AFL president Gil McGowan responds to statement from Finance Minister Travis Toews on so-called “Blue Ribbon” panel report
Earlier this week, we at the Alberta Federation of Labour released heavily redacted government emails, obtained through the Freedom of Information process, showing that the Office of the Premier wrote speaking notes and an opinion column for Janice MacKinnon, the chair of the so-called Blue-Ribbon Panel.
As most Albertans know, the Blue Ribbon panel’s report, along with the speaking notes and the guest column, recommended sweeping privatization; cuts to health care, education and other vital public services; wage rollbacks for government workers; and increased tuition and service fees for students.
Contrary to yesterday’s statement from Finance Minister Travis Toews, we do not insinuate that Ms. MacKinnon spoke words or advocated positions that she did not personally agree with. To the contrary, she seemed all too willing to speak the same words and advocate the same positions as Premier Jason Kenney.
That’s our point. Contrary to the Premier’s oft-repeated claim that he had “recruited an independent, non-partisan group of experts to conduct a deep dive into Alberta’s fiscal situation”, the internal emails paint a picture of a panel chairperson so ideologically aligned with the Premier that she was willing to have his staff to put words in her mouth – not because she was a puppet, but because those words would have been the same or similar words that she would have chosen for herself.
We assert that Ms. MacKinnon knew exactly what she had been hired to do (provide political cover for a policy direction that had already been determined) and that Jason Kenney got exactly the outcome he wanted (a report that he is now using to justify radical and damaging cuts and changes to public services).
That the Blue Ribbon panel was more an exercise in political spin than an “independent and non-partisan” analysis is clear, based on the widely-criticized fact that the government explicitly prohibited the panel from looking at the revenue side of the budget.
But the partisan nature of the report is also clear because the panel was willing to use data on hospital wait times from the far-right-wing Fraser Institute – data that the government’s own officials described as “horrible”, “poor quality”, and “highly inaccurate” in documents we obtained through a separate FOIP request (see our earlier release on these documents).
This shoddy data was used by the panel to support the position that government should privatize health care services – something Premier Kenney also supports.
But it doesn’t end there. We have also obtained documents showing that a member of Jason Kenney’s close inner circle – Lennie Kaplan, from Kenney’s transition team - was given a sole-source contract for $63,000 as “Executive Support to the MacKinnon Panel”. The government emails we obtained suggest Kaplan was a go-between with the Premier’s Office and Janice MacKinnon.
In other words, the chair of the so-called “independent panel” had her own “political handler”. Does any of this sound like an “independent and non-partisan” process? We think the answer to that question is clearly “no”.
Some may dismiss all of this as simply another example of “politicians being politicians”. But given that the MacKinnon report is being used by the UCP as its main justification for deep cuts and radical privatization – changes that will have profound, negative implications for all Albertans – the credibility and veracity of the panel and its report is of vital interest to all Albertans.
To put it succinctly: we shouldn’t be basing our future on bulls#!%.
- Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour