The O’Toole “Lose-Lose-Lose” Policy on Carbon Pricing

It’s only been a few weeks since one of the biggest shoes to drop in Canadian politics finally came down. On March 25th, the Supreme Court upheld the Liberals Carbon Pricing legislation and, in the process, slammed the door shut on Conservatives attempts through the courts to kill it. We knew that decision was going to have a big impact on the Canadian political landscape.

When that ruling came out it effectively started a clock for the federal Conservatives to come up with some kind of policy response or alternative to what they had raged against for years. The courts didn’t do the hard work for the Blue Team, so now they’d have to do something themselves. Well that “put up or shut up” moment has finally come, with news that will be leading a lot of people to different reactions, mostly likely based on how you feel about this issue:

Wow folks, that is something. Remember Erin O’Toole spent the last months running around saying that he would scrap the “Trudeau Carbon Tax”, leaving the impression that he would somehow, he would do it without putting a price on carbon emissions. It was an approach like that which helped him rise to the position where he now sits. Yet this plan is eerily like the Liberal plan, yet someone politically worse in certain ways.

Let’s start with the obvious; the Conservative plan puts a price on carbon that consumers will end up paying. It’s a lower price with a lower cap on the high end, which actually makes it less effective as an emission fighting measure, but I don’t think that anyone was expecting the Conservatives to come out with a plan that was actually stronger on that front. But still, after the Conservatives spent years ragging against a “tax on everything”, they are now set to propose their own “tax on everything”. Let that sink in for a moment and we’ll come back to it.

How this policy is somehow politically a worse seller than the current Liberal plan comes to the other side of this plan. Like the Liberal plan, the money raised by carbon pricing would go back to citizens. But where it seriously gets different is that where the Liberal plan just sends you back a cheque and you can spend it on whatever, the Conservatives actually want to create a whole new bureaucracy and create restrictive “personal low carbon savings accounts” that people could then tap into to pay for certain things. According to CBC’s reporting, the proposal calls for “the accounts to potentially be managed by a private sector consortium in a manner similar to Interac, Canada’s debit card system.”

Wait a minute, you mean the Conservative plan involves creating a whole new bureaucracy, privatizing it and limiting what you can use the funds for, therefore making it far more restrictive, expensive to run and less efficient. Why in the Hell would they suggest doing that? Well, as CBC tells us, in the documents they’ve seen of the plan it states that they’ll do it this way “because Canadians can’t be sure the prime minister “won’t be tempted to use the carbon tax revenue to fund his big government plans.””

Sweet Jesus man, are you kidding me? Basically because the Conservatives can’t get over their obsession with this current Prime Minister and their pathological mistrust or anger towards him, they are going to suggest creating a massive, inefficient, privately run bureaucracy to deliver less funds and make it harder to use those fewer funds? After all of this time, that’s what they came up with?

Not only will this plan enrage many in O’Toole’s voter coalition who want nothing to do with any carbon pricing, regardless of how you name it or structure it, it won’t be more sellable to the general public. Just do the straight up comparison of this and the current government plan:

  • Party one sends bigger rebates, straight to Canadians to spend how they wish.
  • Party two sends a smaller rebate, but puts it into a special account and limits how they can spend that lesser amount of money.

Seriously, which of these two will most Canadians select? Surely not the second choice and once they find out why that lesser option is being proposed, they aren’t likely to feel any more impressed by it. I honestly wasn’t expecting grand, visionary policy from the Conservatives on this file, that was never in the cards. But I would have expected something that somehow avoided not only completely backtracking on all their rhetoric for the past years, but also managed to somehow become less effective and less attractive to voters. This is a “lose, lose, lose” proposal by the Conservatives.

The irony to me is that given how the Liberal policy is current structured, O’Toole could have been truer to his rhetoric if he had just stuck with tweaking it. Right after the Supreme Court decision, Saskatchewan started to talk about creating their own carbon pricing scheme, so that they could control it and Ottawa wouldn’t get to be the one to cut any cheques. A policy approach that might have worked better for O’Toole would have been to tweak the current policy to make it more attractive for the provinces to do their own thing.

Would that have been a better environmental approach? Likely not, but no one was expecting the Conservatives to do better on that front. So if we already assume you’re not going to go as far as the Liberals there, at least that suggestion might have sold better with the Conservatives base, because then it would be in the hands of the provinces to take a greater role in this field. That also would have been far more consistent with the Conservative worldview and likely would have been looked well upon in provinces that already have their own policies, especially in Quebec. And that’s just one example of how they could have approached this differently.

