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BARNES & LOEWEN: Taking a lesson from Redford, Kenney appoints half of caucus to plum jobs

“With this shuffle, Kenney has increased the size of government while forcing a chosen few to pay a political price for his own failures. That fits a pattern of behaviour that Albertans have come to expect from a premier more concerned with his own scandals than Albertans’ interests.”

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With this week’s cabinet shuffle, Premier Kenney is going to great lengths to put his selfish short-term political interests first.

The premier increased the total size of Cabinet by 15%, up to 26 ministers and associate ministers. If you include parliamentary secretaries and other non-cabinet officers, the total number of the premier’s direct appointments now accounts for 50% of the UCP caucus.

It’s abundantly clear this shuffle has nothing to do with strengthening our province or helping Albertans. It was a crass attempt to buy the loyalty of disheartened and frustrated MLAs. 

It is also reminiscent of the tactics of another deeply unpopular premier from Alberta’s past. As Premier Alison Redford’s administration slipped into scandal, she also handed out 30 appointments, representing half her caucus. While most Albertans take Redford’s failed leadership as a cautionary tale, Premier Kenney seems take it as an instructional manual.

When you take a closer look at Premier Kenney’s new cabinet, things only get worse. Here are a few issues that stand out:

No change at the top

While cabinet shuffles are typically used to reset unpopular government policies, Premier Kenney obviously believes his policies are fine, and has made to no changes at the top of his cabinet. 

Notably, Premier Kenney remains his own minister of intergovernmental relations. Since taking on this post in April of 2019, the premier has achieved next to nothing on this file. He has outright failed to influence federal policy on the carbon tax, the tanker ban bill C-48, or Bill C-69, the no more pipelines bill. The federal government has not offered to address Alberta’s concerns on Equalization, and its minor tinkering with the Fiscal Stabilization program is little more than an insult.

To this day, federal government repeatedly meddles in provincial jurisdiction with regard to resource development, and when the Keystone XL pipeline was cancelled, the premier couldn’t get the prime minister to lift a finger. No minister in this government has a worse record than the intergovernmental relations minister, and he should be replaced.

No regional balance

Of the 26 people with seats at the cabinet table, 17 are from Calgary, making up 65% of the total.

Of Alberta’s 41 rural constituencies, only eight (less than 20%) are represented at the cabinet table. With the departure of MLA Grant Hunter from cabinet, there is now effectively no representation at the table for Albertans from the rural south. In fact, there isn’t a single MLA in cabinet south of Calgary’s city limits.

If you want to be in Jason Kenney’s cabinet, the obvious first step should be winning a seat in Calgary. Of 23 Calgary ridings won by the UCP, 17 (74%) are represented in cabinet.

Wildrose purge

Of the 13 former-Wildrose MLAs elected under the UCP banner in 2019 (each with a minimum of four years’ experience), there are only three in cabinet. Two former Wildrosers (Hunter and Aheer) were expelled from Cabinet, and two others (Loewen and Barnes) have been expelled from caucus altogether. 

No accountability

One of the biggest political scandals of the year (the Sky Palace patio party) featured several senior ministers including the premier himself violating their own health restrictions. Earlier in the year, the premier threatened any restriction violators with expulsion from the UCP caucus. In January, MLAs who did not break health restrictions were all punished. However, none of the Sky Palace ministers were demoted in this cabinet shuffle. Meanwhile, the lone minister who dared to question the premier’s claims that he followed the rules (which he later recanted) was dismissed from cabinet.

The bottom line is it’s hard to take this premier seriously when he talks about finding efficiencies or improving government accountability. With this shuffle, Kenney has increased the size of government while forcing a chosen few to pay a political price for his own failures. That fits a pattern of behaviour that Albertans have come to expect from a premier more concerned with his own scandals than Albertans’ interests.

