Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Creeping Fascism in Alberta

My headline today is a little misleading.  There’s nothing “creeping” about the UCP government’s fascism - they’re practically steamrolling the province with it right now.  However, in the last 24 hours I’ve seen two things that really concern me. 

The first of these is a motion that I consider deeply dangerous from a whole bunch of angles - literally it attempts to create a “civilian militia” like structure. 

Let me quote this fully:
Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General to explore options to establish a voluntary civilian corps to assist law enforcement in Alberta.
We’ve had a few groups attempt to do this in the past.  Often with less than desirable results.  Often, it has basically degenerated into a small group of thugs roaming the streets looking for someone to attack in the name of “keeping the peace”.  In the deeper, darker past, these kinds of organizations have a nasty tendency to become political weapons.  Essentially they can become the next “brown shirts”.  

This is a downright terrifying proposition.  We have enough problems with policing right now as it is. Having a government seriously contemplating the formation of what amounts to a civilian militia which has been “deputized” to enforce the law is utterly terrifying.  This can be construed as the UCP government creating its own private army that it can use for its political ends.  

They’ve already experimented with this to some extent.  The “Yellow Vest” and “United We Roll” movements were clearly being encouraged and motivated by political actors.  At their height, they were clearly engaging in intimidation and implied threats to achieve their goals (I’ll point to the role that these groups have been playing in the Co-op Refinery lockout in Regina as a prime example).  
This is deeply concerning. 

The second bit I wish to rant about is a change that the UCP is making to our school system:

They want to introduce vocational streaming in elementary school grades.  Think about this for a moment.  That means that the school system as a whole is being re-jigged specifically to set a student’s career direction in primary school grades.  This literally puts parents in the position of having to decide their child’s direction far too early in life.  A child who is struggling to learn how to read, or do basic sums in arithmetic shouldn’t have their career path set for them based on who they are at that point in life. 

This is a very dangerous path for Alberta to walk.  Politically, it creates an environment where the government can suddenly start to restrict the material that is made available to students along socio-economic lines, reinforcing the socio-economic position of their parents as defining what will be available to their children.  

You can start to see the shape of using education to establish a rigid class structure in society.  The wealthy will be able to afford private schools which provide a rich pedagogy and prepares students for advanced study.  In the pseudo-private public system of Charter schools that Kenney is lining up to create, students will be carefully streamed according to the perceived worth of their parents.  Remember, Charter Schools can market themselves to very narrow demographics which will focus who is likely to apply to them.  A public system, such as remains, will be used to provide an absolute bare minimum to those who fall through the filters of wealth and privilege being set up.  Post-secondary opportunities are being tiered based on money, with tuition fees rising rapidly, and students being forced into increasing debt.  It won’t be long before you see a return to the indentured servitude of medieval style “apprenticeships” returning. 

Who benefits from all this?  Strangely enough, it’s Kenney’s corporate owners that benefit the most.  They get a workforce that is specifically tailored to their whims, and one that is cowed by the presence of roaming bands of pseudo law-enforcement that will conveniently be just violent enough that no individual will dare cross them.  If that doesn’t tick off a ton of the boxes that describe fascism, I don’t know what does. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Collapse Of The American Empire

There is a future day coming where historians will look upon the Trump years as the definitive end of the American Empire, and in particular 2020 as the end of the ability of law enforcement to maintain civil society.

I do not merely speak of the riots currently going on in the US over George Floyd's murder at the hands of police.  Nor do I simply refer to the economic wreckage that will be the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic - those are but symptoms of a far greater ailment that afflicts the American state.

In 2016, the United States elected Donald Trump as their president.  He rode to power not on a greater vision for America, but on a populist wave of rejecting reasoned government and evidence-based policy making.  His victory was largely on the basis of convincing people that there are simple things that can be done which will "make America great" - and most of the people he convinced are those who are seeing the world move beyond them and leaving them behind - and they are rightfully scared.

Unfortunately for the American people, what they really elected was a kleptocracy.  Trump was well known as a grifter in business circles.  He made millions marketing his name through a variety of enterprises that ultimately failed.  Suppliers and contractors often found their bills being slashed in half and renegotiated when they tried to pursue unpaid invoices.  Trump would structure everything he could to funnel money into his businesses, and no doubt future digging through the archives of his administration will find much more chicanery which would benefit both himself and the GOP legislators who have chosen to support him.

It is not merely Trump's personal greed that serves to undermine things.  It is his willingness to take corrosive actions which erode civil society.  Trump's association with truth has always been a little dodgy, but his outright temper tantrum when Twitter fact-checked one of his tweets about mail-in ballots is a huge clue to how bad things really are.

