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Alberta Politics

Kenney declares Alberta open for spring and says we need to “Learn to Live with COVID”

If you really want to pressure the Alberta government into changing public health rules, blockade a border crossing. That appears to be one of the lessons learned this week as Premier Jason Kenney rushed to announce the immediate end of two major COVID-19 public health protections – the Restriction Exemption Program and mandatory face masking in schools, two of the key asks of protesters blockading the Canada-United States border crossing at Coutts.

The Restriction Exemption Program, aka the vaccine passport, provided proof for restaurant, bar and coffee shop workers that their customers were vaccinated against COVID-19. It has also provided a big incentive to get vaccinated. The rushed ending of that program at midnight tonight both removes that incentive and could throw many businesses and their workers for a loop tomorrow morning.

The sudden removal of face mask requirements without consulting parents, teachers or schools boards feels like the most cruel announcement today. We have gone from the government distributing free masks and rapid tests to students in schools to no masks allowed in schools in less than a month.

Low vaccination rates among kids 5 to 11 and the absence of a vaccine of any vaccine protection for kids under the age of 5 will mean a lot of parents with a sleepless night trying to decide how best to keep their young kids safe.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange released a statement during Kenney’s press conference declaring that locally elected school boards would not be allowed to implement their own face mask rules for students, despite the government being fine with local trustees having that authority until today.

Seeing his approval rating plummet over the past two years and facing a leadership review on April 9, it has been clear for months that Kenney was planning on removing the restrictions, but it appears as though the pressure from the Coutts blockaders and pressure from a growing number of rural United Conservative Party MLAs pushed the Premier to rush into removing the restrictions.

When Kenney announced that Alberta was Open for Summer and Open for Good back in June 2021, I tried to be cautiously optimistic that it would be okay. It wasn’t.

Today, I don’t really feel optimistic, I just hope for the sake of my family, friends, and neighbours that it works.

While there is no doubt that many Albertans are growing increasingly tired of the pandemic, it felt incredibly counterintuitive for the Premier to be announcing the removal of restrictions on a day when 1,623 Albertans are in hospital with COVID-19, including 129 in Intensive Care Units. The pandemic is not over.

But, this is being driven by politics not public health.

Kenney talked in his press conference about the need for Albertans to “learn to live with COVID” but learning to live with COVID doesn’t mean just going back to how life was in 2019 – it means we must have actually learned something, otherwise we’re just ignoring the lessons of the past two years.

Here are a few of the lessons we could learn from.

Do a big audit. If we are going to indeed need to learn to live with COVID-19, we first need to know what we learned, starting with the release of the six performance audits from the Auditor General into the government’s response to COVID-19 would be a good start. The release of the reports were blocked by UCP MLAs on the Public Accounts Committee in January 2022.

A real Public Inquiry. There should be a real Public Inquiry and investigation into the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive outbreaks at workplaces like the Cargill meat packing plan in High River, CNRL’s Horizon oilsands mine, and long term care centres across Alberta. At the very least an real public inquiry will help us prepare for the next pandemic (or the next wave of COVID-19).

Keep promoting vaccinations. Despite praising them a miracle, it really feels like the Alberta government gave up trying to boost vaccinations months ago. Even gone at today’s press conference was the big and bright “GET YOUR BOOSTER SHOT” podium sign that we have become accustomed to seeing at these events.

Alberta’s vaccination rates, especially for booster shots, are lower than other provinces, and much lower when it comes to kids between the ages of 5 and 11. We still need to do better.

People should stay home when they are sick. Instead of returning to a culture that rewards – or more commonly doesn’t give workers the choice of – showing up when you’re feeling ill, encourage people to stay home when they are sick. More paid work days will help people get well and workplaces to stay healthy.

Better ventilation. Improving building ventilation systems, from schools to apartment buildings to shopping centres – the bare minimum standard is not good enough. Our indoor public spaces need the kind of ventilation that does not aid and abet viruses like COVID-19.

Get a union. Working Albertans need stronger workplace health and safety protections. If it’s not something that their employers will volunteer to improve, it’s something that could be demanded through representation from strong labour unions.

Build a stronger public health care system. Health care capacity is something we have heard a lot about during the COVID-19 pandemic, and capacity applies to both hospital beds and health care staff needed to take care of the patients in the beds.

Because of decisions made by governments of past, Alberta’s public health care system has significantly less hospital beds per capita than our province did forty years ago. This was a choice and we can fix it. The government could also work with universities and colleges to educate more nurses, doctors and health care workers and then invest in the public health care system to hire and keep them working in Alberta – and provide them with the proper personal protective equipment!

COVID-19 has brought the health care system to the brink of collapse, but the dedicated and exhausted nurses, doctors and health workers continue to hold it together for Albertans. The public health care system has been there for Albertans. It’s time to build a stronger public health care system.

Rethink private long-term care. We need to rethink our private long-term care system. Not only do the growing number of privately owned long-term care facilities represent one of the biggest examples of theft of generational wealth, but the billion dollar international corporations that own them should be held to account for how COVID-19 was spread into the homes of some of our most vulnerable seniors. The UCP passed a law in 2021 that blocks lawsuits against long term care owners for the deaths of residents in their care during the pandemic. We owe it to our elders to find out what happened and do better.

Take on Facebook. Taking legal action to aggressively challenge the spread of disinformation on social media. YouTube, Twitter and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, need to be held to account for the role their algorithms continue to play in spreading dangerous disinformation about COVID and vaccines that almost certainly cost people their lives and livelihoods. There is probably little that a provincial government can do, but the federal government can and should act.

Learn to show empathy. And maybe one of the most important lessons we need to learn coming out of the pandemic is the need for more empathy. How do we get out of this while showing better understanding of each other? How do we improve our ability to understand or feel what other people are experiencing? How do we learn to put ourselves in other people’s shoes? This is so important.

The pandemic is not over and we will still have more lessons to learn. But if we are going to move forward, for better or worse, we can’t forget the mistakes we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned since this thing started two years ago.

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Alberta Politics

Kenney walks away from UCP AGM largely unscathed. Next up: defeating Brian Jean.

Premier Jason Kenney appeared to walk away mostly unscathed from last weekend’s United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney United Conservative Party AGM
Jason Kenney

Kenney delivered a much-watched keynote speech to more than a thousand UCP delegates that appears to have been generally well-received, though sounded like it might have been more appropriately aimed at a Chamber of Commerce or business crowd luncheon than a room of partisans hungry for more partisanship.

