The Cowardice Continues, Part 2…or maybe part 3, 4, or even 5.

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Members of the Legislative Assembly continue to debate and propose amendments to Bill 9,  the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act.

Stand, turn, weave through chairs to exit the legislative chamber, possibly descend and ascend the main stairwell, then re-enter after voting is complete, weave through the chairs again, take your seat, wait for the next vote, stand again, turn, weave through the chairs, exit the legislative chamber…

It’s an exhausting exercise routine the United Conservative Party MLAs have set for themselves. Determined to make a show of walking out of the very chamber they asked voters to give them the privilege of entering.

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Jason Kenney and his UCP caucus are ensuring that not a single member of their ranks will speak to the bill, be caught voting on the bill, or contribute a single word to the parliamentary debate.

As the legislative process for Bill 9 continued during the evening of May 8th…

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…out of the chamber they went.

And as debate and voting for Bill 9 continued this afternoon (May 9th)…

…out the door, again.

Perhaps a word of advice to any Social Studies teachers looking to invite an MLA to their classroom to discuss the role of a Member of the Assembly – Call the NDP caucus, the Alberta Party caucus, the independent conservative member, the Liberal caucus, or the Speaker’s office. That is all.

Edit: Sixth time!

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View the Extinct, but Not Forgotten, Grassroots Guarantee

The weekend started well for Jason Kenney. Thousands of delegates flooded into the Sheraton Hotel in Red Deer. A buffer zone was created, keeping protesters to a 50 metre distance from the venue. Jason Kenney’s opening speech was every bit the barrage of fiery one-issue rhetoric a person could have expected.

Under his leadership, opponents of the energy sector would now be in government’s gun sights.

Businesses that fail to support the energy sector would be cut off from doing business with government (though how this would happen when free trade agreements and government procurement practices require unbiased and non-partisan processes, remains unclear).

A Kenney government would create and fully staff a war room to defend the energy sector from attack. Though hopefully a government-funded PR office for private industry would refrain from attacking institutions such as Alberta Environment or the Orphan Well Association. Again, this remains unclear.

Kenney was poised, he was confident, and ready to ride the wave from the weekend to Ottawa, where he’d soon appear before the House of Commons Finance Committee to proudly proclaim his party’s unanimous opposition to a carbon levy. The centrepiece of the weekend’s policy debate.

And then it all went to crap.

A UCP delegate stood and gave a racist rant to a smattering of applause. UCP delegates passed policy attacking access to abortion services. And it kept going. Despite the pleas of three UCP MLAs, though one sheepishly attempted to backpedal from his statements (causing a wave of dizziness amongst the media), UCP delegates voted to require mandatory notification if any student attempts to join or create a GSA.

As Graham Thomson said, if the UCP membership went into the weekend with the goal of not looking extreme, they failed. TeamExtreme.ca

Last summer, Jason Kenney signed his “Grassroots Guarantee”. A pledge, supported by pages on his website, and GrassrootsGuarantee.ca.

“I think that our new United Conservative Party should ensure, that you, our grassroots members, are in charge. That you develop the policies of this new party and give the leadership its marching orders. One of the reasons we had this division in the Alberta conservative movement in recent years was because of an arrogant style of top-down leadership where leaders where telling people what to think, rather than listening to them. I think we’ve got to turn that on its head an have a servant leadership approach.”

And then it was gone. As delegates began to leave Red Deer, the Grassroots Guarantee began to leave the Internet. JasonKenney.ca was redirected to the homepage of the party website (which holds no mention of the guarantee). GrassrootsGuarantee.ca was gone entirely. Its page on NationBuilder deleted, and the domain name parked on a generic GoDaddy landing page.

Jason Kenney took to the microphone on Sunday and declared that he held the pen on the party’s platform, it would be decided by him. And then off to Ottawa he went. The Grassroots Guarantee in tatters, erased from all but Google Cache, the Internet Archive, and the hard drives of political watchers.

The UCP has since said this is simply the result of a technical error. Technical errors often come with terrible timing. This one, not so much if you’re taking to the microphone to downplay the votes of thousands of delegates while declaring that policy resolutions are more akin to suggestions to be considered or disregarded by senior leadership.

Jason Kenney is reaping what he sowed with Alberta’s social conservatives

But for UCP members searching for the Grassroots Guarantee, all is not lost. It is still available. So enjoy the following screenshots. Proof that the guarantee once existed. That it once carried Jason Kenney’s signature. And that it probably wasn’t worth the poster board it was printed on, that’s likely now headed towards the dump (or hopefully the recycle).

