Psychics, astrologers and other impeccable internet sources tell us 2020 promises to be an interesting year in which, “animals tell us what they think,” the world “becomes one country,” and Trump speaks “only nonsense.”
I suppose only two of those are actually predictions while the other one is a sad statement of fact.
Making predictions is always a mug’s game. And considering how much politics has changed in Alberta the past year, only a fool would attempt to predict what’s going to happen in 2020.
So, let me try.
The year 2020 might look like a new year on paper but in many ways it’s going to feel mighty old mighty quick. At least when it comes to Alberta politics.
Many of the big issues from the past year will continue to dominate the new.
Let’s look at a few.
Economy and jobs
Yes, it didn’t take a crystal ball to figure this one out. Jason Kenney and the United Conservatives won the election on a promise of a strong economy and more jobs. It didn’t work out that way and the NDP has been gleefully rubbing it in Kenney’s face every chance they get.
And they’ll keep it up in 2020 as the UCP government tries to kick-start the economy and create jobs. Economists predict “modest growth” in the province’s economy for the new year. Kenney will need to do better than that if he hopes to mute the critics — and claim “promise made, promise kept” in 2020.
If there’s one issue that has defined Alberta politics, this is it. Getting a new energy pipeline to tidewater has become an overwrought symbol of Alberta’s dreams and frustrations — the dream of another energy boom and the frustration at failing to get a new pipeline built.
In fact, a new pipeline will not solve our fiscal problems that are actually caused by a depressed price of oil and a world moving away from fossil fuels. And delays in getting a new pipeline built are not the fault of the federal Liberal government, as Premier Jason Kenney likes to suggest, but the courts. And the courts have delayed projects because of genuine complaints from First Nations.
Work has started on twinning the Trans Mountain Pipeline and that work will continue through 2020 (and for two years after that) but the project will still face opposition from some First Nations and environmental groups.
This will be a win-win for Kenney. If construction continues on TMX, he can point to it as a “victory” for his government; if it doesn’t, he can blame the federal Liberals and “foreign-funded” environmental organizations for continuing to undermine Alberta’s struggling economy.
Fight back strategy
Speaking of blaming others for Alberta’s ills, 2020 will see the UCP government maintain its pugilistic approach to issues via its Fight Back Strategy that includes the “war room” — officially, the Canadian Energy Centre — the public inquiry into the government’s foreign-funded conspiracy theory, and the “fair deal” panel that is looking into whether Alberta should have, for example, its own police force and pension plan.
These are all tactics designed to keep Alberta on a war footing and keep Albertans angry, frustrated and easily manipulated by a government that equates legitimate opposition with sedition.
The past year ended with some frustrated public sector workers musing about a general strike. That strike never happened and perhaps it never will. But we might see strikes by individual public sector unions in 2020. They are upset by a government that has removed joint governance of public sector pensions and is pressing workers to take wage cuts. The government has made it clear if the unions win wage hikes, they can expect job cuts.
Perhaps the government was peering into its own crystal ball this fall when it passed a piece of legislation giving it the right to hire replacement workers in the event of a public sector strike.
Panels, panels, panels
In 2019, the UCP government commissioned a long list of panels and committees to review everything from the $20-billion Alberta Health Services, to car insurance rates, to safe consumption sites. The granddaddy of them all was the blue ribbon panel that issued a report that formed the basis for the government’s cost-cutting budget that rolled out in October.
Those panels — with members and mandates carefully chosen by the government — will continue to influence government policy throughout 2020.
That includes Budget 2020 coming in late February, which will actually be the first true UCP budget. The 2019 budget, introduced in an election year, was an amalgam of UCP policies and leftovers from the previous NDP budget.
The never-ending campaign
There won’t be an election in 2020 but you’re going to feel like you’re trapped in a nasty election campaign anyway.
The animosity between the UCP government and NDP opposition isn’t just political, it’s personal. Kenney has gone to great lengths to dismantle the former NDP government’s legacy and the NDP sees Kenney as a right-wing bully. The mutual antagonism will continue as Kenney has already promised even more sweeping legislation in the spring session.
