Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years. This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.
It’s probably fair to say Premier Jason Kenney has a love-hate relationship with the new federal speech from the throne — meaning, he doesn’t just hate it, he loves to hate it.
For Kenney, the Liberal government’s throne speech is too good a target to ignore with its talk of a carbon-neutral future, a “feminist, intersectional response to the pandemic,” retrofitting homes, and strengthening protection of the French language in Canada.
“There was space for every bright shiny object, every possible political distraction,” said Kenney during an online news conference with reporters on Thursday. “Kooky academic theories like intersectionality found their way into yesterday’s throne speech, but not one word about health transfers for the provinces that are carrying 80 per cent of the costs as our population ages and we cope with a pandemic.”
Kenney clearly wasn’t happy with the throne speech but in another way I bet he couldn’t be happier. The speech pretty much crystallizes into 17 pages everything Kenney despises about the federal Liberals and Prime Minister Trudeau. It was a warm and fuzzy promise of more action on climate change, a national daycare program, a national pharmacare program, more gun control, and a vague plan to create one million jobs.
The speech mentioned Alberta but once, in connection with using the province’s energy “know-how” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There was no mention of Alberta being the hardest hit of any province during the pandemic, no nod to the importance of oil and gas or the need for more pipelines, not even a wink to Alberta’s plea for more federal aid.
“Alberta was not recognized in yesterday’s throne speech,” said Kenney. Of course, you could argue no province was recognized in the throne speech which, true to form, spoke in terms of aspirational goals for the nation, not concrete fiscal action for any particular province.
Kenney must know this but he’s premier of a province facing a record deficit, record debt and record unemployment. He doesn’t want Albertans wondering if he is to blame, even partially. He wants to shift responsibility 100 percent on to the federal Liberal government. And the throne speech is his lever.
“It was a fantasy plan for a mythical country that only exists in the minds of Ottawa Liberals and like-minded Laurentian elites,” said Kenney in a comment that managed to be both lyrical and combative.
But you have to wonder who is living in a mythical country?
Is it the federal Liberals with their focus on clean energy, inclusivity, women, and higher taxes on the wealthy?
Or is it Kenney who downplays the dangers of human-induced climate change and plays up the future of oil and gas?
In the past he has ridiculed those who want to transition away from fossil fuels, saying they think airplanes can run on “unicorn farts.”
That was no doubt a nod to the late Ralph Klein who, as a climate skeptic premier, used to blame global warming on “dinosaur farts.” Klein got laughs 20 years ago and no doubt Kenney will get laughs from climate change doubters now but times have changed.
Oil companies, such as BP, say we might have already hit peak oil and, if so, demand will gradually drop. Jurisdictions such as California are taking steps to phase out gasoline-burning cars in favour of electric vehicles.
When questioned about that by a reporter, Kenney repeated his assurances that oil demand will continue to rise globally: “If you really think the billion people in India who desperately want to move to a higher standard of living are all going to be driving Teslas 15 years from now then you’re disconnected from reality. That is to say there are billions of people around the world living in extreme energy poverty. They don’t have the luxury of repeating all of these California-style pieties. They want to stop burning cow dung.”
I’ll leave it to others to determine if Kenney’s comments are insulting to people in India but let me point out that many jurisdictions around the world, including India, have talked of banning internal combustion cars in the next 10 or 15 years.
Kenney’s opposition to the Liberal throne speech is so scathing and sarcastic as to be almost a parody in itself. He had to be coaxed by reporters to say some nice things about the throne speech when it promised, among other things, to continue with financial help for unemployed workers.
But his default position is to demonize the Liberals and cynically blame them for all of Alberta’s ills.
Kenney actually does have valid complaints when it comes to the federal government encroaching on provincial jurisdiction in areas such as health care, child care and the environment. And you’d think it wouldn’t have killed the Liberals to offer an olive twig, if not a whole branch, to Kenney in the throne speech.
But the Liberals (quelle surprise!) used the throne speech to talk to the majority of Canadians (hello Ontario and Quebec) and gave short shrift to Conservative-supporting provinces (hello Alberta and Saskatchewan).
A politically motivated move? Certainly.
But no more politically motivated than Kenney’s overheated reaction.
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