Premier Jason Kenney met with Prime Minister Trudeau in Calgary on Wednesday as both leaders begin hitting two different campaign trails: Trudeau, for a yet-to-be-declared federal election; Kenney, to rebuild his battered popularity, which has sunk to 30 per cent during the pandemic.
During their chat, Kenney urged Trudeau to reopen the U.S. border to tourists sooner, and to honour Alberta’s Senate elections this fall — although Trudeau made it clear to reporters after the meeting that he has his own system for appointing senators.
But Kenney’s target audience these days is Albertans, not the prime minister.
Kenney is desperate to reconnect with voters, particularly Conservatives in Calgary and rural Alberta who have soured on him in the past 18 months.
He’s trying to convince them that everything is fine, that Alberta is now enjoying its “Best Summer Ever.”
He’s so keen on the slogan that his staff has taken to wearing “Best Summer Ever Alberta 2021” baseball caps.
It’s classic Kenney gaslighting.
I suppose it might be the “best ever” summer since the “worst ever” summer of the pandemic the year before.
But it’s not the best ever for anyone who enjoys two of Alberta’s world-famous summer events: the Calgary Stampede and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Both have been scaled down, thanks to the pandemic.
It’s not the best summer for taxpayers, who learned this week that the province has bought a 50 per cent equity in the struggling government-supported sturgeon refinery near Edmonton that’s on track to lose $2.5 billion.
It’s certainly not the best summer ever if you’re a farmer worried about a looming drought, or a forest firefighter worried about British Columbia’s disastrous fire season heading your way.
It’s not the best summer ever when a “heat dome” hovering over the province had everyone cranking up their air conditioners to the point where the Alberta Electric System Operator issued a Level 1 emergency, as it did last Tuesday when demand for power threatened to outstrip supply.
It’s not the best summer if you’re worried that the heat dome is a harbinger of things to come — and you think your provincial government isn’t taking climate change seriously.
Over the years, Kenney’s views of global warming have evolved, but not in a linear fashion.
He’s embraced a double-think approach, where he appears able to hold mutually exclusive attitudes toward global warming.
For example, Kenney has said he accepts the science of anthropogenic climate change.
“We have an obligation to do our part to address the challenge of climate change, to reduce greenhouse gas, including carbon emissions,” Kenney told reporters in 2020.
But at the same time, he insists there’s a “spectrum of views about this.”
That’s why he allows his backbenchers to stand in the legislature and denigrate the science, as United Conservative MLA Garth Rowswell did last fall.
“What has become more and more apparent is that there has been an attempt by extremist agitators and malcontents who stand against capitalism and free markets to undermine our great energy industry with fallacious claims,” declared Rowswell. “We need to expand the use of fossil fuels, not restrict them.”
Then there are Kenney’s contradictory views about carbon taxes.
In 2019, he scrapped Alberta’s consumer carbon tax, which had been introduced by the former NDP government. He also led a losing (but vocal) legal fight against the federal price on carbon. Yet, he also introduced an industrial carbon tax on Alberta’s heavy emitters called the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Regulation. It’s a mouthful of a title that deliberately avoids the words tax, levy, or price.
In 2019, he disparaged as “flavour of the day” investors’ growing concerns about the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks of climate change.
But this year, he set up an ESG office in the Alberta government to help sell Alberta as a province that’s taking climate change seriously.
He rails against the Trudeau Liberals’ climate initiatives, but is part of a federal-provincial initiative that champions carbon-capture technology to trap carbon-dioxide emissions underground or use them in manufacturing.
Kenney is a victim of his own simplistic and ideological rhetoric; for political reasons, he downplayed the dangers of climate change while viciously attacking the climate policies of the federal Liberals and Alberta’s former NDP government.
His response to European banks that blacklist the oilsands — or to U.S. President Joe Biden, who cancelled the permit for the Keystone XL project — is to bluster, demand, and threaten.
He is an angry premier playing to an angry base.
And Trudeau seemed to call him out on that, while speaking to reporters in Calgary about the need for Alberta to embrace a greener future.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity in the fact that some politicians here in Alberta have been fighting against even recognizing that climate change is real, (which) has slowed down Alberta’s ability to prepare for the economic future and the jobs of the future,” said Trudeau.
But Kenney is quietly cobbling together policies that seek to fight climate change. Not as much as the NDP did, and not as much as the federal Liberals would like, but more than he’ll admit to his climate-change-skeptical base that demands he engage in non-stop battle with Ottawa.
That’s why he continues to finance the laughable multimillion-dollar Canadian Energy Centre — commonly called the “war room” — and to support the $3.5-million (and one year behind schedule) Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.
Both are part of Kenney’s “fight back” strategy that, among other things, helps him blame imagined enemies, domestic and foreign, for Alberta’s problems, while ignoring or questioning his own government’s mistakes.
It also allows him to deflect attention away from issues such as climate change, while trying to convince Albertans that, despite evidence to the contrary, they are enjoying their best summer ever.
This article was updated at 5:50 p.m. to include remarks that Trudeau made to reporters after he met with Kenney.
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