However, Trump's presidency exists not because he can unify people, but rather because he exists in an era where multiple corrosive factors have been weakening civil society.  Systemic racism is the obvious factor in the current riots, but we cannot ignore the epidemic levels of mass shootings witnessed in the last 15 years, nor the growing economic inequality as the wealthiest manage to lock down their control over the majority of the wealth.  Perhaps even more concerning was Trump's placement of his children at the cabinet table - not because they are domain experts, but really to set up a line of succession.

Trump himself is corrosive to the idea of civil discourse, doubling down on overt lies for the purpose of propping himself up.  While I understand the idea that truth can be subjective, cooking up a pack of lies simply to support a particular position is not merely unethical, but it is corrosive to the idea that there can be multiple perspectives on a topic which are worthy of debate.  Trump's approach is "I'm right, you're wrong", which weakens a fundamental pillar of the concept of an elected government.

However, Trump is no grandmaster in this game.  At best, he is the opportunistic person who happened to be in the right place to take advantage of it.  There have been decades worth of moves which have created the environment that enabled Trump.  Failures to address societal inequality issues; groups like the NRA pushing to create an armed society; the erosion of public education starting in the 1980s with Reagan; and on the list goes.  All of these are corrosive to the cohesiveness of society.

While I do not expect the current riots to collapse the USA, make no mistake that the cracks in the foundation are clear. How long it will take to collapse fully is an open question, but the collapse is arguably underway.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Feeling Buffaloed Yet, Alberta?

So, yesterday Michelle Rempel, and 3 other CPC MPs from Alberta put their names to the so-called "Buffalo Declaration".

The name "Buffalo" is a nod to an early proposal to create a province called that from the region of the Northwest Territories that is now Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Synopsis of the Buffalo Declaration

The Buffalo Declaration is a large-ish document, pushing some 13 pages of fairly dense typewritten text organized into 3 major sections.  The first section is a list of grievances, the second part lays out a group of demands, and the third part is a bit political apologetics self-justifying the need for this document. 

For the most part, the list of grievances is a rehashing of the usual complaints that we hear from "Western Separatists", with the addition of one or two novel aspects like an attempt to claim Alberta as a "distinct culture". 

They then go on to propose a series of constitutional changes which they argue would remedy the problems in the first part.  Much of this reminds me of René Lévesque's "Sovereignty-Association" concept.  

The Grievances

The document lays out several grievances: 
  1. Alberta has never been an equal participant in confederation
  2. Alberta is a culturally distinct region
  3. Alberta is physically and structurally isolated from Canada's power structures
  4. Alberta is treated as a colony
The first grievance is basically a grab bag of complaints reaching all the way back to the acquisition of the lands from the Hudson's Bay Company.  The authors then proceed to engage in a highly selective reinterpretation of history, conveniently leaving out key details, and transitioning from one complaint to the next while never bothering to explore whether a particular issue had been dealt with. There are several examples of this, but the most egregious being a failure to acknowledge that the 1980 constitution negotiations actually directly addressed a lot of the land and resources issues they talk about.  As one might predict, they also go on to rant about Pierre Elliott Trudeau's much maligned National Energy Program.  All in all, it's basically a rehashing of the same old issues that have been whipped up from time to time for political gain.  

The second grievance is more interesting, as it attempts to cast Alberta as a "unique culture" within Canada.  In this section they accuse the Canadian Federal Government of being "colonial" towards Alberta, and then go on to argue that Albertans are a more "independent" lot than the rest of Canada.  Perhaps the great irony here is they inevitably point to our resource economy here as a key part of our "unique heritage", and in doing so return to the usual basis of Western Separatism - economic anxiety.  

The third grievance is that Alberta is not connected to the power structures of Canada.  This is largely the usual "but all the power is concentrated in Ontario/Quebec" issue - which they refer to as the "Laurentian Elites" in the document.  There's a laundry list of nonsense in here, ranging from "not enough Senators" (Canada's Senate is regional, not population driven), the usual complaint about how much Alberta "contributes" to the rest of Canada through taxes, and a broad complaint about how Albertans have to *gasp*TRAVEL*gasp* to get to Ottawa if we want to lobby the government - funny - I don't hear BC bitching about that.  Also, apparently we're "underrepresented" in the Federal bureaucracy.  Odd - I thought the bureaucracy's job was to execute the government's agenda?

The last complaint is that we are "treated as a colony" by "The East".  Again, it's largely a complaint about money (it's odd how that keeps coming back up in Alberta's grievances).  "We send so much to Ottawa and get nothing back", etc.  The reality of why Alberta "sends more to Ottawa" has to do with having higher incomes - this has been explained time and again.  Proportionately, we send as much to Ottawa as any other province - there is no "lives in Alberta, pay more" clause in the taxes.  If you make $200K in Alberta, you pay the same federal taxes as you would in Ontario.  

