The hot mess that is the Alberta government June 30-July 5, 2021

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Aug.15, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.

It was a rather slow week for official Alberta government news with only 15 releases, possibly due to the Canada Day holiday. However, it’s fair to say Jason Kenney still managed to get himself into trouble. The man sure knows how to make a bad situation worse.

With a spate of attacks on churches across the province, including a number of buildings burned to the ground, Kenney couldn’t help but fan those flames.

Messages left on the scene and evidence suggests these may have been deliberate acts of retribution following the discovery of yet more human remains on the site of another residential “school,” run by the Catholic church, this time in Saskatchewan. As many as 751 unmarked graves were detected by the Cowessess First Nation.

Premier Kenney, a devout Catholic, decided to speak up after the St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in Morinville was destroyed by fire on June 30. He also visited the site and announced a doubling of funding for an existing program for churches to upgrade security and take other protective measures.

“The Canada we know is not one where hate-motivated arson attacks targeting religious communities are common place (sic) or allowed to continue.”

Premier Jason Kenney

He went much further than others by immediately declaring it a hate-crime. Not even police had gone that far and it is hard to imagine that any kind of investigation had been completed the same day. Paul Terrio, bishop of the Diocese of St. Paul, issued a statement urging people to resist speculating on the cause of the fire, and asked instead that they pray for parishioners.

Kenney also announced that he “instructed Justice Minister Kaycee Madu to work with ALERT and police chiefs across the province immediately to step up monitoring and protection of potential target sites.”

The reaction to Kenney’s statement and visit to the site in person was swift and brutal.

As I write this newsletter, the Battlefords Agency Tribal Council has announced more human remains may have been found at another former residential school site in Saskatchewan. Also, the George Gordon First Nation in southern Saskatchewan announced they have begun a search at the site of another notorious residential “school” run by the Anglican Church from 1876 until 1996.

The documented abuses at the Gordon’s Indian Residential School are so horrific, I’m not going to even get into the details.

Kenney’s hate-crime tweet was followed by a release about this year’s capital grant program for Indigenous-owned businesses. This is not a new program and the grants can be applied for until September 30.

In the context of everything else going on, the timing seemed pretty awkward and any positive outcomes mentioned in the release were lost in the news cycle. This is a frequent problem with the quantity vs. quality media release strategy employed by this government.

On July 1, the Premier was positively glowing with excitement as he attended Canada Day celebrations and gleefully announced the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. He even resurrected his blue pick-up truck. Many were not having it.

The next day during a speech at the Calgary Petroleum Club, Kenney also took shots at Calgary city hall saying he didn’t know they were “experts in the Delta variant” after they voted to push the decision about lifting the city’s mask bylaw until July 5.

(Of note: council voted to replace the bylaw with a much-reduced version today)

He also bragged in his statement and in his public appearances this week about Alberta being the first province in Canada to lift all restrictions which came across as a bit juvenile considering the seriousness of the pandemic and what’s at stake.

The first vaccine lottery winner was announced this week. By my calculation, the million dollars for the first draw coincided with about a 6.7 per cent increase in first doses and about a 34 per cent increase in second doses.

One could argue that second doses would’ve likely risen dramatically anyway since those who had already received their first were already committed to the program. It’s the first doses the government wanted to move.

Less than seven per cent is not a big increase by any stretch and nothing like the 49 per cent increase in vaccinations experienced in Ohio following their lottery announcement. By that standard, the Alberta lottery seems to be a bit of an expensive failure, which is strange, given that they have been proven to be quite effective elsewhere. It seems the government cannot even get this right.

Speaking of which, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the advertising spend. This week, the government also released the total cost of COVID-19 advertising and communication efforts so far – about $26.6M (and dozens of slogans).

Plus the $3M cash for the lotteries.

The latest campaign featured guess what? Another new slogan – “Sign up, Show up, Follow up” (to which I’m tempted to add “Shut up” but that would be rude).

Again, it’s about the quantity of slogans with this crew, not the quality. I think they may be going for some kind of Guinness World Record for the most slogans used for a single crisis.

The government rounded out the week with another type of gamble with taxpayer dollars – the purchase of a 50 per cent equity partnership in the controversial Sturgeon Refinery. The Sturgeon Refinery is designed to process approximately 79,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from the oil sands into diesel, vacuum gas oil, diluent and natural gas liquids. It has a long history of government funding and cost overruns.

In 2020, Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Alberta wrote a damning opinion piece about the refinery which at that time was already a $26.4 billion liability for Alberta’s taxpayers. Ouch.

“The series of decisions that got us here, including our government effectively gifting billions to a private consortium, should be the biggest scandal in Alberta today.”

Andrew Leach

On that note, I’m going to call it a night. The good news from this government keeps on coming. There are developing stories about staff shortages in emergency response and bad news about environmental damage being inflicted even now by coal companies.

The Calgary Stampede kicks off on Friday and for the first time ever, there are plans for fireworks to be launched in celebration across the province, including over Edmonton, Lethbridge and Red Deer. Residents of those cities were unimpressed.

This kind of sums up the week.

Or maybe not?

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and didn’t need a lottery to convince her to get vaccinated.

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