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The Cowardice Continues

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On April 5th, Alberta’s NDP government followed in the path of governments in B.C., Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador by tabling legislation to create bubble zones around abortion clinics, to give patients a 50 meter zone to enter and go free from aggressive harassment. The few clinics in Alberta that provide this service have traditionally had to rely costly legal proceeding and injunctions against protesters to protect their patients. Injunctions which stakeholders have reported are frequently ignored.

Before leaving the Assembly Chamber as a collective group to avoid debate on bill 9, UCP MLA Angela Pitt gave a speech alluding to the bill violating the right of individuals to freedom of speech. However, no ‘bubble zone’ law in Canada has been repealed due to legal challenge.

But as Minister Jansen has said, it’s not a free speech issue. It’s about being able to exercise choice without bullying and harassment.

“Political cowardice” was the theme in the coverage of the UCP’s mass exodus from the legislative chamber in the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald.

Now imagine the craven cowardice of Jason Kenney and the entire United Conservative Party caucus, who fled the Alberta legislature Tuesday evening rather than stand and debate the NDP’s “bubble zone” bill.

Paula Simons – Edmonton Journal

My colleague Paula Simons wrote a column Thursday excoriating the “craven cowardice” of UCP Leader Jason Kenney and his entire caucus for refusing to debate the legislation.

A few pages further on, we ran an editorial condemning the action of the Opposition members as “a disgraceful dereliction of their duties as MLAs.”

Both Simons and the editorial are spot on.

Ethically speaking, the normally combative and opinionated UCP members are cowards for running away.

Graham Thomson – Edmonton Journal

For Kenney to say he will abstain from voting on Bill 9 is already a craven cop-out — but when his entire caucus walked out of legislature chambers Tuesday night to avoid debating the bill — that amounts to political cowardice and a disgraceful dereliction of their duties as MLAs.

Edmonton Journal editorial board

It’s not surprising that the UCP wishes to steer clear of the abortion issue, but that’s no excuse for such cowardice on this bill. Denounce the government’s tactics all you want, talk about pipelines and the economy all you want, but get off the fence here: either accept Bill 9 or explain why you oppose it.

Rob Breakenridge – Calgary Herald

Even more heated conversations have focused on the astonishing reaction of the United Conservative Party, which earlier this week chose to walk out in the middle of a debate. They declared it a game, a distraction, or brushed it off as irrelevant banter from over-caffeinated lefties. In one of the most ironic moments, they claimed they were the victims of harassment.

It’s important to have all of these things on the public record, to know when and where our politicians will stand, and when they will run and hide.

But it’s even more important that we keep remembering who Bill 9 is for.

This legislation is for women, medical practitioners and vulnerable people who face harassment. It’s for Albertans with the very understandable fear of being photographed without their permission. It’s for easing the burden of individuals trapped in impossible situations. And despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled Canada’s abortion laws unconstitutional three decades ago, it’s something that’s still desperately needed in Alberta.

Kathy Dawson – Edmonton Journal

However, I think Kenney is merely demonstrating a complete and utter lack of compassion for women who are enduring a physically and emotionally arduous and challenging experience that will likely impact the rest of their lives.

Perhaps Kenney is unaware, but juggling more than one major issue at a time is well within the realm of possibility. In fact, attempting to address multiple matters is essentially what we expect our government to do. Trying to address one problem does not have to mean attempting to distract from another. Nothing much would ever get done if our government was expected to worry about only one issue at a time.

Besides, by declaring his intent to abstain from voting on sensible legislation to protect a woman’s basic rights, Kenney is essentially siding with groups that would gladly regress to a time when abortion was illegal and women died in unsanitary back alley clinics.

Editor – Sundre Round Up

And then it all happened again today, May 3rd…

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The United Conservative Caucus leaves the legislative assembly chamber to avoid voting on Bill 9, Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act.

If the job of a legislator is to debate and vote upon legislation, perhaps the Alberta Party should be named Her Majesty’s Official Opposition in the UCP’s absence.

Edit: And then they ran out a third time.

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Northern Gateway Is Not a National Priority

“No particular project is a national priority”

Northern Gateway is of course a deceased project. Ultimately ended by the Federal Court of Appeal citing a failure of the Harper Government to consult indigenous peoples.