Guest Column from Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen.
Drew Barnes is the Independent MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat
Todd Loewen is the Independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Steven

    July 15, 2021 at 11:27 pm

    I agree with WESTCANGUY. Kenney is out of touch with Albertans; especially if former Prime Minister is giving Kenney advice now. Shows the UCP has a leader/Premier who’s hitched his ride to the CPC & O’Toole’s camp. Shows Albertans are second to the overall CPC drive to obtain power. That’s not what we voted for Jason Kenney, but you lied to Albertans with your pre election campaign. Now you enjoy your just rewards from the grassroots who left the UCP & joined the Wildrose Independence Party. Wildrose for me.

  2. Susan Grant

    July 15, 2021 at 10:21 am

    Disgusting! Kenney and the UCP over bloated fat cat crowd of self entitled scummy politicians!

  3. Left Coast

    July 15, 2021 at 8:32 am

    Kenney’s actions are the product of a “Demented” Mind . . . he has proven he is NO Conservative over & over. The man is incapable of leading anything but a Parade!

  4. Westcanguy

    July 14, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    Increased cabinet by 15% but wants nurses to take a cut from lump sum payments and shift premiums. Just shows you just out of touch Kenney is. UCP doesn’t get my vote next time.

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Opinion

MORGAN: It’s time for Kenney to resign

“I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party. I wish things had ended differently.”

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Premier Jason Kenney gambled and lost.

His move to declare Alberta as being permanently open for business was a hail-Mary pass for a beleaguered government and it has failed in the worst possible way.

Alberta is in the midst of a health care crisis, deaths are on the rise and we are entering a new period of mandatory vaccine passports, lockdowns, and other restrictions.

I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party.

I had the highest of hopes for Kenney. I was enthusiastic as he won multiple leadership races and merged the previously intransigent Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. I was thrilled when Rachel Notley’s NDP government was trounced in the general election. I thought we’d be looking forward to some steady, competent, conservative governance for at least a couple of election cycles.

I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Love him or hate him, Jason Kenney is undeniably one of the brightest and hardest working politicians in Canada. He worked his way from advocacy into elected office and then became a respected cabinet minister in a number of portfolios. It appears Kenney met his match when it comes to the party and provincial leadership. He has managed to alienate both the left and the right within the province and I don’t see how he can recover from this.

Kenney’s leadership woes were already appearing well before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared on the scene. The shotgun marriage of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives was showing cracks as caucus infighting began to smolder. The pandemic crisis exacerbated the issue and Kenney is now heading up a deeply divided caucus with multiple members having been tossed out of the party or disciplined. This inability to manage his own caucus has shaken the confidence Albertans had in Kenney to manage the province.

The Kenney government has been noteworthy for setting high targets and then failing to move toward them. The Fair Deal panel appeared to be an act of deferral, rather than an exercise to build a stronger, more independent province.

Kenney refused to take strong actions against Ottawa despite the open hostility shown to Alberta by the Trudeau government. This has fed the theory Kenney is using Alberta as a stepping stone towards pursuing a federal run. We can safely say Kenney’s federal career is finished at this point.

It seems that everything Kenney has touches turns to scheiße. The energy “war room” has turned into a running joke and with long and constant delays on its launch. The Allen Report examining groups that attack Alberta’s energy sector has been a waste of time. Energy producers seeking a sense of confidence in Alberta have been left disappointed.

In picking a battle with Alberta’s doctors and nurses, Kenney has drawn fire from all sides of the political spectrum. While there certainly is room to reexamine the agreements with health care providers, it has to be done carefully and with strong leadership. The UCP has appeared ham-handed and virtually leaderless on the issue.

The Kenney government has become election fodder used to hammer the O’Toole Conservatives on the federal front. The UCP looks so inept and unpopular that Trudeau is using it to attack O’Toole, and O’Toole hides from any association with Kenney.

Politicians are by nature self-interested beings. Caucus members within the UCP are surely weighing their options as the Kenney government continues to crash and burn in public opinion. With less than two years to go before the next provincial election comes, they know the window for getting rid of Kenney is closing quickly. The only hope the UCP has of winning the next election is to get a new leader and show some sign of new direction, and soon.

