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Alberta's UCP hits universities with red tape

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The University of Alberta's Central Academic Building

Never let it be said the government of Alberta's United Conservative Party hates red tape.

On the contrary, Premier Jason Kenney's government loves the stuff -- at least if you define red tape as most dictionaries do, to wit, "excessive bureaucratic rules that make it more difficult to get stuff done."

Notwithstanding the UCP's creation of a "Ministry of Red Tape Reduction," if we judge the UCP by its actions and not its words, we can see that what the Kenney clique hates is regulation that costs big business money, even if it saves workers' lives, preserves the environment, or protects vulnerable citizens from commercial predators.

But they adore regulations intended to harass people and organizations they don't like, for example, trade unions, teachers, and most recently, high-quality academic institutions like the University of Alberta.

For these targets, they will pile on pointless and inconvenient regulations designed to make work harder to do, more expensive, and disruptive of core functions.

In other words, as my old desktop Webster's Collegiate Dictionary puts it, "official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction."

The difference between UCP red tape and the other kind is that rather than well meaning, but overly complex rules intended to do good but inclined to be counterproductive, the Kenney government's version has been weaponized, used to harass and stymie people and institutions they see as enemies or obstacles to the implementation of their radical market fundamentalist and social conservative agendas.

In other words, talk back to the UCP, or even let your stakeholders get away with saying what they think about the Kenney government's austerity, and you too may find yourself tangled in red tape.

A small example appeared on the province's political radar last week, when Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides told Alberta's post-secondary institutions they weren't responding to the government's deep funding cuts with sufficient enthusiasm.

The UCP government, alert readers will recall, has just whacked post-secondary institutions with an immediate 5 per cent cut to operations funding, which will grow to 7 per cent over the next four years. The UCP also lifted the previous government's cap on tuition increases, presumably to ensure students feel some of the pain too.

As we have seen with the government's lionization of the trades in terms that imply distain for academic pursuits, the UCP is not a group that particularly likes eggheads -- unless they happen to be very well heeled, and educated at elite institutions, preferably in other countries.

Accordingly, Nicolaides sent a micromanaging letter to most Alberta post-secondary institutions demanding that as they try to figure out how to deal with the UCP cuts, they ensure spending freezes on travel, hosting and new hires.

Since the cuts they had already made weren't painful enough to suit the UCP, he complained, he would now demand monthly financial reports from all but a few privileged religious institutions to ensure their obedience. Officials from Advanced Education and the Finance Ministry will be closely monitoring spending, he warned.

As for the absurdity of a major research university like the University of Alberta having to tell its academics they can't travel for research or conferences, and that they also mustn't let their colleagues from other universities visit either, that's just another front in the UCP's war on education.

Back in 1906, when the University of Alberta was chartered by the Liberal government of the then year-old province, a conscious decision was made to create and support an elite academic institution in Western Canada.

The University of Alberta opened in 1908, and generations of Albertans have benefitted enormously ever since -- but at a cost, from the UCP's perspective in 2020. Elite research universities are a font, after all, of the sorts of things Kenney and his caucus colleagues fear and despise, like climate science, to name an obvious example.

Freezes on hiring, travel and conferences are an excellent way to attack sober, unbiased scholarly inquiry. They will drive tenured professors to greener pastures and allow cowed administrators to replace them with easier-to-discipline sessional instructors.

If the quality of work declines, in the arts in particular, who cares? Certainly not the UCP.

Even the university's president, David Turpin, has prudently made plans to get out of dodge as soon as possible.

It should surprise no one this would appeal to a government led by a resentful college dropout, who couldn't even succeed at forcing a small religious university he attended to bend to his social conservative will.

(What did he expect? The place was run by Jesuits, a Roman Catholic order steeped in intellectual rigour.)

Nicolaides' threat of monthly administrative meddling has, from the perspective of this government, the dual advantages of terrifying administrators and punishing some of the UCP's deeply resented enemies.

In other words, it is nothing more than a classic example of revenge red tape, the kind Canada's increasingly anti-intellectual, post-factual, conspiracy-theorizing conservatives love.

Peak Trudeau derangement reached in Alberta?

Has Alberta reached peak Trudeau derangement?

One wonders, with a long list of frustrated loudmouths from the rightward fringe of the Canadian conservative movement so angry at Canadians for electing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals again in October that they got together in Calgary yesterday to talk about why Alberta should separate from Canada.

The so-called Value of Alberta Conference was put together by an organization hitherto specializing in creating nasty social media memes trolling Trudeau, generously funded in part by the soon-to-be-renamed Manning Centre.

Getting the most media attention was Conrad Black, also known as Lord Black of Crossharbour. The former newspaper magnate, who was knighted by the British, jailed by the Americans, and pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump -- not only isn't a Canadian citizen, but renounced his Canadian citizenship 19 years ago to go sit in the House of Lords.

Radio host and former Okotoks politician Danielle Smith, billionaire Twitter nuisance W. Brett Wilson, California-born University of Calgary instructor Ted Morton, (the worst premier Alberta never had), and Joe Oliver, an elderly man from Toronto who once voted in Parliament for the now-reviled federal equalization formula, were also on stage during the day-long event.

In the event Alberta separates, of course, not one of them will have to live here.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: IQRemix/Flickr

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