But instead they are going in this direction, one that will surely not go over well with a Conservative electorate that’s already souring on O’Toole’s leadership. The only people who will be cheering this announcement on will be the Liberals and NDP, as the Conservatives turn themselves inside out to get to this point, and the Maverick Party, which will now have their campaign narrative handed to them on a silver platter. The irony is that not only will with give the Mavericks a great recruiting tool in the handful of ridings where they were planning on running, but the potential unpopularity of this idea might also push them to reconsider their strategy of not challenging Conservative MPs in ridings where Liberals or New Democrats could win. They might look at this and think that they could win some of those seats now, and change their minds. Time will tell.

In the meantime, the O’Toole Conservatives, which brands itself as the small government, red tape cutting, people trusting and energy consumption tax opposing party, is going to propose a big government, restrictive, bureaucratic energy consumption tax with smaller rebates all because Conservatives have an over-the-top distaste and distrust for this government. That’s just wild. Not only does this approach tick all of the boxes of failure, but it’s also amazingly anti-conservative. We’ll see how the public responds to this proposal, but I’ll be stunned if it’s a positive reaction. In the meantime, we’ll also see how this affects O’Toole’s leadership. If he thought he was having a hard time until now, it’s easy to imagine that he’ll look back on those times as the “good old days” after today.

What Tapper Giveth, Tapper Taketh Away

We Canadians can be an interesting bunch and it surprises me sometimes how certain things ruffle our feathers more than others. My former colleague on the Hill Lauren Dobson-Hughes wrote a great piece for The Line this week that kind of touched on some of this peculiarity, how we view ourselves compared to the rest of the world and our ambitions as a nation, or lack thereof. Her words really struck a chord with me because it did speak to a real uncomfortable truth about our country and how we view ourselves.

And if you needed any confirmation of that well-known Canadian phenomena, well it came in an interesting way. The source that set off days of national angst and finger pointing was CNN’s Jake Tapper and Paula Newton, with a report that was a blunt as it was inconvenient for some:

Okay folks, that story wasn’t easy to watch. It doesn’t shine the best light on our country and where we’re at in the fight against COVID. But we knew all of that already and we all have known what the problems have been. Nothing that Tapper and Newton pointed out was a shock to us. Yet somehow that simple piece pointing out the simple facts of the matter set off all of this spilled ink, digital and otherwise. Everyone seemed to try to twist this story to fit their own narratives. The Conservatives made a point of even raising it in Question Period, a clear sign of political failure when a foreign media outlet takes notice of our country and points out a bad news story. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole took the opportunity to lambaste Trudeau, trying to pin everything at his doorstep, as if Tapper had somehow. It even led to this Twitter exchange about the piece:

It’s true, in his response Trudeau tried to downplay and push aside the report, in his own attempt to spin this into his best possible light. And Tapper called it out, asking what exactly in the story they objected to. So far, there has been no response to that. Yet just as the Conservatives crowed over this story, lauding a network that some of their MPs and supporters never watch and call “fake news”, Tapper took away whatever joy he gave the blue team as quickly as he gave it with this quip:

Yep, Tapper is right again and what he gave a few Tweets early, he took away with that one. The Conservatives aren’t blameless, and they share a lot of blame with the current state of things too. Of course, that didn’t please the blue team as the red team fumed in the corner. That led some people on Twitter to snipe at Tapper, asking why in the heck he should care about this and why is he paying attention to this now. Those exchanges brought a couple of replies like this, which help answer those questions:

Yes, he has family connections here, as many Americans do. And yes, we do deserve better as vaccination appointments are being cancelled across Ontario because the province is botching the role out after they get the vaccines. Hospitals are bracing for the worst as well. It’s all a bloody mess, and I’m stunned that so many Canadians have gotten so upset about this because an American network finally noticed. They weren’t the first, as many other American outlets have run stories on our vaccine issues.

So why are so many of our countrymen and countrywomen so worked up over this? Because the bigger neighbours who almost never notice us have noticed us now. And yes, the news of what they saw is bad because it is bad. Seriously, is that up for debate at this point? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look in from the outside and say that between the Feds and the Provinces, this part of our COVID response has been botched. Every party has born part of these mistakes and mess ups, at both the Federal and Provincial levels. Period. End of Story. It doesn’t say anything about the state of or performance of universal healthcare, it doesn’t make some grand judgement on policies, it doesn’t make anything up. Those are just the facts. That’s all.

And folks, this whole episode has really shone a light on the fragility of our collective confidence as a nation when an American cable news host looks over the border, sees a screw up and calls it that, brings us to such a frenzied state of existential emotional breakdown. Seriously folks, get a grip! Most of us make snarky snipes about media we don’t like, don’t like the bent of and wish they would be more “neutral” and stick to the facts. That’s exactly what Tapper, Newton and CNN did here, and how did we react? We lost our collective minds.

