Former finance minister Travis Toews at a recent anti-Trudeau tax-cutting stunt rendered embarrassing by the subsequent decline in oil prices.
Former finance minister Travis Toews at a recent anti-Trudeau tax-cutting stunt rendered embarrassing by the subsequent decline in oil prices. Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr

Are we really supposed to believe that Alberta’s finance minister was never told about the chief medical officer of health’s 63 per cent bonus? Seriously? That’s what fast-fading United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership hopeful Travis Toews, who was finance minister in 2021 when Deena Hinshaw received her now notorious $227,911 bonus, insisted on Wednesday, August 3.

“I did not authorize or approve this payment,” he averred in a tweet. “This bonus was paid out by the public service without ministerial sign off.”

Does anyone believe this?

If they do, do they also think such an omission isn’t irrefutable evidence of Toews’s incompetence as finance minister?

As an aside, his just saying this suggests Toews’s suitability for the province’s top political job may have been overrated. The man used to give the impression that still waters run deep. This may offer proof that, sometimes, still waters run shallow!

Back during the Best Summer Ever, the decision was undeniably made by someone to give Hinshaw that huge bonus. Was it Jason Kenney himself, the premier so smart he didn’t need to consult his ministers about the decisions he made for their portfolios?

This may explain why the UCP government seems to be falling apart so quickly now that the day of Kenney’s departure from office is almost within sight.

“Albertans expect their tax dollars to be spent with the greatest oversight,” Toews’s tweet continued desperately. “I have promised to change the rules to ensure this does not happen again.”

Or to put that another way, having demonstrated my complete unsuitability for the job, I’ll make sure my finance minister doesn’t mess up as badly as I did!

Other UCP leadership candidates who were members of the Kenney Cabinet at the time also insisted they’d never heard about this before the CBC broke the story on Heritage Day.

That might be true. But the idea the finance minister was excluded from such a decision and that it was the work of a bunch of sneaky civil servants instead defies credulity.

This is simply not the way the civil service works. I know about this. Once upon a time I was a civil servant.

Senior civil servants advocate bad policies and policies that are not in their political bosses’ interests all the time. But sign off on them without telling the minister? Doesn’t happen.

Even Calgary Sun political columnist Rick Bell seemed to have his doubts about that suggestion.

“No time-serving bureaucrat urged caution,” he wrote. “No paper shuffler on the public payroll appeared to see a problem. No bean counter on the public dime had their eyes pop out at the eye-popping arithmetic. Nobody. Or at least nobody where a name can be put to a face.

“Apparently those are the facts.”

Bell’s experience in the public service must have been similar to your blogger’s.

Well, I suppose this may explain some of Toews’s confusion about what that unaccounted-for $4 billion for COVID mitigation was spent on.

But I’m afraid the day is over when anyone can take Toews seriously.

As Blaise Boehmer, Premier Kenney’s former policy advisor and obviously no fan of the former finance minister, put it late yesterday: “This looks like the beginning of the end of the Toews campaign.

“His only ‘feature’ was fiscal discipline, and he torched that by doling out 6-figure, taxpayer-funded bonuses that managed to offend basically everyone in Alberta.”

Our lame-duck premier’s claque in the UCP must now be trying to figure out how to get Toews out of the race while there’s still time to give Rebecca Schulz the party establishment’s ringing endorsement, otherwise it’ll be Danielle Smith or Brian Jean for sure.

That is, of course, unless Smith is actually Kenney’s revenge, so he can tell the world, “I told you so. That party’s full of crazies!”

One thing’s for sure: You couldn’t make this stuff up!

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...