It promises to be a year of division, strife, anger and upheaval.
Sorry I can’t be more optimistic about politics in Alberta in 2020.
Both the United Conservative government and the NDP Opposition have already mapped out the road ahead. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Premier Jason Kenney is pushing ahead with his government’s ambitious and controversial agenda.
In fact, for him, 2020 promises to be the year of “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
Those words — that prediction — was offered by Kenney during a speech to members of the UCP on Nov. 30.
To Kenney’s supporters, he was simply saying the UCP will continue to trim government spending, support businesses, oppose the federal carbon tax and fight for Alberta’s rights on the national stage.
“We’re just getting started,” said Kenney to cheers.
But to his critics, he was admitting he’ll continue to slash government services, give unnecessary tax breaks to profitable corporations, downplay climate change and cynically stoke the fires of western alienation for his own political ends.
“People believed the premier when he said he would not attack our health care and education and they are angry that class sizes are exploding, that they suddenly have to write $300 to $500 cheques to just get their kids to school in the morning,” said NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley during year-end interviews. “There’s no way to critically oppose this (government) to make it better. We just need to change this.”
Notley is already on the campaign trail.
Thus 2020 is just another year in the never-ending election campaign that, when you think about it, actually began after Notley won the 2015 election and conservatives immediately began organizing against her.
There was a time when the NDP quietly hoped Kenney would jump back into federal politics and thereby throw the UCP into disarray, making the UCP more vulnerable in the 2023 provincial election.
However, Kenney has made it clear he is not leaving provincial politics. And the NDP is now quietly celebrating that decision.
They point to his popularity dipping in several opinion polls in December. In a DART poll, he dropped to 40 per cent from 55 per cent from September to December. An Angus Reid poll had a smaller drop: to 54 per cent from 60.
Albertans are apparently upset that after running on a campaign of jobs, pipelines and the economy, Kenney hasn’t had much success on any of them except that construction has begun on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — and that was thanks to the federal government, not Kenney.
Kenney also damaged his credibility by brazenly using the government’s majority to fire Lorne Gibson, the province’s election commissioner, who had discovered fiscal wrongdoing in the 2017 UCP leadership race (that Kenney won) and who had issued $200,000 in fines against UCP members.
The RCMP launched its own investigation into complaints of voter fraud in the race. Depending on what the police find, we could yet see even more anger and upheaval in Alberta politics in the coming year.
Kenney is facing a myriad of challenges in 2020, many of them self-inflicted.
His government is conducting a major review of the province’s health care system that has critics already complaining about the spectre of “two-tier” medicine.
His “Fair Deal” panel looking into whether Alberta should have, among other things, its own police force and pension plan has arguably helped stoke feelings of western alienation.
His $30-million-per-year “war room,” officially called the Canadian Energy Centre, that’s fighting against perceived enemies of Alberta’s energy industry found itself embroiled in a series of controversies, one of which forced the centre to change its logo.
The government also commissioned a public inquiry into what Kenney has called a “foreign-funded” conspiracy to landlock Alberta oil and gas. There’s not much “public” about the inquiry that is operating behind closed doors and might not actually hold any public meetings before giving its report to Kenney in the summer of 2020.
And then there are the cuts. Kenney campaigned on an implied assurance that he could trim government spending and find “efficiencies” in government services without affecting front-line workers. But then came word from various government agencies that 5,000 or more jobs could be cut over the next three years.
He also wants public sector workers to accept wage rollbacks in contract arbitration.
He’s infuriated the Alberta Teachers’ Association with changes to how its multibillion-dollar pension fund is governed.
This could lead to Kenney’s biggest challenge of 2020: labour unrest.
Some public sector workers are so angry with the Kenney government there are murmurs of a provincewide general strike. If not that, there could at least be individual strikes by large public sector unions, something Alberta hasn’t seen in decades.
It’s something the Kenney seems to anticipate. During last fall’s legislative sitting, the government gave itself the power to hire replacement workers in the event of a public sector strike.
This might be a new year, but it’s not looking particularly happy.
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