We are never going to get out of this crisis together we are going to have to face the truth of what’s happening, no matter how uncomfortable that brutal truth may be. It’s not in the nature of our political leaders to do that without spinning or trying to “control the message” to be advantage their political position, but this is a time when they have to put all that crap aside. Seriously, I don’t say this lightly but man, it’s time for some people to grow into this moment. This isn’t the time to do the finger pointing and blame control. This is the time to hunker down, grow up and get things back on track. At this point if you’re not doing that, you’re a part of the problem, and not the solution. Tapper was right in his piece and he was right when we said that we Canadians do deserve better than this. It’s just amazing that we lost our collective minds when someone of note from the U.S. was the one that pointed it out.

From Sunny Ways to a Dark Day

Having spent a decade on Parliament Hill, there are times when one might think that I’ve seen it all. Sure there are a lot of ugly things I’ve seen along with some amazing moments, yet some moments come along that still manage to surprise. Normally those moments are not good ones because sadly it’s far more common for those surprise to be bad ones rather than pleasant ones. Yesterday we had one of those moments, and it’s one that looks terrible on the Liberal government and the party that aided them in this ugly move:

Line up your “sunny ways” and alike comments because they are more than warranted here. The Liberals moved to shut down a study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence into allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces. These allegations have rocked the Canadian Forces, as more and more cases and allegations have come out, pointing to a very clear problem the CF faces. This is a serious matter, especially for a government that has not shied away from wrapping itself in feminist language and credentials.

Yet instead of getting to the bottom of this serious problem, taking these allegations seriously and actively look into how our Parliamentarians could make the CF a better environment for the women who volunteer to serve our country, the Liberals went in the other direction. They chose to try to sweep this under the rug because it was clearing becoming embarrassing for them. Aided by the Bloc Quebecois (I’ll come back to that in a moment), they shut down this study, leaving these brave women who came forward hanging and ignored.

While I am appalled by what happened yesterday and surprised by it, I’m not shocked to see this government try to duck this. This has been with approach to most things, which is to duck and run rather and deal with the problem head on. It turns out, some polling came out just this morning released by Global News that spoke directly to this issue and it turns out I’m far from being alone in my thinking:

“75% of respondents said the government and military leaders are “all talk and no action” when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces.” Seriously, that comes out the morning after the Liberals buried this study and showed that they are, in fact, “all talk and no action”. Geeze folks, I wonder how that 75% of people ever got that impression? Christ man, that’s terrible. It’s shameful stuff from the Liberals that people are noticing, and you’d think that maybe they might take that into consideration. But nope, they still acted that way and are apparently counting on people to either forget all of this or believe that no one can possibly beat them in an election. An election that they are craving for so badly.

And while the behaviour of the Liberal government here may not be shocking to some, the actions taken by the Bloc Quebecois here is the real ugly surprise to most. In this minority government, the Liberals couldn’t do this without an accomplice. For all their bleating about being progressive and all that, the Bloc jumped on board anyway and for the weakest of reasons. Bloc MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval was quoted by TVA News explaining the Bloc supported the Liberals here because of…. scheduling. Yep, he told TVA that there are only a few weeks remaining before the end of the parliamentary session and that must be used in order to produce a report with the information already collected by the committee. He went on to say that “if we don’t conclude the report by the end of June, it is very likely that there never will be. In my opinion, it would be lost, it would be a shame if we were to lose such an opportunity […] “.

Take a load of that “logic” there folks; if we don’t kill this study and help the government not get to the truth here, we’ll never be able to write this report and they’ll “lose the opportunity” to write a report that doesn’t get to the bottom of things. Christ, that’s terrible guys, absolutely terrible. As someone who spent most of his time on the Hill working in these committees, Barsalou-Duval’s logic is seriously lacking because if the committee wanted to keep going, they could AND still get that study done before June, but have it actually answer some serious questions. That’s because the majority rules in the committee and if they wanted to book extra meetings, sit long in those meetings or whatever it took to get the job done, they could, period!

Also, if you follow his own logic, Barsalou-Duval is basically saying that he wants to complete an incomplete and insufficient report into this matter, just to say they were able to complete it. That’s crazy and lazy. Doing a sh*t job just to be able to say it’s done is terrible, yet that’s his excuse for trying to burry a study into allegations of sexual assault. Again, this wasn’t a study into something mundane or of little interest. This was about sexual assault! And that’s how you treat it?

