So, I’ve been watching Question Period in the Alberta Legislature since the bright orange dawn of the NDP government began. People sometimes ask me why I watch ‘QP’, as those in the know call it. The political answer would be that I watch it as my civic duty as a citizen, or that I want to be as informed about Alberta politics as possible for my 12 regular blog readers. The real answer is probably closer to the fact that I usually have my days open, and I’m a bit of a political nerd.
But I like the first answer, so that’s the one I’m sticking with.
Which brings us to the question of answers, specifically answers in Question Period.
I’ve been watching Premier Rachel Notley, and I have a grudging admiration for her ability to not answer questions, and her skill at torquing questions to fit the answer she wants to give. She’s clearly got the lawyer’s gift of listening to questions carefully, and saying whatever she wants in return.
Take, for example, this recent exchange between the premier and Mr. Nice, Brian Jean, the leader of the opposite position
The question of the NDP’s minimum wage hike up to $15 is hotly debated. The Wildrose and some economists say it hurts job creation; the NDP and some economists say it creates job. I won’t get into that debate here; suffice to say it has been a frequent line of attack by the Wildrose.
But in these two exchanges, you will see how good Notley is at the dark arts of not answering a question.
On Tuesday, Jean asked this question:
Mr. Jean: The labour minister and the Premier have both
said that increasing the minimum wage by 50 per cent will result in
more jobs. Every employer of minimum wage employees say
exactly the opposite. They point out that they will either have to
shut down or they will have to reduce staff or they will have to find
labour-saving ways to absorb a 50 per cent increase in labour costs.
Can the Premier please clarify: does she know one single employer
who will hire more . . .
Now, this is where the question was cut off by the speaker. There are time limits on questions, and if the question goes over, the speaker can cut off the microphone and the rest of the question is not recorded in Hansard, the official record of what is said in the legislature. Notley began her response by ragging the puck, lecturing Jean (and the speaker) about supplemental questions (I won’t bore you with the details). Then, with her time running out, she said this:
Ms Notley: Nonetheless, in answer to your question, yes, I do know
many employers who are going to create more jobs.
Interesting, I thought. She knows of “many employers” who are going to create jobs despite the 50 per cent rise in the minimum wage. I immediately thought that someone from the Wildrose would ask her to name the businesses. It wasn’t until the next day, but Jean took the bait.
On Wednesday, they had this exchange:
Mr. Jean: Yesterday I asked the Premier if she knew of any businesses
which plan to hire more employees because of this government’s
plan to increase the minimum wage by 50 per cent. She said that
she did, but when asked, she didn’t name names. I’m surprised the
media, actually, didn’t pester her about this for more details.
Exactly which employers have told the Premier that they plan to
increase the size of their workforce because she is raising minimum
wages by 50 per cent? Could she give us some names and table a
OK, this should be good. But Notley, listening to every word, came up with this answer:
Ms Notley: Again, Mr. Speaker, I must say that the notion of a
supplemental question is quite broadly interpreted right now. That
being said, what the question asked yesterday was: in the current
environment do we know of any employers that are going to hire
new employees? And I answered that yes, I did, and as I said previously
and yesterday, for instance, just on Friday I was at a press
conference where Telus announced that it would be investing a
billion dollars in the city of Edmonton, notwithstanding that they
knew about our plan about minimum wage, and that there would
be . . .
See how clever that answer is? Jean’s inelegantly worded question was clearly related to the minimum wage hike, but Notley simply answered it based on the last part of the question, “does she know one single employer who will hire more …” So, she used the Telus announcement (which has no connection to minimum wage) as her one example, which is a far cry from the “many” employers she bragged about. Brilliant, in a political way.
Immediately after, Notley tore another page from the How to Answer a Question Without Answer the Question guidebook.
Mr. Jean: It’s all about hooey. The labour minister and the Premier
have both said more than once that increasing the minimum wage
by 50 per cent will result in more jobs in Alberta. They say that the
consequences of this policy are all good, all wonderful, and no harm
will come to Alberta. So let me ask a policy question. Since the
Premier says that there is no harm and only positives from boosting
the minimum wage by 50 per cent in three years, why isn’t she
actually calling for a 100 per cent boost? If this policy increases
employment, why don’t you set the minimum wage at $20 or $25
or $30 since we’re going to get more jobs?
Interesting question. Since you can pretty much guess that the $15 an hour wage was a number the NDP pulled out of their asses when they didn’t think they could win, it challenges Notley to support the $15 total. And why not $20, if indeed increasing the minimum wage boosts the economy?
Here, Notley gave a complete non-answer.
Ms Notley: You know, Mr. Speaker, it comes down to this. The
folks over there think it’s totally appropriate for a single mother of
two or three to have to work 70 hours a week in order to earn a
living wage. I say to you that they’re just wrong, and that’s why we
are changing the minimum wage in Alberta.
Wow! A total non-answer, one of the best. She could have said it was the result of careful calculations, or some sort of consultation with stakeholders, or some such rot. Nope, she just turned it around, feigned outrage, and sat down.
Gotta hand it to Notley. She may have the veneer of a shiny new-era politician, but beneath the surface she’s just as crafty as any old political hack.