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MORGAN: This is Kenney’s moment to do or die with union bosses

“Premier Jason Kenney has hit his defining moment in office. He can either be the next Ralph Klein or he can be the next Ed Stelmach.”

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Push has come to shove and the crisis which will define Jason Kenney’s premiership is upon us. The collapse of the petrochemical industry and of course the COVID-19 pandemic are both pressing catastrophes on their own. But the issue which will make or break Jason Kenney’s time in office will be in how he manages the looming organized labour revolt.

The “spontaneous” wildcat strikes held by health care support workers last Monday was a test run. A warning shot at best from Alberta’s unions to set the stage for larger actions. Today, a press conference involving a number of union leaders and headed by the Alberta Federation of Labor’s Gil McGowan was held where nothing less than a general strike was threatened if Jason Kenney doesn’t back off on a plan to outsource laundry and food services to health care facilities.

Organized labour has drawn a line in the sand and Jason Kenney needs to jump across it without hesitation.

The plan to outsource health care support services is far from unreasonable or controversial. While these services are indeed essential to running a health facility and much of the work is hard, these are not services that need to be done in-house by government employees. It has been contracted out before and it will be again. The issue of course is that in outsourcing these services while many of the jobs will simply be transferred rather than lost, many if not most of these jobs will become non-union.

Union dues are big money and unions are big business. The AUPE which is responsible for the health care service support workers just built themselves a palatial new $49 million headquarters where their executives can relax in comfort while they count the money coming into their organization from the paycheques of real workers. Of course these union bosses are terrified at the prospect of losing that income. This fear has caused them to choose a terrible hill to die on, which is why the time to push back is perfect for Jason Kenney and the UCP.

Aside from in the energy industry, there is no larger glut of unemployed people out there than in the hospitality industry. Tens of thousands of hotel and restaurant workers are out of work as the pandemic has utterly decimated their industry. These workers will be more than overjoyed to take on the job security which would come from providing services to contractors in the health sector. The government union workers are not filling a need which can’t be easily filled by others. If anything, wage concessions should be floated by union leadership in hopes of keeping those jobs rather than threats to Albertans.

Albertans are fearful for both their economic futures and for the state of their health care. I can think of few ways that organized labour can lose the trust and support of citizens more effectively than by holding Albertans hostage by withholding health care services and refusing to take pay reductions as everybody else has had to. The government unions are putting themselves into a terribly unsympathetic position here.

Our health care system and the spending upon it are unsustainable. Spending cuts are inevitable and they will hurt. Be reminded though that despite all of the noise from labour leaders, Alberta hasn’t actually cut a nickel of spending from health care yet. The UCP has actually increased health care spending since taking office. For the unions to threaten to put the entire province at risk with a general strike over this is ridiculous and Premier Kenney should call them out on this immediately.

It will be tough to make cuts when the time comes, but it has to be done. The protests will come and the unions will strike. It should be remembered how Albertans responded to austerity before though. When Ralph Klein made deep spending cuts in his first term, unions went wild. Protests blossomed while tall foreheads predicted the demise of the Klein government. In the next election, Klein’s support increased. Klein continued to cut, unions continued to howl and in the next election, Klein increased his support yet again. Albertans understand the need for responsible spending and they appreciate it. This has been proven out.

Jason Kenney has hit his defining moment in his premiership. He can either be the next Ralph Klein, or he can be the next Ed Stelmach. Let’s hope Premier Kenney chooses wisely. The time is now and he can’t hesitate.

Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

Opinion

GRAFTON: Trudeau’s ‘reset’ may not be so great

“An uneasy sense of foreboding lies over Parliament Hill during these dark days of COVID. It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”

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What are the Liberals up to? Has Canada’s government gone rogue? 

The Liberals have stopped reporting financial expenditures to the Parliamentary Budget Office, stopped answering questions during Question Period and interviews, prorogued Parliament in order to shut down the Finance Committee’s investigation of the WE scandal. They have filibustered the Finance Committee to further obstruct the investigation, heavily redacted WE documents ordered by the Finance Committee, and hacked funding to the Auditor General. An uneasy sense of foreboding lies over Parliament Hill during these dark days of COVID. It’s quite out there. Too quiet.  

What do we know?

First, the Liberals have not produced a budget since March 2019. The Liberal Economic and Fiscal Update presented by then Finance Minister Bill Morneau in July estimated a $343 billion federal deficit for 2020, and over $1 trillion in federal debt – now expected to increase further.

While it would be only fair if taxpayers knew exactly what they were mortgaging their futures for, the Liberals aren’t exactly saying.

According to Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, it has been “much more difficult to get information out of the minister’s office” since Parliament returned with Chrystia Freeland as Minister of Finance.

In addition, the Liberals are underfunding the Office of the Auditor General, who audits government spending for one thing. Conservative MP Michael Cooper accused then Finance Minister Bill Morneau of deliberately defunded the Office of the Auditor General by $11 million because “your government is afraid of being accountable”. As a result of the underfunding, performance audits have been reduced in half. 

What do they have to hide?