That is either mind-blowing, short sighted stupidity or (most likely) the Bloc is getting something in return for their support on this. During the last Harper Minority government, I personally witnessed the Bloc do this, turning their back on things they professed to care about so deeply in pursuit of something else in that moment. The Bloc did that in March 2011, when they backed the Conservatives in killing a pension protection bill while professing to support forestry workers who lost their pensions in bankruptcies. I still believe that kind of cynical BS helped to lead to the undoing of the Bloc in the next election.

But in the end of this, this all looks ugly and feels disheartening. These soldiers came forward, looking for their government and elected representatives to have their backs in their time of need. In that moment, both the Liberals and the Bloc turned their backs on these women. Instead they took care of their own person self-interest and left these brave women hanging out to dry. And when you look at the polling, the majority of Canadians aren’t shocked. So while I shouldn’t be surprised, I was. It reminded me of that ugly chapter back in 2011 and reminded me about how cynical and craven some elected people can be, even with the most important issues to our country and those who serve it. It was a dark day in Ottawa for sure.

Talking the Moving of Schools Online in Ontario with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Lindsay Maskell & Jason Lietaer for the “Political Heat” panel. We talked about the latest on the third wave of COVID-19, the move by Ontario to move schools online for the foreseeable future, the continued mixed messaging coming from the Ford Government, the effects of this on our ability to deal with the problem, how this mismanagement by the Ford Government is wearing people out, problems in parks and public places, issues with how people are behaving, why it may fall to municipalities to take action and why this all matters so much. You can listen starting at the 16:00 minute mark.

A Year Late to the Fight?

For the past thirteen months we, as a nation, have been doing our best to fight back against COVID-19. Sometimes those efforts have worked, other times not so much, but what’s been clear is that most people have been doing their part in this hard fight. In these hard moments, people rightly look to their governments for leadership and guidance. That’s what we elect governments to do, and it really shouldn’t come as a shock to those who aspire to lead us.

Yet we can point to examples from all governments, both federal and provincial, of failures and marks missed. But while some failures have been done in good will and effort, others have been more of a result of unwillingness to act. In Ontario, we can point to those, usually involving a collection of mixed messages and an unwillingness to accept responsibility from the part of the Ford Government. Heck just as Ontario started facing record high COVID cases and ICU admission, Doug Ford went before the cameras late last week and said this:

“Ontario is doing pretty well right now”… That’s what Ford had to say to Ontarians on the same day that Ontario saw 4,227 new COVID infections, the 2nd highest daily number since the pandemic started at the time (today’s number is over 4,400) , and with 552 patients in ICUs, another record that has since been broken. That’s a kind of “whistling past the graveyard” that’s on a level of its own. It’s disturbing to see this Premier deciding to ignore the reality on the ground and live his life through rose-coloured glasses. So it shouldn’t have come as a shock that the Opposition at Queen’s Park would have some questions about the Premier’s comments. No, what was shocking was the answer that came from Doug Ford’s Government House Leader, none other than Paul Calandra. If you’ve forgotten about Calandra’s history when it comes to defending his government, here’s a quick reminder of his “work” from the past:

Yep, that was bad and let’s be honest, we were all Paul Dewar in that moment. That is the guy that the Ford Conservatives put up to reply to the Premier’s words and as you can imagine, it didn’t go that well:

Wait, Ontario only started to “fight back” against COVID-19 last Wednesday? Seriously? I had to go back and listen to that quote a few times because it was that awful yet so telling about this government. If the Ford Government hasn’t been “fighting” against COVID-19 for the past 13 months, then what in the sweet Hell were they doing? Not only is that answer somehow worse than what Ford said last week, it just spits on the efforts of front-line healthcare workers, who have been fighting for the past year trying to save lives. They’ve done that in spite of the Ford governments half-measures, mixed messages and unwillingness to face the truth. And for all that sacrifice, they get this? Calandra’s awful response might also add some context to this quote that came from Ford’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones on Thursday morning, when she was talking on CBC radio. She was asked why the Ford government waited until after Easter to finally bring in a stay-at-home order. Her answer was bad then, but looks even worse now:

“We wanted to make sure that the modelling was actually showing up in our hospitals.” Yep, they wanted to “make sure” that people actually turned up sick in hospitals and ICUs before they acted, as if they needed some kind of verification after a year of this pandemic. That lead to a very strong rebuttal from Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, as she made a point that should have been clear to any government minister long before now: You don’t wait for ICU numbers to go up because that is the last indicator before death. Basically, if you wait for that point to step in and do anything, you are way beyond too late.

So let’s put this all together. In the span of five days, we’ve had three different members of the Ford Cabinet, including the Premier himself, tell Ontarians that they “wanted to make sure” that people were actually turning up in ICUs before acting to prevent them from ending up there, that they only started “fighting back” against COVID on Wednesday (basically suggesting they weren’t trying for the past year?) and, oh, yeah, don’t worry because compared to everyone else, “Ontario is doing pretty well right now”. Sweet tapdancing Christ on a Triscuit, that’s terrible.

