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UCP Leader Jason Kenney drops hints of radical policy plans in speech to Calgary Chamber of Commerce

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United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney addresses the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 9 (Screenshot of Calgary Chamber video).

A recent speech by Jason Kenney to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce indicates the Alberta Opposition leader intends to ram a radical program through the legislature with minimal public consultation if his United Conservative Party wins the election likely to be held in 2019.

Oddly, it took almost a week for a comprehensive report of Kenney's sold-out Oct. 9 "conversation" with the Chamber's members to filter out to the public.

It's not as if it was supposed to be a secret. The Chamber posted a video of the whole thing on its Facebook page on the same day Kenney spoke and answered questions. An Oct. 10 story in the Calgary Herald mentioned his remarks in passing, but focused on the controversy about the city's proposed Olympic bid and Kenney's proposal to establish a Ministry of Truth "to respond in real time to every lie or myth told about our energy industry here in Canada and around the world."

It appears, though, as if no one in the Calgary media noticed the UCP leader's new policy hints until Emma Graney of the Edmonton Journal bothered to watch the Chamber's recording over the weekend. Her story was published yesterday.

Clearly assuming a UCP victory next spring is a slam-dunk, Kenney explained the logic of his legislative strategy to the lunchtime crowd at the Calgary Hyatt-Regency hotel as a sort of political version of what the U.S. armed forces used to call "shock and awe." In other words, his planned legislative program sounds remarkably like the approach already tested south of the 49th Parallel by U.S. President Donald Trump and now being rolled out in Ontario by Premier Doug Ford.

"You move with speed because speed creates its own momentum," Kenney told the Chamber crowd. "It also makes it harder for the opponents of reform to obstruct it." This is undeniably true -- although it doesn't exactly indicate a profound commitment to democratic principles.

Responding to a question, Kenney credited the strategy to Sir Roger Douglas, the New Zealand Labour politician turned neoliberal who as the country's finance minister in the late 1980s betrayed his party's supporters and laid waste to New Zealand's traditional managed economy. Arguably the country is still recovering from that dangerous experiment in "Rogernomics."

But Sir Roger is said to have inspired Klein's Alberta government in the 1990s -- from which, not incidentally, Alberta is still recovering as well. At any rate, Kenney seemed impressed by his tactics. "He said the first and most important lesson is that you move quickly."

Kenney also told the Chamber's luncheon crowd he'd like to avoid getting "bogged down" in too much consultation, which is faintly ironic considering the shrieking we've heard from the United Conservative Party and its PC and Wildrose predecessors ever since 2015 about supposedly inadequate consultation by Alberta's NDP government on such topics farm-safety legislation and the details of its climate change policy.

Nevertheless, Kenney's current view is that governments can get caught up in an "endless process" that includes too much consultation. Who would have known?

Well, as anyone who pays attention to movement conservatives like Kenney understands, what's sauce for the goose isn't necessarily sauce for the gander, at least when the gander finally gets to run the farm.

We already knew Kenney plans to pull the plug on the NDP's carbon tax, of course. But additional bits and pieces of policies revealed in his policy fan dance before the Chamber included:

  • Lowering of components of the minimum wage by bringing back discredited differential minimum wages for young workers and booze servers
  • Rolling back labour legislation to return Alberta to 1970s-style labour relations
  • Ending the NDP's policy of shutting down coal-fired electricity generation and reversing the province's progress on pollution
  • Returning to instinctive conservative austerity in the name of balancing the budget a year earlier than Premier Rachel Notley's plan

Still unmentioned were specifics, such as whether Kenney's cuts would include eliminating workplace leaves for pregnant women, people with sick children or dealing with domestic violence.

Nor was there discussion, of course, of some of the bigger and inevitably unpopular cuts that would be required to meet Kenney's budget-balancing schedule -- including slashing public education, advocated by the UCP leader back when he was spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation Astroturf group; closing rural hospitals, probably the only way to achieve significant health-care savings; and wholesale public service privatization.

If such radical surgery is in Kenney's bag of policy tricks, though, you can count on not hearing about it until after the ballots are counted.

Regardless, the glimpse of Kenney's plans provided by Graney prompted a sharp riposte from Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, who wondered just what environmental regulations Kenney's proposed "fiscal commission" would recommend cutting.

"Finally the mask has slipped with respect to what Jason Kenney wants to do to the people of this province," Phillips said. "He does not want to talk to Albertans about doing things like firing pregnant women. He does not want to talk to Albertans about restoring an employer's ability to fire someone who needs to take time off to care for a child with cancer. Of course he does not want to get bogged down in those conversations because Jason Kenney is not working for ordinary Albertans."

Kenney followed up yesterday with a social media post complaining about the reaction from "over-caffeinated NDP types" and claiming consultations by the NDP government are a "sham."

One would like to think Kenney's musings are evidence of hubris. Alas, while the UCP leader may be treating Alberta voters with contempt, it remains up to those voters to provide evidence they don't approve of such treatment.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

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