Edmonton

Opinion | Diplomatic diversion: Would budget cuts by any other name still hurt?

Say hello to the season of the euphemism in Alberta politics.

Premier Jason Kenney wants to put something of a kinder gentler expression on his war face

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to the media while attending the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., on Sept. 26, 2019. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

When is a "war room" not a war room?

Well, when it's the "Alberta Information Centre."

When is what looks suspiciously like an anti-union campaign not an anti-union campaign?

Well, when it's an "Employee Labour Relations Support Program."

Say hello to the season of the euphemism in Alberta politics.

The United Conservative government is rolling out a series of programs that are so pugilistic they should have been announced in a boxing ring. But it seems Premier Jason Kenney wants to put something of a kinder gentler expression on his war face.

After a bare-knuckle election campaign where Kenney openly promised to go to war with those who think differently than he does, he now wants to sound more diplomatic. He is trying to hide his iron fist inside a velvet glove.

This helps him to counter complaints from critics who say he is a bully.

Jason Kenney gave his first address as Alberta premier to the AUMA convention last week. Kenney says his fiscal restraint "will be thoughtful, prudent, focused and limited." (David Bajer/CBC)

That's not to say he'll stop using the power, money and resources of his office to take aim at his critics and political opponents, but he'll just be a bit more measured in how he does it.

Name game

During a question-and-answer session at a chamber of commerce event in Calgary this week, Kenney referred to his $30-million "energy war room" as the "Alberta Energy Information Centre."

He said it would merely operate as a "clearinghouse" for information to respond in real time to the "lies and myths" that exist about the province's energy industry.

Kenney is making the war room's mandate sound so warm and fuzzy you could wear it to bed.

It's similar to his argument justifying the government-sponsored $2.5-million public inquiry into what Kenney says is a foreign-funded campaign against Alberta's energy sector.

But it's not really public in that there's no guarantee there will be any public hearings. And the government has made sure the evidence collected by the inquiry cannot be revealed by members of the public through access to information requests. The public inquiry is immune to public scrutiny.

Calling this a "public inquiry" is so duplicitous as to be Orwellian.

Wolf in sheep's clothing?

Then there's the Employee Labour Relations Support Program that the government describes innocently as providing "information, resources and supports related to union matters, such as union certification and decertification."

Labour Minister Jason Copping says the program is "part of our commitment to restore balance in the workplace by giving workers access to factual information and, in some cases, supports or advice from a neutral source."

The UCP insists there is nothing nefarious in its intentions but I have to ask what exactly does "restore balance in the workplace" mean?

For the Alberta Federation of Labour, it sounds suspiciously like a union-busting wolf in sheep's clothing.

It's not as if the AFL is being paranoid. And it's not as if anyone should be surprised.

Labour Minister Jason Copping said the province's Employee Labour Relations Support Program is is "part of our commitment to restore balance in the workplace by giving workers access to factual information and, in some cases, supports or advice from a neutral source." (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

The UCP won an election campaign touting itself as a supporter of free-enterprise and promising support for business that included a large cut to corporate taxes.

Kenney also promised to reign in government spending. We're just waiting for the painful details to be announced in the provincial budget October 24.

That's where all paths will lead in the fall sitting of the legislature that starts Oct. 8. It promises to be raucous if recent events are any indication.

At last week's convention of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, several cabinet ministers used their time onstage to pretty much blame the former NDP government for all the province's problems.

NDP leader, and former premier, Rachel Notley responded with her own partisan speech defending her old government and accusing the UCP of misleading Albertans and planning to download more of the province's financial burden onto the backs of municipal governments.

Kenney has insisted his cuts will not be as bad as the massive slashing done in 1993 by then-premier Ralph Klein.

Kenney says his restraint "will be thoughtful, prudent, focused and limited."

In 1993, Klein promised his restraint would "streamline, deregulate and reorganize government."

The term used then and now: fiscal responsibility.

Back then it was a euphemism for massive cuts. Klein slashed government spending, weathered a brutal backlash from his critics. But he survived.

Kenney is apparently hoping to do the same.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read the editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

You can find columnist Graham Thomson's thoughts and analysis on provincial politics every Friday at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News and during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM) and on Twitter at @gthomsonink.

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