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The gig is up: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney set to step down from top job

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EDMONTON — Don’t cry for me, Alberta, I was leaving anyway.

It’s Premier Jason Kenney’s swan song message as he prepares to depart the province’s top job, forced out by the very United Conservative Party he willed into existence.

“I was never intending to be in this gig for a long time,” Kenney told an audience earlier this month. He had planned for one more provincial election, he said.

Instead, UCP members pick a new leader on Thursday, turning the page on a triumph-turned cautionary tale that saw Kenney’s philosophy and management style crash head-on into a once-in-a-generation catastrophe.

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Kenney, whose office did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, rode to success in the 2019 provincial election.

The former Calgary member of Parliament dismasted Rachel Notley’s NDP using an audacious blueprint that united two warring conservative factions.

It was a time of woe. Alberta’s economy was in the doldrums, its oil and gas sector in the bust phase of its traditional boom-bust cycle. Budgets were bleeding multibillion-dollar deficits.

Some Albertans were angry with Ottawa over rules deemed to be hindering energy projects. And they felt like suckers, giving billions of dollars in equalization payments and in return being ignored or demonized as climate criminals.

They sought a stick with which to hit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Kenney was that stick. He came toting a “fight back strategy,” vowing to take on Trudeau and the other happy hit men of the “Laurentian elite” hell-bent on strangling Canada’s energy “golden goose.”

To him, oil and gas were not just good business. It was a higher calling, a “moral cause” to redistribute earth’s bounty to neighbour nations so they could avoid buying it from human-rights-abusing dictators.

Taking the reins of power, he went to work.

Kenney cut corporate income taxes, abolished the former NDP government’s consumer carbon levy, slashed post-secondary funding, launched more privately delivered care in the public health system, reduced minimum wage for kids, went to war with teachers, sought wage cuts in the public sector, ripped up negotiated bargaining deals, and attacked doctors and nurses as comparatively overpaid underperformers.

He gambled big and lost $1.3 billion on the failed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Kenney’s plan for Alberta was founded on the conservatism of “prosperity first,” said political scientist Jared Wesley with the University of Alberta.

Kenney, said Wesley, spelled it out in his maiden speech as UCP leader in 2017 by reminding supporters that “in order to be a compassionate and generous society, you must be a prosperous one first.”

Wesley said such an ethos may have captured the mood of conservatives and enthralled others, “but as Albertans and their government were forced (during COVID-19) between prosperity and compassion — or as Kenney put it ‘livelihoods and lives’ — his focus on livelihoods was really out of touch with what people were looking for.”

Political scientist Laurie Adkin said the prosperity-first doctrine was narrowly defined to the benefit of a select few.

“There was really no light between the Kenney government and the oil and gas industry, and that is not good for democracy,” said Adkin with the University of Alberta.

“Government needs to represent the public interest and not a single economic sector to the cost of everything else.”

The math was simple, the corollary obvious: If Alberta’s identity is defined by economic prosperity through oil and gas, then those who challenge this worldview are, well, anti-Albertan.

Kenney and his UCP vilified the green left and high-profile oilsands critics like David Suzuki and Tzeporah Berman. When world-renowned green teen Greta Thunberg came to the legislature, Kenney left town.

Kenney mocked Notley’s NDP government as a docile servant to Trudeau’s oil-killing agenda, kowtowing for crumbs, grubbing for “social licence.”

Quebec was an ingrate, fighting pipelines with one hand while accepting Alberta equalization money with the other. A U.S. governor challenging a cross-border pipeline was “brain-dead.”

To fight slurs on oil and gas, Kenney spent millions to create a “war room” that delivered a parade of gaffes, including a public fight with a children’s cartoon about Bigfoot.

Kenney launched a $2.5-million public inquiry into foreign funding of domestic green groups fighting Alberta’s oilsands. It never held an inquiry in public, went over time and over budget, and determined the funding was relatively modest and totally legal.

Over time, the enemy tag broadened. Kenney characterized the NDP as disloyal for its COVID-19 criticism. He linked one radio interviewer’s criticism of his government to an attack on Alberta itself. Reporters were at times dismissed as shills for the NDP or special interest groups.

