Many on the social medias have given Alberta Premier Jason Kenney a nickname: ‘Bumbles.’
Reflecting on his government’s performance over the past year, I can hardly disagree.
Reflecting on the UCP’s performance since it formed government just over two years ago, I can hardly disagree.
Consider the evidence.
During the last election campaign, the UCP promised to cancel the Notley government’s ‘carbon levy,’ which, were it maintained, would have brought some $5.7 billion over the next four years straight into provincial coffers.
On securing a mandate in 2019, Kenney promptly cancelled the levy, wasted millions of Alberta taxpayer dollars trying to fight it as unconstitutional through the courts, and eventually lost that unwinnable battle at the Supreme Court of Canada two years later.
Next, the Kenney government lowered Alberta’s corporate tax rate from 12 percent—already among the lowest of any jurisdiction in North America—down to just eight percent, foregoing some $3.4 billion in revenue over the next four years.
The tax cut was necessary, Kenney asserted, to ensure multi-billion dollar, multinational corporations would remain in Alberta as ‘job creators.’
To date, as most Albertans know, the UCP’s corporate tax cut has thus far created zero jobs, and the multi-billion dollar, multinational corporations that the tax cut was supposed to charm into remaining in Alberta simply took the UCP hand-out, and otherwise went about their business, consolidating, downsizing, and fattening their shareholders’ wallets.
So much winning!
Shortly after forming government in April 2019, Kenney struck a not-so-public inquiry tasked with rooting out “a well-funded political propaganda campaign to defame our energy industry and to land-lock our resources.”
Perhaps due either to the super-secret nature of its investigations or to the fact that there is in fact no ‘well-funded political propaganda campaign’ after all, the inquiry has yet to release any findings, imaginary or otherwise.
Along similar lines, Kenney announced in the summer of 2019 the creation of a $30 million-per-year ‘war room’ meant to tackle with speed and ferocity any critics of Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
Turning his attention to the province’s finances next, Kenney appointed a so-called ‘Blue Ribbon Panel’ to investigate and report on Alberta’s finances. The panel’s terms of reference explicitly disallowed it to comment on the revenue side of the matter, and directed it to focus exclusively on the spending side instead.
Not surprisingly, once the panel reported its findings in early September 2019, evidence of over-spending was scant. Nevertheless, it made 26 recommendations on how to slash public sector spending and privatize government services.
By November, Kenney had struck an obviously biased ‘Fair Deal Panel’ meant to gin up antipathy towards the federal government and rail against Alberta’s supposed ‘unfair deal’ in Confederation. The panel’s recommendations offered up the right’s usual suspects list of supposed western grievances, but this time dressed them up in the serious clothes of an official body.
Among those recommendations? An Alberta Provincial Police force no one asked for. A half-baked suggestion that Albertans allow the fiscally ‘prudent’ (see above and below) Alberta government to assume control over their federal pensions. And a commitment to work with other provinces and the federal government on matters of trade, something Alberta has already been doing pretty much since it was formed as a province back in 1905.
Kenney’s government also scrapped development of a new K-12 curriculum begun during the old Progressive Conservative government years, which represented thousands of hours of work by dedicated teachers, professional curriculum writers, and informed and interested parents. The government then replaced it with a Euro-centric, bordering on racist, curriculum based on outdated and embarrassingly naïve learning practices.
Fully two-thirds of Alberta’s school boards have declined to pilot the Kenney government’s new K-6 curriculum. Nevertheless, the government continues to insist that the curriculum enjoys wide support, just as sure as the sun rises in the west and the Earth circles the moon.
In March 2020, Kenney decided that gambling billions more of Alberta taxpayers’ dollars on the ill-fated Keystone XL pipeline that the private sector wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole would be a good idea.
When Democrat Joe Biden predictably won the US presidency in November and, as was widely expected, cancelled the pipeline in January of this year, Kenney’s gamble was revealed as the foolish investment it always was.
Which brings us to this week. On Tuesday, Kenney unveiled ‘tough new measures’ to curb the out-of-control spread of COVID throughout the province that has made Alberta’s per capita rate the highest in North America.
Only time will tell whether these half-measures come with the usual admonishments coupled with a wink and a nod to the anti-mask crowd even while Kenney continues to gaslight the rest of the province and tries to throw shade at the federal government.
And yet, maybe all of these spectacular failures are what they’re meant to be; mere window dressing to distract Albertans from the Kenney government’s actual goals: turning Alberta’s labour relations regime decisively in employers’ favor; upending Alberta’s longstanding democratic principles to favor big business and ‘dark’ money; deliberately severing meaningful linkages between citizen and state; shrinking the state while simultaneously shrinking citizens’ expectations of the role of the state in citizens’ lives; and severely privileging the individual over the collective.
Then again, perhaps I’m giving the Kenney government too much credit. After all, the premier has lately been prone to saying things like “I reject the premise of your question” to reporters asking legitimate and pressing questions about the government’s plans for addressing the COVID emergency and Alberta’s economic troubles.
It might just be me, but that response seems more in line with a kid who lost their notes during a high school debating competition than a Canadian premier running a complex province.
Eric Strikwerda teaches Canadian history at Athabasca University. He is the author of The Wages of Relief: Cities and the Unemployed in Prairie Canada, 1929-1939 (AU Press, 2013). At present he is working on a history of western Canada following Canada’s acquisition of the region in 1870.