For Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, it’s Alberta versus the world

The would-be leaders of Alberta’s new conservative party envision a province preoccupied with its own interests, powers and identity. Where could they have gotten an idea like that?

Jason Kenny during the The United Conservative Party's second leadership debate in Edmonton on September 28th, 2017. (John Lehmann)

Jason Kenny during the United Conservative Party’s second leadership debate in Edmonton on Thursday (John Lehmann)

There was much surprise in political Canada when Jason Kenney, long seen as Stephen Harper’s likely successor at the helm of the federal Conservative Party, decamped to Alberta to pursue a mere provincial leadership. But after spending nearly two decades enmeshed in Ottawa affairs, it’s proven a hard habit for Kenney to kick. Federal Liberal-bashing, he can’t quit you.

Wrapping up a United Conservative Party leadership debate Thursday night, Kenney got some of his wildest applause when he branded himself “somebody who can stand up to Justin Trudeau and defend our province.” It came at the end of a string of other declarations to the effect that he’s somebody who can govern the province, too—wrestling the deficit and all that. But Kenney almost forgot to deliver this Trudeau punchline and had to stop in the middle of his next sentence, doubling back to make sure he hit it.

At last week’s debate, he threatened to war with Ottawa over the equalization formula, in a way that would have no net effect on the amount Alberta receives (zero) but limit the transfers to seven “have-not” provinces. He’s sent social media-missives against Trudeau’s proposed business tax crackdown, decrying Rachel Notley’s NDP government for not doing the same. And as if to make room for more foes in the federation, Kenney also hinted he could cut off oil exports to B.C. if Premier John Horgan, another New Democrat, takes action to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The former federal minister is the perceived frontrunner to lead this new party fusing Alberta’s Wildrose and Tory oppositions, but no matter which candidate succeeds, UCP will have a leader prone to jousting outside the provincial lines. It’s not enough just to topple Notley, which polls suggest any of them would do in the 2019 election; others who defy must be dealt with. Lawyer Doug Schweitzer, the supposed moderate of the bunch, has threatened to kick anti-pipeline B.C. out of the western provinces’ trade and labour accord, even though that would be detrimental to Alberta, too. Brian Jean, the former Wildrose leader, was banging pots and pans on equalization months before Kenney joined the fight. Jean also turned crudely offensive against Philippe Couillard this week, telling a reporter it was “ridiculous, retarded” that the Quebec premier was resisting the Energy East pipeline while bemoaning slights to his province’s own Bombardier. Jean apologized the next day, telling reporters he was angry and frustrated. In other words, when he’s fed up, he’s prone to wield archaic slurs about people with disabilities.

RELATED: Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and the war to define Alberta conservatism

In the same angry riff, unleashed during a small-town stop, Jean went on to declare to all jurisdictions: you’re either with us, or we’re against you. “I will not stand with the premier of Quebec or any other leader of any other place in Canada including the Prime Minister unless they stand with Albertans.”

The leadership contestants intend this sabre-thrusting to hearken back to Alberta’s pre-NDP glory days, when former premier Peter Lougheed declared unholy war against a different Trudeau’s National Energy Program, and throttled oil shipments to eastern Canada; and when Ralph Klein routinely clashed with Ottawa and other provinces, including on same-sex marriage and limits to private health care.

These days, Albertans are in the middle of a prolonged interjurisdictional peacetime, and not just because Notley has opted to be less confrontational with fellow premiers and the federal Liberals (she does get into spats with her right-leaning neighbour, Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, but he’s been goading). The four Tory premiers who preceded Notley were also less pugnacious—in large part because a Conservative slept at 24 Sussex. Jean and other Wildrosers never fussed about equalization until after Trudeau won. Kenney, of course, was in the cabinet that approved the current have-not funding program. It’s different now that Alberta’s been hit with recession, Kenney told Maclean’s on Thursday: “I’m not running for the national government here; I’m running to be premier of Alberta.”

He’s running to be premier of a province where many residents miss the familiar embrace of conservative leaders in Ottawa, Edmonton and their city halls—Kenney has even taken to campaigning against mayors, most notably Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, over the cities’ demands for greater taxation powers. And though economic recovery has begun, Albertans still feel the scars of the deep recession and oil-price plunge. Playing the snarling caged animal will resonate well, especially among the partisans Kenney and Jean are courting. The part of Captain Alberta is one Lougheed and Klein both used to great effect, marginalizing their more conciliatory political opponents. Yet the United Conservatives must themselves climb out of opposition before they can do anything about their external grievances; for now, some of the rhetoric seems oddly misplaced, as if Kenney longs to fulfill an old dream of being federal opposition leader.