No quarter was given, even in good times. When Trudeau came to Edmonton to announce a joint $10-a-day child-care program, Kenney, from the podium, said the money was recycled provincial funds anyway and Quebec got a better deal.

As COVID-19 hit with full force in 2020, decimating the economy, Kenney found himself battling a two-front war as bubbling rifts between him and his caucus and party exploded.

Those divides had started before the election, when Kenney promised his UCP would be run by and for the members, but then at the party’s founding convention in 2018 told reporters “I hold the pen” on what will and won’t be policy.

The UCP won in 2019 on the strength of rural votes, said political scientist Duane Bratt. But when Kenney picked his first cabinet, it was Calgary-centric, leaving disgruntled backbenchers seething in silence, poised to push back when things went south.

“It was a top-down government,” said Bratt with Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“He did not have good relations with his MLAs. He hired attack dogs as staffers. And they just didn’t bully the NDP and journalists and members of the public, but their own MLAs as well.”

Kenney’s government was lauded in the first wave of COVID-19, invoking rules and closures to keep gatherings down, hold the illness at bay and keep hospitals operating.

But in subsequent waves, Kenney’s promise to balance “lives and livelihoods” left him whipsawed by those wanting rules to keep hospitals from cratering and those who felt the rules were unnecessary and a violation of personal freedom.

He tried to find a magic middle ground, which resulted in shifting restrictions: regional, provincial, on for some, off for others. Each time he waited until Alberta’s health system was on the brink of collapse before acting, with thousands of surgeries cancelled and waiting rooms jammed.

He announced Alberta was open for good in late spring of 2021, with all restrictions to be lifted earlier than the rest of Canada in a “Best Summer Ever” campaign. There were hats with that slogan and tweets at naysayers: “The pandemic is ending. Accept it.”

Within months, COVID-19 had overwhelmed Alberta’s hospitals so catastrophically that triage rules were imminent and the Armed Forces called in.

Extreme action was needed, so Kenney introduced a type of vaccine passport, something he had promised he would never do — a policy U-turn that enraged many in his party.

Then came the blame.

Kenney said he would’ve acted earlier except his chief medical health officer didn’t recommend anything. Months later, he said Alberta Health Services officials kneecapped his decision-making by delivering shifting bed capacity numbers.

The gig was not going well. Poll numbers were in free fall. UCP backbenchers openly questioned the restrictions – and Kenney.

And there were scandals piling into each other like cars on a freeway.

Alohagate: a bunch of Kenney caucus members ignored calls to stay home over Christmas to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and jetted off to sunny climes while Albertans shivered at home under strict gathering limits.

UCP caucus chair Todd Loewen resigned his post and was kicked out of caucus after publicly demanding Kenney quit for botching vital files, ignoring the backbench, and running a top-down, tone-deaf administration.

“We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man,” pronounced Loewen.

Kenney and some cabinet confidantes were surreptitiously photographed on the balcony of his office enjoying drinks and dinner in obvious violation of distancing rules.

The premier insisted there was no rule-breaking. But as outrage mounted, he announced his team had returned to the scene of the dine, pulled out the measuring tape, checked the chairs and concluded that, yes, they had gathered too close.

Such gaslighting, chortled Notley during question period.

There was more: a lawsuit alleging the premier’s office was fostering a “poisoned work environment;” drink parties in the agriculture minister’s legislature office; the justice minister trying to interfere in the administration of justice by calling up Edmonton’s police chief on a traffic ticket.

Humming in the background was a long-running RCMP investigation into potential criminal identity fraud in the vote that saw Kenney elected UCP leader.

And this was on top of Kenney’s government passing a law in 2019 that sacked the election official investigating Kenney’s UCP for campaign violations.

As the calendar flipped to 2022, the drumbeats of dissent grew louder, even as COVID-19 receded and oil and gas prices soared, returning Alberta to multibillion-dollar budget surpluses.

UCP discontents had been angling to accelerate a party leadership review.

That vote was moved, changed to a special one-day vote, then altered again to a mail-in referendum. Critics said Kenney’s team was moving the goalposts to keep from losing.