Yet that’s exactly where we find ourselves. At the very moment when we are supposed to be able to trust our elected government to do what’s right and fight to save lives, they’ve told the public that either they weren’t trying, were waiting for the worst to come and that we should all be grateful for their response. How in the Hell are we supposed to have confidence in that?

I’m honestly speechless when thinking about how to respond to this or thinking of what to do with it. The only reasonable response would be to replace this government, but we’re another year out from the next election. Many of us have tried our best to be patient and hopeful that our governments would pull it together, yet the Ford Conservatives in Ontario are now basically trolling all of us in those efforts. How else to explain this level of crap? Ontarians have given the Ford Conservatives a lot of leeway when it comes to this pandemic, in the hopes that they would rise to the moment. After some hopeful early days on that front, that clearly isn’t happening anymore. Lives are at stake and it’s time for this government to get its sh*t together because one thing is crystal clear; those answers are nowhere near being adequate. Ford and Co. needs to shape up or ship out because there is too much at stake to let this status quo continue.

Talking the Growing Third Wave of COVID-19 & Party Conventions on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. We discussed the growing third wave of COVID-19 hitting across Canada, how governments continue to fall short with mixed messaging, the aggressive nature of these new variants, why all Canadians should be expecting better from our political leaders, the Liberal and NDP conventions from the weekend, what they tells us about where the parties stand today and what might for the next election, whenever it comes. You can listen to it all below.

From Invincible to Vulnerable in Alberta

Having worked in politics for as long as I have, it still surprises me how quickly our collective opinion or view of one person can change on a dime. They can go from seemingly unbeatable and invincible political genius in one minute, and all of a sudden come across as immensely vulnerable and the polar opposite the next. And what makes it all the more amazing is that it can happy so quickly or randomly that you never expect to see it coming.

That seems to be the case with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney these days. Going back just a few years ago he was that invincible political genius for some. He was an invaluable member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet and was seen in many quarters as his heir apparent. When he went back to Alberta, his engineering of the “merger” of the PC’s and Wildrose parties was hallmark Kenney; it was brutal, blunt, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable (or allegedly further) and brash. Kenney tried to paint himself as this populist ideologue, running around Alberta in his blue pickup and you know what? It worked. Like so many things that Kenney did, it worked.

So having created his new party and returning Conservatives to power in Alberta, there was no surprise when his government made many extremely unpopular cuts and moves. That was his MO so that didn’t come as a surprise. What did come as a surprise was his increasingly apparent inabilities when it comes to actually running a government or managing a caucus. For a guy with such legendary organizational chops and a decade of experience in government, you’d think that this wouldn’t be his problem. Yet time and again, he’s ran his government with such a “I don’t give a f*ck” attitude that the basics of government fell apart quickly (or were never really put together).

It’s the kind of arrogance that you might expect to see after a few terms in office, not after two years. Yet that entitled approach was there from the start and as many have noted, this is a government that never mental moved from Opposition to Government. They act like an opposition all the time, and that’s a mindset that’s failed and led to the place where Kenney finds himself now, with a growing cohort of his own MLAs attacking his governments COVID measures. That scene from yesterday was bad and a terrible sign for the stability of Kenney’s leadership. It was crazy, yet somehow more news came out last night that took the crazy knob, broke it off and threw it in the Bow River:

Wow folks, that is insane. The Western Standard is reporting that Kenney went into a caucus meeting on Thursday and basically threatened the rebel quarter of his caucus with going to an election if they don’t fall in line. A snap election, in the middle of the third wave of a pandemic, is as empty a threat as it is an irresponsible idea. The idea of forcing Albertans to the polls for a completely unnecessary election because you can’t manage your own bloody caucus would be the cherry on this crap sundae.

What makes it even worse is the clear emptiness of Kenney’s threat. If his party when to an election today (and he managed to hold his party together), they would lose it and you’d see a Notley NDP majority. The mostly likely UCP MLAs to survive the loss would be those rebel MLAs, because their ridings are so staunchly conservative. So if Kenney somehow managed to survive the fallout of that campaign, he would be in Opposition with a caucus with a much higher percentage of MLAs who don’t support him.

But that of course assumes one major thing that you can’t count on: that the UCP actually held together. Seriously, how do you even run a campaign with a single, coherent platform when you’ve got a quarter of your caucus publicly and fiercely opposed to a major part of it, which you would assume would be dealing with the pandemic? The answer to that question is very simple: You can’t. If those MLAs were already so emboldened to speak out publicly against their own government like this and skewer Kenney like this, why in the Hell would they turn face now and line up behind him when their very re-election is on the line? Those MLAs were already making a bet that they were better off speaking out against Kenney to try to save their political hides, so why in the Hell would the storm into an actual election with Kenney leading them?