Like Trans Mountain, it spent years mired in the uncertainty of local opposition, and opposition from Victoria in the form of Christy Clark’s provincial government.

But the above quote doesn’t come from the former premier of B.C. Nor does it from any provincial or municipal politician. No, it came from a federal conservative minister from Alberta. Specifically from Calgary, in the form of Jason Kenney.

Given the opposition to Northern Gateway in B.C. and the insufficient consultation by the Harper Government, this statement may well have been accurate and honest. For a national priority, every step should be taken to ensure the integrity of due process, and the ability of that process to withstand challenges after the fact. This didn’t happen with Northern Gateway. The consultation was rushed, stakeholders were left in the dark, and in the end they found it necessary to seek a costly (and victorious) legal challenge to have their voice heard.

Northern Gateway was left vulnerable by the Harper Government and it was struck down as a result.

In the end, it may never have had a real chance of succeeding, and the media did ask at one point if Enbridge had quietly shelved the project. Lacklustre advocacy for the project by federal conservatives is also noteworthy. It wasn’t a topic of debate, or speeches from Alberta’s conservative caucus in the House of Commons.

“As Canada’s Asia-Pacific gateway, the economic growth we expect to have here in the future is going to be based on commerce with the Asia-Pacific region and we think it’s important that we continue to diversify our exports through this province.”

But the Conservatives have put nobody forward to defend their position on Northern Gateway since the government announced its conditions for approval of the pipeline on June 17.

Kenney said the Conservative party didn’t want to put a representative forward since licensing the pipeline project is a regulatory matter overseen by the National Energy Board, not the federal government.

Global News

But today we live in a world where Mr. Kenney is a provincial politician. Where he demands federal repercussions for B.C.’s pipeline opposition. Where he says the failure of Northern Gateway falls squarely on the shoulders of Justin Trudeau. And where apparently no one is doing enough to get pipelines to tidewater, except for himself.

Mr. Kenney’s pipeline rhetoric has hardened. Seemingly solidified by his distance from  sitting in a government caucus, and the defeat of a friendly Clark government in British Columbia. It makes for good political theatre in question period, but it’s hardly genuine or accurate.

A Welcoming Nation and Access to Care

The Jason Kenney and UCP supporting Alberta Can’t Wait political action group decided to go on Twitter recently and retweet some anti-refugee sentiment from a pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, Faith Goldy supporting account:

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It also happened to be interesting timing as another Twitter user reminded us of a serious issue then Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney created in 2012, when he implemented broad cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program for refugee claimants.

Until June 30, the IFHP provided basic health coverage (hospital and doctor services and some diagnostic tests) and the supplemental health benefits which included drugs, dentistry, vision care and mobility devices.

CBC News

At the time, the response from the medical community was fast and united.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada said:

Communications from the CFPC, as well as collaborative efforts with numerous other health care organizations, were directed to the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, and more recently with The Honourable Chris Alexander. Each letter or discussion appealed for reconsideration of the changes to the IFHP.

There were no clear benefits to reducing health care for refugees:

  • Related costs would simply be downloaded to provincial and community health care services
  • Reduced care would generate higher costs from increased use of emergency departments
  • The risk of undiagnosed and untreated health issues would result in greater medical requirements and increased health care costs
  • Not addressing health issues such as vision and dental care would make it more difficult for newcomers to acquire language and job skills
  • From a legal perspective, the cuts were considered ‘cruel and unusual treatment’ with particular concern for the potential effects on children brought to Canada by their parents
  • The cuts would have a negative impact on public health and safety for all Canadians

A letter equally as critical of the cuts was sent to Minister Kenney from the Canadian Association of Social Workers, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, Canadian Dental Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association, College of Family Physicians, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The IFHP is a means to ensure health standards for a temporary period of time for refugee claimants, who are individuals fleeing political, social, or other forms of persecution. Due to their dire circumstances, these are individuals who have no other means of obtaining necessary health benefits for themselves or their families.

Your press release of April 25 suggests that cancellation of supplemental health benefits will save money. This, however, is not the case. First, cancellation of supplemental health benefits will merely download the cost of providing these services to provincial social support programs, community-based health programs
(such as community health centres), the charitable sector, and other public programs and organizations that provide the uninsured with health benefits. This added burden will be particularly acute in larger urban centres that traditionally have greater refugee populations.