Kenney called his critics “lunatics” and then, in his speech to kick off the leadership vote, asked for their forgiveness.

No matter.

On May 18, he got 51 per cent support – technically enough to survive, but he said it was time to go.

On Thursday, UCP members meet in Calgary to seal his fate.

The outcome is not in doubt. A new premier will be chosen.

The gig is up.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Fauci says ‘we need to keep the politics out of’ investigating COVID origins – The Hill

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Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s outgoing chief medical adviser, on Sunday urged officials to “keep the politics out of” investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China.

Speaking with moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Fauci said he is keeping an open mind, but he reiterated that the evidence is “quite strong” that the virus occurred naturally.

“They’re very suspicious of anybody trying to accuse them,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “We need to have an open dialogue with their scientists and our scientists, keep the politics out of it.”

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Republicans have indicated they plan to investigate the origins of the pandemic upon taking the House majority in January as well as Fauci himself, suggesting COVID-19 instead originated from a laboratory.


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“All of my colleagues, keep an absolutely open mind,” Fauci said on CBS. “We’ve got to investigate every possibility because this is too important not to do that. That’s not incompatible with saying the scientific evidence still weighs much more strongly that this is a natural occurrence. You must keep your mind open that it’s something other than that.”

But Fauci pushed back on the notion that the Chinese Communist Party covered up the pandemic’s origins. 

“Not necessarily the scientists that we know and we have dealt with and collaborated with productively for decades, but the whole establishment — a political and other establishment in China, even when there’s nothing at all to hide — they act secretive, which absolutely triggers an appropriate suspicion,” Fauci said.

He went on to criticize former President Trump’s accusatory comments against China during the early months of the pandemic, although Fauci acknowledged a need for more data.

“What happens is that if you look at the anti-China approach, that clearly the Trump administration had right from the very beginning, and the accusatory nature, the Chinese are going to flinch back and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not going to talk to you about it,’ which is not correct. They should be,” Fauci told Brennan.

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Twitter's time in Canadian politics began with an apology — and then it got worse – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Minority Report, a weekly newsletter on federal politics. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

The first reference to “tweeting” in the House of Commons came during an apology.

Shortly after question period on the afternoon of October 20, 2009, then-Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh stood on a point of order.

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“I wish to inform you and the House that I inadvertently tweeted about matters that I ought not to have tweeted about, that is, the in-camera proceedings of the defence committee,” Dosanjh told the Speaker. “That was an error on my part and that entry will be deleted at the earliest possible opportunity, which is right after I get out of here.”

This, apparently, was before MPs realized they could have their staff manage their Twitter accounts.

Ujjal Dosanjh in the House of Commons. The then-Liberal MP apologized to the House in 2009 for tweeting out details of in-camera committee proceedings. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“I thank the honourable member,” responded Peter Milliken, Speaker at the time. “I assume that ‘tweeting’ means it went on Twitter.”

Dosanjh’s point of order marked the arrival in Canada of a social media platform that promoted both dialogue and excess — a tool that both enriched debate and created new ways to do things we would later regret.

Thirteen years later, Twitter seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Even if it carries on in some shape or form, its time as one of the predominant forums in public life may be nearing an end. Many users have already withdrawn from the platform or reduced their presence.

Whenever and however the Twitter era comes to an end, its impact on Canadians politics will have been great — but not entirely good.

Small audience, big impact

There is a decent chance that you’re not a regular user of Twitter. Most Canadians aren’t. But the platform has an outsized impact on the political life of this country because most Canadian politicians, journalists, pundits, political strategists, pollsters, lobbyists and partisans do use Twitter — along with a significant number of academics, policy wonks and subject matter experts.

Canada is hardly the only country with this dynamic, of course. Consider, for instance, the United States — Twitter played an integral role in Donald Trump’s rise.

Nothing so seismic has happened here (at least not yet) but the impact has not been small.

It also hasn’t been all bad. It gave politicians a new way to communicate with voters and it created a new way for voters to hold politicians to account. It facilitated the spread of news and information with incredible speed and breadth.