Kenney’s speech and it’s focus on the economy, and not his government’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic and failed “Open for Summer” plan, gives an indication of the direction the Premier and his inner circle believe they need to shift their message in order to salvage his embattled leadership and the party’s chances of winning re-election in 2023.

Regardless, Kenney tried hard to present an upbeat appearance, but as anyone who follows politics will know – party conventions are all production and all a show.

Leela Aheer ALberta MLA
Leela Aheer (Source: Twitter)

Kenney commanded the support of the convention, though he lost a critical vote on a special resolution that would have increased the number of constituency associations able to trigger a leadership vote from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.

The motion received support from 57 per cent of delegates but fell short of the 75 per cent required to make the constitutional change.

This small defeat came less than a week after 22 UCP constituency associations announced they had passed an identical motion calling for an already scheduled April review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved to before March 1, 2022.

Cynthia Moore United Conservative Party President
Cynthia Moore

The new UCP President, Cynthia Moore, has said the newly elected party board will review the motions, though conservatives I’ve spoken with suggest that Kenney’s supporters are energetically searching for a technicality to disqualify the motions for an earlier vote.

Recent public opinion polls have shown Kenney with a 22 per cent approval rating among Albertans and his party has trailed Rachel Notley‘s Alberta NDP in the polls since November 2020, which has led to a growing number of UCP MLAs, including former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer, willing to publicly criticize his leadership or call for his resignation.

Even MLAs who are reluctant to publicly criticize Kenney are reluctant to publicly defend him.

Maclean’s columnist Jason Markusoff tweeted from the convention that reporters “asked Fort McMurray MLA Tany Yao how many members here want Kenney as leader. Half, he said. Does he want Kenney as leader? Sighed, said “you’ve put me in a tough spot,” then a minister’s press secretary whisked him away.”

Daniel Williams UCP Peace River
Daniel Williams

But perhaps the most interesting part of the convention was the vote by UCP delegates to pass a motion in support of conscience rights for health care professionals, which critics say could lead to the denial of access to women’s health and abortion services. A private members bill supporting conscience rights introduced into the Legislature by Peace River MLA and Kenney acolyte Dan Williams (now a parliamentary secretary – see below) failed at committee last year.

The passage of the policy at the UCP convention might provide an idea of how strong the different parts of the conservative coalition dominate the UCP right now, in this case – social conservatives.

Support for conscience rights for health care professionals stirred up quite a bit of controversy and backlash against the Wildrose Party during the 2012 provincial election.

It is unclear in what ways health professionals are being denied freedom of conscience at the moment,” penned the Globe & Mail editorial board on April 9, 2012.

Are doctors being required to perform abortions against their will? If so, no public complaint has been made that we are aware of. Would doctors have the right to swear off treating patients of the opposite sex? Would family physicians be entitled to refuse to prescribe birth control pills, or could they insist, when faced with a teenage girl, on counselling abstinence only?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

And speaking of the Wildrose Party, former party leader Danielle Smith was at the AGM and publicly mused to a reporter from Derek Fildebrandt‘s Western Standard website that she would run for the leadership of the UCP if Kenney’s stepped down.

Smith was quick to clarify to subscribers to her weekly email newsletter that she was merely musing and that she is not planning to run because the job is already filled. But that Smith could so casually make a comment like that to a reporter while standing in the same convention ball room as the current leader is embarrassing for Kenney.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

After leading the party from obscurity to the brink of forming government, Smith famously crossed the floor along with a dozen other Wildrose MLAs to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Party in 2014 – a move that ended up gutting both parties and helping pave the way for Notley’s NDP to win the 2015 election.

And, continuing the blast from the past theme is another former Wildrose leader, Brian Jean, who is weeks away from potentially being selected as the UCP candidate in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election – that is, if he is not stopped by Joshua Gogo, a Fort McMurray economist.

Jean is probably Kenney’s main target now.

Trying to defeat him in the nomination vote, which is set for December 11 according to the Elections Alberta website, is likely one of the first steps the Premier will take in trying to reconsolidate his support in the UCP ahead of the next year’s leadership review – whether it be held in April or February.

Joshua Gogo
Joshua Gogo

Kenney has recently criticized Jean and questioned his political record after resigning before finishing his elected terms as a Member of Parliament and MLA for Fort McMurray, criticisms that were echoed by the Premier’s political staff on social media.

Also hanging out there is the Kamikaze campaign that Kenney’s closest advisors helped manufacture as part of the effort to defeat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and the ongoing RCMP investigation into alleged voter fraud.

If he is not able to stop Jean from winning the nomination, Kenney will probably a harder time pretending he’s in an upbeat mood.


Kenney names five new parliamentary secretaries

Premier Kenney announced that five UCP MLAs have been appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries, roles that do not bring any additional salary but are a sign of which backbenchers could be on track for promotions to cabinet in the future – and which backbenchers a party leader in trouble is trying to solidify support from.

Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Parks for Water Stewardship. He also serves as UCP Caucus Chair.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Culture and for la Francophonie. Before returning to Alberta to seek the UCP nomination, Williams worked in Ottawa for Kenney while he served as a federal cabinet minister.

Both Neudorf and Williams also sit as the MLA representatives on the UCP Board of Directors.

Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely is Parliamentary Secretary to the Associate Minister of Status of Women. Lovely was first elected as MLA for Camrose in 2019 and previously ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015.

Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services for Civil Society. Nixon was first elected as MLA in 2019 and previously ran as a Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Klein in 2012 and 2015. Nixon was removed from his previous role as parliamentary secretary for civil society after disregarding COVID-19 restrictions and traveling to Hawaii for a hot holiday in December 2020. He is the brother of Environment & Parks Minister and Government House Leader Jason Nixon.

Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy. A former Spruce Grove City Councillor, Turton was widely rumoured to have been a potential pick for Minister of Municipal Affairs following Tracy Allard’s demotion in Jan. 2021. Turton also serves as the private sector union liaison for the Ministry of Labour and Immigration.

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Alberta Politics

Cargill workers vote to strike just as Devin Dreeshen resigns and another Horner becomes Minister of Agriculture

Workers at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River have voted overwhelming in favour of taking strike action.

Workers at the meat packing plant represented by UFCW Local 401 voted 97 per cent in support of strike action if the Minnesota-based multi-billion dollar corporation does not make them a fair offer.