RELATED: The NDP’s great pipeline divide

Misplaced or not, it’s a key plank of Kenney’s leadership bid. This week, he sent recipients on his mailing list a note attacking Jean for saying it was premature to threaten a B.C. oil blockade. This email linked to a supporter survey focused exclusively on what other jurisdictions are doing: equalization, federal business taxes, and whether Alberta should work more with “friendly free-enterprise” Saskatchewan and Manitoba—Canada’s only conservative-ruled jurisdictions at present. Kenney also invited supporters to endorse one of his slogans, “more Alberta and less Ottawa.” That’s the old rallying cry of Alberta’s firewall movement of the early 2000s, which urged the province to establish its own police force, pension fund and income tax collection, and to retreat from other areas of federal influence. Harper was a co-author of the original firewall letter, but had distanced himself from it by the time he took federal leadership. Klein never warmed to firewallism, save the occasional vague threat. He also forged occasional alliances and friendships with Prairie NDP premiers he served alongside, Lorne Calvert and occasionally Gary Doer, the sort of thing Alberta’s would-be conservative premiers seem to suggest is betrayal of the true-blue Alberta brand.

Nobody’s demanding the Alberta Provincial Police just yet. But Kenney and Jean seem on a path to lead Alberta into a Quebec-like focus on its own interests—a kind of Partí Albertois era. The method by which Kenney proposes to wage his equalization battle is based on the Supreme Court’s 1998 Quebec secession reference, which states the federal government must negotiate with the province if there’s a “clear answer on a clear question.” Under Kenney’s rationale, that judgment extends to other constitutional matters too, like equalization; or after a referendum Alberta launches over, say, National Energy Board pipeline approval rules or a federal carbon tax. It’s not his own argument; he borrowed it from a recent paper by academic Ted Morton, another of the firewall letter’s signatories.

All of which is to say that, for the next one and a half years until the next provincial election, you can expect the noisiest chirping in the country to emanate from Alberta—much of it from the next opposition leader’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Then, if UCP wins in 2019, we find out what the tough-guy approach accomplishes on pipelines, and the rest of Alberta’s agenda.


For Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, it’s Alberta versus the world

  1. Albertans have never understood Canada.

    I don’t know why they joined.

  2. Maybe one of these bozos will start a separatist movement if elected. Wish you all the best with that.
    Bye bye

  3. Then I guess Quebeece and Ontari-owe will have to look to Zoolander for their equalization money..

    • One country composed only of Ontario and Quebec would be just about perfect.
      I wish someone would start an Ontario Indepence Party.

      • Learn to spell first of course.

      • Ooh I’d like that… more western whining!

  4. ” But Kenney almost forgot to deliver this Trudeau punchline and had to stop in the middle of his next sentence, doubling back to make sure he hit it.” That’s the problem, when idiots don’t use idiot boards they forget what they’ve been taught to say>

  5. The writer of the article seems not to grasp why equalization is such a bugaboo with Albertans. Over and above our already onerous tax burden, equalization drains thousands of dollars annually from the finances of everyday Alberta families. It’s a burden not borne by families in 7 provinces. It wouldn’t be a bone of contention but for the hostility demonstrated by so many in those provinces towards the hand that feeds them. Tens of millions benefit from the fact that Alberta has been an economic outlier in Confederation, yet they and their legislators are openly hostile, especially when we have the temerity to suggest that it’s the other provinces that need to make changes.
    Time and time again we’re told to shut up and write the cheques. Maybe we’re a little tired of the blank cheque approach. Always remember, there is a perfectly legal avenue available to us that would impede the federal government’s use of Albertans as a piggy bank.

    • Albertans seem to forget the rest of the country pays their dues into the government who then re-distributes it. And have been doing so for many many years … for years Ontario supported other provinces and all we got was a kick in the face from people in the west. We’re tired of yer whining… if you hadn’t mis-managed your own economy by basing it on the almighty oil dollar you wouldn’t have so many problems.
      As for Mr. Kenney … the fact he needs to spend an inordinate amount of time bashing the federal government shows he has few ideas to help his home province, and a complete lack of awareness of his own role in making a mess of Canada. He and his pal Steve had 10 years to do something … and they failed.

      • Okay, so let’s examine that. That redistribution has evolved into a one-way flow of money, and instead of the majority of Canadians living in provinces that pay into it, the majority are now recipients. Worse, the bulk of the money now comes from one province. This is simply untenable in the long run. When we’re talking about $5000 for every man, woman, and child in the province being on a continual outflow, people rightly begin to think there’s something wrong with the formula. What rankles most is that much of that money is used to fund public services we have chosen not to indulge in.
        Albertans problems with Ontario are more related to Ontario’s predisposition toward electing governments that are harmful to the nation. Pierre Trudeau and Bob Rae come to mind. It’s bad enough that my grandchildren will pay for Trudeau’s fiscal wreckage, but they will also be paying for Rae’s, McGuinty’s, and Wynne’s. Any mistakes at the ballot box Albertans make don’t cost you a penny. Even if the we completely crap the bed, and can no longer pay the lion’s share of equalization, all that means is that the other provinces have to rely on local taxation to fund local plans.
        As for mis-managing our economy, let’s examine that. Even during downturns, unemployment in Alberta has been lower than that in the rest of Canada during non-recessionary years. By keeping taxes and regulations in check, we have been THE driver of the Canadian economy, providing private sector employment opportunities for Canadians from every province. IIRC, more jobs have been created in Alberta in the last 15 years than the rest of Canada, combined. This occurred during a time period when half a TRILLION dollars in equalization money flowed out of the province. Nobody has made a mess of the Alberta economy. Yet.
        However, Albertans do face the unique and unenviable situation whereby politicians in provinces that rely heavily on taxes imposed upon the Alberta economy are lobbying to literally kill and eat that very source of revenue, with no apparent plan in place to either replace or forego said revenue. We are THE ONLY energy producing and exporting country in the world that has multiple levels of government actively embracing the idea of shrinking domestic energy production.
        There is a tremendous disconnect when we have a federal government now actively engaged in dismantling a petroleum industry that provides tens of billions of dollars in federal revenue, and tens of thousands of good paying private sector jobs, yet disburses tax funds to prop up one company that makes a product that literally can’t exist without the petroleum industry. There’s a tremendous disconnect when it’s deemed more appropriate to import oil from outside the country, thus foregoing the jobs and tax revenues that sourcing said petroleum domestically would provide.
        Thanks to an equalization formula that has become increasingly untenable, Confederation is currently badly damaged. It’s up to provinces not named Alberta to decide whether or not Confederation is broken.