It elevated new and underrepresented voices and those voices enriched the wider dialogue. In certain ways, Twitter helped bring more nuance to the political debate. Think of every academic or historian who has used a Twitter thread to illuminate a complicated topic.

That, sadly, isn’t all that might be said about Twitter’s performance as a modern public square.

Amping up the extremes

As much as it has helped expose users to important information and valuable voices, it also has spread misinformation, disinformation, harassment and general nastiness. It prizes and rewards snap judgments, hot takes, outrage, condemnation, mockery, doomsaying and disagreement.

It sped up the news cycle to a dizzying degree. It elevates the most extreme opinions, offers ample opportunity for bad-faith actors and it is a terrible proxy for actual public opinion.

If previous media eras reduced politics to sound bites, Twitter reduced it even further — to hashtags. At times, the House of Commons seemed to be little more than a fancy studio for recording video clips to be pushed out on MPs’ Twitter feeds.

For all these reasons, it might be tempting to think Canadian politics would be better off without Twitter. But even if Twitter were to disappear tomorrow, there is no going back to a time before social media — just as there is no going back to a time before television or radio or newspapers.

If Twitter ceases to be a significant forum, some new platform (or platforms) will take its place. The era of social media is far from over.

There is something to be said for the argument that the problem with Twitter is not the platform itself but the way it is used, and the ways in which it is allowed to be used. In that sense, Twitter offers valuable lessons in how social media can work and how it can go wildly wrong.

Whether those lessons will be heeded is another matter entirely. The question of government regulation still looms on the horizon.

The indisputable truth is that, 13 years after Ujjal Dosanjh found a novel way to betray the confidence of in-camera committee discussions, everyone is still trying to figure out how to make the social media era work out for the best — or to at least minimize the harm it does.

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10 Must-Read Novels About Asian American Politics

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In Ryan Wong’s daring and generous debut novel, Which Side Are You On, Columbia University student Reed informs his parents that he’s dropping out of college and dedicating himself to grassroots organizing—for the past few months, he’s been protesting the killing of an unarmed Black man by an Asian American police officer. He’s adamant to learn everything he can about his Korean mother’s involvement in a Black-Korean coalition in the 1980s, so that he may use it to impress his other activist friends and fuel their current work. But the stories recounted by his mother and the discussions they engender—all carefully laid out in electric, and occasionally heartrending, dialogue between mother and son—start to affect Reed’s clear-cut views, revealing to him the many difficulties of organizing across cultures, and hinting at the importance of empathy and humanity in the effort to fully understand one’s community.

You might not know that “Asian American” is a relatively new term, only about fifty years old. You likely don’t know the term was coined by student leftists to join a coalition of Chicano, Black, and American Indian movements on Bay Area campuses in 1968. You might not think of Asian American Pacific Islanders as political as all, and this is largely because that history has largely been ignored or erased in favor of the tame, assimilationist “model minority” narrative.

Today, as we face intense anti-Asian violence, ongoing U.S. militarism in Asia, rapidly shifting migration patterns, and a crisis of American racial identity, it might help us to examine the political nature of Asian America through some of its most compelling narratives. Here’s a selection of ten novels that expand upon, challenge, and imagine futures for this young identity. They’re stories of rebels and revolutionaries, organizers and outsiders taking histories into their own hands.

1. I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita

This sprawling, 700+ page epic pays tribute to the Asian American Movement that defined this new identity. It was written decades later, but has all of the humor, bite, hope, and surrealism you might expect from a novel of vignettes set in the Bay Area of the 1960s and ’70s—scenes of Black Panthers and young Asian American radicals in a hotel room in Chinatown, of an Alcatraz Island takeover, of free folk concerts in Golden Gate Park, and, of course, of the demonstrations to save that hotbed of organizing and elder care and arts making, the I Hotel.

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2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The narrator of this novel talks to you, but the “you” of it is an ambiguous American who is in Lahore, Pakistan, for unknown reasons—to befriend the narrator, to kill him, or both. Like the confessor in Camus’s The Fall, we get a frank and revealing series of tales, but instead of the existential angst of the judge we have the racial existentialism of the man trying to belong in a world that won’t have him. It’s a reminder that often fundamentalists scorn the very systems in which they once came close to belonging.

3. Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

Can a novel about Japanese war atrocities in the Philippines be funny? An early scene has protagonist Vince watching a maudlin drama on the airplane back to the Philippines (which he left for the U.S. 13 years before) about a convent during the Japanese invasion. To speak about the unspeakable, you may need the absurdities that pop culture makes possible, the distance of humor. The Manila of Leche is a hazy hell, but also one full of pathos and heart, and it leads Vince exactly where he needs to go.

4. Guerrillas by V. S. Naipaul

What would the Asian diaspora in the Americas be without Naipaul’s Trinidad, which he left to attend Oxford only to revisit again and again in his writing? Guerrillas takes place on an unnamed island on the eve of revolution. Naipaul is one of the original problematic faves—his sexual politics are horrifying, his view of revolution condescending. Yet he’s one of the greats at showing the extreme bifurcations that colonialism and diaspora perform on the human mind, whether the white liberal’s paternalism or the would-be revolutionary’s deluded egoism.

5. Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

This isn’t an “Asian American” story in the usual sense, but America’s presence is like a long shadow, a bogeyman, an uninvited dinner guest in this kaleidoscopic story of 1950s Manila. In other words, American stories happen anywhere America’s military and political presence rule, and their tacit condoning of the rise of an unnamed dictator and his glamorous first lady form the story’s backdrop. Hagedorn’s sentences bite and her scenes steam with heat as you follow this network of characters asking what they’ll do with their new-found “independence.”

6. Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee

This novel is often remembered as a portrait of a son and his working immigrant father. But it’s also a novel of politics, where some of the most tender and dynamic moments are between the narrator, Henry Park, and the city councilman John Kwang, who he’s assigned to spy on. John is charismatic and idealistic, a foil to Henry’s mercenary pragmatism. One of the crucial plot points revolves around a Korean money circle, or ggeh, one of the main ways Korean businesses survive, but to the U.S. state looks like money laundering. The novel asks what it means to succeed in a country designed to destroy you, to be loyal to people sent to undo you.

7. America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan

Somewhere between novel and autobiography, America Is in the Heart has all the sweep, heroism, and tragedy of the old epics. We follow the narrator, also named Carlos, from his youth in the Philippines to the fields of California to the canneries of Alaska, where, witnessing the brutality against Filipinos by police, bosses, and business owners, he becomes radicalized. He joins socialist and communist groups, organizes with unions, and publishes poetry and essays on his experiences, the culmination of which is this monumental book.

8. The Winged Seed by Li-Young Lee

Lee’s father was jailed under the regime of President Sukarno in Indonesia. That traumatic event shows up in Lee’s poetry and is a central feature of this poem-novel-memoir-myth of his family’s migration story. The book is called a “remembrance” and it reads like a dream, or, often, a nightmare, as the ravages of persecution and exile, of otherness and violence, manifest within and between Lee’s family members. History and displacement haunt this prose, every sentence drops like a stone, and the smallest moment sends you reeling to the past.

9. Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Dense yet sprawling, this experimental book traces Korean independence martyr Yu Gwansun through the stories of other mythic women martyrs in history. Cha was a visual artist, writer, and performer—a brilliant polymath who was murdered just as this book was published. Dictee shows what a book can be, that it’s capacious enough to contain photographs, verse, myth, and anything else the writer needs to assemble in order to speak about a fractured history.

10. The Hanging on Union Square by H. T. Hsiang

It’s not hard to see why Hsiang had trouble finding a publisher for this oddball novel that reads something like a screenplay or a novel-in-verse but without the respective plot or lyricism that usually accompanies those forms. But he had the foresight to self-publish it in 1935, and it’s a good thing he did, because he offers a portrait of the vibrant and rough life in Greenwich Village through the eyes of Mr. Nut, who becomes politicized by the grind of the down-and-outs. He seems compelled by some manic force, conveyed through the novel’s prose—a heady mix of bohemianism and radicalism pushing the lines forward.

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