Donna Kennedy-Glans last year at a hearing of the Kenney government's "fair deal" panel. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Have the first hairline cracks started to appear in the Kenney government’s hitherto solid front in its war with the province’s physicians, which is inexplicably being carried on in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic?

Is someone inside the Kenney Calgary Kremlin signalling it’s almost time for Health Minister Tyler Shandro to be replaced by a minister who can carry out the premier’s confusing and unpopular health-care strategy with more finesse?

Hard to say. Trying to figure out what the hermetic brain trust around Premier Jason Kenney is actually up to can be almost as difficult as guessing what’s going on in North Korea.

On Sunday, media reported the UCP government had shocked rural doctors by stripping 141 communities of the rural designation that made them eligible for additional payments to physicians under the province’s Rural Remote Northern Program.

This was done without fanfare on Friday at the same time Shandro was publicly walking back controversial rollbacks to payments to rural physicians, which had been implemented with the stated goal of keeping docs in rural areas.

Within hours of the revelation, the government switched course again, making the excuse it was just an “oversight” — the wrong list had been included with a government bulletin sent to doctors and no one noticed.

The government quietly issued an amended version of the bulletin yesterday. Commentary by a rural family doc who read the document indicated all the rural sites except for the 141 communities originally removed have lost now their flat-fee RRNP, the measure that had been intended to keep doctors in rural areas.

“This is another underhanded move by @shandro and yet another strike to the attraction and retention of rural physicians,” tweeted Sundre family doctor Dani Diaz. “This is the absolute definition of disrespect to rural doctors.”

Meanwhile, also on Sunday, a post attacking Shandro’s incoherent handling of the physician pay file appeared on a blog frequently used as a platform by former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans.

Kennedy-Glans is not just any superannuated PC-era Tory. She ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 2017 and obediently withdrew her candidacy to make way for Kenney, unlike some who didn’t and were never forgiven. She was rewarded with a spot on Kenney’s “fair deal” panel, which will report soon.

So while she’s not an insider, she’s not exactly a complete outsider, either.

The post, co-written with former CBC journalist Don Hill, excoriated Shandro. The headline mocked him: “The Smartest Guy in the UCP Room Still Doesn’t Get It.”

Its analysis was unkind. “Health Minister Tyler Shandro thinks it’s about him, his wife, his interests outside of public life,” it said, referencing the health minister’s recent temper tantrum in the driveway of a neighbour who had posted an unkind meme on social media criticizing the too-close-for-comfort relationship between Shandro’s portfolio and his family business. “He’s wrong.”

“And Alberta’s rural physicians just reminded him who’s the boss in a pandemic,” the post continued, a reference to the uproar that led to Shandro restoring the payments to rural docs he’d been primed to take away. “The doctors have it exactly right. Resistance to their reasonable complaints is futile.”

Calling “the so-called ‘walk back’ by Minister Shandro … half-hearted and not at all reassuring,” and noting that backbench UCP MLAs should be “worried about pissing off their non-urban constituents even more than they already are,” the post concluded but saying, “God help us all if Minister Shandro still believes he’s on the right track.”

Kennedy-Glans has done this kind of thing before. Back in 2014, when PC premier Alison Redford’s chaotic premiership was disintegrating, she resigned from cabinet and issued a public statement decrying the state of the government without actually mentioning the premier’s name. Her target was clear nevertheless.

Two days after that shove, Redford announced she would resign.

Not many weeks after that, newly elected leader Jim Prentice welcomed Kennedy-Glans back into the bosom of the PC party.

If Kennedy-Glans is acting like a loose cannon and Sunday’s blog post was unauthorized, there will be hell to pay — and not just in the form of a driveway visit by an ill-tempered minister.

But this doesn’t sound like freelancing — it sounds like a message that has the imprimatur of someone near or at the top, possibly Dear Leader himself.

Then again, who knows?

And speaking of Dear Leader, the other one in North Korea, does anyone know how Kim Jong-Un is doing?

Thank goodness, no rules were broken!

Unsurprisingly, legislative Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler has found almost no rules were broken when the UCP government fired Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson in the midst of his investigations into sketchy dealings during the party’s 2017 leadership contest. And those that were broken, apparently, don’t matter very much.

Calgary-East MLA Peter Singh, who was being questioned at the time about his election expenses, should really have recused himself from voting on the bill that fired Gibson, her report said. He should apologize. And Matt Wolf, now the premier’s “issues management” guy, “may have been involved in some questionable political shenanigans,” whatever that means, but there is no evidence Kenney knew anything about them. So no apology necessary.

Other than the RCMP investigation, which continues, the book is now closed on that unfortunate matter. Someone is bound to tweet momentarily they have all been exonerated and we should just get over it.

Meanwhile, out on the fringe

Vowing to “radically upset the stale two-party, federalist monopoly that governs Alberta,” the Freedom Conservative party and Wexit Alberta, combined membership minuscule, announced yesterday they had reached an agreement in principle to unite the two right-wing fringe parties into something called the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta.

The Wexiters seem to have forgotten that Alberta’s two party system isn’t all that stale. Indeed, before there 2015 election, there were five parties in the provincial legislature. None of them were Alberta separatists, of course.

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,

Image: David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...