Kenney’s popularity took a substantial hit late in 2019, according to several public opinion polls, because of a sputtering economy and cuts to government services.
But it appears he doesn’t plan to stop or change direction.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he told cheering UCP members at their convention a few weeks ago. “We’re just getting started.”
In one of the few times NDP leader Rachel Notley agreed with Kenney in 2019, she told a year-end interview she doesn’t think Kenney is about to ease up on the gas pedal in 2020: “There’s nothing that makes me believe that they’re going to change course and I think they’re going to push harder.”
Happy New Year.
Something strange happening in Canadian politics – The Hill Times
CHELSEA, QUE.—Something strange has been happening in Canadian politics since the Trump contagion to the south. Voters elect a mostly reasonable, often affable, Member of Parliament only to discover, as they watch their MP climb the leadership ladder, that they are not so reasonable, not so affable after all. That, in fact, some are drifting rapidly from the centre to the fringe, even to tinfoil-hat territory.
It is evident, most recently, with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, whose public appearances—tweets, videos, press conferences—have taken on an almost manic tone. One 40-second video has him bouncing around in front of the Parliament Buildings in -23 weather—“-37 in Yellowknife!”—accusing Liberal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault of threatening to shut down Canada’s energy sector in 18 months, leaving us all freezing in the dark.
First, Guilbeault could never achieve such a coup even if he tried. Governments move too slowly. Second, even the most ardent environmentalists acknowledge that renewables are not ready to replace fossil fuels that quickly. But, more important, OToole’s claim is not true—and he knew when he said it that it wasn’t true, as The Toronto Star’s Althia Raj underscores in a recent column.
What Guilbeault has vowed to do—elaborating on an international commitment first endorsed by Stephen Harper in 2009—is end federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies by 2023. It’s a tall order, but it is no sneak attack: it was promised in the Liberals’ election campaign and now, at last, they are preparing to deliver. In an interview with The Narwhal, Guilbeault mentioned “eliminating fossil fuels” in a list of his government’s ambitions, an obvious error (he had spoken previously of eliminating fossil fuel *subsidies*.)
As Raj reports, O’Toole publicly acknowledged the minister “made a mistake” in a Zoom presentation, before an unusually animated O’Toole made his video, distorting Guilbeault’s intention. The Conservative leader apparently doesn’t care, because that is the way politics works these days. Hysterical exaggerations, often flatly untrue, advanced without a shred of shame or remorse.
Consider the Conservative leader’s recent condemnation of Justin Trudeau for “normalizing lockdowns” and single-handedly bungling the management of the pandemic, by failing to provide rapid tests and PPE. By now, everyone knows that lockdowns are determined by provinces and not by Ottawa— indeed, premiers are more inclined to ignore federal suggestions than embrace them.
As to rapid tests, some will recall stories a year ago of millions of rapid tests gathering dust in provincial storerooms, of premiers, like British Columbia’s John Horgan, reluctant to use them because they were seen to be not as reliable as lab-based PCR tests. In fact, as Trudeau underscored last week, his government has sourced 425 million rapid tests overall. Some 85 million were delivered to provinces before December, and the Omicron onslaught, and another 35 million last month. And, as O’Toole must surely know, another 140 million are arriving now and being distributed.
There have been, and still are, shortages in some provinces, but the problem can hardly be laid at the feet of the federal government—certainly, not entirely—as anyone following the news knows. But this distortion is of a piece with O’Toole’s incoherence on the pandemic.
He and his wife are both vaccinated, after an early bout of COVID, and he regularly urges everyone to get their shots. He supports mandatory vaccines for the Canadian Armed Forces—as a veteran and proud defender of the military—yet is ambiguous about his own caucus, playing with words to hide the fact that there are some vaccine resisters in the Conservative ranks.
