In times of emergency and serious national challenge, we normally see the usual political garbage that can skew our politics fall to the side. Usually that involves all the parties involved focusing on the major issue before them, whatever that emergency or crisis may be, work on that and leave most other issues until another day. The fact is that in those kinds of serious moments, it’s incumbent on our political leaders to focus on the life and death issue before us. Basically in these moments, the choices our leaders take that don’t help deal with that issue stand out and deserve serious questioning.
We are weeks into fighting a global pandemic and so far, with very few exceptions, our politicians have managed to stay focused on the issue before us. Taking actions that aren’t helping aide that bigger goal, are working against it or are seemingly using this crisis as cover is very unseemly. It seems like most political leaders have understood that point and not done that, likely understanding the blowback that might come and the long-term damage it could do to their political fortunes after this crisis passes.
But folks, that’s not universally the case because in the past 48 hours we’ve seen a couple egregious violations of this principle, with decisions taken by governments that do nothing to help fight the current public health crisis. We start in Alberta, with a major decision taken by the Kenney Conservative government, via press release late on a Saturday:
Okay folks let’s be clear about this; the Alberta Conservative Government took $128 million in education funding to redirect towards Covid-19 response. That questionable move comes at an extremely questionable time when you look at what’s happening in Alberta. The economy of the province was already in deep pain before this pandemic hit, with thousands being laid off and people hurting badly. So in this moment, when people are worried about their health and futures, the Kenney Government lays off over 25,000 education workers. According to the Alberta Teachers Association, that will add 6,000 substitute teachers and up to 20,000 non-certificated staff to the ranks of the unemployed in the province.
What makes with worse are the details running up to this mass layoff. The Minister of Education in Alberta made this announcement, via press release late on a Saturday afternoon, which is mind-blowingly bad, even for a government trying to bury this news. Add to that fact that of the places that the Alberta government is looking to “redistribute” funds from, none of that is coming from the $30 million set aside for their Energy War Room. Between the global pandemic and Russia and Saudi Arabia’s price war driving the price of Western Select so low that it’s now cheaper to buy a barrel of Alberta oil sands oil than to buy a bucket of extra crispy from KFC, you’d think that the need for that war room might have faded away for now. The energy sector is sadly more a victim of circumstance in this moment than foreign funded environmentalists, so you’d think you could find a few bucks from that operation to put towards the cause. But seemingly that’s not the case. The last detail though that makes this all the worse is the fact that barely two weeks ago the Education Minister was asked about this very possibility. What did she say to that on March 15th, 2020?
Yeah, she said it wasn’t on the table and then boom, it happens. This from a government that was fighting and bashing teachers on a regular basis before the pandemic came just happened to do this now, while every is focused on fighting a global pandemic. And the Kenney Governments answer to those now laid off? “Hey, have you heard about these nifty new funds that Ottawa has put out there?” That to me might be the most galling of all because when it came to improving EI benefits to help energy sector workers, Premier Kenney got insulted at the idea, rightly pointing out that EI does not replace a well-paying job. But in this moment, it seems that Mr. Kenney has forgot that point, or at least it’s not as convenient. But when it comes to “convenience” in this moment, the Kenney government is not alone is making a questionable decision like this during a global pandemic. We’ve got another example from the United States, one that just blew my mind when I saw it:
Look everyone, it’s not controversial to point out that Donald Trump’s judgment in response to this global pandemic has been questionable at best. It’s also pretty accepted that Trump’s overall judgment is lacking and that he has a history of making decisions that are best for him, personally or politically, instead of doing the right thing. But this story just blew my mind because of how craven, ugly and disgusting it is.
According to PBS station WBUR the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs told the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts on Friday that the First Nations reservation will be “disestablished”, and its land taken out of trust, on order from Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Basically to have one’s reserve “disestablished” means that Trump is taking their land. He’s taking this land, in the middle of a global pandemic. Or, as Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell put it:
“At 4:00 pm today — on the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and our Tribe is desperately struggling with responding to this devastating pandemic — the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed me that the Secretary of the Interior has ordered that our reservation be disestablished and that our land be taken out of trust. Not since the termination era of the mid-twentieth century has a Secretary taken action to disestablish a reservation.”https://mashpeewampanoagtribe-nsn.gov/news/2020/3/27/message-from-the-chairman-we-will-take-action-to-prevent-the-loss-of-our-land
Yes, so while a nation is fighting back against Covid-19, trying to save lives from a scourge that 100,000 Americans had as of that day, Trump decides to steal the land of this Indigenous nations. Cruel and craven doesn’t go far enough to describe why in the Hell they would do this now, of all times, especially since no American government has done anything like this in decades. So why do this now? What exactly would the rationale be for this? Well, if this couldn’t be anymore Trumpian, it involves a casino:
Yep, you had to know it was that craven. It turns out that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe was trying to use some of its land that’s held in trust by the government of the United States to build a casino on it, to try to create some economic development for their peoples. That casino was opposed by some local residents and their opposition was supported by none other than Donald J. Trump. We know this because the US House of Representatives passed a bill to “protect its reservation, regardless of what the courts decide.” But Trump is on the recording have asked Republicans to reject it, calling the bill a “special-interest casino bill”. And now, this First Nation has had its land taken out from under it, by the simple stroke of a pen late on a Friday during a global pandemic. Such awful crap.
In both of these cases, we’ve seen actions taken by governments trying to use the cover of a global crisis to justify something they already have shown proclivity to want to do anyway. And in this moment, when people are dying, communities are suffering any everyday people are worrying about their well beings, these two governments chose to see this as an opportunity to exploit, not a chance to be empathetic. We keep pointing out that people are taking note of governments who act outside the bounds of decency in these times and I hope that is still true a few weeks into this. Because these two acts are exactly the kinds of things that need to be remembered and accounted for, in order to show other governments who are thinking of doing similar things that the price to pay for such crap will far outweigh any advantage they might perceive in it. In the meantime, we’ll be making our list and checking it more than twice, so we remember whose been naughty, not nice.