Rumblings from caucus are soon going to become a roar.

There are two options for the UCP right now. They can keep Kenney into the next election and most likely hand Rachel Notley a second NDP term, or they can get on with finding a new leader and reconnecting with Albertans. The UCP now is simply too wildly unpopular to regain the trust of the electorate under Kenney’s leadership.

I still respect Jason Kenney and appreciate what he did on the federal front, along with his efforts to unite conservatives in Alberta. I would like to see Kenney retain what dignity he can by resigning for the sake of Alberta and his party. It would hurt his pride, but it still would be a better end to a political career than being kicked out by his own caucus, or by the electorate in a general election. His “best summer ever” strategy failed and it’s time to face the music.

I wish things had ended differently.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: In the face of tyranny, freedom demands our defiance

“Our silence is compliance. Our compliance is surrender.”

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has crossed a line.

When and where he crossed it is not easily discerned, but he has most certainly crossed it.

The premier announced at an early evening press conference Wednesday he was putting Alberta back under lockdown, the fourth so far. It didn’t work the first three times, but government is nothing if not a mandatory recurring set of bad ideas.

Yet he went much further than another routine lockdown this time. This time, he imposed a vaccine passport, a policy he and his party had been fundraising in opposition to just days earlier. Will the hapless UCP members who handed over their cash be refunded for these donations?

It is a nakedly authoritarian policy, designed to deprive men and women of free choice over what to do with their own bodies. Kenney’s vaccine passport will create a two-tiered, legalized segregation of society.

As the Hindu caste system did in times of old, society will be divided between the “clean” and the “unclean.” Alberta’s government will create a legally required class of untouchable people lowered to the status of second-class citizen. These Albertans will have vastly fewer rights and freedoms than do their betters.

Political disagreement too often leads to overheated rhetoric, with unjustified labels thrown around too casually. Every conservative is a ‘fascist’, and every liberal is a ‘communist,’ in Twitter political parlance.

Bad government does not always equal tyrannical government, but tyrannical governments do exist.

At what point does a government cease being merely “bad”, and become tyrannical?

Most dictionaries define a tyrant as “a cruel and oppressive ruler.”

It’s a broad definition that can admittedly be applied haphazardly. Not every ruler we strongly disagree with is a tyrant, but we know tyrants do rule.

A single act does not a tyrant make, but at some point, Alberta’s government has become tyrannical.

Was it when they sent police to beat up kids for playing hockey?

Was it when they jailed Christian pastors?

Was it when they raided and barricaded churches?

Was it when they seized small businesses that were going under for staying closed?

Was it when they outlawed rodeos and protests against the government?

Or was it when the rulers were caught on camera enjoying a nice dinner on the rooftop of the Sky Palace—in contravention of their own laws—while the ruled were locked down in the confines of their homes?

If it was not at any of those moments, it certainly must have been when Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the legalized segregation of Albertans into a new stratified class system.

A keystone marker of an authoritarian government is ‘otherism’, or scapegoating a minority.

It’s true the overwhelming majority of currently infected COVID-19 cases are among the unvaccinated, and the government is not wrong to point this out; but it’s language used to demonize the unvaccinated as a selfish, dirty, untouchable ‘other’ is dark and divisive.

The vaccine passport will have one set of rules for one class of people, and another set of rules for the other.

This is a difficult position for those of us in the minority of the majority – who support and encourage COVID-19 vaccinations – but oppose the authoritarian imposition of mandatory vaccines or vaccine discrimination. Until now, I have always encouraged my friends, family, and colleagues to get vaccinated as a generally safe and largely effective defence against COVID-19. But I only ever encouraged them to do so as a free choice.

Now, getting vaccinated is no longer a free choice, but an act of compliance with an authoritarian government. The ‘decision’ to get vaccinated has ceased to be a matter of making a good choice.

When government legislates personal morality, the act of compliance with the law ceases to be an act of morality.