He also took up the cause of long-haul truckers who were resisting mandatory vaccines to be imposed by the federal government this week. O’Toole claimed the requirement would disrupt crucial supply chains and called for rapid testing instead. Then, in a confusing climb-down, the government backed away from its vaccine deadline insisting that any unvaccinated Canadian drivers quarantine for several days before coming home. Unvaccinated American truckers will be turned back.
Vaccines, quarantines, rapid tests: any way this unfolds there will be (hopefully short-lived) supply chain disruptions and, ultimately, little daylight between O’Toole’s and Trudeau’s positions.
O’Toole also accuses the prime minister of characterizing all vaccine resisters as “racists” and worse, which is not what Trudeau said. In fact, he and O’Toole are in agreement that some who haven’t been vaccinated may be fearful, uninformed, or unable to manoeuvre the system. Trudeau’s target is the small minority of wilful resisters and protesters, with links to far-right movements who are also anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and anti-government.
Yet O’Toole wants “reasonable accommodation” for all resisters and suggests frequent testing rather than vaccines—except, he must know the rapid tests are not as reliable when it comes to detecting Omicron. Meanwhile, the pandemic runs rampant, hospitals are overwhelmed and parents are worried sick for their school-age children.
To keep his ragged band of followers from splitting asunder, O’Toole—a formerly likeable, middle-of-the-road backbencher and junior minister in Harper’s government—is behaving like an unhinged bile-machine. It is particularly laughable when he accuses the prime minister of avoiding taking a stand on Quebec’s discriminatory Bill 21, of “attempting to play both sides” by leaving it to Quebecers to decide the issue, rather than forcefully defending the bill’s victims, notably Muslim women schoolteachers. Laughable, because that is exactly what O’Toole has been doing.
The brilliant political cartoonist, Michael de Adder, summed up public reaction to this new, hyperactive O’Toole with a depiction of a giant hand, labelled Public Opinion, flicking a tiny O’Toole away like an annoying fly.
For all that, O’Toole is a model of reserve compared to Maxime Bernier. Old-timers (guilty) remember Bernier as a dapper, friendly urban sophisticate with libertarian economic views—hence the sobriquet, Mad Max. However, he was thought to be socially liberal and displayed no overtly anti-immigrant, or social conservative views as a member of Harper’s cabinet.
That was then. Bernier, of course, has become a vehement anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, a critic of the immigration Quebec needs to fill jobs, and, since losing the leadership to O’Toole in 2019, a harsh critic of his former rival. He calls O’Toole #RedErin and “wet noodle” and vows NEVER to go back “to that morally and intellectually corrupt party.”
Bernier sees “fascists coming out from under rocks everywhere,” as he noted in a recent tweet, this one aimed at Alberta’s NDP health critic David Shepherd, who expressed cautious support for mandatory vaccines. He routinely calls Trudeau a fascist. The Toronto Star “is run by hateful fascists.” RCMP Chief Brenda Lucki is “gestapo” for asking Canadians to report suspicious internet activity.
Bernier also opposes the recently proposed Quebec tax on the unvaccinated— probably a trial balloon, rather than enforceable policy—and says Premier Francois Legault’s government “is responsible for the death of thousands of elderly Quebecers in nursing homes. Now it wants to force the unvaccinated to pay for its abysmal management of the pandemic.”
Bernier has his high-profile fans, including Dr. Jordan Peterson, the Canadian academic who made an international reputation opposing trans rights, or “radical trans ideology,” and taking on wokeism in all its manifestations. Peterson also likes Conservative finance critic, Pierre Poilievre, noting on Twitter last week: “It’s nice to see a politician with some courage. You should have run for the Conservative leadership, and maybe you could bring Max Bernier back on board. He has some spine, too.”
Poilievre was flattered by the vote of confidence from “an outstanding, world-renowned Canadian thinker.” When chided by Liberals for his praise of the discredited psychology professor, Poilievre replied, with typical subtlety: “There’s more brainpower in Dr. Peterson’s pinky finger than in all the bobbleheads in the Liberal caucus combined.”