Richelle Stewart

“Our Cargill union members came to bargaining with a genuine interest in improving working conditions at the Plant,” UFCW Local 401 Secretary Treasurer Richelle Stewart said in a press release. “Unfortunately, Cargill has focused on playing games that have slowed the process down and stopped real progress. That has been very disappointing.”

The union has given the employer notice that workers could go on strike on Dec. 6 if demands to improve workplace safety are not met.

The Cargill plant in High River was the site of one of the worst early workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 in Alberta and lead to the death of three workers. More than 1,500 COVID cases were linked to the outbreak at the site.

At the time, the corporation and the Alberta government were criticized for not acting quickly to shut down the plant when it was apparent that the outbreak was only getting worse.

“Local 401 fought and was successful in having Cargill’s High River Plant closed,” said Stewart. “The Government of Alberta did nothing to address the unfolding tragedy and was later revealed to be untruthful in its dealings with Cargill workers.”

Devin Dreeshen

The Agriculture and Forestry Minister at the time was Devin Dreeshen.

The son of long-time Member of Parliament Earl Dreeshen resigned from cabinet last week after he was named as a key figure  in a sexual harassment and defamation scandal and a lawsuit that revealed a culture of heavy drinking in the Legislature by the minister and political staffers.

Replacing Dreeshen as the newly renamed Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development is Nate Horner, who was only raised from the backbenches to become Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development on July 8, 2021. The rancher from Pollockville was elected as the UCP MLA for Drumheller-Stettler in 2019.

Nate Horner United Conservative Party Drumheller-Stettler
Nate Horner

If the Horner name sounds familiar, it is because he comes from a legitimate Alberta political family. His cousin Doug Horner served as Agriculture Minister from 2004 to 2006 and his great-uncle Hugh Horner was Agriculture Minister from 1971 to 1975. His grandfather Jack Horner even served as Pierre Trudeau’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce after crossing the floor to the Liberals in 1977. The patriarch of the Horner family, his great-grandfather Ralph Horner, was a Senator from Saskatchewan and another one of his great-uncles, Norval Horner, was also an MP.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro
Tyler Shandro

A strike by workers at one of the province’s largest meat packing plants could be the first big challenge faced by Horner and newly appointed Labour Minister Tyler Shandro, who was shuffled out of the Health Ministry after fumbling the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strike notice issued by UFCW Local 401 notes that the job action could be accompanied by a variety of other actions, including asking Albertans to boycott the beef industry until Cargill workers are treated fairly, as well as picketing and leafleting in front of other workplaces that sell Cargill products, like McDonald’s drive-thrus.

An updated version of the well-known Alberta campaign.

The meat packing plants in southern Alberta were the sites of some great injustices during the COVID-19 pandemic and those workers – the people who slaughter the beef Albertans claim to love so much – deserve to have their demands for improved safety and workplace conditions not only met, but exceeded.

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Alberta Politics

On The Current: Premier Kenney’s uncertain future and the wild ride of Alberta politics

I was up early this morning to join CBC Radio’s Matt Galloway on The Current to discuss Premier Jason Kenney‘s leadership challenges and the wild ride that is Alberta politics.

Take a listen to the segment where strategist Stephen Carter from The Strategists Podcast and I (separately) discuss Kennev’s leadership challenges and the wild ride that is Alberta politics.

Kenney lasts another day

He may have a plummeting approval rating, but Jason Kenney is still King of the United Conservative Party. 

As I noted in the interview on The Current, Kenney is a political survivor. It appears as though he out maneuvered his growing but disorganized opposition in his party and caucus.

Kenney avoided an attempted caucus coup when a motion for a confidence vote put forward by a group of MLAs was withdrawn when they discovered it would not be a secret ballot. He has pushed off demands for a leadership review at the party’s November 2021 annual general meeting by agreeing to a leadership review in Spring 2022 instead. A review had already been scheduled for the party’s planned November 2022 annual meeting. 

Moving the leadership review to next Spring gives Kenney time to organize against his opponents in the cabinet, caucus and party. If he can last that long and not turn his political fortunes around, it will be bad for his party and good for Rachel Notley‘s NDP, whose fundraisers had their prayers answered.

The NDP are hoping this financial quarter, which ends on September 30, will mark the fourth in a row that their party has raised more cash than the UCP.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems

Twenty-nine more Albertans died of COVID-19 yesterday and nearly 1,000 Albertans are in hospital because of the virus, including more than 220 people in intensive care units.

Premier Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems.

Kenney swapped Health Minister Tyler Shandro with Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping in an apparent hope that this might salvage his leadership amid growing calls for his resignation.

Shandro has been a lightning rod as Health Minister, but that was by design. Every decision he made had Kenney’s stamp of approval. He was doing as he was told.

Swapping Shandro for Copping in the middle of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is more about politics than good governance.

The blow to Kenney’s leadership after the failure of his Open for Summer plan that led to a deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta is not going to be fixed with a cabinet shuffle. 

Kenney’s plummeting popularity probably helped cost Erin O’Toole his chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2021. And the Premier almost certainly contributed to a sharp decline in Conservative support in Alberta that cost his federal cousins four seats in the province.

A few months ago it was almost unimaginable that the Conservatives would actually lose seats in Alberta in this federal election. But the NDP picked up an additional seat and the Liberals might have won two. 

But Kenney’s political woes are not all recent.

Since becoming Premier he has mastered the ability to anger the maximum number of Albertans possible at any given time.

His party’s financial health has also been hit hard. There have been three straight financial quarters in a row when Kenney’s UCP fell short of Rachel Notley’s NDP in fundraising. The Alberta NDP has been in the lead in every public poll since November 2020.

Calls for a leadership review are growing from UCP constituency associations and party executives like vice-president Joel Mullen. Even former deputy leader Leela Aheer has publicly questioned why he hasn’t stepped down. And the right-wing Western Standard website has reported on a rumour that country music star and two time Conservative candidate George Canyon might run for the party presidency on the platform of forcing a vote on Kenney’s leadership.

The UCP Caucus is holding a mandatory in-person meeting tomorrow, where, I imagine the growing number of disgruntled MLAs will have a lot to say about their leader’s future.

UCP waited until after the election to ask for federal help

Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who is in charge of Alberta’s Emergency Management Office, waited until the day after the federal election to send a letter to federal minister Bill Blair requesting help from the Ottawa to deal with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCP government waited until after Sept. 20 to request help because they didn’t want to embarrass the federal Conservatives during the election. Let that sink in.

