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Opinion Jason Kenney prepares to put Alberta on economic war footing

The presumptive favourite to become Alberta’s next premier – although polls appear to be tightening – Jason Kenney is already talking about what his first priorities will be. Somewhat surprisingly, job one will be proclaiming a law that would give his government the power to restrict the supply of oil and gas to B.C.

Bill 12 was brought in by Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats at the height of the province’s interprovincial squabble with British Columbia over the fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The dispute became somewhat of a moot point when the federal government bought the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan, along with the rights to the expansion.

That is largely why Ms. Notley’s government never bothered proclaiming the bill into law; it would have been an unnecessary provocation. (There are many who believe the law is unconstitutional, anyway.)

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But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Kenney from using it as a prop on the campaign trail, telling supporters at one stop this week that making Bill 12 law will be the “first item of business” when he convenes his cabinet, should he and his United Conservative Party form government. Soon after that, he will be killing the provincial carbon tax.

The UCP Leader said because the NDP never proclaimed the “turn off the taps” law, it amounted to a “phony fight for pipelines.”

Trust me when I say: This is nothing more than an electioneering showpiece designed to make Mr. Kenney look tough and Ms. Notley weak as the campaign hits the backstretch.

Why would Mr. Kenney begin punishing British Columbians by limiting the supply of gasoline, and driving up the price at the pumps even more than they already are, when the province has nothing to do with whether the Trans Mountain pipeline gets built?

Remember, B.C. didn’t cause the most recent delay; the courts did. First Nations did, by convincing a federal tribunal that their court-protected rights to be consulted were not met. So a new round of consultations are taking place with Indigenous leaders and are fully expected to meet the court-mandated level of discussion deemed necessary. (These consultations are being carried out by former Supreme Court of Canada jurist Frank Iacobucci, no less).

The UCP Leader’s bit of bravado this week is meant to impress the masses, who apparently are desperate for this kind of tough talk. No one is going to push Alberta around any more! The days of being the country’s nice guy are over! There’s a new sheriff in town (or soon will be)!

For Mr. Kenney, it’s all about Making Alberta Great Again.

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My own sense is that it may not go quite as smoothly as he’s promised. His bully-boy tactics might incite heavy applause on the hustings but will wear thin in the rest of the country pretty quickly. Far from making his province a sympathetic figure, Mr. Kenney could well make Alberta loathed by those who don’t like the sight of political leaders threatening or intimidating others.

Far from helping get a pipeline built, Mr. Kenney could be jeopardizing the prospect with the anti-environmental policies that he’s promising to bring in.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has always said his government’s support for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was contingent on the suite of reforms Ms. Notley’s government brought in to reduce emissions, including putting an emissions cap on the oil sands. (See quid pro quo.)

Mr. Kenney, if elected, is promising to repeal all those actions, allowing emissions to rise.

How, in good conscience, could Mr. Trudeau go ahead with the pipeline while a new government in Alberta is taking the province backward on climate? If Mr. Kenney carries through on his plans to blow up Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, there is no way Canada can meet its targets under the Paris Accord.

Mr. Kenney seems to think that the loudest voice in the room should get what he wants. Except that’s not the way it works in a federation. In devising short-sighted policies that are intended to bolster his political fortunes, he may in fact be helping an adversary in Mr. Trudeau.

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Most Canadians believe climate change is real and that something serious needs to be done about it. Any support for a new pipeline that currently exists in this country would be seriously eroded if Alberta takes a regressive step back on the environment.

In trying to build a broad swath of support for his province, Mr. Kenney could make Alberta more isolated than ever.

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