Largely, as you might expect, the grievances come down to the usual assortment of economic anxieties that have long fuelled western separatist grievances.  This particular version adds a half-baked attempt at making it a "cultural" matter, but when your cultural issue turns out to be one of money as well, that isn't exactly persuasive, is it?  

The Solutions

The first part of the "solutions" is basically a giant whine of "WE WANT AN APOLOGY" (for the NEP, of all things).  

Then they go on to the following:  

I highlight the last two of these because they basically add up to being another NEP.  I'm not sure that the authors even realize that is what they are demanding, or that their demands are self-contradictory. An open market economy that "prevents foreign energy from displacing Alberta energy" is in fact not an open market, is it?  

I don't even know where to start with this one.  What "western based journalists" are there?  Most of our journalism is concentrated in the hands of a handful of powers (e.g. PostMedia), which aren't based in Western Canada (or Canada at all).  Again, this would require completely restructuring the media landscape - undoing the massive consolidation that started with Hollinger.  

Closing Thoughts

This manifesto is little more than a rehashing of complaints and grievances that so-called Western Separatists have been bandying about for decades.  They have added a few more pieces for flavour, and tried to whip in some more contemporary issues, but at the end of the day it's largely the same old economic anxieties driving this.  

The solutions they propose cannot solve the actual structural problems that are afflicting Alberta's economy today.  We could build all the pipelines these people demand, and it would make no difference - the oil and gas industry is in transition.  Alberta's problems aren't a result of Canada's federal structure.  The problems we face today are a direct result of the energy industry changing dramatically, and the province's abject failure to recognize that is happening.  The blame for this resides firmly in the offices of Premier Kenney, who among his first acts was to dismantle every government program which wasn't solely focused on the oil patch.  Since then 19,000 jobs have vaporized from this province.  

The Buffalo Declaration is a political distraction meant to deflect attention away from the damage being done to this province by the current UCP government.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019

And The War For Control Over The CPC Begins

With Andrew Scheer announcing his resignation as CPC party leader this week, the war for control over the party begins in earnest.  Make no mistake, this is not a fight between individual candidates espousing different visions for the party.  This is about the factions within the party trying to gain (or maintain) control.

In particular, the Social Conservatives (SoCons) have their eye on "the big prize" - reinforcing the base of control and power that they asserted when they pushed Andrew Scheer up the middle as their second choice behind Brad Trost.  You would think that a group whose beliefs and policies have cost conservatives elections - even in Fortress Alberta - would find themselves on the outside by now.  But, we have to remember that this isn't how SoCons operate - they operate from a well of deep, uncompromising belief that they have the solution, and they are willing to spend a very long time organizing to achieve that goal.

The first volley in that war was published in the National Post yesterday.  Titled "How Social Conservatism Done Right Can Actually Help The Tories Win Again", it is an intriguing view into some of the key mistakes that SoCons have been making for years.  Let's take a closer look.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Fraser Institute Claims That Alberta Public Sector Employees Are Overpaid

The Fraser Institute is notorious for pushing a hard right, neo-liberal, approach to economic and fiscal policy.  In my experience, their methods are at best sloppy analysis and at worst outright twisting to push a particular policy agenda.

This past week they have published a battery of "reports" that they claim show the public sector workers are being paid considerably more than their peers in the private sector.  They have produced these reports for Alberta, Ontario, and British Columbia (so far). Presumably, this is because once you have set up the analysis for one province, it's pretty much boilerplate to apply it to other provinces with similar datasets available.

For the sake of simplicity, I will focus my commentary on the Alberta version of this report.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

On Williams' Defence of Bill 207

In today's Calgary Herald, UCP MLA Daniel Williams has published a defence of his recently introduced legislation on Bill 207.

I've already discussed my concerns after reading the First Reading draft of this legislation here.  The head of the Alberta Medical Association has stated that the legislation is unnecessary, and the troubling breadth of this legislation has been discussed here.

However, I do think it's worth exploring Mr. Williams' comments about his bill and to examine them more carefully.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Alberta's Bill 207 (Conscience Rights)

Now that Bill 207 has been tabled in the Alberta Legislature, we can look at the bill and its implications more closely.  What follows here is my personal analysis of this bill and the potential implications for Albertans.  Since it isn't a very long bill (8 sections, 8 pages of legislation), I'm going to go through it one piece at a time.

I will foreshadow my comments with a general statement that this bill is extremely broad in its wording, and that has significant implications for Albertans accessing health care.

Creeping Fascism in Alberta

My headline today is a little misleading.  There’s nothing “creeping” about the UCP government’s fascism - they’re practically steamrolling ...