I don't imagine running Alberta is much fun right now. I'm afraid, though, I can't summon up much sympathy for Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party.
Be careful what you wish for, goes the ancient proverb, you just might get it.
From the UCP's perspective, this isn't the way things were supposed to work out.
Jason Kenney's political strategy, which seemed to be working pretty well for a spell, was to make big promises about bringing back the good old days and rely on the oil economy to take one more turn for the better in time to run for re-election smelling like the proverbial wild rose.
When the money returned, it could be used to cover the impact of the neoliberal policies Kenney and his cabal intended to implement, and if they caused grief for some future generation of Alberta conservatives, that wouldn't really be their problem.
But a global pandemic and an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, driving what Alberta bitumen would fetch beyond the bargain basement and into the liquidation sale on the floor below? Who expected that?
Throw in 25 per cent unemployment, with no possibility to export the worst of it back to Atlantic Canada as we've traditionally done here in Alberta, plus the United States crumbling under the leadership of a childish, ignorant sociopath -- who, embarrassingly, the UCP's own guys cheered and, in a couple of cases, campaigned for -- and you start to have the formula for a real disaster.
Who could have predicted all that happening at the same time?
Yeah, I know, there were latter-day Cassandras who foresaw such things. We can all point to repeated warnings in online media by those who forecast global pandemics, sometimes even featuring SARS-like coronaviruses. And there were certainly many on the left in particular who predicted terrible outcomes from the worst features of neoliberalism -- globalization, global warming and fragile just-in-time supply lines.
But this combination of circumstances, you have to admit, is the classic perfect storm -- the "black swan event" that should have been obvious, wasn't, and now that it's happened is completely out of control.
Premier Kenney is going to do what? Tell the Kremlin and the House of Saud to stop playing rough or they'll have to come inside? Shout at the coronavirus to slouch back to the Wuhan wet market and go back to sleep? Good luck with that!
The UCP has very few options and no ideas except propping up the oil and gas industry. You can hear the panic in the tone of the online screeching by Kenney's mostly powerless ministers, irrelevant MLAs and troll-dominated communications brain trust.
No one else has good options either, of course, although some -- like our suddenly all-grown-up sounding prime minister -- obviously have a better strategy for getting us through the worst of the next few weeks with as little harm done as possible.
But it's an immutable rule of politics that if the stuff hits the fan -- even if it's not your fault -- you're going to end up wearing some of it. And the worst of the splatter is landing right here in Alberta.
So there's a case to be made that the outcome of the provincial election on April 16 last year was an incredibly lucky one for Rachel Notley and the NDP, hard as it must have been at the time for them to give up power just as they felt they were moving things in the right direction.
The NDP's time in power seemed to be a story of one bad break after another -- mostly things entirely outside the Notley government's control. Nevertheless, as tends to happen in such circumstances, they had to wear it.
But instead of being wiped out, they emerged as a strong Opposition -- and, in the rear-view mirror, the very model of a moderate government that coped with hard times with thoughtful maturity and a steady hand. They even had a plan of sorts for dealing with the end of oil, which is certainly more than Kenney can say.
There are worse places to be than in Opposition when your province starts to resemble a rudderless plague ship!
If coronavirus and the price war had hit in mid-2018, or if the NDP had been unlucky enough to somehow eke out a victory a year ago, they truly would have been done for. Now, maybe not so much. I'd even bet a few of them realize that, too.
Well, as conservatives have always told us when it wasn't them shedding the tears, nobody ever said life was fair.
Who knows what the world will look like after COVID-19 has done its worst? I sure don't, but I'm certain it won’t look the same. Dimes to dollars it won't be a world in which demanding more bitumen mines and more pipelines, spending billions on a job program for Montana, and campaigning against carbon taxes is going to look like a good bet.
But whether I'm right or wrong about that, I can guarantee you this is no time for a guy with only one plan. And Jason Kenney sure looks like a guy who has only one plan.
Jason Kenney, micromanager, grabs the podium and hangs on for 53 minutes
Premier Kenney's excruciatingly bad performance at yesterday's COVID-19 briefing indicates that while the premier may have a new speechwriter, no one on his staff is able to stop him from micromanaging the professionals who actually know what they're talking about.
Pushing aside Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services president and CEO Verna Yiu, two physicians Albertans trust, Premier Kenney latched onto the podium and incoherently worked his way through a series of technical slides for 53 minutes.
When a Globe and Mail reporter asked him why he didn't just let the doctors do their jobs, he responded, "I presented the information because I'm the premier of Alberta …"
The quality of his presentation is illustrated by his rambling commentary on nurses and other health-care workers who want access to personal protective equipment sufficiently effective for the task at hand when they treat patients with coronavirus.
"... Let me be blunt, some folks, from different, uhh, work environments have, have been demanding a, a constant supply of the very highest-end, -end masks, the N95s, for example. Umm, and the view of health pro-, experts is that those masks are necessary and appropriate in certain clinical settings, like when you're dealing with uh, uh, incubate.. inba... in ... uh ... I'm sorry, putting somebody on an ent, on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. Um, but, that they are not, eh ... generally necessary in day-to-day functions. And so, please understand that we are doing our best, and if we are able to get redundant supplies we will make them more generally available. But we must ensure that there is adequate supply of certain critical protective equipment for our acute care and ICU workers for when we hit the peak."
I haven't transcribed the premier's verbal ticks to be mean, but to illustrate how badly prepared he seemed to be when he bulled his way to the front of the briefing. It's the opposite of reassuring.
You have to know, Rachel Notley would have handled this with fewer words and more grace, and would have let Hinshaw and Yiu do their jobs.
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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