What Jason Kenney’s Return to the Federal Scene Signifies

When Jason Kenney came to Parliament Hill, as a Reform Party MP in 1997, something quickly became clear.

He could do outrage extremely well.

In fact his outrage was so convincing that he was favorable compared with a former MP, Progressive Conservative James McGrath from St. John’s East.

During Question Period McGrath could be writing a letter at his desk, hear his name called for a question, then jump to his feet and lambaste an unfortunate cabinet minister with a question wrapped in outrage.

Then, as the Minister was replying, McGrath would sit down and return to his correspondence, only to repeat the performance with more feigned outrage when he asked his supplementary question.

Kenney could do the same thing, minus the letter writing. In fact he would happily acknowledge that his outrage was manufactured for effect in the House and to attract the attention of TV cameras covering the Commons.

Once the Conservatives became the Government in 2006 Kenney retired the outrage act. After all, it was pretty difficult to be outraged by the behavior of a government you supported and then in which you became a Cabinet Minister.

But after the Harper Government was defeated in 2015, Kenney used some of that outrage when he returned to Alberta to first become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, then to lead the campaign to join the party with the Wildrose Party, to then win the leadership of the combined entity and finally to defeat the NDP Government of Rachael Notley and make himself Premier.

But now that Kenney has the job he wanted, some of the things he is about to do could create outrage both in Alberta and in other parts of the country.

Because in winning over fifty per cent of the popular vote and at least 62 seats in the 88 seat provincial legislature, Kenney ran on an “Alberta First” campaign that raises comparison with the “America First” campaign that propelled Donald Trump to the White House in 2016.

Here are a few of the promises he made on the way to his victory this week.

The Conservative Government he leads will scrap the carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions its predecessor implemented and challenge the Federal Government in court over its plans to institute a federal carbon tax to replace it.

That in itself is not new. In his court challenge he will join every other Conservative provincial government in doing just that. But combined with the fact that Alberta is the home of the energy industry, and the Kenney Government is also lifting the ceiling on oil sands green house emissions, adds a particular weight to the decision. And environmentalists, and Canadians who take the challenge of a warming globe and climate change seriously, those ideas are outrageous.

On the other hand, Kenney and many Albertans are outraged at their neighbours in British Columbia. The New Democratic Government in B.C. supported by the Green Party have gone to court to try and effectively block the building of a new, larger pipeline along the existing route of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

To counter that challenge, Kenney is threatening to implement legislation which would stop shipping Alberta’s energy products to its western neighbour. If that happens, the outrage in British Columbia will be palpable.

However, the B. C. Government is going ahead with it court case. The new pipeline would carry bitumen for Alberta’s oil sands, across British Columbia to a deep water terminal in Burnaby which is part of suburban Vancouver. The B.C. Government is proposing to regulate the amount of Bitumen that can be transported and if it wins the case the pipeline is effectively dead.

Virtually everyone in Alberta believes the so-called “twinning” of the Trans Mountain pipeline is essential to restoring Alberta prosperity to previously high levels. If the pipeline is stopped in British Columbia the sense of outrage in Alberta will go off the charts.

Kenney would like also to revive plans for the “Energy East” pipeline. That is a plan that would convert parts of existing natural gas pipelines and build other connecting parts, to create a new pipeline that would carry Alberta bitumen to the Irving Oil refinery in St. John New Brunswick on the Atlantic Ocean.

That pipeline has been effectively blocked by the Government of Quebec, which says it doesn’t want another pipeline traversing its territory and going under its rivers.

Kenney’s response has been to promise that if there isn’t one new pipeline in the next few years, he will hold a referendum in Alberta on the equalization formula under which the federal government redistributes federal tax revenues amongst the provinces.

In Alberta, it is mistakenly believed that the provincial government cuts a cheque each year, and gives it to the Government of Quebec. It is in fact the federal government which pays so called “have not” provinces out of tax money collected all across Canada.

However, Albertans are outraged by what they believe is an unfair program that victimizes them. People in Quebec will be outraged at the inferences directed against them.

A provincial referendum promised by Kenney will do nothing except raise the outrage level all across the country.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Navigator Limited and Ensight Canada, Chair of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.