to being back soon and attending to my duties as the minister responsible for Alberta’s emergency management agency. I hope the vaccine distribution is going well and everyone is exercising personal responsibility back home!

We wish you could all be here with us! See you soon. ❤️

🌴 Merry Christmas (or Mele Kalikimaka as the locals say!)

Tracy Allard
UCP MLA for Grande Prairie
Minister of Municipal Affairs


This letter is satire, but Tracy Allard’s Christmas vacation to Hawaii in the middle of a global pandemic, when her government was telling Albertans to stay home and avoid non-essential international travel, was not.

Jeremy Nixon

It also appears that Calgary-Klein UCP MLA and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon traveled to Hawaii last month , Calgary-Peigan UCP MLA Tanya Fir went to Las Vegas, and Lesser Slave Lake UCP MLA Pat Rehn may have spent the Christmas break in Mexico.

Premier Jason Kenney’s Chief of Staff, Jamie Huckabay, reportedly also spent Christmas with his family in the United Kingdom, returning through the United States in order to circumvent Canada’s ban on flights from the UK.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vote for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2020 – The Top 3

With more than 750 submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2020 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 20, 2020 at 10:00 am and the winners will be announced on the special year-end episode of the Daveberta Podcast on the same day.

Here are the top choices in every category:

1. Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2020? – VOTE

  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • David Shepherd, MLA for Edmonton-City Centre

2. Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2020? – VOTE

  • Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
  • Nate Glubish, Minster of Service Alberta
  • Ric McIver, Minister of Transportation
  • None of the Above

A None of the Above option is added to this question because a near majority of submissions fell into that category.

3. Who was the best opposition MLA of 2020? – VOTE

  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • David Shepherd, MLA for Edmonton-City Centre

An honourable mention to Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who received a number of votes in this category despite being a member of the governing United Conservative Party caucus.

4. Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2021? – VOTE

  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Thomas Dang, MLA for Edmonton-South

5. What was the biggest political play of 2020 in Alberta? – VOTE

  • UCP privatizing provincial parks
  • The Strategists winning biggest political play of 2020
  • UCP fight with Alberta doctors during COVID-19 pandemic

We have added a bonus category where we ask you to name an Alberta who you believe is most likely to be a future Premier of Alberta. VOTE

What was the biggest political issue of 2020 in Alberta?

This category is usually a dog’s breakfast, but this year your choice was clear. COVID-19 was the clear choice of the overwhelming majority of people who submitted in this category. The global COVID-19 pandemic is not something that is unique to Alberta, but there is no doubt that it has defined 2020 in our province.

Categories
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.

Categories
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

Doing the Minimum: Kenney’s Covid Plan

Premier Jason Kenney emerged from ten days in seclusion to announce new measures in response to the record-breaking daily increases in COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

Far below the “circuit-breaker lockdown” that had been called for by public health experts, the new plan announced by Kenney is mostly previously made suggestions that are now loosely enforced rules with a lot of exceptions. And they are just as confusing at the previous restrictions.

Middle schools and high schools will move to online instruction, but restaurants, bars and casinos will remain open. There was no mention of allowing the federal CovidAlert tracing app to be activated in Alberta, even as our province’s contact tracing capacity has collapsed. And because the contract tracing has largely stopped, it is unclear what data Kenney’s government used when creating these new targeted measures.

The new rules are mostly directed at Calgary and Edmonton, with no face-mask requirements or permanent expanded business restrictions in rural areas. Alberta is now the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.

The exemptions for rural Alberta communities, as well as exemptions for indoor social gatherings in churches, suggest the the United Conservative Party government is prioritizing appeasing it’s main political constituencies – rural Albertans, libertarians, social conservatives, and industry lobby groups like Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business – over taking the advice of public health experts.

Kenney frequently frames the government’s options as either “total lockdown” or “the minimum” measures, but as we know from other provinces and countries there are many actions that can be taken that the Alberta government is unwilling to do.

In a harshly worded column in the Globe & Mail, Andre Picard described Kenney’s announcement as “inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending to do something.”

The half-measures announced today are undoubtably the result of political bargaining within a cabinet and caucus that appear unprepared or unwilling to take drastic action to protect Albertans by stopping the spread of the virus. It is hard to imagine any past Alberta government, whether it be Progressive Conservative or New Democrat, making these types of concessions during a public health crisis.

During the press conference, Kenney repeatedly spoke about the need to protect the economy and “the poor,” but the economy is people and any economic recovery won’t happen until the virus is contained. Government has the ability and responsibility to provide financial supports for all Albertans who are impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

True to form, Kenney also took a moment to chastise public sector workers who collect a “public paycheque.” It is notable that none of the measures announced by Kenney were specifically aimed at relieving the pressure on understaffed hospitals and care centres where over-worked frontline nurses, doctors and health workers risk their lives to face the pandemic everyday. In fact, the fiscal update released earlier in the day by Finance Minister Travis Toews actually described public sector workers as a drain on the economy.

The Kenney government had eight months to plan and prepare for a second wave that was widely predicted but it appears that in their eagerness over the summer to shift the political narrative back to pipelines and the economy, Kenney has been caught flat footed.

The UCP government had eight months where it could have supported health care workers and educators, built up contact tracing capacity, and put in place plans for the second wave. But instead the UCP cabinet pulled an all-nighter and threw together a patch-work plan in eight hours.

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.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 63: Defending Alberta Parks and the COVID emergency

Annalise Klingbeil joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the latest developments in United Conservative Party government’s plans to close and privatize more than 160 provincial parks and recreation areas. We also discuss the mixed-messaging about COVID-19 from Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers as the second wave of the pandemic surges in Alberta. And we share some ideas about how the government could improve its COVID-19 communications.

Annalise is co-founder of Champion Communications & PR. She previously worked as a ministerial press secretary and before that she was a journalist at the Calgary Herald. She is also the co-founder of the Go Outside newsletter.

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/Listening

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.