So goes the debate within the new politics. (Rebel News Ezra Levant tweeted, after O’Toole posted a coded defence of “LIBERTY” last week, in a nod to anti-vaxxers: “You weird liar.”) It is steeped in vitriol, fuelled by resentment and untethered from facts. As Alberta Premier Jason Kenney once famously said of Trudeau, it has “the intellectual depth of a finger bowl.”
But it is dangerous and corrosive, nonetheless. Bernier is able to muster large crowds in downtown Montreal on a frigid January day. His People’s Party of Canada (PPC) is gaining strength in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As for Poilievre—shrewd, ambitious, coldly calculating, a master of the personal smear—he could well replace O’Toole when the time is right.
Many voters would not want these harsh, angry men—no matter their politics—sitting on the local school board, never mind running the country.
But there is no telling what will happen if Trudeau stumbles—as he inevitably will; as all long-serving prime ministers do.
O’Toole may look benign in retrospect.
Susan Riley is a veteran political columnist who writes regularly for The Hill Times.
The Hill Times
Poroshenko, Former President, Returns to Ukraine, Roiling Politics – The New York Times
Petro O. Poroshenko, a former president, returned to Kyiv on Monday facing possible arrest, adding internal political turmoil to a threat of Russian invasion.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s former president and a leading opposition figure, Petro O. Poroshenko, returned Monday to Kyiv, where he faced possible arrest, adding internal political turmoil to the mounting threat of a Russian invasion.
Mr. Poroshenko’s return brought into focus Ukraine’s wobbly politics, which were mostly in the background in recent weeks as the United States and its allies in Europe scrambled to forestall Russian military intervention.
He arrived Monday morning at Kyiv’s Zhuliani airport, where a scene erupted at passport control. Mr. Poroshenko said border guards for some time refused to allow him to enter the country, though he was due to appear at a court hearing later in the day in Kyiv. He later passed the border control but said authorities had confiscated his passport.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been embroiled in a long-running feud with Mr. Poroshenko, who was president from 2014 to 2019. Mr. Poroshenko faces a court hearing late Monday morning on charges of high treason and supporting terrorism.
His appearance in the capital where he once governed comes after a week of mostly futile negotiations between Russia and the West seeking a solution to tense disagreements over the security of Eastern Europe.
In Kyiv, opinions differed on whether the threat of an arrest was just another maneuver in Ukraine’s typically byzantine politics at home, or something more ominous related to the Russian threat.
Analysts suggested that Mr. Zelensky might be seizing on the distraction of the Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border to sideline an opponent, or that he hoped to tamp down possible opposition protests if he is forced to make unpopular concessions to Moscow to avoid an invasion.
“Maybe he thinks that with forces on the border, Ukrainians won’t protest” an arrest of the opposition leader, said Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor in chief of Ukraine World, a journal covering politics. If so, he said, it is a risky move.
“With the situation on the border, when everybody is yelling, ‘There will be a war,’ it’s very strange,” Mr. Yermolenko said of the spectacle of Ukraine’s two leading politicians squabbling despite the existential threat to their country. “It just seems ridiculous.”
Polls have consistently shown Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Poroshenko to be Ukraine’s most popular politicians. Mr. Poroshenko has a base of support in Ukrainian nationalist politics, particularly in the country’s western regions, which want closer ties with Europe, and he has criticized Mr. Zelensky for giving ground in peace negotiations with Russia to resolve the war in eastern Ukraine.
Mr. Poroshenko left Ukraine last month, saying he had meetings in Europe. Prosecutors say he left to avoid a court hearing.
Mr. Zelensky’s aides have said that the charges against Mr. Poroshenko are justified and that courts decided the timing of the arrest and other actions, including the freezing of Mr. Poroshenko’s assets earlier this month.
The former president was accused of missing a court hearing last month while traveling abroad. He returned to Ukraine on Monday despite reports in the Ukrainian news media that a court had issued a sealed order for his arrest.