The government’s plea for help from the federal government and other provinces will almost certainly undermine Kenney’s argument that Alberta is being treated unfairly by the rest of Canada, a key part of the reason for a province-wide referendum in October to ask for the equalization formula to be removed from the Constitution.

New Senate Nominee candidates

The nomination deadline passed at 12:00 pm yesterday for candidates to enter the Senate Nominee Election, which is being held in conjunction with two province-wide referendums and municipal elections on October 18, 2021.

Recent People’s Party of Canada candidates Ann McCormack, Kelly Lorencz, and Nadine Wellwood filed their papers to run as Senate Nominee candidates before the polls closed in the federal election in which they were defeated.

Also recently joining the Senate Nominee Election are Town of Ponoka Mayor Richard Bonnett, who ran for the Liberal Party in the 2004 federal election, and former Slave Lake Mayor and physician Karina Pillay.

Brian Jean’s favourite hobby is trolling Jason Kenney on the internet

With a provincial by-election expected to be called in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next five months, Kenney’s arch-enemy, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, is musing online that he might run as a candidate. Jean asked for feedback from his followers on Facebook about whether he should run in the by-election in the area he represented as an MLA from 2015 to 2018.

Since leaving elected office in 2019, Jean has flirted with Alberta separatism and recently publicly mused about running for the leadership of the Alberta Party, which he did not. He has also called on Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.

The by-election will be held to replace former UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, who was elected as the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the Sept. 20 federal election.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta matters in this federal election for all the wrong reasons

There’s a chance that the federal election results in Alberta could end up being less than exciting, with the Conservatives winning most of the province’s seats, but there’s no doubt Alberta had an impact in this federal election: Premier Jason Kenney might have cost Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives their chance at forming government in Ottawa.

The former wonder kid of Canada’s conservative movement, Kenney spent a month in hiding to avoid embarrassing O’Toole only to emerge in the final few days of the campaign to drop a bomb in his federal cousin’s lap. Kenney’s Open for Summer plan that removed all public health restrictions in time for the Calgary Stampede in July led to a vicious fourth wave of COVID-19 that has seen a steep spike in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

It is unlikely that Premier Jason Kenney will be joining Conservative leader Erin O'Toole when he visits Edmonton-Centre tomorrow.
Erin O’Toole and Jason Kenney during happier times.

Intensive Care Units across Alberta are filling up and Kenney has had to plead with other provinces to take our sick patients if we run out of space.

All non-emergency surgeries in Alberta are cancelled and 75 per cent of the operating rooms at the Alberta Children’s Hospital are closing because doctors and nurses are being redeployed to take care of COVID patients.

Public sector health care unions are urging Kenney to ask the federal government for help from the military and the Red Cross.

O’Toole praised Kenney’s response to the pandemic and has refused to answer questions about it from reporters since Alberta once again declared a State of Public Health Emergency last week. 

While the Conservatives are expected to sweep Alberta once again, O’Toole only visited the province once in this election campaign. He spent a morning in Edmonton during the first week of the campaign, making a policy announcement in Edmonton-Centre and stopping for a photo-op at a Jollibee’s before shuffling back to the airport for an afternoon flight to British Columbia.

But unlike recent federal elections, this time the right-wing of the political spectrum is pretty crowded in Alberta.

People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier has taken advantage of O’Toole and Kenney’s perceived political weaknesses by spending a considerable amount of time in Alberta during this election.

Appealing to groups ranging from the vaccine hesitant to indoctrinated COVID conspiracy theorists, Bernier has been attracting large crowds at his Alberta rallies. And his candidates have earned endorsements from former Conservative MP David Yurdiga and former Reform MP Cliff Breitkreuz.

Former Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the Conservative Party for accepting a donation from a well-known white supremacist, has been embraced the COVID conspiracy theories as he campaigns as an Independent candidate in Banff-Airdrie with the full-support of former Conservative MP Rob Anders.

And then there’s the separatist Maverick Party led by former Conservative MP and oil industry lobbyist Jay Hill, which is still in the mix despite Alberta separatism not being the hot topic it was after the 2019 federal election.

Meanwhile, the silence coming from the United Conservative Party Caucus is deafening.

Aside from dissenting Tweets and Facebook comments from two already disgruntled backbenchers – former cabinet minister and Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried – the predicted caucus revolt has not yet spilled out into the public. But maybe that changes if Justin Trudeau’s Liberals form government on Monday.

Directors of the UCP association in Olds-Didsbury-Three-Hills, home of Speaker and former interim leader Nathan Cooper, near unanimously passed a motion calling for a leadership review and party vice-president Joel Mullen is reported to have called for a review.

Kenney’s supporters on the UCP provincial executive headed off previous calls by scheduling leadership review at the party’s Fall 2022 convention, only months ahead of the expected 2023 provincial election.

If O’Toole does not become Prime Minister after the federal ballots are counted, he might not be the only Conservative leader looking for a new job. Kenney’s already embattled leadership could become even more tenuous.

Kerry Diotte unites the NDP in Alberta

Jagmeet Singh and Blake Desjarlais in Edmonton-Griesbach on Sept. 18, 2021.

In what is likely his biggest single achievement of his political career, Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte has succeeded in bridging the political divide between the provincial and federal NDP in Alberta.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was back in Alberta yesterday for his second visit to the Edmonton-Griesbach, where the party believes candidate Blake Desjarlais can unseat Diotte to pick up a second seat for the NDP.

With NDP incumbent Heather McPherson believed to be secure for re-election in Edmonton-Strathcona, the party has been pouring its resources into Griesbach.

Rachel Notley and Janis Irwin with Blake Desjarlais and volunteers in Edmonton-Griesbach.
Rachel Notley and Janis Irwin with Blake Desjarlais and volunteers in Edmonton-Griesbach.

And Singh isn’t the only party leader on the campaign trail for Desjarlais.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was on the doors last week helping Desjarlais get his vote out. While Notley tried her best to avoid being involved in the 2019 federal campaign, she and about a dozen NDP MLAs, including local MLAs Janis Irwin and David Eggen have been spotted door knocking with Desjarlais.

Pipelines and the carbon tax kept the NDP cousins apart in 2019, but the possibility of defeating Kerry Diotte has brought the provincial and federal NDP together in 2021.

