Alberta Premier Jason Kenney would appear to have two options for political survival: pray that the price of oil goes up or that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is ultimately defeated by his friend and former Conservative Party colleague Erin O’Toole.
It’s not exactly the most sure-fire recipe for clinging to power. But increasingly, they appear to be the most viable possibilities for a Premier sounding more desperate by the day.
That Mr. Kenney would be upset by the federal government’s Speech from the Throne was a given. He knew the Liberals were not going to include a full-throated endorsement of the fossil-fuel industry upon which Alberta’s shaky economy is built. This is 2020, when modern governments are turning their attention to a green future, not an oil-soaked past.
He would have known, as well, that the government’s blueprint for the year ahead was unlikely to include a promise to extend his province a multi-billion-dollar refund for past taxes that Albertans paid and which have allegedly contributed to the fiscal discrepancy Mr. Kenney talks about incessantly. You know the line? How Alberta has paid out billions more in taxes than the province has received back in benefits from Ottawa over the last several decades?
The Premier’s antipathy for the Liberal Prime Minister has taken on a new patina, however, with the election of his close friend Mr. O’Toole as the new Conservative Party leader. Mr. Kenney boldly made an early endorsement of Mr. O’Toole for leader, which was pivotal to his campaign’s success. Mr. O’Toole’s ascension to the top of the federal party has virtually assured that the Alberta Premier will step up his attacks against Mr. Trudeau, while sticking out a hand looking for money at the same time.
It’s strange how people could think this might be a winning strategy. Even Ontario Premier Doug Ford has realized there is more to be gained by trying to be somewhat cooperative with the federal government than constantly being a shrill, partisan thorn in their side.
Mr. Kenney is also playing to the home crowd, where commentators demand he get even tougher with the Prime Minister. No one ever articulates what that looks like, precisely, but angry words are apparently not enough. Even Mr. Kenney’s threat to set up his own provincial police force and pension plan didn’t cool those heels, despite the not-insignificant number of Albertans who aren’t comfortable with these ideas.
But back to the Premier’s critique of the Throne Speech. In deriding the Liberals' obsession with climate change and their ambition to lead a green revolution, Mr. Kenney made his oft-repeated assertion that the world isn’t going to be off oil anytime soon.
He accused the PM of being “disconnected from reality” if he thought the billion people living in India – all of whom just “want to stop burning cow dung” – will be driving Teslas 15 years from now. Depicting India as some third-world country whose people burn manure to keep their homes warm perhaps wasn’t the wisest of moves; that rhetoric had overtones of Donald Trump.
Beyond that, India’s biggest automaker, Tata Motors, recently announced that it had developed an electric vehicle that will start at about US$18,000 – tens of thousands of dollars less than a Tesla. Last year, Delhi’s government declared that 25 per cent of newly registered vehicles in the union territory will be electric by 2024. The Indian government, meanwhile, has committed to moving the country to 100 per cent electric vehicles in 10 years – an ambitious and likely unrealistic goal, but one that demonstrates the world’s most populous democracy’s broader intent to get off gas.
So Mr. Kenney, in a way, is right: a billion people in India won’t be driving Teslas in 15 years' time. Many will be driving cheaper electric alternatives.
It is maddening to listen to the Alberta Premier these days. He knows – he absolutely knows – where the world is going. He is aware that the oil industry is dying. No, it’s not going to take its last breath tomorrow, or in 10 years, but if you listen intently enough, you can hear the death rattle.
The problem is, Mr. Kenney and others around him prefer to cover their ears and scream – “la, la, la, la, la, la” – as loudly as they can. If they drown out the doomsayers – or more accurately, the realists – they can continue to pretend all is fine. Then all Alberta and its political leaders have to do is blame Ottawa for everything and ask the public to wait until oil prices return to normal.
What if they don’t? What if Albertans have been sold a bill of goods? Let’s not talk about that possibility, Mr. Kenney is saying. Just listen to the loud screaming, instead.
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