        • I think the population of GTA is greater and the wealth is greater than all of Alberta. We’ll do just fine without your puny little equalization. Don’t forget Quebec culturally, historically, politically, and financially was indispensable to Canada. Alberta is not.

          • Obviously the wealth of the GTA is not greater than that of Alberta, or there would be a similar outflow of taxation. I have yet to see any fiscal reports that suggest that is the case. If you can do without our equalization money, then do so. Nobody’s going to stop you.
            As for Quebec being indispensable culturally, historically, politically, and fiscally? Really? Add the value of Quebec’s culture to a loonie, and you can buy a $.99 burger at McDonalds. Historically? Hmmm… France abandoned Quebec so as to conserve resources necessary to fight wars with England. The resultant British overseers extended religious and political liberties to the Quebecois that the French would never have granted conquered British subjects.
            Politically? Quebec, despite being treated exceptionally well within Confederation, has long been a recalcitrant and fractious minority that seems unable to recognize how much better off they have been as members of a British Commonwealth nation than if French rule in North America had lasted into the 20th, or even the later 19th, century.
            Financially? It’s a hole into which tens of billions of tax dollars from other parts of the country go to die every decade. They are the opposite of fiscal contributors. If they were contributors, they would not need 10 billion in equalization every year.

          • Pop Alberta 4 million
            Pop Ontario 13.5 million

          • Pop GTA 6,4 million

        • Hey, hey…’s the Texas Snowflake!

          Sorry, but Ontario doesn’t get any money from Alberta. That’s your fantasy world talking again.

          • LOL sorry, no.

            Go feed your unicorns.

          • JW- What’s your point? As I stated, the WEALTH of the GTA does not exceed that of Alberta, or there would not be a need for Alberta to assist Ontario with tax revenue. You posted up population numbers, but in the context of the conversation you may as well have posted the water temperature of Lake Ontario.
            The history of equalization is that once on the teat of taxpayers beyond the provincial borders, local governments will move heaven and earth to remain on said teat. Note Newfoundland’s scrappy fight to remain on the receiving end of equalization. Saskatchewan didn’t take too kindly to becoming a “have” province either. Ontario used to grumble about equalization, but now that it’s a recipient, suddenly it’s a great exercise in nation building.
            The problem, however, is that all social programs must rely on the majority of the population for the majority of their funding. When only a minority is covering the costs (Hmmm. 10% of Canadians pay 54% of all taxes.), then government is no longer representative.
            Less than 1/3 of Canadians are paying into equalization, with Ontario not likely to be a payor any time in the next few decades.
            Absent a substantial revamp, it will collapse.

  6. Hey Joe from just up Hwy2- You gotta love these snowflakes. They’re not real good at debating when faced with answers based on observation and analysis. They’ve been taught for so long that a faux-pithy retort is a real substitute for intellect that they actually think they’re smart, then run smack dab into a real debate and don’t know what to do.

    • It’s been explained to you many times …..but you actually do have the attention span of a snowflake so you can never remember.

      Alberta does not send money to Ont. Never did. Sorry.

      And climate change is real. Also sorry. LOL

      • Oh, yes, I forgot Emily. You seem to have access to documents that refute every single newspaper article and scholarly study that’s been published about equalization since 1960. I certainly hope that you’ll open your archives to the public when you pass on. I’m sure the Canadian government and the Canadian public will benefit tremendously.

        • Yawn. It’s all publicly documented ‘flake.

          Equalization, climate change, gravity….round planet……

          Posted many times on here……flows through your mind like water through a sieve….

          • Hello Emilyone

            The main problem with the equalization in Alberta is the fact that Alberta is the only province in Canada that has contributed every year since the program was brought in. While Quebec has always been on the receiving end. Almost all Albertans detest the equalization but not all blame Ontario who has been a net contributor but unlike Alberta has been on the receiving end of equalization. Yeah we have problems with you current government but at least you contribute sometimes.

            Also despite what you say Alberta as a province has a net worth and GDP higher than the G.T.A. even though you may have a higher population, and yes Ontario does have a larger GDP, just not higher GDP per capita.