Barely an hour after Alberta’s highest court ruled the federal environmental approvals law unconstitutional, Jason Kenney found a pulpit to announce his team’s legal success. Whether it was at the University of Calgary veterinary school didn’t seem to matter.
The Prime Minister called it a “landmark” decision and incorrectly said that the Alberta Court of Appeal struck down the Impact Assessment Act (it was a non-binding opinion; the law remains intact, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court).
“Today’s win is a huge vindication of Alberta’s strategy to fight for a fair deal,” he told the crowd. The one he had been waiting for a long time, he added.
The Prime Minister might have wished he hadn’t had to wait that long. That judgment landed a day before all the ballots for his United Conservative Party leadership review arrived at the counting center in Edmonton – so it could not be factored into members’ decisions. UCP on Kenney’s future.
During this long period of conservative disillusionment with Kenney, his handling of COVID-19 has drawn the most attention as the sharp end of the spear or knives driven into his back.
But if you continue to talk to some of the hopefuls that Kenney is the former leader later this week, the other big reason is how he struggled to bring Ottawa to heel and give more autonomy to the Alberta.
“Some politicians say vote for Kenney, we need him to get a fair deal with Alberta! What has he achieved so far?” Jason Stephan, an openly Kenney MP, wrote at his local Red Deer Advocate in March.
Kenney would (and does) dispute that claim. After all, it was the Prime Minister who launched a successful referendum to overhaul equalization, launched a veritable armada of lawyers to overturn Ottawa policies like the carbon tax, created Ottawa’s own parole board. Alberta and could follow suit with provincial policing and pensions — and more so in the long checklists that Kenney likes to elucidate in his speeches.
And the result of these? No one can credibly claim that the referendum propelled equalization reform “to the top of the national agenda” as Kenney had insisted it would be; Albertans Still Pay Federally Imposed Carbon Tax, After Supreme Court Loss; parole board averages a simple six cases revisions per month; and there’s no sign of when or if Alberta is going it alone on policing or pensions.
Kenney’s tough record with Ottawa likely compares favorably to that of other premiers, both nationally and in recent Alberta history. But like his handling of the pandemic — Kenney’s poo flouted the masking and vaccination mandates he would ultimately have to impose — much of the internal grumbling hinges on the discrepancy between what the leader said and what which he managed to do.
“Defending Alberta” was a key part of his campaign pitch, one of four chapters in the UCP’s very detailed platform. As he ticked off items in his ‘fight back’ strategy during the 2019 election campaign, the fiery lines received the greatest acclaim followers of the UCP.
The ups and downs
Kenney told reporters last week that he had “huge frustrations” amid “significant successes” of his provincial-federal approach.
“I didn’t expect Alberta’s list of demands for fairness in the federation to be met under the Trudeau government, but that’s no reason to capitulate. It’s a reason to redouble your efforts.”
He went on to list other victories, such as reaching not-so-onerous deals on regulating industrial methane and managing northern caribou herds, and boosting provincial coffers by $400 million from changes made by Ottawa to the fiscal stabilization fund.
Kenney says those hard-won compromises weren’t “front-page stories,” although they were never the big lines of applause delivered to a party stalwart whose approval he needs to keep his job. In addition, at the time of this tax reform at the end of 2020, Kenney called him a “slap in the face” because it did not come close to the $4.6 billion owed to it.
The Prime Minister also noted that Alberta’s biggest federal issue is the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and he thanks Trudeau for his strong support; of course, most of the heavy lifting to get the liberals to approve and then acquire this beleaguered project took place before Kenney won the premiership, when he was much less in the habit of giving credit at Trudeau.
Kenney’s rise to prominence is not solely due to a federal government that is unwilling to give Alberta everything its premier wants. Since the pandemic hit, Albertans mood towards Ottawa appears to have subsided, and the general population has expressed disgust for major moves such as a pension plan or an Alberta police service.
Those who remain more hawkish are either in the UCP base or yearning for leadership to bring them back into the fold – Brian Jean and Danielle Smith, former Wildrose party leaders and Kenney critics, have been make noise on these linesso is Drew Barnes, the MP Kenney placed on the Fair Deal panel but is now exiled from the UCP caucus.
As with COVID, Kenney has had to balance his party’s expectations with the opposing views of the rest of Alberta, as well as the practical realities that could keep a politician in power’s hand away from decisions that could, for example, cost a fortune or otherwise weaken the future province.
Even with the court ruling Kenney had sought on what he called the “Pipeline Ban Act,” the Supreme Court could ultimately overturn it and preserve the Liberals’ rating system, just like the High Court. did so with the original decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal. against the carbon tax.
But that verdict will ultimately come months after Kenney’s supporters decide on the rest of his mixed list of accomplishments and unaccomplished things.