That makes zero sense, which makes Kenney’s threat even more empty. The fact is that these MLAs have Kenney completely over a barrel and this group clearly doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about being in government. They are happy being the loud opposition, yelling dangerous and unhelpful things in the middle of a pandemic just so they don’t have to compromise a bloody thing to save lives. Kenney doesn’t have any threats or any levers that he can use that can put that crazy back in the bottle. The fact is that those MLAs have all the incentive in the world to either try to force Kenney out of the Premier’s chair or simple go and form another party. Maybe they could use another variation on “Wild Rose” while there at it to just repeat history all the better.

Either way, in the past week Jason Kenney has found himself going from that invincible force to the vulnerable person, helplessly stuck with no good way out. In doing so, Kenney is in big trouble along with so many who have attached themselves to his star. This is the kind of event that could have serious ripple effects if it all falls apart. The big one that comes to mind for me is Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who owes a big part of the credit for his own leadership to Kenney’s backing of him. By getting onside with him, Kenney made O’Toole a front runner and likely put him over the top. Given the grumblings around O’Toole’s leadership already, I can just imagine that association with Kenney won’t help him. That’s especially true when he’ll be trying to fight against Maverick Party candidates in Alberta in the next election, a party that would be a more than natural fit for disgruntled UCPers who don’t care about governing and just want to oppose like mad. That will give us something to watch for.

In the meantime, we’ll also keep watching what’s happening in Alberta and see if Jason Kenney continues to see his government implode. But regardless of what happens going forward, the image of Kenney as a political mastermind has been undone forever. So even if this episode doesn’t do him in, he’s been brought back down to political earth. He’s in a much easier position in the longer term to be defeated, either in an ill-timed snap election now or the scheduled election in 2023.

The Unmasked Contempt of Randy Hillier

In these days of COVID, sometimes it feels hard to really take in and enjoy good news when it comes. Today I had a great example of this feeling come into my life with two stories that are all too typical of the rollercoaster of life in the days of COVID. The first comes from the community that I’ve lived in for the past years now, Brockville, and is a genuinely good news story in these dark days:

Yes, finally some good news! One of the good actions taken by both Ottawa and Queen’s Park was the move they took in the Fall to support 3M in Brockville to produce more N95 masks. Consider where we were just a year ago, when we were having to fending off Donald Trump trying to scoop PPE off of runways around the World as we were trying to find every scrap, we could get out hands on. Very early on we realized just how vulnerable we were because we didn’t produce such important items here at home. We’ve seen this play out across the board, from PPE, to vaccines and other important materials.

So governments start to make noises about bringing this kind of production back home, onshoring jobs and manufacturing in the process. So when Trudeau and Ford came to Brockville together in September to announce this move at 3M, it was one of the few good moments for both governments. They saw a problem, put their crap aside and acted. And here we are, 6 months after shovels went into the ground, 3M is shipping N95’s made here at home, right as the third wave strikes. It’s a great example of what’s possible when government puts the excuses aside and can accomplish when the will is there. Now only if that would happen in other sectors (hint, hint, nudge, nudge).

But being the time of COVID, there’s no way that we could just have this good news story. No, because that’s not how any of this has worked. We’ve had malcontents refusing to do their part to fight COVID, instead doing the opposite with some of the most ignorant and rude language possible. The worst offender on this front has been MPP Randy Hillier and if you haven’t noticed by now, he’s been one of the most irresponsible elected officials in the country over this period. Hillier, through his continued offensive and sociopathic actions, has single-handedly made the case for the ability to remove an elected official from office in this country. And if you thought that he hadn’t done enough yet to prove that point, he’s not done yet according to the Kemptville Advance:

When I first saw this story, I clearly thought it was bad. Hillier, in all of his selfishness and ignorance, has decided to hold this super-spreader-in-waiting event in the same health unit where the N95 news comes from. It turns out that on top of an event, this will also be a video shoot for a No More Lockdowns commercial featuring Hillier himself. Yeah, selfish as Hell folks. Yet that little news story didn’t tell the whole story because it left out a big detail, which came to the surface on a poster for this event:

A mask burning party? Seriously, a f*cking mask burning party? What the serious f*ck man? At the same time that we can finally celebrate some good news in this past year of Hell for so many, Hillier and his crew of the selfish have decided to throw a “party” burning the very thing that we’ve been working so hard to be able to make. Oh, and he plans on shooting a commercial at the same time, which we can assume will probably include images of said mask burning.