Liberals have their sights set on Edmonton-Centre, Mill Woods and Calgary-Skyview

The Liberals hope to reestablish a beachhead in Alberta and if they are successful it will likely be in Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Mill Woods or Calgary-Skyview.

Ben Henderson and Don Iveson in Edmonton-MIll Woods.
Ben Henderson and Don Iveson in Edmonton-MIll Woods.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau only made one brief stop in Alberta during the first week of the election campaign to speak at a rally for Calgary-Skyview candidate George Chahal.

University—Rosedale Liberal candidate and former Edmonton native Chrystia Freeland visited Alberta twice to campaign with candidates in Calgary and Edmonton, including Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre and Ben Henderson in Edmonton-Mill Woods.

Also visiting Alberta during the campaign were Vancouver-South Liberal candidate Harjit Sajan, who campaigned in Calgary-Centre with Sabrina Grover, and Surrey-Newton Liberal candidate Sukh Dhaliwal, who campaigned with Henderson in Mill Woods.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson endorsed Henderson and campaigned with him in the final days of the election. The two men have served together on Edmonton City Council since 2007. 

Voting stations are open from 7:30am to 7:30pm on Sept. 20, 2021. 

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Alberta Politics

“I won’t apologize.” Jason Kenney fails to lead Alberta through the biggest crisis in a generation

Three years ago, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the unquestioned leader of the Conservative movement in Canada. He was the national conservative standard bearer.

Now, Kenney is politically toxic.

And as the deadly fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta, he was in hiding.

His absence is mostly an attempt to avoid embarrassing his federal cousins in Ottawa, who until today have been grateful for his disappearance, and facing an unruly caucus of United Conservative Party MLAs already unhappy with his leadership, but it also means he has been out from public sight as new COVID cases skyrocketed, hospitals and intensive care units began to overflow, and more Albertans have died of the deadly disease.

From @CBCFletch on Twitter
From @CBCFletch on Twitter

Twenty-four more Albertans died yesterday. More than 90 Albertans have died over the past eight days.

Kenney reemerged for the second time in almost two months today to announce the end of his Best Summer Ever.

Joining Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, Kenney declared a public state of emergency and bumbled his way through a confusing new list of public health restrictions and a not a vaccine passport vaccine passport system that largely puts the burden on businesses to figure out (something his party was fundraising off its opposition to weeks ago and he described as illegal a few months ago).

Like the previous three waves of the pandemic, Kenney waited until the health care system was in crisis before acting. If Albertans comply with the new restrictions, we can hope that the number of COVID cases decrease. But not removing the restrictions too quickly, like he has before, will probably be key to its success.

Poking a big hole in Kenney’s decision to declare Alberta ‘reopened for good’ in time for the Calgary Stampede back in July, Hinshaw admitted the Premier’s much-promoted “Open for Summer” plan that removed nearly all public health restrictions led to the COVID-19 fourth wave that has hit Alberta.

When medical experts and media questioned how quickly Kenney removed the public health restrictions, he and his staff aggressively attacked and dismissed their warnings about a fourth wave.

Kenney eagerly pushed for 70 per cent of eligible Albertans over the age of 12 to get vaccinated in order to lift restrictions in time for the Stampede. The government offered lucrative lotteries and prizes, and even $100 cash cards, to convince Albertans to get vaccinated but it does not appear to have moved the needle to where we need it to be. Alberta still lags behind the rest of the country.

Kenney’s Open for Summer plan was all optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic was over with none of the vigilance required to make sure it actually was.

But don’t expect Kenney to volunteer to face the consequences for his actions.

Responding to his critics at today’s press conference, Kenney initially apologized for the results of his Open for Summer decision only to retract his apology minutes later when answering a question from Postmedia columnist Rick Bell, telling Bell that “I won’t apologize.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began 18 months ago, Kenney has failed to lead Albertans through the biggest health crisis in a generation.

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Alberta Politics

Shandro drags his feet on new COVID-19 measures, Kenney has disappeared… again.

The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Alberta hard. Forty-four Albertans are reported to have died of COVID-19 over the past six days. 1,522 new cases were announced yesterday. 679 Albertans are in hospital. 154 are in an Intensive Care Unit. Hundreds of surgeries are being cancelled because of the fourth wave.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro emerged yesterday at a press conference billed as an announcement to reduce pressure on hospitals, but he did not announce any further public health measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. In fact, Shandro’s bizarre press conference was really about nothing.

When asked repeatedly by reporters, Shandro once again danced around the question of vaccine passports, which have the support of nearly 80 per cent of Albertans according to some polls.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley is calling on the province to implement a vaccine passport system instead of putting the burden on businesses to figure out their own patchwork system.

Like in the past waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, expect Alberta’s United Conservative Party government to drag its feet in response to the fourth wave before implementing measures after facing weeks of criticism.

And Premier Jason Kenney has disappeared again, likely to reappear on September 21, after the federal election is over.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney has mastered the ability to anger the maximum number of Albertans possible at any given time

I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a government that has so successfully mastered the ability to make decisions that will almost immediately anger the maximum number of Albertans possible as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government has done over the past two years.

Open-pit coal mining, privatizing provincial parks, attacking doctors, attacking nurses, writing a draft school curriculum that would take the education system back to the 1950s are just a few of the almost universally unpopular policies this government has thrown itself into, and now – as the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits Alberta – paying unvaccinated Albertans $100 to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The response to the spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations announced by Kenney was almost uuniversally panned by everyone – including the gaggle of conservative political pundits and columnists who can usually be depended upon to print defences and justifications for the government.

Political watchers who praised Kenney for throwing off public health restrictions at the beginning of the summer and declaring Alberta open for the summer are now openly questioning the UCP’s mind-boggling latest move.

One hundred dollars is much cheaper than paying for an unvaccinated Albertan who ends up in the now overflowing Intensive Care Units, the idea of paying people who did not get vaccinated when the majority of Albertans flocked to their clinics and pharmacies to get the jab is, well, pretty insulting – and tone deaf.

And the almost arbitrary move to impose a curfew on alcohol sales to 10:00 p.m., while granting immediate exemptions to a handful of rural rodeos, but not Calgary’s Pride events, suggests that this move could be more about what is politically palatable than what might work to stop the spread of COVID-19.

At the beginning of the summer, Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro stood on the banks high above Edmonton’s River Valley and declared that Alberta was open for summer. They even had vanity baseball hats made that said “Alberta Best Summer Ever.” Then cases started to rise, as did hospitalizations, and Kenney disappeared on a late summer vacation.

