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Alberta government announces billion-dollar pipeline giveaways after mass public-sector worker layoffs

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Jason Kenney gives a press briefing, March 31, 2020. Image: Government of Alberta

Keeping up with the Kenneys will make your head spin.

Yesterday, the Kenney government was justifying the layoffs of 26,000 public-sector education workers by claiming there are limits to Alberta's capacity to borrow during an economic downturn caused by a global pandemic.

This morning, it was bragging about creating 6,800 jobs by giving $1.5 billion right now to a private company and being prepared to spend up to $6 billion more next year to subsidize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

If this sounds to you like gaslighting -- an intentional strategy to manipulate us to question our own reality and sanity -- it does to me too.

Finance Minister Travis Toews justified Saturday's massive layoffs of school board employees by saying "it's absolutely incumbent on us as the government to ensure that we're moving resources to the greatest need."

His press secretary, Jerrica Goodwin, laid out the argument in detail, telling the CBC's Janet French there are limits to Alberta's capacity to borrow during an economic downturn. "Alberta’s credit rating has seen downgrades, and the province cannot print more money, she said," the CBC reported.

Premier Jason Kenney justified this year's "equity investment" in Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. and next year's huge loan guarantee to "kick-start" the Keystone XL pipeline as "steps we must make now to build our future focused on jobs, the economy, and pipelines."

"We cannot wait for the end of the pandemic and the global recession to act," he said in the government's news release. "Today we are moving forward with a project that is essential to our future prosperity."

The news release claimed the pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast will create 6,800 jobs in Alberta. It also declared the project will generate $30 billion in tax and royalty revenues for future generations of Albertans and Canadians. The first claim might be true; the second strains credulity. Kenney described the massive borrowing by the province as "a wise investment," and predicted Alberta would be able to sell its shares at a profit.

Work commences tomorrow, April Fool's Day.

Observed University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe on Twitter this morning: The announcement demonstrates Alberta's "massive borrowing capacity and strong balance sheet."

"Any prior statement by government that they face such constraints (which was one motivation to lay-off education staff) was completely false," Tombe added.

To illustrate the level of the government's gaslighting, remember that on March 15, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange promised Albertans that "school authorities will receive their full allotment of funding for the 2019-20 school year." But there was no mention of that when she blindsided school boards with the order for what may be the largest single layoff in Canadian history, Saturday afternoon.

Also note that, according to this morning's news release, the Keystone XL deal "is the culmination of six months of negotiations." So even while Toews and his aide were piously claiming Alberta was short of cash and credit, the pipeline giveaway was signed and sealed, awaiting only delivery.

Well, get used to it. Everything will change again tomorrow, so stay awake!

Meanwhile, in the midst of the global pandemic cited by Kenney today as justification for the huge payout we couldn't afford yesterday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro's war with the province's physicians proceeds apace.

In an extremely troubling message yesterday, Alberta Medical Association president Christine Molnar described her efforts last week to persuade the Kenney government to put its attack on the province's physicians earning capacity on the back burner until the deadly COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

After making several written requests last week to meet with Shandro, she said, yesterday "we received his response stating that the government intends to proceed with the remaining elements of the framework on March 31." That is, today.

"I share your extreme frustration and disappointment with this decision," Molnar said. "Adding further disruption and uncertainty to a health care system already under unprecedented pressure from COVID-19 is simply irresponsible and not in the best interests of the health care system and our patients."

"On a personal note," she continued, "I am deeply concerned by the tattered state of the current relationship between the province and its physicians. Somehow the physicians of Alberta have become the enemy of a government frustrated by its circumstance. During my 44 years of medicine, I have never seen anything like it. We have tried talking and reasoning with them. Some have tried yelling at them and shaming them. Others have just stopped trying or are on the verge of giving up."

She promised to "soldier on for our patients," but one wonders how many doctors really will.

Under the circumstances, the government's determination to pursue this attack is almost literally insane. Which explains, presumably, why they would like to make Albertans think it's us who are crazy.

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 his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Government of Alberta

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