Giving to the poor through charity is a moral act. Giving to the poor through mandated taxes is an empty fiscal transaction.

Getting vaccinated under threat to one’s liberties from the government ceases to be a selfless act for the good of others when compelled to do so by force.

It’s questionable that a vaccine passport will see more than a moderate increase in vaccination rates, as the vaccine-indifferent give in to forced compliance.

The refuseniks—those who range from anti-vaccination and vaccine-hesitant—now see reason to dig in. The hardcore anti-vaccination crowd will be unchanged regardless, only more entrenched in their beliefs as they are discriminated against by their own government.

The vaccine-hesitant, however, may well see a hardening of their views into a kind of conscientious objectionism.

The wife of a friend—an acclaimed biochemist—has not been vaccinated, but had every intention of doing so once she had enough time to observe the results in the general population. Since Kenney and Shandro’s announcement of a mandated vaccine passport Wednesday, she has made a decision not to be vaccinated. For her, it is no longer a matter of making a good choice, but a matter of refusing compliance with an unjust government order.

As much as I may think she would be better off getting the jab, I have a hard time blaming her.

The “my body, my choice” pro-choices are nowhere to been seen. Most of them have scurried under the rocks of paternalistic authoritarianism with nary a word to say about the sanctity of personal sovereignty.

Free men and free women–vaxxed and unvaxxed alike–have a duty to resist.

An unfree society is not one worth protecting and is deserving of resistance. A free society is worth everything we have to give and sometimes demands it by choice.

Churches should refuse to turn away worshipers. Restaurants should refuse to require discriminatory vaccine passports. Bars should refuse to stop serving beer after 10 pm. Employers should refuse to shut down their offices. Kids should refuse to stop playing hockey. Ordinary men and women should demonstrate openly in the face of oppression.

Our silence is compliance. Our compliance is surrender.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: Two years to flatten the curve

“The result of the premier’s weak & indecisive leadership is that Alberta is going to enter its second year to flatten the curve, with no end in sight.”

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“Criminal incompetence” was the term used by one senior UCP member today.

“If these guys were running a business, the whole lot of them would be fired for it,” said conservative continued.

It’s been more than a year and-a-half since COVID-19 started to lap Canada’s shores.

Governments overreacted at the time with draconian lockdowns and other mandatory restrictions. That initial overreaction could arguably have been forgiven. Little was known about the virus, and the Chinese Communist Party was jailing doctors and journalists that tried to speak out. For all we knew, it was the doomsday virus of our worst Hollywood nightmares.

As it turned out, it wasn’t. It was serious, but not the Spanish flu that was feared. It may have been an overabundance of caution, but not entirely unwarranted under the circumstances.

But the actions of the Alberta government since are beyond excusable.

“Two weeks to flatten the curve” was the mantra.

It’s now more than probable that we’ll soon be entering “two years to flatten the curve.”

Premier Jason Kenney admirably recognized some of the errors of the first lockdown, like shutting down most independent retailers while allowing big box stores to continue on with only mild interruption. As summer 2020 approached and cases declined, he ended the lockdown and loosened restrictions to more-or-less tolerable levels.

And then fall 2020 approached. As the regular flu season set it, so too did a surge in COVID-19 cases. NDP Leader Rachel Notley called for a return to lockdowns and a few weeks later, Kenney did just that.

It was Lockdown Number 2.

A majority of Albertans supported it at the time, but some resisted, including one teenager who was attacked by incompetent police officers for the offence of playing hockey.

“I’ll f**king take you!” was heard as the outlaw attempted to skate away from the scene of the crime.

It lasted all the way through Christmas, with the government prohibiting most family members from visiting loved ones over the holidays. That is, unless you travelled to warm sun destinations without restrictions, as did a sizeable number of UCP MLAs, staffers, and a cabinet minister.

If we’re going to mark a moment in which the government lost its moral authority, we can draw a straight line to this event. It is at this moment that Kenney and his government began to lose the plot.