A September 3rd opinion piece in the National Post by John Ivison entitled ““Trudeau’s ‘literally frightening’ spending plans has some Liberals, bureaucrats very worried”” should have been a red-flag to Canadians that the Prime Minister is up to no good. Indications are that something big is in the works. 

According to Ivison, a number of Liberal MP’s and senior bureaucrats are concerned over current government plans to increase spending and debt (that is, more than they have already). One unnamed senior public servant described the expensive schedule of social programs coming down as a “structural change in the way government in this country operates.” 

The Prime Minister has made a number of references to an impending “reset”, sometimes reported as “a great reset”. 

Trudeau is referring to his commitment to UN Agenda 2030. In 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted a document referred to as “United Nations Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. 

It states, “This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development… We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.” 

Changes of this scope historically have relied upon some corresponding crisis event. It is a tactic conceived by renowned economist Milton Friedman at the Chicago School of Economics. Known as “Economic Shock Treatment”, or “Shock Therapy”, it predicts that the speed and scope of significant change in times of crisis creates a psychological state in the public that facilitates change acceptance. As Friedman famously observed, “Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” 

The current COVID-19 pandemic is just such a crisis, and the ideas have been haunting Liberal dreams for decades. 

Addressing the UN, Trudeau said, “This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change…Building back better means getting support to the most vulnerable while maintaining our momentum on reaching the 2030 agenda…” 

Whatever the Liberals are planning, they aren’t elaborating, but they are heavy on the alarming buzzwords. Attempts to get answers during question period and interviews have faced a wall of on-message babblespeak. 

Canadians won’t have to wonder much longer however. Freeland has just announced that a “full update” on federal spending will be presented November 30th

Buckle up Canada.

Ken Grafton is freelance columnist for the Western Standard from Aylmer, Quebec.

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Opinion

CARPAY: Kenney’s “not a lockdown” is very much one. And it’s more dangerous than COVID.

John Carpay writes that despite the government’s claim, Alberta is very much in a lockdown that is violating freedoms without just cause.

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It seems that Jason Kenney is taking his government’s communications strategy straight out of George Orwell ’s classic 1984. The government in 1984 uses propaganda as a cornerstone of exploiting people and remaining in power, with slogans like “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength.”

Too harsh?

After declaring a new public health emergency in Alberta this week, Kenney said: “Let me be clear, we are not moving into a lockdown.”

He then proceeded to make all indoor social gatherings illegal; impose fines of $1,000 or more on people gathering “socially” outside of their homes (including weddings and funerals) in numbers larger than 10; limit religious gatherings to one-third capacity while requiring masks and prohibiting singing; shut down all banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoria, community centres, children’s play centres and indoor playgrounds, and all team and individual sports; place onerous and profit-killing restrictions on restaurants, pubs, bars, and lounges; harm retail establishments by reducing them to a fraction of the capacity needed for profitability; limit museums, galleries, libraries, movie theatres, indoor entertainment centres and indoor fitness centres to 20 per cent capacity; severely damage “personal services” businesses providing haircare, esthetics, wellness services, professional services, taxi and rideshare, hotels/motels, and private lessons; and keep grade 7-12 children away from school for six weeks (November 30 through to January 11).

This, maintains Premier Kenney, is not a “lockdown.”

Our caring and compassionate premier magnanimously acknowledges that these severe restrictions on our Charter freedoms to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship will be “disruptive to businesses and to all Albertans.”

Not a lockdown; just “balanced” measures that are a bit “disruptive.”

Not that our premier would know what it’s like to have to take care of children at home when you are used to them attending school from 9:00 to 3:00. Not that our Premier’s own public sector salary will in any way be impacted by his own measures. Not that he would ever need to survive on only $2,000 per month in government benefits while shouldering the responsibility of supporting a family and paying for rent or a mortgage.

Premier Kenney wants to “thank all Albertans in advance for [our] understanding and what [we] have done personally” to “stop the spike and protect each other.”

Premier Kenney ignores Alberta Health Services (AHS) data which does not justify or support the daily fearmongering perpetrated by him and by Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw.

As of Tuesday, November 24 there were fewer than 500 COVID-19 deaths in Alberta since March, in the context of more than 27,000 Albertans who die each year: more than 2,000 per month and more than 500 each and every week. Of course, the 492 COVID-19 deaths are troubling, but so are the other 26,500 deaths from cancer, drug overdoses, cancelled surgeries, suicides, lack of access to health care, and other causes of death. Many of these 26,500 deaths are caused directly by the government’s lockdown measures, like cancelling 22,000 medically necessary surgeries and delaying thousands of vitally important CT scans and MRIs to diagnose cancer.

Only 348 COVID-19 patients are currently in hospital according to AHS, leaving more than 8,100 hospital beds available for more COVID-19 patients, and for patients suffering from the various conditions that cause 98 per cent of deaths in Alberta. COVID-19 patients are occupying 4 per cent of Alberta’s hospital beds, which is pretty close to the 2 per cent of deaths in Alberta that result from COVID-19. Why and how is this a crisis that justifies the lockdowns we have been suffering under – to various degrees – since March?

