After receiving only 51% of the UCP vote, Jason Kenney has stepped down as one-term Premier of Alberta.
Kenney’s foreboding political death was clear to many Albertans as the United Conservative Party’s approval ratings steadily plunged throughout the past two years of COVID-19. Internal criticism from within his party over the use of (albeit minimal) public-health restrictions indicated his lack of support, with dismal fundraising numbers and open criticism from many in the UCP putting a final nail in Kenney’s coffin.
Kenney first came to prominence in the 1980s as a far-right activist at the University of San Fransisco campaigning against abortion rights, harassing pro-choice students on the campus and actively stopping same-sex couples from registering as domestic partnerships, which entitled gay couples to rights like hospital visitation rights and bereavement rights. In 2015, he returned to Alberta politics after serving under the Harper government for almost a decade.
Known for uniting the right-wing Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties in 2017, his capacity to deliver on promises and or bring his party (let alone the province) together was critically diminished. Overall, his premiership has been as much about bailing out pandemic profiteers as it has been about drinking budget whisky amidst a province-wide healthcare crisis.
Kenney’s laundry list of attacks on workers is long, and includes the loss of tens of thousands of jobs over the tenure of his political career as Premier. Here are some of the low-lights of the past 4 years:
- The UCP makes moves towards defunding Alberta Health Services injectable opioid agonist program, which provides medicine like methadone to manage severe addictions amidst the drug poisoning crisis.
- Kenney legislates away municipalities’ rights to make their own mask bylaws, despite the pandemic not being over, removing vaccine mandates in order to allow unvaccinated people to work in healthcare facilities.
- The UCP moves forward with four open-pit coal mining projects.
- Provincial budget sets aside $133 million in capital funds for the privatizing Alberta Surgical Initiative, and $72 million for charter schools.
- Kenney drops the COVID-19 health protections to appease an illegal anti-vax blockade at the American border.
- 22 UCP constituency association boards submit a letter to the party executive demanding Kenney face an early leadership review.
- Costly $3.5 million investigation into so-called “anti-Alberta energy campaigns”.
- Over 6 UCP members traveling outside of the country during the pandemic despite government directives to avoid travel.
- Opens the doors to health privatizers to lobby Alberta Health and increase private clinics, private health service providers and pharmaceutical companies, including allowing UCP top donors to represent doctors.
- Launches controversial Education curriculum without consulting teachers. The curriculum is criticized for lacking in diversity, exclusively promoting Christianity, and lacking Indigenous consultation.
- Kenney ignores advice from medical professionals as COVID-19 spreads out of control across the province, handing pandemic contracts to UCP party donors.
- Creates the province’s largest mass layoff in history, cutting $128 million of funding for 26,000 educational assistants, bus drivers, substitute teachers and other K-12 support staff.
- Passes Bill 32: “Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act” which limits unions ability for political activities, legislates where unions can picket, two-tiers the minimum wage for youth, and makes changes to the Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Code.
- Passes Bill 1 “Defending Critical Infrastructure Act”: which imposes harsh penalties for protestors who shut down or block critical infrastructure, including pipelines and railways, subjecting individual protesters to fines of up to $10,000 and $25,000 for first and subsequent offences, with possible prison time of up to 6 months.
- Passes Bill 47, the “Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act”, makes changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act. Limits presumptive coverage for psychological injuries, ensures that employers appoint who sits on Joint Health and Safety Committees, and removes worker representatives from being present during the investigation of allegedly unsafe work.
- Passes Bill 22 the “Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act” which goes after the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund, the Special Forces Pension Plan, and the Public Service Pension Plan (PSPP) and Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP). The Bill allows for AIMCo (a government owned and controlled agency) to manage all investments, and ignores joint-governance bodies and takes away the autonomy of the pension boards managing workers’ plans.
- Kenney gives $4.7 billion tax handout to oil corporations, many of whom carried out mass layoffs and shut down operations.
- Cuts $1.3 billion in health, education and other areas in its Fall budget.
- Slashes the youth minimum wage by $2/hour.
- Cuts 46,000 people from the Seniors Drug Benefit Plan.
- Spends millions of dollars on an ‘Energy War Room’ to spy on Indigenous land defenders, environmental and community organizers.
- Wrests control of about $78.5 billion in pension assets from working Albertans.
- Passes Bill 22, effectively firing the man investigating Kenney’s own party for election misconduct in 2017.
As many have pointed out, Kenney is not the sole mastermind behind the right’s attacks on doctors, healthcare and education workers. Two major candidates from the insurgent right-wing of the UCP have come forward to take his place and continue his ideology: former Wildrose leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith.
Now, Alberta’s workers have an opportunity to challenge the ultra right-wing advance as the provincial election looms. If the left can seize this moment and secure a worker centred vision for the province, Alberta can say goodbye not just to Kenney, but to austerity as well.
Don’t shed a tear for the disgraced premier though, he stated that if he lost, he would find solace in the private sector, despite not knowing how to pump gas. Good luck with that Jason, and good riddance.
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