Second, by failing to provide upfront health services, there is a risk of undiagnosed and untreated health problems resulting in an increase in both medical complications and future health care costs. These will ultimately impact the public system once these individuals are granted more permanent immigration status.
Furthermore, failure to address important health concerns including vision and dental care early will make it much more difficult for newcomers to acquire the skills necessary to learn Canada’s languages, go to school or enter the job market.

Third, those refugees with chronic diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease, will seek care in hospitals and through emergency departments – one of the most costly forms of care. And because refugees may only have hospital care covered in “urgent” or “essential” situations, timely treatments and disease management
is severely compromised. Further, changes to the IFHP could result in health care providers referring refugee patients to emergency departments and hospitals to ensure patients continue to receive medications and care for non-communicable diseases.

The CMAJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal, had this to say:

Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney has so far failed to agree to repeated requests by national health care organizations for a meeting to discuss cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) providing health benefits to refugees.

“Mr. Kenney has displayed and exhibited a measure of contempt never before seen by a federal Cabinet minister to the leaders of the health professions in Canada,” says Dr. Philip Berger, head of family medicine at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and a leading member of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.
On May 18, 2012, Berger’s organization, the heads of the Canadian Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Canadian Nurses Association, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, and the Canadian Association of Social Workers signed a letter decrying changes to the federal health program. Changes that took effect June 30, 2012, cut benefits to many categories of refugee claimants, failed refugee claimants and those who withdrew their claims, whether valid or not.

Subsequently, other national health care organizations including the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Association of Midwives also wrote to Kenney opposing the cuts and requesting a response.

In Saskatchewan, the Sask Party’s health minister launched into criticism of Minister Kenney following a refugee being denied access to cancer treatment:

Saskatchewan wants review of refugee health cuts after man denied chemotherapy – Global News

The issue has come to the forefront because Ottawa denied chemotherapy to a refugee claimant in Saskatoon.

Duncan was not pleased with Kenney’s stance.

“That’s unfortunate that that’s the tone that the federal minister has taken,” he told reporters in Regina.

“It’s the federal government, not the provincial government, that runs the refugee system and so we have no way to dictate or determine how long that process takes.”

“For an individual to live in this province for what can be many months, if not years, waiting for a decision on the federal government and the court system of whether or not they’ll be allowed to stay in this province, to then leave that individual in limbo like this, that’s discouraging to hear that.”

The man arrived in Saskatoon several months ago after fleeing a Middle Eastern country where he was persecuted for being Christian. Soon after arriving, he started having abdominal pain and was diagnosed with cancer.

From the Toronto Star:

The plight of asylum seekers who can no longer access full health coverage while their refugee claims are being processed has set off a bruising clash between health professionals, who say Ottawa’s approach is inhumane, and the federal government.

Dr. Philip Berger, chief of family and community medicine at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, said it’s the worst treatment of refugees by Canada since the Second World War.

“What humane country would leave pregnant women, who need regular prenatal care, without any health-care coverage, or kids with fevers untreated in emergency departments?” Berger said in an interview.

The provinces have also expressed concern that the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) are endangering refugees’ health and shifting federal costs to hospitals and other health-care providers.

An open letter from the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario:

Toronto Public Health has compiled evidence of the negative health impacts of reduced federal health services for individuals and the broader community. Not only are these cuts egregious from a health and human rights perspective, health professionals and their organizations from across the country reject the federal government’s claim that the proposed cuts will save money. Citizenship and Immigration Canada might show a short-term, bookkeeping savings of $20 million per year but ultimately, the provinces, territories, and tax payers will need to pay the bill for complications of health conditions and emergency care – all more expensive than primary care. Some asylum-seekers will die, while others may experience complications if they hesitate to seek treatment. It is simply unconscionable that these cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program are being
even considered. Not only are they unfair, they will harm people who are already
vulnerable and cost the public purse more.

Ultimately, it took more than the knowledgeable response from Canada’s medical community to reverse Mr. Kenney’s decision. It took a federal court ruling which the Harper government appealed.

We’re fortunate to live in a country where people can stand and openly speak truth to power. Power however, should have the wisdom to consult experts and base decisions on science, on evidence, and on preserving and savings lives.

As a minister, Jason Kenney made an ideological decision, he did it without consultation with the medical community, and he attempted to download the issue onto the provinces when pressured for a response.

If he wants to be Premier of Alberta, let’s hope he’s learned something and grown as a decision-maker. But the unchecked rhetoric of his supporters does makes one wonder.

