The fake populism of Jason Kenney

Alberta Premier Kenney and Energy Minister Savage respond to the federal government's decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

William “Bible Bill” Aberhart, founder of the Social Credit Party, became the premier of Alberta in 1935. His government was populist: it pledged to take on the “50 big shots” that ran Canada.

Pushed by his caucus, Aberhart’s government instituted relief programs for the unemployed, froze mortgage foreclosures and debts, issued “prosperity certificates” as a sort of provincial currency, and introduced legislation to control banks operating in Alberta.

The lieutenant-governor refused to sign the banking law; other initiatives were eventually quashed in the 1940s by the Supreme Court. But the populist measures helped people in Alberta get through the worst of the Great Depression.

In electing Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party (UCP), the people of Alberta have given themselves something else: a fake populist government. Instead of imitating Aberhart and taking on 50 big shots, the UCP is working on behalf of “the fossil-power top 50,” the powerful oil and gas interests identified by the Corporate Mapping Project, that wield great influence in Edmonton and Ottawa.

While the rate of corporate profit has fallen since the oil price plunge of 2014, the mass of corporate profits of the five largest corporations in the oil sands — Suncor, CNRL, Cenovus, Imperial, and Husky — which together produce 80 per cent of Canada’s bitumen, remains huge.

According to a 2018 Corporate Mapping Project study, “The aggregate gross profits of the big five in 2017 were $46.6 billion, which was close to the Alberta government’s revenues of $47.3 billion.”

The Alberta economic problem can be simply stated. At current and expected prices for oil and gas, there is a shortage of profitable investment opportunities in the industry. The province needs to look elsewhere for its opportunities.

The main market for Alberta — the U.S. — has gone from having an import deficit of $40 billion in 2007, to being an exporter (including to Canada), thanks to hydraulic fracking.

U.S. fracked oil and gas provoked a world fall in oil prices and initiated the 2014-2016 recession in Alberta.

The Kenney plan to revive the Alberta economy is a provincial corporate tax cut of one percentage point over four years (from 12 per cent to eight per cent).

As fully integrated multinational corporations operating in both Canada and the U.S., the big five are liable for taxes in both jurisdictions. This means Alberta corporate tax cuts will not reduce the overall tax liabilities of the big five. Because combined federal and state corporate taxes will be higher in the U.S. than combined federal and provincial corporate taxes in Alberta, it means those corporations will pay taxes in the U.S. that they could have paid in Alberta!

The UCP premier points to academic research to justify his decision to lower provincial corporate taxes. Professor Bev Dalby has developed an econometric model that show a reduction in their taxes provokes an increase in corporate investment.

But no economic model can change the reality that faced with a poor business outlook, no oil and gas companies will gear up for new ventures in Canada regardless of what real reductions in corporate taxes do occur.

Having money on hand to invest is not the issue in the oil and gas sector. A 2016 study showed Canadian governments subsidized the sector to the tune of $3 billion-plus (ironically while profitable solar energy investment is taking place in Alberta, the Kenney government is cutting back support for renewable energy sources).

The Alberta economy will stagnate unless the government invests in the future — which is what the previous Notley government was doing — but not the UCP government, which rejects that idea and is betting on austerity instead.

The Kenney government has just brought in a budget that CUPE Alberta points out “hurts everyone” in Alberta. Research from the Alberta Federation of Labour demonstrates that the Kenney approach will prolong the economic slump and “kill more jobs than the oil price collapse of 2014-16.”

The main thing the fake populism of Jason Kenney has in common with the William Aberhart era is that the UCP, like Social Credit, will outdo itself to promote social conservatism.

Under Aberhart, Social Credit was openly anti-Semitic.

The Kenney government is prepared to vote for Bill 207, what blogger David Climenhaga describes as an “Act to Restrict Reproductive and Other Rights in Alberta.” SOURCE


Jason Kenney’s war on everything and everyone

Canada’s Divisions Are Hardening

Two polls show we’re succumbing to populist emotions that drove Trump’s rise.

According to a recent poll, only eight per cent of Conservative supporters think climate change is an important issue, in stark contrast with other parties. When we can’t even decide on what’s important, our version of democracy doesn’t work.Photo via Andrew Scheer Flickr.

The American political sickness has infected us. And it’s hard to see how our democracy can cope.

Start with an Angus Reid poll released last month. It asked people to set out the three most important issues facing the country.

Climate change and environment, said Canadians. For 40 per cent of us, the issue was among the three most important.

The poll found 65 per cent of Liberal supporters considered it among the three most critical issues; 58 per cent of NDP supporters; and 71 per cent of Green voters.

But only eight per cent of Conservative supporters cited climate change and the environment as an important issue.

Traditionally, political parties have competed for votes based on their proposed solutions to what most of us see as problems. Waits for surgery might be too long, for example. One party might argue the answer is higher taxes and more funding for health care; another might campaign on a promise to allow people to pay for private surgeries and skip the queue. Voters can decide.

But when we no longer even agree on problems, our version of democracy doesn’t work. We’re divided into camps, staring at each other with incomprehension, scorn or, occasionally, hatred.

