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