This is so far beyond the pale that it’s not even funny. This is anti-social and malignant behaviour that has no place in our society, let along coming from an MPP making a six-figure salary which acting this way. Given Hillier’s history and track record of actions, we know that he’s selfish and a prick of the highest order (that and he clearly has a suspender fetish that I really don’t want to know any more about). Just like the 15 MLAs in Alberta I wrote about earlier, Hillier is being ignorant and completely unhelpful. He’s putting people’s health at risk at that event tonight, while empowering people to ignore public health measures that save lives. He is the perfect example of someone whose selfish ideological views make him completely unequipped to deal with such a serious moment. Randy only cares about Randy, that’s who he’s always been. While other politicians have grown in this past hard year, Randy has shrunk to the smallest of men. As I have said about him before, he should feel some degree of shame for his actions, but he never will because he is shameless. None of that remains in doubt, and he just keeps proving it by showing how small a person he really is.

Undercutting the Fight Against COVID from the Back Benches

The last couple of days have not been our brightest moments in the fight against COVID-19. Ontario Premier Doug Ford finally brought in a stay-at-home order, after refusing to do so just a week ago. That lack of action last week led to scene of people stuffing malls and piled around the corners of Ikea stores, doing shopping and activities that were clearly not essential. It all flew in the face of what Ford had said he was trying to stop last week, but also highlighted that his weak, non-measures from last week were just avoiding the obvious; we need an actual lockdown.

As we see variants of COVID spike and continue to bring more illness, death and stress on our healthcare system, we’ve seen the calls rise from across the board for provincial governments to do their damn jobs and take this seriously. That has pushed Canada’s Premiers, who are mostly conservatives these days, to act in ways that they have simply pushed back against. They have resisted doing what public health and the science demands, to protect the lives of their constituents. While Ontario’s late action yesterday could be seen as “a day late and a dollar short”, Alberta has been the slowest and least willing to listen to the science or medical experts. Premier Jason Kenney’s COVID response has been shambolic and has brought his UCP government to new lows of public support.

Kenney’s ideological instinct to “do nothing” has not served him well and has helped to lead to Alberta’s lacking COVID response. Yet despite that, even Kenney himself moved on Tuesday to implement stronger restrictions, similar to what Ford did yesterday. He did that to avoid Alberta’s health care system from being swamped by COVID cases, finally recognizing the problem for his government. But while doing that on Tuesday, he gave us another tell as to why his government has been so slow and unwilling to act, while also foreshadowing something to come. He spoke about how some in his caucus didn’t support these measures. Given the outspoken nature of a few UCP caucus members who have public spoken against COVID measures, that didn’t come as a shock in of itself. No, that shock came yesterday when this happened, and raised many eyebrows:

15 UCP MLA’s telling their government and Premier to ignore science and the medical experts. A full quarter of his caucus, publicly telling Kenney to get stuffed. And these aren’t all 15 anonymous backbenchers of no importance or usual malcontents. On that list includes the Speaker of the Alberta Legislature Nathan Cooper, Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt and disgraced Hawaii travelling former minister Tracy Allard. These irresponsible MLA’s called Kenney’s moves “a step backwards” and called on the Premier to “defend their livelihoods and freedoms”, as if COVID gives a rats ass about what these MLA’s think. You’d think that after a year of going through COVID that these elected people would realize that COVID isn’t fair, doesn’t work on a political calendar, can’t be reasoned with and surely not with ideological political rhetoric. Yet here we are, these MLAs being as irresponsible as ever.

But what was as shocking about the public, loud declarations of these MLAs was the total silence and downright acquiescence of Premier Kenney to them. Seriously, a quarter of his caucus are telling him to basically let innocent people die so that they can remain ideologically pure and true, and he says nothing to push back against them. No, instead on Tuesday he told everyone that his party “respects the views of others”. Of course, Kenney giving that deference to his anti-public health MLAs to cover his own political ass undercuts the power and authority of the public health measures that he just announced. How exactly are people supposed to believe that his government will actually uphold these measures when his own government members are openly opposing them?

In most cases you would have seen some of the usual malcontents, like MLAs Drew Barnes and Angela Pitt, be tossed from the caucus long before this point, mostly to drive home the point of getting everyone on the same page. But Kenney has long resisted doing anything like that, and now he has 15 of his caucus members publicly coming out to contradict his governments public health measures in such an important moment. Also you can add a 16th to that list, as Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid also pointed out today that UCP MLA Dan Williams is also now speaking out publicly against the government forcing a church that has flaunted public health measures for months to comply. This all just boggles the mind.

