United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: Jason Kenney Instagram account).

So, who’re ya gonna believe?

Jason Kenney? Or Alberta’s used car dealers?

I’m sure readers will agree that this is a very tough question.

Nevertheless, with the publication of third-quarter political donor data by Elections Alberta, the attention of the public has fallen on the significant fundraising effort for the United Conservative Party that has been made by members of the Motor Dealers Association of Alberta — who, in fairness, also sell new cars, or, as many of us prefer to think of them, pre-used automobiles.

Blogger Dave Cournoyer noticed that a so-called Political Action Committee (PAC) called Shaping Alberta’s Future that was set up to support the United Conservative Party raised $275,000 in the third quarter of 2018 — at least $170,000 of which was contributed by car dealers across the province.

It wasn’t long after Elections Alberta published its quarterly report that a copy of a letter to car dealers from Andrew Robinson of Precision Hyundai in Calgary, chair of the Motor Dealers Association, was circulating on social media.

In it, Robinson told dealers that after a meeting with UCP Leader Jason Kenney on September 6, the members of their association’s board had voted to contribute $100,000 to Shaping Alberta’s Future “to assist in the UCP’s third-party advertising campaign.”

Shaping Alberta’s Future has been running radio, TV, billboard and social media ads, some of them misleading, attacking the NDP government, Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Beyond that, its pitch to donors appears to indicate a plan to defy Alberta’s election laws, not just to skirt them.

The PAC’s operators, Robinson said in the letter, “suggest that each MDA dealership write a cheque in the amount of $5,000. All the dealers at the MDA board meeting committed to a contribution of $5,000 for each of their dealerships and they encourage all member dealers to do the same. …” The group’s goal is to raise $1 million to attack the NDP and support Kenney before December 1, after which Alberta election spending laws take effect limiting advertisers to legally spending only $150,000 until the election campaign commences in the spring.

In return, Robinson said in his letter to his fellow car dealers, Kenney promised to:

  1. Immediately scrap the provincial carbon tax and join the coalition of Conservative provincial governments that are challenging the federal tax in court
  2. Roll back the modest personal tax increases imposed by the NDP on wealthy Albertans
  3. Freeze minimum wages “until other provinces catch up” and consider imposing lower differential minimums for young workers
  4. Cancel all recent changes to the Labour Code, Occupational Health and Safety legislation and Workers Compensation Board — such as provisions that give parents time off to nurse a gravely ill child or spouses to escape domestic violence
  5. Roll back consumer protections to “rebalance the playing field” between dealers and car buyers, plus handing regulatory enforcement of car sales back from the government to the dealers themselves
  6. Ban the importation of right-hand-drive vehicles from Asia

By the sound of it, Kenney wasn’t all that happy about news leaking out he’d promised in effect to roll back minimum wages for many workers, cancel important legal changes that protect working Albertans, and allow the foxes once again to enforce ethics in the car-sales henhouse.

Then there is the matter of those right-hand-drive collectors’ vehicles — of which there must be only a few hundred in the entire province.

At a guess, this might be a step toward banning all vehicles first sold in another market, reducing that small loophole of competition for car dealers. And who knows what they’ll ask for from Kenney next.

As for joining a constitutionally hopeless legal action being conducted only as a political attack on the federal Liberal government, all one can say is that doesn’t seem like an appropriate use of tax revenues, although it obviously passes muster in Conservative circles.

At any rate, notwithstanding the car dealers’ largess, Kenney gingerly tried to edge away from Robinson’s letter, although without, for obvious reasons, the intemperate accusations associated with the UCP’s commentaries about similar reports by journalists.

A Postmedia columnist was soon reassuring readers that “a spokeswoman for the UCP caucus said the party disagrees with some of the letter’s characterizations, and that Kenney has made no specific legislative promises.”

Right. And presumably he also has no thoughts of implementing them without consulting the public they would impact, despite what he recently told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

The Postmedia column also indicated the president of the MDA, one of the group’s paid employees, supported Kenney’s interpretation. Denis Ducharme, interestingly, is a former three-term Conservative MLA for the Bonnyville-Cold Lake Riding and Tory Party Whip. His family owned Ducharme Motors Ltd., a Ford dealership in Bonnyville.

So, to get back to the original question … whom to believe?

The reputation of used-car salesmen, however unfair, is deeply embedded in in our cultural DNA. As for Kenney, for a year now he’s been trying to roll back the odometer on the reputation of previous Alberta conservative governments that did business under a couple of different names for at least 70 years.

I don’t know about you, but I believe the car dealers. But then, I’m credulous that way. I’ve owned the lousy cars to prove it.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Jason Kenney Instagram account

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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...