Bul­ly­ing with­out the bul­ly­ing: a les­son in smoke screen agenda wedg­ing

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - OPINION - By Ryan Dahlman

It is dif­fi­cult to keep up with all the pro­vin­cial po­lit­i­cal news that is go­ing in Al­berta.

It re­ally is. Hav­ing been in­volved in the me­dia and liv­ing in Al­berta since 1994, I can­not re­mem­ber a time of so many changes to eco­nomic, labour and so­cial poli­cies within such a short frame of time.

Of­ten, it is a lot to han­dle. Too much in fact.

Per­haps in some cases it is due to all of the un­prece­dented changes oc­cur­ring fed­er­ally and the eco­nomic chal­lenges Cana­di­ans are fac­ing due to COVID-19. Of course there are all the chal­lenges which are all based on so­cial dis­tanc­ing and hav­ing shut down so­ci­ety ex­cept for gro­cery stores, fuel sta­tions and hos­pi­tals, the pub­lic was col­lec­tively and jus­ti­fi­ably ner­vous.

In Al­berta, there was a lot of un­cer­tainty, but one thing that was crys­tal clear was that Ja­son Ken­ney was in charge. No deny­ing that. No mat­ter where you leaned po­lit­i­cally, you knew Ken­ney was in charge. He is/was ev­ery­where. On so­cial me­dia chan­nels, on the pro­vin­cial news, mak­ing com­ments telling Al­ber­tans what he was do­ing to get things done in light of the pan­demic.

There’s a cer­tain swag­ger needed in pol­i­tics. There’s def­i­nitely a fine line be­tween be­ing deemed weak, just right and overt ar­ro­gance. When you don’t have con­fi­dence in Al­berta es­pe­cially, critics will be all over you. In­ces­sant ha­rass­ment un­til spe­cial in­ter­est groups get what they want. Be­ing ev­ery­one’s friend means you will be­come ev­ery­one’s en­emy when you can­not de­liver.

Be­ing just right is the most dif­fi­cult be­cause to ap­pease many you will in­evitably anger a few, but you are do­ing it for the best of the whole. Take re­quests un­der ad­vise­ment and study the mat­ter to make the most in­formed de­ci­sion pos­si­ble.

Then there’s the fi­nal way this gov­ern­ment does. It is bul­ly­ing with­out the bul­ly­ing. Send un­re­lent­ing press releases, make con­stant changes, amend­ments, new boards, stud­ies and com­mis­sions. Over­load the in­for­ma­tion high­way with a va­ri­ety of things. You ap­pear open, but you are con­trol­ling the mes­sage.

Take for ex­am­ple, the firearms panel Ken­ney set up with ex­perts from a va­ri­ety of di­verse back­grounds a few weeks ago. He wanted to hear from those af­fected by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s new laws. There was no time frame ac­cord­ing to com­mit­tee chair­per­son Michaela Glasgo and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Doug Schweitzer about the re­port about what Al­ber­tans want re­gard­ing firearms guide­lines. But then June 18, in a tweet Ken­ney said “Al­berta will be mov­ing quickly to re­cruit and ap­point our own pro­vin­cial Chief Firearms Of­fi­cer to re­place Ot­tawa’s.” Ap­par­ently ev­ery­one has been in­ter­viewed and this has been de­cided?!

Ken­ney is front and cen­tre in press con­fer­ences in­volv­ing health and fight back harshly at critics of your poli­cies on so­cial me­dia. Photo shoots, he is al­ways the fo­cal point, throw­ing out more changes. When mak­ing an­nounce­ments he is usu­ally pho­tographed rem­i­nis­cent of 1990s pop bands with the lead singer out front and the rest of the band be­hind.

Fair deal panel find­ings were re­leased June 17 and there was a lot to talk about: new pro­vin­cial po­lice force; new Al­berta only pen­sion plan and fight the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­volv­ing equal­iza­tion pay­ments or else (i.e. a non-bind­ing ref­er­en­dum in 2021 on what to do — new re­la­tion­ship with Canada, i.e. suc­ces­sion). Talk about hav­ing an Al­berta’s own pen­sion plan and talk about the Fair Deal re­port where it sounds like the equal­iza­tion pay­ments’ sit­u­a­tion bet­ter get rec­ti­fied or else. Yes, a ref­er­en­dum is be­ing held but re­ally, he has un­til 2021 to ex­plain the why the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has been un­fair to

Al­berta… equal­iza­tion vs. re­sources and de­vel­op­ment. Think of it as an off­shoot of the Na­tional En­ergy Pol­icy. Won­der what Peter Lougheed would say about all of this?

While this is ma­jor and sounds se­ri­ous, there is a lot of time to change, ne­go­ti­ate, bluff Con­fed­er­a­tion etc. De­ci­sions are made quickly with this gov­ern­ment. Af­ter all if you tell teach­ers/par­ents/ stu­dents on a Sun­day night or restau­rant own­ers (March 27 ini­tially and then in Brooks May 18) lit­tle to short no­tice they have to close up shop think­ing they could stay open or could re­open.

Trou­ble is, while all of that, peo­ple are try­ing to live and ba­sic ser­vices are be­ing un­der­mined. This is far more than just the rolling back of the min­i­mum wage which got lit­tle fan­fare.

The gov­ern­ment slashes the bud­get on the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion dur­ing a pan­demic. Ru­ral doc­tors have put up no­tices in 20+ com­mu­ni­ties their with­draw­ing ser­vices be­cause of changes to billing. As well Al­berta Health tells the unions that rep­re­sent nurses that jobs are go­ing to be elim­i­nated. Huge fund­ing cuts to post sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions, uni­ver­si­ties are killing ath­letic pro­grams (and just for good mea­sure, some one from your of­fice tweeted the U of Al­berta was poorly fis­cal man­aged). Now, more than $3 mil­lion is go­ing to be spent on a com­pany which is look­ing at how post sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions can be run more ef­fi­ciently and cheaply. You know where this is head­ing…pri­va­tiz­ing, like pro­vin­cial parks.

There was talk about maybe hav­ing a sales tax, a sore point with Al­ber­tans prob­a­bly know­ing full well there was no chance but it does put some­one who is in a neg­a­tive light to say “no, don’t worry, we won’t.”

No one will ques­tion him. Ja­son Ken­ney is in charge. Don­ald Trump is in charge. We all won­der about Justin Trudeau and whether or not it is just a bunch of bu­reau­crats telling him what to say and do.

There is push­back at critics … whether it is his staff or cabi­net min­is­ters (no­tice he doesn’t fight the bat­tles/) or the oil and gas en­ergy war room to “ed­u­cate” those who don’t sup­port non-re­new­able en­ergy, there is no room for de­bate.

Trou­ble is when ex­press that sort of dom­i­nance of power and leave in no doubt who is in charge, you for­get a lot about the or­di­nary per­son and their or­di­nary lives. Like go­ing to their favourite park or heck, not hav­ing to make a long road trip to see a doc­tor or hav­ing to wait for a nurse in hos­pi­tal.

Don’t ques­tion Ken­ney’s gov­ern­ment. He’s got this. To­tally. Got. This.

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