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Apathy gets you nowhere in politics

Posted on February 20, 2020 by Vauxhall Advance

Premier Jason Kenney and the United Conservatives aren’t listening, so you’re going to have to speak up.

It doesn’t look like any amount of war room embarrassment, hits to employment, protests from nurses, or cuts no one asked for is going to cause this government to backtrack. As chaotic as it often looks, a calculated plan is in place and these growing-but-still-small pockets of citizen dissension are not going to force their hand.

From Kenney’s perspective, and with the career to back it up, if you’re going to get anything done you pick your side and get after it – you don’t piddle around trying to please people.

In that respect, full credit to the premier and his cabinet for their willingness to ignore opposition, ignore critics in the media, ignore unions and ignore any idea of losing votes as they plow through with their agenda. Hey, it might be backhanded, but it’s a compliment nonetheless.

Governing is about making choices, it’s about taking a stance, and long before he won the election, Kenney chose corporate profits and settled into an immovable battle position to protect them.

He knows exactly what he wants to do at all times, believes to his core in what he’s doing (and who he’s doing it for) and is utterly unafraid to push forward with the plan even if things go wrong – and boy have they ever. He’d let history judge him as the man who dismantled Alberta before he’d deviate from this market fundamentalist mission he’s on.

He expresses pride in plunging popularity and makes jokes about “Greta’s boat” when questioned over personal spending of public dollars. He doesn’t care what people think about UCP plans or actions, and he cares even less if they know it.

And yet, while the disinterest is obvious, the government continues to offer up the notion that it’s not only listening to citizens and experts, but actually following through on their wishes. Panels rigged from the beginning, a curriculum review that omits current teachers and scientists, parents given three days notice for an open house that the minister who announced it doesn’t actually attend – all for the illusion of consultation.

The whole thing seems odd on the surface – a government that twists itself to look like it’s listening while openly admitting it doesn’t mind if you hate its decisions. But, like anything else the UCP has done or will do in the future, the contradictory actions serve a purpose.

All over Alberta are people who lead organizations, programs, businesses or institutions whose compliance with government decisions is needed in order to keep citizen or employee unrest at a minimum, and any fear of repercussion locks that into place. If people at the top are quiet and play nice it muffles the voices of those underneath, and that keeps dissension low and unorganized, which is the entire point.

Children’s programming directors afraid they’ll be cut off completely if they come out against slashed funding and daunting application processes. Post-secondary presidents who think they’ll lose any voice they had if they criticize a funding model that ignores the purpose of a broad education. Mayors and reeves who worry even more expense will be downloaded to their jurisdiction if they push back against grant removal, or less infrastructure money, or orphaned gas wells. The list goes on.

But if parents, or teachers, or professors, or employees can’t get their concerns out the door without the people who supposedly protect their interests rolling over with a “Please, sir, may I have some more,” it gives the UCP full freedom to ignore them.

To the detriment of collective good, there seems to be a province-wide mindset that if the heads of organizations, or school boards, or post-secondary institutions, or childhood education programs, etc., etc., etc. don’t smile and nod their way through it all, there might be a loss in funding, or a cancelled program, or a bout of layoffs to follow.

Except, the loss of funding and the cancelled program and the bout of layoffs are coming regardless, and no amount of quiet resolve is going to change the mind of the guy pulling the strings. And since that stay-quiet-and-hope approach won’t have any bearing on the outcome, what’s the point in wasting the one chance you had to speak up?

The UCP majority government, despite what it says, does not actually have free reign for four years – at least, it isn’t supposed to – yet Kenney’s unabashed, hard-hitting approach to austerity dismisses that as policy decisions steamroll Albertans struggling to keep up. The sheer speed makes opposition extremely difficult, but throw in a stack of complicit leaders who hope compliancy will cause the bombs to hit less hard or land somewhere else, and standing up to it is next to impossible.

This is not to say no one in these positions is happy with the UCP’s direction or welcoming the cuts and changes being thrust upon their organizations, but I know for a fact there are plenty that aren’t. And if those people are going to simply sit still through all this then no one will ever know the difference.

Speaking out can feel pointless when the government brags about complaints like they’re points on a scoreboard, but when the plan is to chop, slash and gut the very thing you’re supposed to protect, a voluntary muzzling is nothing more than a signed permission slip. Silence might be easier, but easy is getting you nowhere.

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