Mr. Poroshenko left the presidency in 2019, when he lost an election to Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian who ran as an outsider to politics who would fight corruption and uproot the entrenched interests of Ukraine’s political class. Mr. Zelensky’s popularity has since slumped. Opinion polls today show only a slight advantage in a potential future election against Mr. Poroshenko, who is now a member of Parliament in the European Solidarity party.
In an interview before his return to Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenko said that his arrest might help Mr. Zelensky sideline a rival but that the political instability would play into the hands of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“He wants to undermine the stability in Ukraine,” Mr. Poroshenko said of Mr. Putin. “He analyzes two versions: One version is a military aggression through the Ukrainian-Russian or Ukrainian-Belarusian border. The second is just to undermine the stability inside Ukraine, and in this way just stop Ukraine from our future membership in NATO and in the E.U.”
Understand the Escalating Tensions Over Ukraine
Mr. Poroshenko offered no evidence of a Russian hand in the political turmoil and described internal Ukrainian feuds as the most likely cause of the legal pressure he faced. But he said Mr. Zelensky might hope to win concessions from Russia by arresting a politician aligned with the nationalist wing of Ukrainian politics.
“I am absolutely confident this is a very important gift to Putin,” Mr. Poroshenko said. “Maybe with this gift he wanted to launch a negotiation with Putin, as a precondition.”
After massing tens of thousands of soldiers on Ukraine’s border through the fall, Russia demanded last month that the United States and NATO pull back forces from countries in Eastern Europe and guarantee that Ukraine not join the Western alliance.
Diplomatic talks last week with Russia ended inconclusively, and Russian officials now say they are awaiting a written response to their demands from the United States.
As a contingency, in case diplomacy fails, Ukraine has also been quietly pursuing talks with Russia and proposed a bilateral meeting between Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Putin. On Friday, the Ukrainian presidential chief of staff, Andri Yermak, suggested a three-way video conference with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders and President Biden.
Mr. Poroshenko’s controversial return was not the first sign of political turmoil. In November, just as Russia was ramping up its deployments along the border, Mr. Zelensky told journalists that Russia was also planning a coup.
He said Russian operatives were seeking to draw one of Ukraine’s wealthy businessmen, Rinat Akhmetov, into a plot against his government. The businessman was “being dragged into a war against the Ukrainian state,” Mr. Zelensky said, but he provided no evidence and made no move to arrest Mr. Akhmetov.
Mr. Akhmetov vehemently denied any involvement in a plot to undermine Mr. Zelensky’s government.
New documents show census officials concerned about political interference from Trump's Commerce Department – CNN
(CNN)Newly released documents appear to show top career officials at the Census Bureau had drafted a memo of concerns during the Trump administration’s attempts to exert political pressure on the bureau during the 2020 population count.
Apple requires employees to have proof of a COVID booster as Omicron spreads, according to reports – Euronews
Omicron-specific vaccine likely to come too late to help in this wave: Sharma – Victoria News
Firms see increasing labor shortages and wage pressures – Bank of Canada survey
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Europe kicks off vaccination programs | All media content | DW | 27.12.2020 – Deutsche Welle
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
News15 hours ago
Back to school in 4 provinces as Omicron spreads – CTV News
Economy15 hours ago
China’s Economy Slowed Late Last Year on Real Estate Troubles – The New York Times
News21 hours ago
Omicron: 'Let it rip' not the solution, experts say – CTV News
Business22 hours ago
HVAC scams and how to stop them; why can't retail workers get N95 masks? CBC's Marketplace Cheat Sheet – CBC News
News14 hours ago
Winter storm slams U.S. East Coast, Canada, thousands of flights canceled
Business21 hours ago
UK government to cut funding for BBC – Mail on Sunday report
Science14 hours ago
Roberta Bondar flew into space 30 years ago and never saw Earth the same after that – CBC.ca
News22 hours ago
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Sunday – CBC News