The UCP government's "blue ribbon" panel. From left to right: Mike Percy, Dave Mowat, Finance Minister Travis Toews, Janice MacKinnon, Premier Jason Kenney, Kim Henderson, Jay Ramotar and Bev Dahlby. Image: Government of Alberta

Happy Labour Day! Given the occasion, it’s mildly surprising Alberta’s United Conservative Party government didn’t use today to announce the “findings” of its “blue-ribbon” panel’s “deep dive” into the state of the province’s finances.

The idea of poking a stick in the eye of unionized public employees on Labour Day must have been tempting to Premier Jason Kenney and his social media communications team.

Still, the thought of having to pay overtime for the symbolism of making this announcement on a federal statutory holiday honouring the contribution of labour to Canadian society must have been too much for the premier. The announcement will go ahead tomorrow in Calgary.

Make no mistake, though, the conclusions reached by the panel are certain to be a crucial part of the government’s promised assault on the collective bargaining rights of Alberta’s working people, as well as justification for legislated cuts it plans to make to public employees’ pay and public services.

Despite the attempt to create a veneer of impartiality and independence, the panel’s mandate and makeup, announced in May by Finance Minister Travis Toews, have been structured to ensure it will deliver the recommendations desired by the Kenney government.

Indeed, yesterday the premier’s little tweeters and the stenographers at Postmedia were working closely together to establish the government’s narrative before the report was made public. “After four years of acting like fat cats, expect a long of squawking and moaning from the public sector on Tuesday, but a lot of quiet relief from the rest of us,” the Edmonton Sun concluded gleefully in an anonymous editorial.

The panel’s mandate included not enough time to provide even a shallow dive into Alberta’s fiscal state, plus instructions not to so much as think about tax increases.

Its ideological makeup is clear enough from the resumes of panel members:

  • Janice MacKinnon, chair, a former Saskatchewan NDP finance minister notorious for shuttering 52 public hospitals in that province
  • Mike Percy, vice chair, a retired University of Alberta professor who was once Alberta Liberal finance critic in the years that party campaigned to the right of Ralph Klein’s Progressive Conservatives
  • Kim Henderson, a big shot at a government-relations and “strategic advice” consultancy so discreet it doesn’t appear to have a public website, who not so long ago was a senior advisor to former B.C. premier Christy Clark, a Liberal who is really a Conservative
  • Bev Dahlby, a conservative University of Calgary economist and Fraser Institute advisor, whose biography, interestingly, has recently disappeared from the market-fundamentalist think tank’s website
  • Dave Mowat, former president and CEO of the government-owned ATB Financial
  • Jay Ramotar, a retired senior Alberta civil servant who was a regular occupant of the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on the government’s sunshine list of best-paid public employees

Readers will get the picture.

So there is really not much suspense about what this group will have to say for itself, beyond how big the recommended pay rollbacks for nurses, teachers, and other provincial public employees will turn out to be.

And Happy Alberta Day, whatever that is!

Meanwhile, Kenney’s mischievously malicious minions had to satisfy themselves with a weak flank attack on the idea of Labour Day, which was probably too subtle for most of the party’s angry base.

Still, props to the self-described Canadian patriot for declaring yesterday to be Alberta Day, a stat holiday that doesn’t exist anywhere in a statute, in a short message supposedly celebrating the province’s 114th birthday.

“On Sept. 1, 1905, the Province of Alberta was carved out of the Northwest Territories to become a full and equal partner in the Dominion of Canada,” Kenney began, his political intent clear enough, although the facts dredged up by his crack research team somewhat in question.

Readers familiar with Alberta history will recall that this statement is not quite true, seeing as Ottawa didn’t transfer control over resources to Alberta until April 3, 1930 — a delay of 24 years, seven months and two days that slightly weakens the premier’s case.

Nor is it really true, as Kenney asserted, that “in the 114 years since, Alberta has been a bastion of freedom, free enterprise and democracy.” Well, there was the time Bill Aberhart tried to put a government censor in all the newsrooms of the province, not to mention his plan to distribute provincial cash to everyone, putting the socialist in Social Credit, but I quibble.

“Alberta is the best place in Canada to live, work, play and raise a family,” Kenney continued. Some wondered, of course, how he would know. After all, he’s hardly ever lived here, notwithstanding representing a Calgary riding in Ottawa for 18 years.

“On Alberta Day,” Kenney concluded, raising eyebrows all round, “let us celebrate all we have achieved and have yet to achieve as a province and people of destiny.” (Emphasis added.)

Blogger Susan Wright noted that not once did the premier mention Canada in the accompanying video, which sounded as if it had been recorded on a cellular telephone inside a tin shed. She heard proto-separatist echoes in Kenney’s bloviations and, judging from the commentary on social media last night, she wasn’t alone.

Well, if Kenney is serious about achieving a destiny as prime minister of Canada, the only way he’ll ever get to change the name of Labour Day, he’s going to have to stop giving that impression, isn’t he?

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 with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Government of Alberta​

Editor’s note, September 4, 2019: This post has been edited to reflect the fact “blue-ribbon panel” members Mike Percy and Jay Ramotar have retired from their previous jobs, Mike Percy with the University of Alberta and Jay Ramotar as a deputy minister in the Alberta public service.

David J. Climenhaga

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 with the Globe...