So, the question on the minds of many Albertans, and one that has been frequently asked since the pandemic began in early 2020: is this the best for Albertans or is this the best that Kenney could get his UCP cabinet and caucus to agree to?

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Alberta Politics

Erin O’Toole comes to Alberta amid Fort McMurray revolt against Laila Goodridge

Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole is making a campaign stop in Edmonton-Centre on August 21 as part of his Western Canada tour. O’Toole’s will hold an event at the Winnifred Stewart Foundation tomorrow morning, likely with local candidate James Cumming who is facing a challenge from former Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault and former public school board trustee Heather Mackenzie, who is running for the NDP.

Laila Goodridge Fort McMurray-Cold Lake
Laila Goodridge

O’Toole’s first stop in Alberta during the election campaign will come a day after the board of directors of the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative association released a public letter disagreeing with the party’s decision to appoint Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche United Conservative Party MLA Laila Goodridge as the district’s candidate following MP David Yurdiga’s writ day decision to not seek re-election. Yurdiga had already been nominated as the Conservative candidate earlier this year but decided to withdraw because of health reasons.

The unsigned letter titled as an “Official Board Press Statement” states that “The Fort McMurray-Cold Lake EDA does not support or recognize the undemocratic appointment of the current candidate. This appointment severely undermines the fundamental values of conservatives and everyone’s constitutional right to democracy. Our constituents were cheated of the opportunity to democratically select their candidate and were FORCED by the by the party on who will represent them. Many qualified candidates were not given the opportunity to apply not were their conservative views vetted by the local Board.”

The statement from the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative Electoral District Association.
The statement from the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative Electoral District Association.

Conservative sources say that the nomination rules permit the party to appoint a candidate after an election is called and that an expedited nomination meeting was not possible due the vacancy in the regional organizer position. It was expected that a nomination race in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, even a rushed one, would be highly competitive and attract many voting members, requiring significant logistics and organizational support from the party.

The sources say the party has reached out to the disgruntled local board but has not received a response.

Goodridge is currently only facing Maverick Party candidate Jonathan Meyers,  People’s Party candidate Shawn McDonald, and Green Party candidate Brian Deheer. The Liberals and NDP have not yet named candidates in the north east Alberta district.

Jason Kenney Andrew Scheer Alberta Election
Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney at a campaign rally in Edmonton-Centre in 2019.

Meanwhile, back in Edmonton, it does not look like O’Toole will be joined tomorrow by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

Kenney was one of O’Toole’s most enthusiastic supporters during the 2020 Conservative leadership race but has uncharacteristically gone “on vacation” during the first week of the federal election.

Kenney last appearance at a public event was a government announcement in La Crete on August 10 ahead of a UCP “town hall” fundraiser in support of Peace River UCP MLA Dan Williams that featured a the Premier and a handful of cabinet ministers.

The Alberta Premier’s plummeting popularity has made him a punching bag in this federal campaign, with both Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh criticizing Kenney during campaign stops in Alberta yesterday. Kenney’s absence also means he avoids any questions from reporters about the growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard speaking out against the province’s new draft K-12 curriculum, or former MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans being removed from the board of the Banff Centre.

This is a big contrast from the 2019 federal election, when Kenney spent a week campaigning for Conservative candidates in Ontario and Manitoba and appeared hand in hand with then-leader Andrew Scheer on stage at a rally outside of Cumming’s Jasper Avenue campaign office.

Brian Jean is still around too

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

The local revolt against Goodridge’s nomination comes the day after former Fort McMurray MP and MLA Brian Jean unleashed a 23 tweet thread calling for the creation of something resembling the Saskatchewan Party. It has been rumoured that Jean may be considering seeking the leadership of the Alberta Party.

City of Brooks Mayor and former AUMA President Barry Morishita announced his candidacy for the Alberta Party leadership last week.

New candidates

  • Donna Lynn Smith has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Manning.
  • The Rhinoceros Party has nominated Travis Jones in Edmonton-Manning and Lucas Rhinocerotidae Anderson in Edmonton-Riverbend.
  • Kim Siever is running as an Independent candidate in Lethbridge.
  • Catriona Wright is running for the Green Party in Calgary-Rocky Ridge.

I am maintaining an updated list of nominated federal election candidates in Alberta. Please drop a comment below if I am missing anyone. Thank you.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney’s rush to declare COVID-19 over leaves a lot of Albertans behind

It’s been more than one month since Premier Jason Kenney announced the end to public health measures meant to curb the spread of COVID and a week after he announced the province would stop tracking the virus, end contact tracing and remove the legal requirement for people with COVID symptoms to self-isolate. 

This rush to remove public health restrictions has left a lot of Albertans confused and uncomfortable with his sudden decisions as cases of the Delta Variant increase and hundreds of thousands of Albertans under the age of 12 remain ineligible for vaccines as the start of the school year rapidly approaches.

Kenney appears eager to claim victory over COVID and give him and his United Conservative Party a political win in the face of bottomed-out approval in the polls and a steady pattern of lacklustre party fundraising.

A Best Summer Ever 2021 hat posted by Ben Harper, a staffer working in Premier Kenney's office (source: Twitter)
A Best Summer Ever 2021 hat posted by Ben Harper, a staffer working in Kenney’s office (source: Twitter)

For months, Kenney boasted that Alberta would have the Best Summer Ever in 2021. Staff in the Premier’s Office even had special baseball hats made declaring it such.

The original announcement to remove public health measures, including mandatory face-masking in public indoor spaces, was made ahead of Canada Day (or the long-abolished “Dominion Day” as Kenney has often called our national holiday). But it was the Calgary Stampede that Kenney wielded and waved like a carnival balloon sword against any Albertan who dared criticize his government’s rush to claim the pandemic is over.

Canada has made big gains in vaccinating people against COVID-19, despite earlier predictions by some that we might not have access to vaccines for years. In fact, cases where federal vaccine supply could not match provincial distribution were rare, and completely non-existent in Alberta. Yet, Alberta remains below the national average for full vaccination rates – and some regions of the province are sitting at troublingly low levels of vaccinations. 

A vaccine lottery, dubbed lottovaxx, was launched to push Alberta above the artificial hurdle that Kenney placed to remove restrictions and allow the Stampede to open its gates. A hunting lottery and trips to hot destinations were added, but it appears to have barely moved the needle.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has endorsed Kenney’s plan as the government’s chief spokesperson on the topic, but even she had to issue an op-ed today trying to counter the loud chorus of critics.

