Jason Kenney didn’t come to Ottawa to debate the details of carbon-tax policies. He came to oppose it.
Oh sure, Mr. Kenney appeared at the Commons finance committee on Monday alongside some of the true policy-wonk experts, and the Alberta United Conservative Leader is no intellectual lightweight. But Mr. Kenney’s point wasn’t about all that propellerhead stuff. It was that he came to fight.
On the weekend, at the convention of his United Conservative Party, he had roused the faithful by promising to do just that. His appearance at the Commons committee was planned weeks ago, but still, on Saturday, he theatrically urged his party to send him to Ottawa to tell the feds what’s what – he promised that if they voted on Sunday to scrap the carbon tax, he’d fly to Ottawa to deliver the message on Monday.
Mr. Kenney arrived as leader of the Bloc Alberta.
Mr. Kenney isn’t just fighting his opponent, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. He came to fight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, federal Liberals, the global “green” left, and assorted others. In his weekend convention speech, he gave a list, including Mr. Trudeau, BC NDP Premier John Horgan, environmentalist David Suzuki, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, as well as “the foreign-funded special interests and all of the enemies of our economic progress.”
Not so long ago, Mr. Kenney tweeted “Canada is broken,” vaguely echoing the 2008 assertion by then-Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois that “Canada doesn’t work.” Take away the separatism, and his political rhetoric is much like the Bloc Québécois mission of “defending Quebec’s interests.”
He is tapping into a deep vein of frustration and resentment, vowing to defend his province against the outsiders. He has clearly decided that will move Albertans more than simply comparing his program to that of the Premier. He is conjuring an image of the outside forces gathering against Albertans. It probably helps to have a Trudeau to lead the black hats.
It seems odd, at times, because three years ago, Mr. Kenney was a minister of the Crown in Her Majesty’ federal government, a politician who spent 18 years in Ottawa and left the Commons with a goodbye speech that quoted Edmund Burke’s exhortation to parliamentarians to put the nation before “local purposes.”
But he’s the Alberta Opposition Leader now. And his message is visceral. His weekend speech included a full-throated defence of the oil and gas industry, and an accusation that Ms. Notley had treated the lifeblood of the province’s economy as an embarrassment. The implication was that the Premier was siding with all those outsiders who look down their nose at the way Albertans make their living. It packs together memories of the National Energy Program with frustrations fuelled by an economy that hasn’t fully recovered from the collapse of oil prices.
In Ottawa, Mr. Kenney’s task wasn’t to debate the carbon tax but repeat that he will fight it.
His appearance at the committee was strange mismatch. He was there alongside five other witnesses, technical experts or environmental-group leaders, but this wasn’t a conversation.
Andrew Leach, a University of Alberta economist, and Dale Beugin, the executive director of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, both testified that carbon taxes are effective, lowest-cost way to reduce emissions. To Mr. Kenney, it could might as well have been the chirping of birds.
He was sending a political message. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre invited him to express concern that Alberta’s carbon tax hurt low-income people, while Mr. Leach shook his head. When the Liberal committee chair invited Mr. Leach to intervene – over Mr. Poilievre’s objection – Mr. Leach pointed out the evidence indicates the opposite. Mr. Kenney dismissed “theorists,” who, he said, haven’t visited seniors’ centres whose budgets have been affected.
But he didn’t come to pick a fight with economists, anyway. He was here to pick a fight with outsiders – notably federal Liberals.
A few Liberal MPs inexpertly interrogated him at the committee, but failed, for example, to confront Mr. Kenney’s suggestion his own policies embrace a smaller form of carbon tax. But it was Environment Minister Catherine McKenna who really obliged, who, while defending carbon taxes to reporters, added that she’s “proud of the actions of the Notley government.” That’s a quote Mr. Kenney will be repeating.