Several refusing congregations declined to shut down their churches or follow other government orders. Their pastors were arrested and jailed, while police raided the churches and took control. Real Free World stuff.

In May, a rebel farmer near Bowden, Alta. held a ‘No More Lockdowns Rodeo’ in defiance of the government.

Soon after, Kenney told his caucus, “If they are our base, I want a new base,” according to several MLAs present.

More than a dozen UCP constituency associations passed a special resolution demanding a leadership review before Kenney headed them off at the pass by having his review scheduled for soon before the 2023 election.

Then, 17 UCP MLAs signed an open letter criticizing Kenney’s handling of COVID-19 and demanded an end to lockdowns and restrictions. MLAs in the caucus told the Western Standard at the time the premier threatened the rebels with an early election if they didn’t fall in line.

It was a clear sign that Kenney was losing his iron grip on caucus.

Then on May 31, MLA Todd Loewen called for Kenney’s resignation, and was joined in his call by fellow MLA Dave Hanson. Kenney responded by having Loewen fired, alongside trouble-maker Drew Barnes. MLAs inside the caucus told us they believed the vote to be razor close, but the actual tally was never revealed. At least to them.

It was a political bloodbath, with a serious revolt against Kenney’s leadership on the move.

The revolt gained steam days later, when photos emerged of Kenney, Environment Minister Jason Nixon, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, and Finance Minister Travis Toews — along with an assortment of staffers — have an illegal dinner on the rooftop patio of the Sky Palace in clear violation of their own rules.

The revolt threatened to spin out of control, until Kenney’s announcement on May 26 that all restrictions will be lifted in stages. By July 1, Alberta would be “Open for Summer™.”

In fact, it would be the “Best Summer Ever™.”

The Tories were so confident in this that they sold merchandise with the jovial slogan plastered across hats.

The rebels in caucus weren’t quite happy campers, but it more-or-less shut them up. The caucus revolt was dead.

At some point in August, a man approached the premier at what appears to be a Stampede gathering, surreptitiously taping their conversation.

“It’s open for good. Open for good,” Kenney tells the man.

“I swear to God,” Kenney said, making the sign of the Cross.

On September 2, Notley called for Kenney to reinstitute forced-masking and impose a mandatory vaccine passport. In short order, Kenney followed the NDP leader’s demand for masking, but not on vaccine passports.

For good measure, the government made it illegal to serve beer or booze after 10 p.m. because well, you’ve got me stumped there.

COVID-19 case counts are on the up this fall, just as they were last fall. They will probably go down again when the weather gets warmer in 2022.

Hospital and ICU capacity are severely strained.

But how is that possible? How is it after one and-a-half-years of COVID-19 as the overwhelming priority of the government and massive sums of money borrowed to pay for increased spending, and 70% of the population now vaccinated, that our healthcare system does not have the capacity to handle a relatively predictable surge in cases?

How is it possible that after the suffering, sacrifice and toil endured by Albertans since March 2020, that Alberta is back under another lockdown, as of Friday.

Oh yeah, that would be Lockdown Number 3.

“Criminal incompetence.”

The UCP Caucus is bitterly divided over whether to return to lockdowns or impose mandatory vaccine passports.

Sources in the caucus tell the Western Standard that three MLAs openly said that they had “no confidence” in Kenney’s continued premiership and leadership during their emergency Tuesday meeting.

Much of the caucus is on the warpath over Kenney breaking his word that Alberta was “Open for Good™.”

Others in the caucus, like Leela Aheer, are openly blasting the premier for botching the whole thing by reopening too early, in their minds.

Kenney has tried to straddle both sides of the fence since the beginning, with predictably inconsistent results.

The mandatory-vaxers and lockdowners are furious at what they perceive as Kenney’s inaction and weak leadership. The refuseniks and anti-lockdowners are equally furious at the premier’s overreaction and weak leadership.

The result is Alberta is going to enter its second year to flatten the curve, with no end in sight.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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