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Appointment of conservative economist Jack Mintz to head Jason Kenney's latest economic panel is bad news for Alberta

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Image: Jason Kenney/Twitter

Come into my office, Alberta, and sit down.

I'm sorry to have to tell you that your prognosis is not good.

I'm not talking about coronavirus. That will be painful, but you're strong and young and I'm confident you could survive coronavirus …

When Premier Jason Kenney says there's a "global coronavirus recession," what he really means is don't blame him and his United Conservative Party for any of Alberta's economic woes -- even the 70,000 or so jobs that disappeared on his watch when the most Albertans thought about when you said "corona" was a cold Mexican beer. (Hard to believe that was just a few days ago.)

And I'm not talking like about price of oil, which has been falling to earth the last few days faster than pieces of an old Russian satellite exiting its decaying orbit.

Admittedly, that's very bad news if you're the leader of a Conservative party that tabled a budget less than two weeks ago full of rosy predictions about soaring oil prices. But it would be bad news too, if you were a radical green who wanted to see oil cost so much folks would get serious about looking for alternatives.

But I am talking about what Kenney is likely to do next to deal with the first two problems.

We know what he's already done: yesterday he announced he'll strike yet another "expert panel," this time an emergency panel, and he's already chosen the expert he wants to run it.

As Albertans are starting to understand, this is Kenney's go-to strategy when he wants us to take some medicine that certainly won't taste very good, and probably won't help very much either. In this case, it might even be fatal.

The person Kenney has chosen to run this latest panel is none other than Jack Mintz, and that's bad news indeed. It strongly suggests that despite his diplomatic and conciliatory tone yesterday, Kenney has decided not to let this perfectly good crisis go to waste, and will go all "Shock Doctrine" on us and really do some damage.

Mintz is the University of Calgary economist who is one of the UCP's favourite professors -- because he espouses their utopian market-fundamentalist ideology so well.

"The Shock Doctrine," with which most readers of this blog will be familiar, is social activist Naomi Klein's term for the neoliberal strategy of exploiting disasters to implement disastrous neoliberal policies when citizens are too distracted to respond effectively.

So if you thought Kenney might respond to the coronavirus crisis by declaring a truce in his war on public health care, or to plunging oil prices by abandoning the province's foolish policy, which predates the UCP by decades, of relying on fossil fuel revenues to deliver services while asking citizens and corporations to pay very little tax, thereby suffering repeated booms and busts, the appointment of Mintz means you are virtually certain to be disappointed.

Mintz is the fellow who in 2015 declared Alberta was on its way to turning into Greece, then in the midst of an economic crisis, because the just-elected NDP had promised a small tax increase for corporations, a review of the province's petroleum royalty structure and an increase in the minimum wage.

He's grumbled about "unrealistic 'climate emergency' environmentalists," commented that "Alberta has better reasons for Albexit than Britain did for Brexit" (yes, he did say Albexit), mused about separation, and argued that diversity makes countries weaker. Naturally, he's a favourite of the National Post, which frequently reprints his bloviations.)

He's a "fellow" of the Fraser Institute, consistently argues for business tax cuts, and thinks income taxes should be lower too. He sits on the board of Imperial Oil Ltd. (and also Morneau Shepell Inc., federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's family firm) and back in the day held at least about $1.4 million in Imperial shares.

He is, in other words, someone who is likely to recommend exactly what Alberta doesn't need in response to a recession, whatever the cause -- lower taxes faster, more privatization, eliminating public-sector jobs, using legislation to force frontline public-sector workers to take pay cuts, eliminating regulations that protect workers and consumers and other neoliberal bromides. Interestingly, he has argued for a sales tax, as long as there's a Texas-style "significant reduction in personal income taxes" to go with it.

Mintz is a very charming fellow, quite entertaining to chat with. There's absolutely no reason to believe he's anything but completely sincere in his beliefs, and that he genuinely believes they will do good.

But that only goes to show that good people can sometimes do real harm with the best of intentions, and the course of treatment that Mintz is likely to prescribe for Alberta will do far more harm than good.

So I'm really sorry, Alberta. Your 10 minutes with me are up and you'll have to leave. But on your way home, you might want to think about making sure that your last will and testament is up-to-date.

The nurse will show you out.

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: Jason Kenney/Twitter

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