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Alberta government announcement provides frightening clues as to what a provincial police force might look like

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RCMP parade in 2011. Image: Kat2Kat2/Flickr

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police may be no paragon of liberalism and progressive enforcement, but they're apparently too liberal and progressive for the members of the so-called "fair deal" panel that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney appointed to trot out his quasi-separatist hobbyhorses.

Kenney's supposedly cash-poor government announced yesterday it has another $2 million to spend on hiring the Canadian arm of U.K.-based business consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers to cook up an "independent assessment" of the premier's scheme to replace the RCMP with his own police force.

The price tag is likely so low because the answers have been predetermined. It's certainly modest compared with the additional estimated $150 million per year, plus transition costs, that would be needed to run a provincial police force instead of contracting RCMP services.

More evidence that the decision is a done deal comes in the form of the posting last month for an executive manager in the provincial justice department to run a new Alberta provincial police services transition secretariat.

Anyone worried about what this might portend can learn a lot by reading between the lines of the government's press release, which emphasizes "frustrations with the RCMP" supposedly expressed by the Albertans who turned up for the panel's road show or responded to its leading online questionnaire.

The release complains RCMP members are "overly bureaucratic" and "unable and unwilling to confront activists," a pairing that suggests in the eyes of the UCP the Mounties are too focused for their taste on due process and fundamental rights and not willing enough just to wade in and bust the heads of citizens who oppose UCP policies.

The release also complains about "heavy handed enforcement of gun laws," by which the government pretty clearly means any enforcement of gun laws at all. In other words, the UCP wants to move Alberta, and Canada, toward U.S.-style gun climate that emphasizes the right to gun ownership and ignores responsibility and public safety.

We all understand the dystopia that can result from that. How could we not? The evidence is right next door.

The release also preposterously claims, "RCMP members have a limited connection to the province."

This is a scarlet herring, as it were. It's been many years since the RCMP abandoned its former policy of moving members frequently to ensure impartial enforcement of the law in the communities where they were stationed. But the dog-whistle message to the UCP's core supporters is that the RCMP pays too much attention to things like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the values it represents.

So, if you want to know what Premier Kenney and his eminence grise former prime minister Stephen Harper have in mind for Alberta -- and the rest of Canada too if they can pull it off here -- this news release provides some scary hints.

"Alberta's government has an obligation to listen to those concerns and explore how a police force designed in Alberta -- not Ottawa -- would improve the safety and security of Albertans and their property," the release quotes Justice Minister Kaycee Madu saying. It sure sounds like the premier speaking, though.

"This report will bring us one step closer to the panel's recommendation," Madu added. That statement, at least, is undoubtedly true, and all the more worrisome for that.

Fire Tyler Shandro, says the Edmonton Journal; UCP summons damage control

Kenney government damage control parties rushed into the breach yesterday morning to put out a fire caused by, of all things, a Postmedia newspaper editorial.

One imagines it's not just the United Conservative Party that was unhappy about the Edmonton Journal's editorial calling for Alberta's belligerent health minister to be fired with cause. Presumably, Postmedia head office in Toronto (or perhaps New York City, depending on whom you really think is in charge) will not be very happy about that either.

"So chaotic is the track record of Tyler Shandro … that controversy has become the rule rather than the exception," the editorial began.

The Journal's editorial board highlighted Alberta Health Services statistics obtained through a freedom of information request by the NDP Opposition that showed 163 Alberta physicians were considered to be at high risk of leaving the province and 205 in 17 communities are "eyeing the exit or considering cuts to services" as a result of Shandro's mid-pandemic war on doctors.

"Albertans deserve stable, sober stewardship of their health care, especially in a pandemic," the editorial concluded. "It's time Premier Jason Kenney found a new health minister who can offer that steady hand without the drama."

Good luck with that. Gene Zwozdesky is no longer available for the job. Anyway, it seems unlikely the premier will want to do anything about Shandro's dismal performance because it's presumably exactly what the man was hired to do -- draw fire away from Kenney while implementing the radical privatization of public health care the corporate right has long dreamed about.

The damage control parties immediately pumped out a cheerful press release proclaiming that all is well aboard the good ship UCP.

According to the headline on the presser, "for the first time in Alberta's history, more than 11,000 doctors have registered to practice in Alberta. This represents a net gain of 246 doctors over 2019 -- an increase of 2.3 per cent." Yay! Go Team Kenney!

Never mind that this calls into question AHS's own sober analysis -- not NDP propaganda, as the government would like you to believe.

Later in the day, Shandro's department tried to distract again, that time with another cheery statement about a $60-million contract to make medical masks in Alberta.

The minister's transparent cheerleading -- misleading because it's still early days in the war on docs -- may be partly aimed at the UCP's increasingly nervous backbenchers, who have been reading recent polls and wondering if they could actually find themselves singing the same sad song as the Progressive Conservative MLAs who unwillingly departed in 2015.

As some PC wits once put it to the tune Barrett's Privateers, with apologies to the late Stan Rogers, not long after the 2015 election: "We were told we'd rule the roost till we all got old. We'd never lose to the NDP. … Now I'm a lonely man with no devotees, the last of Lougheed's proud PCs."

Settle down, Caucus, the issues managers seem to be saying: You may not like it, but there is no alternative!

Nick Taylor, Alberta Liberal leader from 1974 to 1988, dies at 92

Nick Taylor, the man who led the Alberta Liberals the last time they were lost in the wilderness, died on Sunday at 92.

Widely respected for his influence if not his power, not to mention his quick wit and quotability, Taylor led the party from 1974 to 1988.

"He speaks like a socialist, quotes St. Augustine and John Stuart Mill and, like a latter day Moses with slightly tougher odds, expects to lead his party (and some 3,000 card-carrying Liberals) to opposition status in the Alberta legislature -- despite the fact that he has no seat himself and must watch legislative debates from the visitors' gallery," MacLean's magazine said in a 1980 profile.

It worked. A geologist and oilman, Taylor took the helm when the party was at a low ebb, thanks to the unpopularity of the federal Liberals' National Energy Program. He finally won a legislature seat in 1986, in the Westlock-Sturgeon Riding north of St. Albert. He was re-elected in 1989, and won a third term in the then-new Redwater Riding in 1993.

He was widely credited with setting the stage for the party's brush with power in the 1993 general election, when under Laurence Decore it captured 32 seats and 40 per cent of the vote to 51 seats and 44.5 per cent for Ralph Klein's PCs.

Alas, that was the Alberta Liberal party's high tide. Its fortunes have receded since then, and former PC Raj Sherman may have written the party's epitaph after 2011, when he led Alberta's Liberals back into the wilderness, whence they have never re-emerged.

In 1996, Taylor was appointed to the Senate of Canada by prime minister Jean Chretien, ending his career in the legislature. He served in the Senate until his retirement at 75 in 2002.

Members of his family were with him when he died at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary.

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.

Image: Kat2Kat2/Flickr

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