Is it Jason Kenney’s goal that our 8,500 hospital beds remain empty? If yes, why bother spending more than $7,500 per person on health care each year? Is the health care system here to serve citizens? Or are citizens supposed to refrain from using it, as though we wish to avoid troubling our masters? Overcrowding, bed shortages and delayed surgeries have been serious problems for many years, long before COVID-19 arrived. Why is it a crisis when COVID-19 patients occupy 4 per cent of available hospital beds? Is this percentage actually higher than when flu patients enter hospital each winter, of which we are told there are “zero” this year?

What applies to hospital beds also applies to ICU capacity. AHS tell us that COVID-19 patients are using 66 ICU spaces, which is 5 per cent of the 1,300 total ICU capacity. And we are to accept the destruction of businesses, livelihoods and mental health because of some danger of the health care system being “overrun”?

With COVID-19 patients occupying 4 per cent of hospital beds and using 5 per cent of ICU capacity, there is obviously no danger of our health care system being overrun. We are now hearing in November the same misinformation that Jason Kenney and Deena Hinshaw told us in March and April.

Media-supported fearmongering about large numbers of “cases” is misleading in the extreme. Aside from the small number of people who actually require hospitalization, 97 per cent of these “cases” concern healthy people experiencing no symptoms, and a small number experiencing symptoms which they can take care of themselves at home. Not my opinion; check the data for yourself.

There is no excuse for Premier Kenney and Deena Hinshaw to ignore AHS data on COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations. There is no excuse for fearmongering about meaningless and irrelevant numbers of “cases” of perfectly healthy people.

If George Orwell were writing his novel in Alberta today, he could have added a fourth slogan to his government’s list of mantras: “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength; There is no lockdown.”

Lawyer John Carpay is a columnist for the Western Standard and President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca).

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Opinion

WAGNER: Kenney needs to follow Moe’s lead in putting someone in charge of provincial autonomy file

Michael Wagner writes that Scott Moe’s appointment of an MLA responsible for the autonomy file should be replicated in Alberta.

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Shortly after an election that saw surprisingly strong support for the new independence-minded Buffalo Party, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe assigned his new legislative secretary the task of exploring how his province could “exercise and strengthen” its powers within Canada. This legislative secretary, MLA Lyle Stewart, explained that “there is more work to do in standing up for Saskatchewan’s interests within Canada.” 

Moe has already joined other premiers in launching a legal challenge to Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax, replaced the federally appointment firearms officer with a provincially appointed one, establishing trade offices in Asia, and is discussing provincial control over immigration. The legislative secretary can focus on how to build on these initiatives. Having an official charged with this responsibility sends a message that Saskatchewan is fed up with the status quo and is serious about considering new measures.

Appointing an MLA responsible for exploring provincial autonomy is a good idea and one that should be emulated by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Last year he appointed the Fair Deal Panel to gather input from Albertans about their views on how to improve the province’s position within Canada. The panel conducted its work and released its report, which many – including one MLA on the panel – saw as being weak. Appointing an MLA dedicated to working on this file would demonstrate that the premier is serious about addressing the ongoing challenges Alberta faces from the federal government and the prime minister’s hostility to the energy industry.

If he really wanted to up his game, Premier Kenney could borrow ideas from a proposal advanced by retired University of Alberta political scientist Leon Craig. In an August 2019 article for C2C Journal entitled, “Alberta Needs A Minister Of Independence Preparation,” Professor Craig recommended creating an entire government department with the responsibility to develop a plan for an independent Alberta. As he explains, “Since declaring independence would involve major changes in how governmental business is done, it is not a step to be taken without having thoroughly thought through the practical difficulties and prepared accordingly. Thus we need a cabinet minister charged with that responsibility – the Minister of Independence Preparation (MIP).”

Needless to say, that would be a bridge too far for Premier Kenney. However, establishing a ministry, or an agency within an existing ministry, to plan and implement the best recommendations of the Fair Deal Panel (as a starting point) would be a meaningful and effective way to demonstrate that Alberta will no longer passively accept the status quo.

This new ministry could be charged with developing blueprints for establishing an Alberta provincial police force, enacting provincial control of tax collection, and creating an Alberta Pension Plan. 

If Trudeau continues to block opportunities for Alberta to develop and export its petroleum products, the ministry could expand its work into developing proposals for an independence referendum and establishing contacts with foreign governments that may be sympathetic to Alberta’s plight. Public information sessions about the process outlined in the Clarity Act could be initiated to create widespread discussions among Albertans about options for the province’s future. 

Of course, whether Premier Kenney was to appoint a legislative secretary for this purpose – or create a ministry – the obvious person for the job would be Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes. Barnes has distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate for Alberta, more so than any other sitting MLA.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that any such position or ministry will be established in the near future. Were he to do so, Premier Kenney could show he is serious about changing Alberta’s relationship with the rest of Canada, fire up his increasingly disenchanted base, put meaningful pressure on Justin Trudeau, and drive the NDP into apoplectic summersaults. That sounds like a winning combination to me.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include ‘Alberta: Separatism Then and Now’ and ‘True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.’

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