And when the breakdown is centred on an issue that’s widely accepted as a grave threat to humanity, we’re moving away from useful political debate to destructive factionalism. MORE


When it comes to climate change, Canadians are part of the problem

Europe’s Striking Climate Kids Show How to Defeat the Far Right

The scourge of climate change is the great unifying issue of our time. The time is propitious for Canadian political parties to adopt the Green Party’s suggestion to establish an inner cabinet of all parties to address the emergency facing us. Tell your MP we need all hands on deck.

Fighting climate change now polls as a top priority among European voters—while most far-right leaders are climate denialists.

Student Climate Strike
German students use a carnival float depicting environmental activist Greta Thunberg during a school strike to demand action on climate change on March 15, 2019. (Reuters / Wolfgang Rattay)

For years, European politicos and others committed to the idea of a united Europe have pined for a popular, all-Europe project that stands for the best intentions of, and the imperative for, the European project. In order to counter the EU’s distant, bureaucratic image—and the blunt the attacks of right-wing Euroskeptics—EU officials have turned to issues that touch almost all Europeans, from digital rights to consumer protection to telecommunications.

But none of these worthy endeavors, among others, have fired the passions of the average European, much less young Europeans.

But now, on the eve of the landmark May 23–26 European Parliament election, such a cause—complete with hundreds of thousands of energized participants—is banging at the EU’s door. Although the striking high schoolers of Fridays for Future (FFF) is not just a European movement but a global one, the students of Europe have found common cause with one another in a campaign demanding tangible political action from the EU to address climate change.

Perhaps unwittingly, the kids have revealed a new raison d’être for the EU beyond the postwar remits of peace and prosperity. As the young people insist, the supranational EU can and must devote itself to leading the global battle to arrest rising temperatures and seas if we expect to slow global warming.

In an open letter to the EU earlier this month, an international group of FFF activists wrote that the EU “holds enormous responsibility, not just for our future, but also for the life of billions of people across the world. Accept this responsibility. Make climate the priority.”

For the EU, the scourge of climate change could be just the ticket to rejuvenate it. On the one hand, it is our age’s most urgent issue. On the other, it is one that the surging far-right parties don’t even pretend to have answers to. When Europe’s radical nationalists deny climate change, as most do, they side with less than 5 percent of Europeans in the EU’s most populous countries. (In Germany, the hard-right Alternative for Germany calls man-made climate change “heresy” and wants to halt the clean-energy transition, and the Brexit Party’s front man, Nigel Farage, ridicules the link between rising temperatures and greenhouse gases.) The national populists have committed a huge blunder—and Europe’s democratic parties should pounce on it by making the kids’ campaign their own. MORE

Fighting the normalization of right-wing ideology, from Ford to Kenney

“Given how Canada’s right lines up against environmental regulation, against helping the poor and the marginalized, against safeguarding reproductive choice, against respecting labour, organized or otherwise, against higher education, LGBTI rights, clean water and more, the nightmare scenario of right-wing ideology becoming normalized here as it is becoming in Europe and the United States suddenly feels very possible.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr
Sometime in January, a list, a very long list, documenting all the attacks by Doug Ford’s government on Ontario’s social services, safety nets and support systems began to take shape on my Facebook profile page.

Somewhere around the 100 crimes-against-citizens mark, the list, fact-checked by many, got shared by my friends, and their friends, and eventually went viral. It’s still circulating out there in the social mediasphere, getting longer by the day.

I too have been adding to the original list, barely able to keep up with all the announcements, pronouncements and chops to health care, education and even firefighting services wielded by Ford Nation while horse racing gets a $10-million annual boost and the premier’s cronies and bagmen get appointed to head Crown corporations.

Which must be part of the plan. Follow outrage with another outrage so that the outrage before the latest outrage gets forgotten.

Hence the need for lists — and there’s more than one meme-ified listicle going around. MORE


Ontario releases anti-carbon tax radio ad with sound of clinking coins

Conservatives embrace populism, rage at Trudeau, talk separation at annual gathering

Danielle Smith, a former Alberta MLA for the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party and now a Global News Radio host, shakes hands with Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 23 in Ottawa. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Two or three decades ago, Preston Manning’s Reform Party was seen as embodying a right-wing populist movement in Western Canada that advocated for shrinking government by cutting social welfare and culture programming.

Lately, however, right-wing populism has been associated with the nationalist, anti-immigrant and authoritarian tendencies of leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Concern about keeping climate change in check less vocal than concern about maintaining a prosperous oil industry, @ottawacarl reports from the Manning Networking Conference, an annual conservative meetup.

Conservative leaders Jason Kenney of the Alberta United Conservative Party and Andrew Scheer of the federal Conservative Party have also been accused lately of being too tolerant of white nationalism.

None of that, however, stopped the conservative leader of Canada’s most populous province from grasping the mantle of populism during an appearance on stage Saturday at the Manning Networking Conference, an annual right-of-centre gathering in Ottawa.

“If you want to call me a populist, sure. But I call it listening. Listening to the people. Not the full-time protesters, not the activists,” said Ford, who received a standing ovation. MORE