Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who handed out earplugs in the legislature and changed his story on it, should know that arrogance does not reward parties in Alberta, says columnist Rob Breakenridge.
Shaughn Butts / Postmedia
The 2019 provincial election campaign feels like it dragged on forever, and so the 2015 campaign really feels like a lifetime ago.Despite that, most Albertans get the reference to “math is difficult” or “look in the mirror.” After over four decades of Tory rule, the signs of arrogance finally became too much to ignore, and by the 2015 election a very low tolerance for such attitudes had developed.How much of that has changed in the ensuing four years is unclear. The NDP didn’t find much in the way of forgiveness when they showed signs of arrogance in pushing ahead with certain policies or in the aftermath of controversies such as the “sewer rats” remark.Despite being in a political honeymoon period, it’s a dangerous game for Alberta’s new government to test the patience of Albertans on this front so early and so blatantly. The added dash of hypocrisy and dishonesty we got from Premier Jason Kenney probably isn’t helping either.Last week saw the passing of the government’s Bill 9, the so-called “Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act.” The bill would delay wage negotiations for public sector unions until after October this year, ostensibly so the government has time to get a better sense of what kind of state the province’s finances are in. Labour groups and the NDP, however, see it as an attack on collective bargaining rights and a precursor to a much harder line at the bargaining table.The idea of deferring negotiations doesn’t strike me as particularly unreasonable, and it may well be that Alberta’s financial realities force a dramatically different approach when it comes to public sector contracts. If such a fight is indeed on the horizon, the government is going to have to re-think its PR strategy.Not only was debate limited on Bill 9, but the premier went so far as to hand out earplugs to members of his caucus in the midst of Opposition questions on the legislation. Not only was the government saying, “We don’t want to listen to you,” but it was also a very brazen and contemptuous way of saying, “We don’t actually need to listen to you.” Why debate bills at all, then?Related
The government got what it wanted in the end, of course. It seems rather petulant to be annoyed by questions coming from the Opposition — that comes with the job, so get over yourselves. If the Opposition is embarrassing themselves, voters can judge them accordingly. We deserve better than, “They started it.”So that was the arrogance. The hypocrisy was immediately apparent.This is, after all, the same Jason Kenney who explicitly promised to “raise the bar of civility and decorum” in the Alberta legislature, who told his caucus that “we must be seen to act in good faith, and with integrity (…) we must be willing to listen to the voices of others.” The earplugs stunt was none of those things.Then came the conflicting justifications. Kenney’s office initially said it was a “harmless and light-hearted attempt to boost Government Caucus morale.” But then the premier went on television and claimed that he handed out the earplugs to a UCP MLA sitting next to him who suffers from tinnitus. That seems rather implausible, but either way, one of these explanations is clearly false.No doubt hyper-partisans will accept either, both, or any other justification, but the government shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone who voted UCP falls into that same category.Albertans may have given the UCP a mandate to bring about significant policy change, but that doesn’t give the government a free pass on its behaviour or an excuse to abandon all humility.The smart thing, and frankly the right thing, here is to acknowledge the error and to pledge to live up to the standard they set for themselves. Don’t underestimate the political damage that arrogance can cause. “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays 12:30-3:30pm on 770 CHQR firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @RobBreakenridge