Kenney expenses political capital with Bill 22 – to save himself

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean

Political capital is the leeway Parties or Party leaders get from voters when they do something their supporters might not agree with. If they’ve done a good job, overall, voters forgive some transgressions.

Federally, we saw it when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bought a pipeline. It made them an easy target on the environment file and few in Alberta would even give a nod of thanks, let alone utter the words. 

The Liberals lost 10 seats west of Ontario in October, including their only seats in Alberta.

Here, it wasn’t the Liberals who lost seats in the 43rd General Election; it was Trudeau. Justin Trudeau, the same person who spent the last Saturday night before the election at an event in Calgary, where he knew he wasn’t winning a single seat, still showed up.  

The Prime Minister, who spent so much political capital on Alberta, didn’t gain anything, personally, for his trouble. He didn’t win votes, he didn’t earn respect, but he bought a pipeline anyway because that’s what Canada, and Alberta, needed.  

Provincially, we saw it from Rachel Notley’s NDP when she made her way to B.C. to try to gain support for the aforementioned pipeline. Her stance on increasing Alberta’s access wasn’t supported by the B.C. NDP nor the federal NDP. Still, she persisted.

One person compared her trip to Ottawa to meet with Trudeau after TMX construction was shut down by the Supreme Court of Canada to Kenney’s $16,000 private jet expense to get Premiers to a Stampede Breakfast! Because… partisanship; those things are not comparable. 

Trudeau and Notley both spent a lot of political capital fighting for Alberta. In return for their efforts, they were both turfed. 

And then there’re Jason Kenney: United Conservative Party leader, Alberta’s saviour, and Premier. Well, Alberta’s corporate saviour, since they’re the only ones benefitting from Kenney’s reign so far. 

Kenney’s policies haven’t created jobs. In fact, both jobs and companies have been leaving Alberta.  

But every UCP employee will tell you that Kenney won a resounding mandate. A sliver over one million people voted for him, despite the fact that his Party was under investigation for voter fraud. It’s hard to believe it’s only been seven months.

This week, when Kenney’s government tabled Bill 22, an omnibus Bill that mirrored those federal works of art that had sweet little somethings buried inside. In this one, Alberta’s Election Commissioner’s office would be no more. The Party subsequently voted to limit debate on the Bill to three hours and then the Premier hopped on a flight to Texas to talk oil and gas investment. The rest of the caucus was left to defend the Bill in his absence.  

The Election Commissioner’s Office, established under the NDP to enforce election finance laws, was unnecessary, the UCP argued. It was part of the deal to cut red tape, they said, because moving the office back under Elections Alberta would save around $1 million dollars over the next four years. 

The Election Commissioner, Lorne Gibson, has been levying some heavy fines on Jeff Callaway, the Kamikaze candidate, and his “donors”. It’s been slow and steady, much like how trickle-down economics is supposed to work; a few fines were levied (drip, drip) and then nothing. A couple of months went by and new fines were levied (drip, drip) and then it went quiet. Then another fine (drip, drip) and every one adds up – over $200,000 in fines so far.

With each new fine, another addition to the tally and another media reminder that Jason Kenney’s campaign wrote the playbook for Jeff Callaway’s campaign in order to derail Brian Jean’s campaign (drip, drip, drip). The Premier denies any prior knowledge of any of the facts.

Finance Minister Travis Toews says it’s simply an administrative decision and insists the Chief Electoral Officer, Glen Resler, could, if he so chooses, rehire Gibson, whose contract will be terminated when the Bill becomes law. Resler’s contract is up for renewal in April of 2020; not that the two are necessarily related.

Some say that Gibson’s bias is evident; after all, he was hired by the NDP and seemed to be laser-focused on the newly christened United Conservative Party. Gibson, however, had been recruited from his role as Deputy Officer in Manitoba to work for the PC government under Ralph Klein. His contract under the Progressive Conservative government was not renewed (possibly for being too hard on the government of the day, some say) even though they did, eventually, implement a number of Gibson’s recommendations for ensuring democracy in the province.

Gibson’s resume aside, he has, since being appointed as Election Commissioner in 2018, been investigating the Party that is now in government. That same government is removing his role, the office, and folding it back into Elections Alberta. The UCP says all ongoing investigations will continue; they say a lot of things, actually. 

Rachel Notley, again, used her own political capital to demand answers from the Premier on Tuesday. She used unparliamentary language, however, accusing Jason Nixon, the Deputy House Leader, of “misleading the House” about Bill 22 (one can accuse the government, caucus, or the Party of misleading, but to target a member specifically – unless it’s the Leader of the Opposition, apparently – is unparliamentary).

Speaker Cooper, not waiting for a point of order from the government, called on the Honourable Leader of the Official Opposition to apologize for her remarks, and she refused. He asked a second time and she again refused. He offered her a third opportunity and still, she persisted. For that, she was suspended from the House and cannot return until she has apologized.

For all of the times standing up for this province has cost political capital, Rachel Notley, Leader of the Official Opposition, the only opposition in the House representing 45% of the electorate who did not choose the UCP, may have earned some back this week.  

And Alberta’s Premier? The only headlines he’s getting today are from the Honourable Rachel Notley calling him “corrupt and undemocratic“.  Still, it’s only been seven months.

This post is an opinion. 

Deirdre is a reporter, pundit, podcaster, and full-wit political observer, living in rural Southern Alberta.   

contact: [email protected], [email protected]

Twitter: @Mitchell_AB for all the commentary; @thisweekinAB for posts; @politicalRnD to guess “who tweeted that”?

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