When the New York Daily News published its famous "Ford to City: Drop Dead" headline on October 30, 1975, all president Gerald Ford had done was deny a federal bailout to Gotham, which was nearly bankrupt.
It shows the power of a great headline that October 29, the day Ford gave the offending speech, still lives in infamy in the memories of New Yorkers and headline writers.
"President" Jason Kenney, as he no doubt thinks of himself as he hums "Hail to the Chief" on his way in to the premier's office on those mornings he's not back home in Ottawa, campaigning for conservative politicians in Vancouver or the burbs of Toronto, or on mysterious "business" in Washington or London, seems actually to be trying to wreck the economy of Alberta's capital region.
He's doing it principally by killing public sector jobs, quite intentionally, under the cover of the discredited claim austerity will be good for the economy. You know, "job-creating job cuts." (My quote, not his, to be fair, but, admit it, you wondered if he actually said that, didn't you?)
Indeed, Edmonton learned it would lose up to 240 more good jobs yesterday when the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology announced it would be laying off employees to cope with Kenney's brutal cuts to post-secondary education funding.
Like that of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, much admired in Kenney's inner circle (Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, c'mon down from the farm!), Kenney's government is all about revenge. That, I reckon, is why the UCP cabinet, bizarrely, has launched a blitzkrieg against the province's physicians, especially family doctors, with plans to cut their compensation by 20 per cent over four years.
The Alberta Medical Association, after all, was actually prepared to work with the previous NDP government like grown-ups. That cannot be allowed! They'll have to be punished for not acting like those agricultural check-off groups the dippers tried so hard to work with, and foolishly continued to support, for which they were thanked with sabotage at every turn.
This goes double for the teachers. However, the Alberta Teachers' Association also had a long relationship with the old Progressive Conservative party that gave the PCs several capable ministers over the years. So Kenney has an additional motive to want to mess with the teachers' union. Not only was it credible among many old red Tories, now purged but still potentially influential, it stands in the way of the UCP's apparent plan to privatize public education out to religious fringe groups and chi-chi prep schools.
Of course, the thing about Edmonton that really gets up UCP noses is what the voters of the capital city did in the general election last April. To wit, they elected a clean slate of New Democrats, but for a single sorry UCP MLA in the city's south end.
This guaranteed Kaycee Madu a spot in cabinet as minister of municipal affairs -- a job, it would be fair to say, at which Madu's performance has been less than stellar. We'll leave that assessment to the voters of Edmonton-South West, however, when Kenney brings in his MLA recall legislation. In the mean time, though, it's obvious the UCP braintrust has determined Edmonton must also be punished for so reliably sticking with the NDP.
Still, Albertans actually hear it said by serious people that UCP supporters in Calgary demand Edmonton now be made to suffer at least as much as Calgary did during the recent recession, which was caused by slumping international oil prices, not Rachel Notley and the NDP.
Not only that, but as Alberta's capital city, Edmonton has a higher percentage of unionized public employees than the province's other major centres, and by definition they're organized and inclined to defend the excellent services they provide. (Even the UCP reluctantly concedes frontline public workers like nurses do excellent work, even as it acts as if the opposite were true.)
Of course, we all know how the Trump-style Republicans at the core of the UCP feel about unions, not to mention the well-known propensity of organized labour to resist the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the 1%.
That would explain why Kenney's toadies on social media try so hard to pass off the surprisingly strong and growing opposition to the UCP's destructive policies as the work of unions and other "special interests."
When an astonishing crowd estimated by the Edmonton Police Service at 13,000 turned up at the legislature building last Thursday to protest against Kenney's cuts, the premier's echo chamber dismissed it as "just a bunch of union funded noise."
Funny how that works. When a couple of hundred farmers infuriated by the NDP government's plan to let farm workers be eligible for Workers Compensation showed up in the same place in December 2015, the same folks made it sound as if it were the biggest thing since the Berlin Wall came down. Alberta's mainstream media was delighted to provide amplification.
Surely, though, an intentional vengeance attack by a senior government on one region's economy must be unique in Canadian history, notwithstanding the Wexiters' and Kenneyites' ridiculous constant whining that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government in Ottawa is doing the same thing to Alberta. (Projection, anyone?)
Needless to say, political revenge on recalcitrant voters is far from a sound basis for economic policy, no matter what the short-term political benefits may appear to be to the government. As for austerity, it fails everywhere it's implemented, and "job creating tax cuts" never seem to create any jobs. The UCP's been at it for the better part of a year now, and Alberta has lost something like 70,000 jobs. Unemployment in Edmonton was at 8.3 per cent in January, statistically tied with Windsor, Ontario, as the highest of any major city in Canada.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson would be within his rights to strike a "Fair Deal" panel to visit the neighbourhoods of his city and come up with options to help Edmonton ensure it gets a better deal from Alberta. Of course, Mayor Iveson is a grownup, so I have no doubt he'd politely decline to engage in that kind of tomfoolery.
Which is a pity, because without something like that, someone less dignified is sure to found a YEGxit movement soon, to get this city the hell out of Alberta, if only to ensure we remain solvent and part of Canada when the UCP wrecking crew gets done.
If Kenney actually manages to bankrupt Edmonton, I'm pretty sure he'll tell it to drop dead too.
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: David J. Climenhaga
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