Opinion | Are you listening? UCP's earplugs stunt an affront to democratic debate

I’m not sure if this is what Premier Jason Kenney meant on the campaign trail when he said he’d “raise the bar of civility and decorum” in the Alberta legislature.

As the legislative assembly endured another late-night debate over controversial government legislation Thursday, Kenney distributed earplugs to his caucus members.

He didn’t do it covertly, either. He was on his feet openly handing them out.

And to make sure the NDP couldn’t miss what was going on, the earplugs were neon-coloured.

Kenney and the United Conservative government caucus were tired of listening to the opposition and their solution was the political equivalent of a five-year-old sticking fingers in his ears and saying, “I can’t hear you!”

The NDP opposition was understandably outraged, as were public sector unions who will be very much affected by the legislation under debate at the time.

Bill 9 will delay collective bargaining for approximately 180,000 public sector workers, including nurses and teachers, until November.

The government says it merely wants to get a better idea of Alberta’s financial picture before entering into wage negotiations.

Kenney trying to avoid unpopular splashback

A cynic would say Alberta’s provincial government, elected on a promise to cut spending, wants to delay any contentious and/or anti-union tactics until after the October 21 federal election.

Kenney doesn’t want any unpopular splashback to sully the campaign chances for his friend and ally, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

The NDP and union leaders said Kenney’s actions Thursday were outrageous, insulting, disrespectful and contemptuous of democracy.

“I have been in this legislature seven years and I have never seen such disrespect,” said NDP House Leader Deron Bilous.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, left, and federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer attend a campaign rally in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Kenney’s office tried to laugh it off as a joke.

“This was a harmless and light-hearted attempt to boost government caucus morale after being forced to listen to the NDP’s insults, lies and over-the-top rhetoric for hours on end,” said Kenney’s press secretary, Christine Myatt, in a written statement.

Was it a joke? Or was it an affront to democratic debate?

It was both.

This was a not-so-subtle glimpse into the UCP’s state of mind two months after the April 16 provincial election. 

The UCP is openly contemptuous of the NDP. It’s fair to say the feeling is mutual.

But the UCP, as government, should be the adult in the room, not the five-year-old with pink earplugs.

A Conservative climate change approach  

You have to wonder what Scheer thinks of this.

These days he’s channeling the ghost of Kenney in so many ways on the campaign trail.

Just look at Scheer’s climate plan unveiled on Wednesday.

He’d scrap the federal carbon tax on consumers in favour of a scheme to make heavy emitters pay into a clean-tech fund.

And he’d use unspecified made-in-Canada technology to help reduce emissions in other countries.

That’s pretty much Kenney’s own plan that scrapped Alberta’s “job-killing,” “tax-grabbing” carbon levy and promised to fight climate change via a fund paid for by heavy emitters.

Both are plans with more questions than answers. But both pay homage to polls that indicate although a majority of Canadians believe we should fight man-made climate change, many simply don’t want to help pay for that fight.

Kenney found the solution: say you’ll tackle the problem but with money from large polluters, not voters.

Everybody is happy, except perhaps heavy emitters and those who realize the plan will fall far short of the Paris Accord goal to reduce emissions.

Of course, as critics point out, there are so many holes in the Liberal climate plan you could use it to drain pasta.

The Liberals, though, at least designed a plan to make us all share a little of the cost upfront.

As consumers of fossil fuels, we collectively emit more emissions going about our daily business such as driving our cars and using electricity from coal-fired plants than are released from the environmentally demonized oilsands.

But climate plans are a tough sell. It is much easier and more popular to make a simplistic appeal to “scrap the tax” than build a proper plan to deal with climate change.

Kenney followed the politically effective but ultimately cynical route in Alberta.

Now Scheer wants to do it coast-to-coast-coast.

He, like Kenney, will get an earful from his critics.

But Kenney has found an effective, albeit cynical, way to tune them out.

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

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