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Friday, March 26, 2010

Ralph Klein Takes Care of Some "Unfinished Business"

In the introduction to her book, Hard Right Turn; Brooke Jeffrey describes being in Toronto in the 1990's; stuck in traffic, because thousands of protesters were blocking the streets. She asked the cab driver what the problem was and he said "Mike Harris (Ontario Premier for 1995-2002). Who wouldn't be upset with this guy?"

A few months later Jeffrey was in Edmonton, where she witnessed similar protests, which like those in Toronto, were orchestrated by teachers, nurses, municipal workers and other concerned citizens. "All of them were furious with the Klein (Ralph Klein. Premier of Alberta 1992-2006) government's cutbacks.

The premier and his controversial treasurer, Stockwell Day, were adamant the cuts would go forward as planned.

The striking thing about Klein's comments was his choice of language. It was almost identical in tone and content to arguments Mike Harris had used to defend his actions in Ontario a few months earlier ... I, like most people thought Klein's reputation as a folksy populist was established. Mike Harris admitted his 'Common Sense Revolution' took it's inspiration from the Klein government's neo-conservative agenda, but he failed to mention an authoritarian attitude was also part of the package."

What Jeffrey didn't realize at the time, was that both Klein and Harris had the same mentor. A former New Zealand finance minister, named Roger Douglas, who was then on the road promoting his book, Unfinished Business.

Both Klein and Harris continue to emulate the B Movie slogan of Sir Roger Douglas, the architect of of New Zealand's harsh experiment in program-slashing: 'I ain't gonna blink.' In 1994 Ralph Klein accepted the Fraser Institute's annual prize for 'the best fiscal performance' of any North American government. 'Alberta stands alone as the only government that refuses to take the easy way out, the brainless way out, and that is to raise taxes ..."

Douglas was one of the new breed of corporate friendly politicians who promoted fiscal reform on the backs of ordinary citizens. Like others who ascribed to this theory, including Ronald Reagan; his program made a lot of money for a handful of people, but also created almost unprecedented poverty. The gap between rich and poor was never so high.

Apart from the neo-conservative writings on Thatcherism and Reagonomics provided by his friends in the 'Klein Gang', and the advice offered by the business community through the Red Deer round table, the premier also called on the services ... of former New Zealand finance minister, Sir Roger Douglas, who was peddling the wares of restraint and cutbacks. Having turned New Zealand's economy around and its society inside out ... Sir Roger was now touring the world, urging others to heed the call and take the same drastic action. This new messenger of change was actually invited to speak to the Conservative caucus, where he put forward the view that change must be significant and it must be
instituted quickly if the liberal consensus were to be broken and the state removed from the marketplace. The government that blinked would fail.

"Unfinished Business by Sir Roger Douglas of New Zealand, is credited with having provided the vocabulary of the 'Red Deer' budget round table. Terms such as 'hit the wall' and 'don't blink,' for example, made their debut at this event, and have now passed into the common parlance of all Canadian neo-conservatives." (3)

One area where the Klein government made immediate cuts, was to health care. But his policies were bizarre, under a scheme of Total Quality Management. Stockwell Day, was then Labour Minister, and with little more than a high school education; his policies were definitely ideologically driven.

Some employers quickly applied the Total Quality Management technique of substituting lesser-skilled workers for highly-skilled personnel. An example of this occurred in one UNA [United nurses of Alberta] worksite where RN's were told not to have RN on their name tags because they were now to refer to themselves as Patient Hostesses. And in another UNA worksite, LPN's were scheduled to do the work of laid off RN's and the maintenance workers were trained to give the bed baths—work previously done by the LPN's. The profession of nursing was undermined and compromised. Not only did UNA fight for improved wages and benefits in 1993—it also fought for the very profession itself.

Stockwell Day learned his lessons well from Roger Douglas, something which we will see more clearly now that he is heading up Canada's treasury. His only other known prior experience with someone from New Zealand, came from his father, an old Social Creditor, and friend of Doug Christie.

Stock Sr. once got into trouble for hiring an illegal immigrant as a domestic. He wrote to Christie: "She is a New Zealander with no criminal record; she looks like us; she speaks like us; she prays like us. Yet when we came through the waiting room, it gave me the impression that we were at a family reunion for the Harlem Globe Trotters [sic]. What the hell is going on?"

That certainly explains a lot.


1. Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 2

2. Slumming it at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-Wing Revolution, Gordon Laird, 1998, Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 1-55054 627-9, pg. 66

3. Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-Conservatism in Canada, Brooke Jeffrey, Harper-Collins, 1999, ISBN: 0-00 255762-2, Pg. 93

4. Health Care Reform, 25 Years of History, United Nurses of Alberta, 1993

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