But when it comes to conservative circles, that mindboggling isn’t confined to the Alberta Legislature. In Ontario two former members of Doug Ford’s caucus have been constantly against public health measures, including MPP Roman Baber who Ford rightly tossed from his caucus for that opposition. Kenney might be able to take a lesson from Ford there, but when you see what’s happening in Alberta you have to wonder how many other PC MPPs might feel the same way as Baber.

It Ottawa we have seen outbursts of this language with former Conservative MP Derek Sloan. After finally being tossed from the O’Toole Conservative caucus, this has been one of his hobby horses with Sloan even playing the role of political ambulance chaser as he rushed out to that church mentioned to shoot a video outside. But he is really just a side show of little importance.

Of greater importance and worry can a much more notable example of opposition to Alberta’s public health measures. None other than Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill and Erin O’Toole’s Health Critic Michelle Rempel Garner joined in with the letter-writing 15 MLAs in their opposition. The Western Standard reports that she has joined them, raising a lot of other serious questions for the already beleaguered and battered leadership of O’Toole. Rempel Garner is not some anonymous backbencher. She is a serious leader within the Conservative Party and one of their best-known MPs. Being named Health Critic during a global pandemic speaks to that, as you don’t put someone of that level and ability in such an important role at such an important time. Yet if you come out and take the side of these 15 MLAs, that raises serious, legitimate questions about your judgement or views about actually tackling the problem at hand. It also raises another serious question; if Rempel Garner is publicly saying what she is, how many other Conservative MPs feel the same way as she and other 15 MLAs do? And how is that influencing the approach being taken and proposed by Mr. O’Toole himself. Not only is that politically dangerous for the Conservatives, but it’s also dangerous for our efforts to fight this disease.

And for me, that’s the bottom line is trying to save lives and the public health measures that will bring that about. COVID has changed with these variants and we are learning more about the longer-term effects of this disease. The variants are affecting younger and healthier people. Almost the entire roster of the Vancouver Canucks has now caught COVID, many getting the P1 Brazilian variant that is so dangerous. That team isn’t made up of octogenarians and retirees collecting their old age security. It’s made up of some of the healthiest and best conditioned athletes on the planet, and they are being hurt now. On top of that, CNN reported yesterday about the results of a study on the effects of COVID that showed that “34% of Covid-19 survivors received a diagnosis for a neurological or psychological condition within six months of their infection”. If you look at patients who were hospitalized, the rate of those with neurological conditions rose to 39%. The more that we are learning about COVID, the more that we are finding that if you “recover” from it, you can have some serious long term health issues that could create more problems down the road.

The fact remains that those elected officials who ignore those facts in the pursuit of being pure to their ideology are being derelict in their duties. They are committing political malpractice when they spout buzzwords about “freedom” when they are basically talking about selfishness. They are willing to let people die or get seriously ill who don’t need to in order to not bother them as much. That’s crass, selfish behaviour that runs counter to basic decency and looking out for each other.

The Bible told us to look out for each other, to “be thy brothers’ keeper” and to “do onto others as you would have them do onto you”. Yet for these MLAs and MPPs, their message is more like “get off my lawn, leave me alone and I don’t care at all what happens to you”. That’s the message they are sending to those who are getting sick. That’s the message that they are sending to health care workers who are burned out, yet are still putting their lives on the line every day to save their fellow citizens. That’s the message that they are to the public at large.

If leaders like Jason Kenney and Erin O’Toole let that malignant behaviour stand and continue to live within their caucuses, that forces us all to question what that says about their commitment to saving the lives of others. Respecting the opinions of others is not more important than the lives of innocent citizens. The virus doesn’t give a damn about those opinions and this is one of those rare moments when a true leader acts realizing that. In this moment, if you feel that your opinions are more important than others staying alive, you don’t belong in anyone’s caucus. There are rare, serious moments when “respectfully disagreeing” isn’t alright. This is one of them and has been for the past year. None of us like having to take these steps, but we are putting our own wishes and comfort aside for the betterment of others. If those elected people can’t do the same, then they are clearly in the wrong line of work. Freedom is only for the living, and we have to live through this to enjoy freedom. If they can’t understand that they need to step down and let someone else who understands that to take their places.

Talking Virtual Party Conventions with Rob Snow

Today I joined Rob Snow on CityNews Ottawa radio’s “The Rob Snow Show” along with Kate Harrison for the “Political Fix” panel. We talked the about the upcoming Liberal and NDP virtual conventions, what will both memberships decide to accept as policies, what might it all mean for the political landscape going forward, the chances for Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh coming out of this weekend, the effect of a third wave of COVID on federal election rumours, what the future of Mark Carney might be and the legacy of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. You can listen to the audio by clicking below, starting at the 22:30 minute mark.