After more than a month out of the public spotlight, Hinshaw was once again thrust into a role that Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro had filled since the Stampede. All of a sudden, Kenney began insisting that Hinshaw was the person in charge.

Despite her endorsement, Hinshaw is in the lonely position of being the only, or one of the only, medical professionals in Alberta to publicly support Kenney’s rush to remove COVID testing, tracing and isolation requirements.

Whether or not it is intentional, Hinshaw is now doing political damage control for the Kenney government.

It is inevitable that we would have removed public health restrictions at some point. As vaccination rates increase, it is expected that COVID-19 cases will be mostly limited to the unvaccinated, which again still includes hundreds of thousands of Alberta kids who can’t choose to get vaccinated.

Parents and teachers are left with no plan and little reassurances about what will happen when their unvaccinated kids return to school and childcare in September.

Kenney’s and Hinshaw’s assurances to parents that they will need to figure it out on their own have not been confidence inspiring.

Albertans with legitimate concerns and questions about the pace of Kenney’s plan have been dismissed by Hinshaw as having “anxiety” or by the Premier’s staff as wanting a “permanent lockdown.” These dismissive and aggressive responses communicated by the government are insulting and patronizing a broad group of parents with legitimate concerns and fears, well earned a year and a half into a public health crisis.

That the government still isn’t able to effectively communicate with the public about these measures is an indication that they are either largely indifferent or completely inept.

If we have learned anything over the past 18 months, it is that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably best approached with a healthy mix of vigilance and optimism. But the UCP government’s approach is all optimism that the pandemic is over and no vigilance to ensure it actually is. We constantly heard from Kenney that we were headed to the Best Summer Ever, but his eagerness to put COVID behind him has left a lot of Albertans behind.

It has been a traumatic and tough 18 months for a lot of people.

Millions of Albertans found themselves working from home, not working at all, thrust into homeschooling and childcare, and in addition to that, many of us have mourned family, friends and colleagues who have died of COVID-19 or other ailments that we have not been able to properly grieve.

Kenney’s Best Summer Ever promise appears to apply largely to the Premier and his small group of insiders the Best Summer Ever hats were made for, who have been able to dine al fresco on a government patio, take in the private parties and open bars at the 2021 Stampede, fire automatic weapons with the Taber Police and many other perks they are indulging in while the Legislature is out. For many Albertans, that slogan and swag hats are a crass and insensitive response to what should be a summer of reflection, recuperation and preparation for the coming school year.

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Alberta Politics

More turmoil in Kenney’s Caucus: UCP MLA Richard Gotfried resigns as chair of the Calgary Caucus and criticizes “hypocrisy” in government leadership

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried is the latest member of the United Conservative Party Caucus to publicly criticize his party’s leadership.

According to a statement and comments on Facebook, Gotfried resigned as chair of the UCP’s Calgary Caucus last Thursday so that he can have “even more latitude to speak unreservedly on matters of principle, ethics and government/caucus operations…”

“I call upon all elected representatives at all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months,” Gotfried wrote in a post on his MLA Facebook page.

Gotfried’s statement was written in a very respectful tone and didn’t name Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews or Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon, who were pictured in the photos of the boozy Sky Palace patio party that circulated on social media last week, but reading between the lines it was pretty clear who his message was directed to.

Richard Gotfried United Conservative Party MLA Calgary-Fish Creek
Richard Gotfried’s statement on Facebook

The timing of Gotfried’s statement follows the release of the final report of the Facility-based Continuing Care Review that Gotfried led, which was almost completely overshadowed by the boozy Sky Palace patio party and Kenney’s ill-timed lecture in defence of Sir John A Macdonald.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Gotfried is the sponsor of Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act, a government bill designed to shield owners of long-term care centers from COVID-19 related lawsuits.

He was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 under the UCP banner. He endorsed Kenney in the 2017 PC Party leadership race.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-Two Hills MLA David Hanson, and cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Rajan Sawhney have publicly called on Kenney to apologize for violating the government’s own COVID-19 public health rules by hosting the boozy patio party on the 11th floor balcony of the Federal Building in Edmonton.

Kenney and his staff continue to deny he broke any rules.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen were ejected from the UCP Caucus three weeks ago after Loewen called on Kenney to resign as leader of the party.


Notley leads only united party left in AlbertaRachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

In a clear contrast to what is happening in the UCP Caucus, delegates to the Alberta NDP convention this past weekend gave Rachel Notley’s leadership a huge endorsement. When the ballots were counted, 98.2 per cent of NDP delegates endorsed Notley’s leadership in the mandatory leadership review vote held at every NDP convention.

The convention included the usual debate over policy positions and motions and a host of panels featuring Democratic strategists from Arizona and municipal politicians from rural Alberta.

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Alberta Politics

Yeehaw! Alberta is lifting restrictions and opening for a one-dose summer

“Opening for summer” was Premier Jason Kenney’s new tagline as he announced that by July the provincial government will mount a quick retreat from the public health restrictions implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Jason Kenney

It is a bizarre whiplash from a week ago when Alberta was leading North America for active cases of COVID-19 and Intensive Care Units were starting to overflow (there are still 150 COVID patients in ICU beds in Alberta). But consistency has never been Kenney’s style during the pandemic and his decision to rush the removal of restrictions likely being driven by his need to score political points and save job as leader of the United Conservative Party.

The three stage plan appears to be planned around the start of the Ponoka Stampede and the Calgary Stampede, two of the largest public events in an Alberta summer.

It has been a long 15 months since the pandemic began, so it is hard not to be cautiously optimistic that the plan will work. But, like many of Kenney’s plans, it seems to be driven by political expediency rather than the vigilance our leaders probably should embrace to defeat this virus.

Alberta’s public health restrictions have been mild compared with most other provinces in Canada and jurisdictions abroad. Coffee shops and grocery stores have remained open, as have religious services (with lower attendance rates), and even the Legislative Assembly continued to meet in-person until last week. It even took a while for the government to be convinced that casinos should be closed.

Rachel Notley

Proactive measures have not been a distinguishing feature of Kenney’s response to COVID-19.

UCP staffers have been jubilantly tweeting that Albertans “crushed the spike,” referring to the third wave that peaked at more than 26,000 active cases, but it was only after weeks of delays and ignoring the pleas of medical professionals that the Kenney government implemented the measures that “crushed” the third wave of COVID-19 in Alberta.

