The Alberta UCP Irrational Report for February 6-13, 2021

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The MacPherson Missive.” Subscribe for free at:

When Jason Kenney walked the aisles of the Alberta Legislature handing out ear plugs to the newly elected UCP MLA’s, it was more than an arrogant stunt, it was emblematic of what was to come.

Barely two months after the election, Kenney was signalling he wasn’t interested in listening to perspectives different from his own. He and his caucus have been on a precipitous plunge in approval ratings ever since.

After he was called out on his childish behaviour, Kenney then tried to say he had only done it to help one of his MLA’s who suffered from tinnitus. He actually said this on national television. Albertans have been wincing over this and subsequent remarks ever since. Kenney is an ongong  embarrassment.

It should be noted that this is not new behaviour for him. In fact, he’s pretty much always been a scrappy, arrogant politician at the best of times. Those who campaigned for him were apologizing for him at the door before he was even elected. Now those same people are absolutely shocked they can do nothing to stop him and are writing tepid criticisms about his inability to build bridges.

Kenney doesn’t build bridges, he burns them. He has always done so and has never claimed otherwise. He picks fights with everyone and even when forced to back down, refuses to take responsibility or humbly admit he was wrong.

His term as Premier has been one example after another of failing to listen, then denying actions that were taken, followed by gaslighting everyone into believing circumstances are not what they actually were.

The last week has been no different.

Here’s a recap of the many nonsensical actions of Jason Kenney and the UCP government over just the last week. The government issued 20  official news releases, including six releases about the COVID-19 pandemic and one procedural release.

The biggest news came on Monday, Feb. 8 when the Minister of Energy, Sonya Savage took the podium to announce the reinstatement of Alberta’s 1976 coal policy. Significantly, Kenney was nowhere to be found. It could be because he was telling people on Facebook and elsewhere that his government had never actually removed the coal policy and that sufficient protections were still in place. So, it would have been a bit tricky to explain how we were reinstating it.

Not one group opposing the removal of the coal policy was willing to declare victory. There is simply no trust in Jason Kenney’s government at this point. The overwhelming belief is that the UCP government has had their ear plugs in the whole time and it was only when the noise level reached a deafening pitch that they took action.

Also, the Grassy Mountain coal project is largely unaffected by the announcement. It did nothing to quell those concerns, which are significant. The government is heading for a massive showdown with Indigenous groups, as well as with ranchers and rural Albertans who’ve mobilized against the project. So far, it has selectively been listening to coal companies and not so much to anyone else.

We knew coal development in the Eastern Slopes was wrong in 1976. If anything, we should be expanding the policy to protect more land. Some land fell outside of that protection, including the area proposed for the Grassy Mountain coal project. I’m expecting project opponents will be arguing for expanded protection beyond even the 1976 coal policy. And they’re well organized, angry and collecting funds for a major battle with the government. They aren’t going to let this one go ahead. On Thursday, it was announced the virtual “Protect Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters Concert Series” was proceeding as planned to raise funds for the fight ahead.

Conservative voters elected a government that promised a war room, a fight with environmentalists, a fight with Ottawa and a fight with public sector unions. Now, they can add musicians, artists and other performers to the list as the big names join the chorus.

Of course, they’re already in the middle of a war with doctors, nurses and teachers. This week, the war with mayors took an unexpected turn.

The Mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Don Scott has had a temporary injunction served against his Council’s refusal to send 911 calls to the province’s newly centralized emergency dispatch system. The action was a shocking act of defiance from the heart of the oilsands, Fort McMurray. Kenney may love oil and gas but they don’t seem to be feeling the love as much anymore.

I can’t help but wonder if the anger felt by several municipalities over the government’s refusal to listen to their concerns over the 911 centralization isn’t causing a huge rift in the party’s aspirations for the upcoming municipal election. Conservatives have long been trying to introduce partisan politics to the big cities, while the big cities have been trying to write a charter giving themselves more independence.

Electing conservatives to council seats in Calgary and Edmonton is going to be more difficult if the government continues to wage war on so many fronts at once.

On the COVID-19 file, the government remains tight-lipped about its vaccination plans, saying it is continuing to consult with other provinces before revealing its plan.

When they announced their plan for rapid testing this week, social media immediately jumped to conclusions to fill the vacuum of information. The rapid testing plan targets hospitals, homeless shelters, long term care centres and…Suncor Energy’s oilsands operations? Is this how the vaccination plan are going to go, also? Speculation began about the government’s mystery plan.

Most notably, the testing plan excluded schools.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw continued to play catch up with data circulating widely on social media about the worrisome spread of COVID-19 variants in Alberta. She said on Twitter yesterday they are “looking at ways to keep expanding public reporting in the future to help everyone (sic) informed.” People want to be informed now, not at some undetermined point in the future.

Without providing updated information to the public, the Chief Medical Officer of Health looks increasingly overwhelmed by the task of keeping their communication updated and relevant. The logical answer would be to provide her office with more resources to work on communication – perhaps redistributing funds from other areas, including the overabundance of issue managers and the silly, ineffective Covid Loves campaign.

Besides poor communication, the government’s approach continues to be distrusted on all sides. The variants are known to be more infectious and yet, the government continued with a recent decision to reopen restaurants, gyms and youth sports training. Anti-maskers are using this as an excuse to disobey health orders – it can’t be all that bad, they say. Pro-maskers are pushing for a more aggressive approach called “COVID Zero” that calls for shorter but more restrictive measures.

Another embarrassing story broke this week about two members of the UCP caucus having signed on to a coalition fighting for the lifting of most restrictions. The group claims there’s no evidence that restrictions work. This is a confusing statement, given the abundance of evidence that restrictions do work. Maybe it’s the on-again, off-again approach taken by the Kenney government that is the problem. They can’t seem to stick to a strategy.

Finally, the government did announce one-time cash payments of $1,200 each to more than 380,000 essential workers as part of a joint program with the federal government. The program was announced by Kenney on Wednesday. By Friday morning, there was already a report in the media of confusion about eligibility. The government’s broken relationship with unions has not helped. The heads of four unions complained of a lack of consultation and communication from the government.

And teachers have once again been left off the list to receive the benefit.

What on earth does Jason Kenney have against teachers?

So, I’m going to end this week’s Irrational Report with a song to remind everyone to continue to speak up about the government’s failure to listen, its constant war-waging and lack of protections for people and the environment. Your voice matters.

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and knows only one dance move.


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