The Kenney government made a staggering $1.6-billion in accounting errors in its annual financial statements. Photo: The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

The truth about the UCP’s fiscal responsibility’

It’s empty talk, like so much else.

Opinion

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On Thursday, Alberta Auditor General Doug Wylie revealed that the Kenney government made a staggering $1.6-billion in accounting errors in its annual financial statements. On Friday morning, my wife looked up from the paper.

"If they aren't even getting finances right, then what are they doing?"

It's a good question: What are they doing? We know, broadly speaking, what they're doing. Kenney is attacking organized labour and cutting public services, including health care, in the name of fiscal responsibility. He wants to restore the long-gone glory days of oil and gas. We know this.

But in the day-to-day, it's difficult to keep track of what all they're doing. This is by design. Kenney, a lifelong political schemer, knows that the public in 2020 is easily overwhelmed—and doubly so during a pandemic.

I often think of a story Vox writer Sean Illing wrote earlier this year about how the idea of truth is eroded in a democracy where people are inundated with too much information to process. "The core challenge we're facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system," he wrote.

Illing cited something that former Trump strategist Steve Bannon articulated in 2018: "The Democrats don't matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit."

In our chaotic social media climate, a headline about $1.6‑billion in accounting errors is quickly displaced by the next controversy.

It worked in the U.S.; it's working here, too. When journalists and citizens are constantly bombarded by one controversy after another, it's hard for anyone to ascertain, with clarity, what is actually happening.

If you're feeling like you can't keep up, that's the point.

This is why Kenney has surrounded himself with ministers, issues managers and press secretaries who don't quell controversies so much as inflame them. When all is conflagration, where do you even start?

In our chaotic social media climate, a headline about $1.6-billion in accounting errors is quickly displaced by the next controversy.

But let's stay with that story for a moment.

Fiscal responsibility was supposed to be the UCP's jam. Like conservative parties everywhere, they cast themselves as the party of business smarts. They may not act on climate change or economic diversification—two files that, in reality, make a ton of business sense—but at least they would impose new rigour and restraint on Alberta's finances.

That was the promise, but it hasn't happened.

When you do a little shit-clearing, to riff on Bannon’s phrase, you see that Kenney’s word and deed are at odds.

The auditor general's report alone contains scathing indictments that are mini-scandals unto themselves. Kenney's oil and gas "war room," after a comical string of missteps at launch, keeps finding new ways to set itself on fire. The auditor general found that most of $1.3-million in external contracts from the Canadian Energy Centre were sole-sourced.

When you do a little shit-clearing, to riff on Bannon's phrase, you see that Kenney's word and deed are at odds.

Kenney said he'd strengthen civil society in Alberta; in reality, he's launched a farcical public inquiry (now on its second deadline extension!) to specifically target civil society groups he dislikes.

The UCP talks up law and order to the point where there is serious consideration of Alberta creating its own police force; meanwhile, actual police are investigating allegations of fraud pertaining to Kenney's dubious ascent in the UCP's 2017 leadership race.

The UCP promised "fiscal responsibility" and "respect for taxpayers' money" and chided Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi for not having "his fiscal house in order." In reality, the Alberta government just made $1.6-billion in accounting errors.

And so on.

There seems to be a new fire in folks — a desire to speak the truth plainly.

It's all so wearisome. One wants to just lie down. And yet, it has been interesting to see people find their voices this week. Maybe it's the American election, but there seems to be a new fire in folks—a desire to speak the truth plainly.

American media have more readily labelled Trump's statements what they are: lies.

Closer to home, Calgary Councillor Evan Woolley struck a nerve this week by calling out Councillor Sean Chu for offensive comments about the opioid crisis, among other topics. Woolley lobbed an angry insult on social media, labelling Chu "one of the most ignorant morons on council," but there's a reason his comments resonated.

Looking around Alberta right now, I am left with a question: What happens when we see the truth, but do not speak it, until it's too late?

Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.



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