 

A History of Trans Mountain, Northern Gateway, and Canada’s Most Successful Anti-Pipeline Pugilist

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Shadow Premier Andrew Weaver are using every tool in the toolbox to stop Alberta pipelines from crossing their borders and reaching their shores. The tools they’re using are cheap, weak and certain to break in their hands (if Kinder Morgan doesn’t break first). Andrew Weaver doesn’t like pipelines. John Horgan may not dislike with the same veracity, but he needs Weaver’s support to govern, and besides, being anti-pipeline has always been good politics in B.C.

In fact however, neither Horgan nor Weaver are Canada’s most successful anti-pipeline politicians. Neither is the former Mayor of Montreal or the Mayor of Vancouver.

Canada’s most successful anti-pipeline pugilist is former B.C. Premier Christy Clark. A conservative ally who counted former Tory cabinet minister Stockwell Day as a vocal supporter on the campaign trail during B.C.’s 2013 election. An election she won while ramping up anti-pipeline sentiment alongside B.C.’s other political leaders.

You may not have heard much about this. Maybe bits and pieces such as her demand for oil royalties from Alberta. Every Alberta Premier from Redford to Notley has dealt with this issue and with Ms. Clark’s objections, conditions and demands that needed to be met for pipelines to cross the B.C. border, or even for pumping stations to receive power from B.C. Hydro.

And up until the defeat of the Harper government, the fall of the Clark government, and the return of conservative MPs and political staffers to Alberta looking for work – the right-wing pipeline outrage machine was stuffed in the garden shed. No oil in it, no gas in it, and certainly not running at full volume while Alberta’s market access lay bludgeoned by B.C. politics.

So let’s take a look at the history of Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway. An infographic – Part 1:

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Tweety Bird

In a shrinking Alberta Legislature press pool, one appreciates more and more those who watch the legislative building on a regular basis and give us a daily stream of what’s happening on the inside.

The CBC’s Michelle Bellefontaine is one of these wonderful reporters. Enganging on social media, willing to call out nonsense statements uttered in hallways and the press room, and able to successfully dig into the depths and livestream what she finds.

Early in March, she asked the question of who was behind the UniteAlberta Twitter account. An aggressive and partisan voice supporting UCP leader Jason Kenney. It probably didn’t get the attention it deserved at the time, but she did reveal that United Conservative Party caucus staff were tweeting from it to some extent.

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We’ve since gotten some more evidence that this is the case as Mr. Kenney, or a staffer managing his social media presence, tweeted from the UniteAlberta account while referring to him in the first person. The tweet was quickly deleted.

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Knowing that UCP caucus staff, funded by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta to support the work of elected officials, are likely using the account raises a question about the use of caucus staff and equipment for partisan purposes.

And the account is clearly partisan. It existed prior to Mr. Kenney’s election to the legislature, and was used for, among other purposes, to advertise and promote his election campaign. These tweets still exist in the public record.

We went searching through the Assembly website looking for some guidance on this issue.

These are changes regarding partisan activities that the Legislature’s Member Services Committee recommended making to the Constituency Services Order in a report released this February:

The Subcommittee therefore recommends that the Constituency Services Order be amended as follows:

(a) the following is added after section 1:

PARTISAN ACTIVITIES OR MATERIALS

1.1(1) No amount of the Member’s Services Allowance shall be applied to payment for partisan activities or materials.

(2) For the purposes of this Order, “partisan activities” means

(a) the solicitation of money or votes to be given to a candidate or political party,

(b) the solicitation of memberships to be purchased for a political party,

(c) the distribution or display of materials that include references to or use of political party logos, websites or publications,

(d) activities that relate to the internal administration, organization, conventions, meetings or communications of a political party or constituency association, or

(e) activities that relate to a leadership contest or nomination contest for a political party.

A copy of the Caucus Expenditure Guidelines is available on the Assembly website. It gives the following guidance for the use of caucus staff and resources:

Caucus activities and transactions should be separate and distinct from party activities, party identity (logos, colours, web pages), events or transactions and particularly election activities. Furthermore, during an election period Caucus activities and expenses should be restricted to ensure that there is no perception of utilizing these funds for electioneering activities.

The use of social media by MLAs and their staff, differentiating between partisan activities and those required in the day-to-day work and communications of government and opposition members — these are things that the Legislature will need to grapple with and clearly define. In the interim, any use of the UniteAlberta Twitter account by caucus staff, and possibly using caucus resources like computers and smart phones raises questions that the Legislative Assembly should explore.