Only a week before Kenney implemented the current public health measures, he was complaining to the media that restrictions don’t work because people don’t listen to them, despite the third wave that happened after the previous health measures were prematurely lifted in February 2021. 

The decline in active cases since the new public health measures were put in place suggests the restrictions did work.

A growing number of Albertans are getting injected with their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines and there are still questions about how many Albertans will have received a second dose of the vaccine by the time Kenney rips the bandaid off in July.

Despite conservative partisans criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for using the term “one-dose summer,” it would appear that a one-dose is enough for the UCP government to remove all public health restrictions.

There is also growing concern about how effective one dose of vaccine is in protecting people from the B.1.617.2 variant (the “India variant”), which is the source of a third wave in the United Kingdom.

New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley is urging caution and raising questions about the speed the restrictions will be lifted, which is a fair criticism. In typical fashion, Kenney responded with a partisan barb, accusing the NDP of being anti-vaxxers. All NDP MLAs have confirmed they have received their first vaccination, something not all UCP MLAs have confirmed doing.

A lot of Albertans, myself included, are hoping that the removal of restrictions will work and we can put COVID-19 behind us. It would be nice to have a summer not constrained by even mild public health restrictions. It would be nice for the pandemic to be over. We will find out by the fall whether the Kenney government jumped the gun in removing restrictions too soon.


Hinman only candidate in Wildrose Independence Party leadership vote

Paul Hinman Wildrose Independence Party MLA
Paul Hinman

Former Wildrose Party MLA Paul Hinman is the only candidate to enter the Wildrose Independence Party leadership race. A vote of the separatist party’s membership will be held on August 28, 2021 to confirm his leadership.

Hinman represented the Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Alliance parties as the MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 and the Wildrose Party as the MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012. He led the Wildrose Alliance in the 2008 election.

Hinman is the grandson of Social Credit MLA and cabinet minister Edgar Hinman.


NDP to hold nomination meeting in Calgary-Varsity on June 26

Luanne Metz Calgary-Varsity NDP
Luanne Metz

The Alberta NDP will hold the first nomination meeting of the 2023 election cycle on June 26, 2021 in Calgary-Varisty. Prominent physician Dr. Luanne Metz is expected to be acclaimed as candidate.

The northwest Calgary district is a key target riding for the NDP in the next election and was narrowly won by UCP MLA Jason Copping in 2019.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is the King of Not Managing Expectations

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London.” 

That was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s response on April 11, 2020 that the Legislative Assembly should stop meeting in-person to avoid spreading COVID-19 to MLAs, staff and their families.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

Unlike Parliament in Ottawa, other provincial legislatures, and most school boards across Alberta, our Legislature did not shift to online sessions when the pandemic began, instead continuing to meet in-person with a pre-arranged limited attendance by MLAs.

That Churchillian resolve to keep the Legislature in session abruptly disappeared on Sunday morning when Government House Leader Jason Nixon issued a press release announcing that the Legislative Assembly would be suspended for at least the next two weeks.

The press release states this is in response to the third wave of COVID-19, which has arrived in Alberta with a vengeance. And with almost 23,000 current active cases in the province, things look bleak.

Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state. (source: Trevor Tombe)
Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state in North America. (source: Trevor Tombe)

The business of Assembly committees will continue through the traditional conference call system, but the regular business of the Assembly will stop instead of doing what many other Albertans  in a similar situation have done for the past 14 months – go on Zoom.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley quickly disputed Nixon’s claims that the opposition was consulted, saying instead they were just told what was going to happen.

“The first item on the agenda for Monday must be an emergency debate on Jason Kenney’s failing pandemic response,” Notley said her own Sunday morning press release.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

The surprise suspension of the in-person Spring session is probably a good idea, and a practice that should have been adopted a year ago.

Our legislators, including a growing group of UCP MLAs who are publicly critical of public health restrictions, spent last week in their constituencies could risk unknowingly bringing the virus back to the Legislature with them (it was revealed two weeks ago that staff in the Premier’s Office had tested positive for COVID-19).

But why now, 14 months after the pandemic started?

That’s where this feels like politics played into this last minute decision to lockdown the Legislature.

It is a big departure from Kenney’s chest puffing at the beginning of the pandemic, when he would frequently quote and evoke the memory of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led Great Britain through the Second World War.

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London,” Kenney said as the pandemic began to spread last April.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Churchillian is not how most people would describe Kenney’s leadership since the pandemic began. His start-stop half-measures approach to COVID has proved ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus. It has also annoyed Albertans and made his United Conservative Party look not so united.

Suspending the Legislature means Kenney will not have to answer hard questions from the media and the NDP opposition about his government’s response to the third wave of the pandemic, paid sick leave for working Albertans, or the recently announced unpopular $90 annual fee to enter Kananaskis Country.

It also puts some physical distance between Kenney and his critics inside the UCP.

In normal times, it would make sense for the Premier to want MLAs in Edmonton where his staff could keep a watchful eye and hold a tight leash, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference anymore.

Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)
Angela Pitt

Kenney won’t have to answer tough questions about Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, who recently walked back comments about vaccinations, and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who issued another public statement criticizing the government’s public health measures. It is starting to feel like Kenney’s critics in the UCP Caucus are driving the government’s agenda.

Probably meaning to channel Churchill, Kenney was all big talk last year when the UCP government passed laws clamping down on protesters who would block bridges, pipelines, or anything the cabinet deems as “critical infrastructure.”

He had no shortage of words to denounce protesters in Montreal who decapitated a statue of Sir  John A. Macdonald.

He even launched a much-hyped public inquiry to investigate alleged enemies of Alberta’s oil industry.

But when it came to the 2,000 Albertans openly violating public health rules by attending the “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” in Bowden over the weekend, Kenney could only muster a string of strongly worded tweets.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Facing the biggest challenge of his premiership, Kenney is clearly out of his depth. While he may be a successful political tactician during election campaigns, he has consistently been unable to rise to the occasion as leader of a government during this pandemic crisis.

Two weeks ago, he said Alberta was on track to beat the COVID variants that are now sky-rocketing across the province. Last year, he downplayed COVID by comparing it to the flu. And just last month he repeatedly said that this summer would be Alberta’s best ever.

If he wore a crown, Kenney would be the King of Not Managing Expectations.

Maybe someone can ask him about it if he returns to the Legislature in two weeks?

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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.