When Jason Kenney was busted yesterday for breaking his own pandemic rules with a group of United Conservative Party cabinet heavyweights and a couple of guests during a boozy rooftop dinner at the notorious Sky Palace in Edmonton, one wag commented that these are tough times for Alberta's premier.
"I don't think he's had a week this bad since May," tweeted Progress Alberta political commentator Jim Storrie.
Apparently the UCP brainiacs who thought the scofflaw dinner would be easy-peasy to get away with, seeing as it was atop the roof of an 11-storey building, hadn't bargained on someone having one of these newfangled inventions called telephoto lenses.
But a public-spirited paparazzo somewhere in one of the office towers of downtown Edmonton thought to train their lens on the rooftop of the Federal Building, the confusingly named 66-year-old provincial government office tower that includes the rooftop Xanadu secretly constructed as premier Alison Redford's residence circa 2013.
After Redford was driven out of office by her own caucus in 2014; the Sky Palace was converted to a boardroom and office space, which is nowadays frequently used as a working hideaway by Premier Kenney.
The mystery photographer's snaps soon found their way to several media outfits, which were delighted to publish them.
The photos show Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Government House Leader and Environment Minister Jason Nixon, Finance Minister Travis Toews, and a man and woman thought to be Kenney Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer and Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingstone, at a nicely set table on one of the Sky Palace's rooftop patios. Nearby, what appear to be a couple of waiters go about their duties without masks.
The shots immediately sparked an uproar on social media, since the group appeared to be breaking several of the government's latest pandemic rules for social activities that the rest of us have been sternly advised to stick to so the Calgary Stampede can be held next month. That the linen covered table appeared to be generously furnished with bottles of red wine, sparkling water, and a twenty-sixer of Jameson's Irish whisky raised many eyebrows.
In fairness to these members of the UCP elite, Kenney's constantly changing pandemic restrictions are confusing. But that is unlikely to mollify either those Albertans who have been doing their best to obey the COVID-19 rules or the UCP's restive rural base and rebellious members of the party's caucus who think all restrictions should be dropped immediately.
Kenney had just put down a rebellion in the latter group, afraid for their jobs with the UCP polling well behind the NDP led by former premier Rachel Notley, so it will be interesting to see if this is enough to stir them up again.
Social media commentary was harsh, comparing the rule breaking to those mid-pandemic holiday trips to Hawaii and Mexico taken by a number of UCP MLAs last December.
The premier's crack team of issues mismanagers doubtless didn't help by rushing to social media to insult people who commented negatively on the dinner as "hall monitors," and repeatedly insisting, in what should be the motto of the Kenney government, no rules were broken.
Several rules were in fact broken, including seating arrangements, exceeding the limit for participants from different households at such a gathering, masking requirements for servers, and the fact the patio in question couldn't be accessed without going through the building when "outdoor gatherings must not have an indoor component."
Still, as political blogger Dave Cournoyer pointed out, "Ralph Klein would have just apologized and moved on."
Instead, he observed, "Jason Kenney will just plain refuse to admit he's done anything wrong and then his staffers will spend the next five days tweeting about it."
That would appear to be exactly what is happening.
While the unexpected Sky Palace brouhaha was undoubtedly the result of ineptitude, it did have the effect of diverting attention to the troubling appointment of Jack Mintz of the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy to the board of Alberta Health Services yesterday.
Mintz is the UCP's favourite economist, beloved by Canadian conservatives and their media auxiliary for espousing their utopian market fundamentalist ideology almost perfectly.
Charming though Mintz can be, he is known for such preposterous views as his 2015 claim the NDP's moderate economic policies would turn Alberta into Greece and that environmentalists in the rest of Canada meant "Alberta has better reasons for Albexit than Britain did for Brexit." It's not clear where he will go with that idea now that the United States seems to have gone green as well.
Mintz still sits on the board of Imperial Oil Ltd. Back in the day he held about $1.4 million in Imperial shares.
Mintz led Premier Kenney's expert panel charged with coming up with ideas to respond to low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic, a body that also included former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
After some fanfare about how the panel was getting to work in March 2020, its deep thoughts seem simply to have evenesced like the gassy bubbles in the mineral water bottles on Kenney's table. The only update on the Alberta government page devoted to the panel's efforts appears to be a note that says, "this program concluded on June 18, 2020."
In health care, based on past statements, Mintz is likely to advocate more privatization, fewer public sector jobs, forcing public sector workers to take pay cuts, and eliminating regulations that protect workers.
None of this bodes well for the future of public health care in Alberta.
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 credit: @TheBreakdownAB on Twitter.
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