Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), sees a disturbing trend in the province. He suggests that, under the rule of Jason Kenney and his UCP,  “We are “slipping into authoritarianism.” Mr. Smith and his union are miffed at the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act (Bill 1) which will heavily fine protesters who interfere with infrastructure the government deems to be critical. They are challenging it in court. They are also challenging Bill 32 which strikes at a number of labour rights.

They aren’t alone. The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has said that all 25 of its affiliated public and private sector unions are supporting a legal challenge against the legislation.

And not only the left is getting in on the act. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, an organization that tilts strongly Christian-conservative, is challenging Bill 10 which, under cover of the pandemic, gave sweeping powers to cabinet ministers to proclaim legislation without oversight. According to Jay Cameron, litigation manager for the centre, the bill is nothing less than “the establishment of a ministerial dictatorship.”

Kenney’s antipathy toward dissent has led him to create a couple of vanity projects: one, the infamous “war room” to defend against oil industry critics; and two, a public inquiry designed to expose conspiracies by environmentalists who he accuses of “a premeditated, internationally planned and financed operation to put Alberta energy out of business.” Ecojustice has filed an injunction to halt the process until a court rules on the inquiry’s legality.

By comparison to the UCP’s fomenting of a wave of court actions, the previous NDP government, although it brought in major legislation in a number of areas, faced only two legal challenges in its four years in office.

In addition to expanding its power, the UCP has extended its financial grip. It has passed legislation to lock in pension assets from all public sector pension plans under the management of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo). AIMCo is an investment agency of the Alberta government. Gil McGowan, AFL president, refers to it as “tantamount to theft.” (Full disclosure—my pension is included.)

The UCP has not only imposed its will on pensions. It has also torn up agreements it finds inconvenient. A case in point is the arbitrary cancelling of the contract with Alberta’s doctors, trashed in the midst of a pandemic

Premier Kenney has threatened to rally Albertans on a variety of issues from reforming equalization to cutting ties with the RCMP to leaving the Canada Pension Plan. His weapon of choice will be the referendum. In order to expand legislation to cover the appropriate issues, the UCP has passed Bill 26, the Constitutional Referendum Amendment Act. No less a conservative than Margaret Thatcher once referred to the referendum as “a device for dictators and demagogues.” On that issue at least, I agree with the lady.

The premier has always had something of the little dictator about him. He was, of course, a member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet, and Harper was a control freak if ever there was one. Kenney is a true student of his mentor.

So, is Alberta slipping into authoritarianism? I fear we may already have.

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