What happened to Jason Kenney? - Macleans.ca
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What happened to Jason Kenney?

Stephen Maher on how the once serious Harper-era star became a provincial politician pitching an unserious referendum in Alberta


 
Jason Kenney celebrates his leadership win at the Alberta PC Party leadership convention in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Jason Kenney celebrates his leadership win at the Alberta PC Party leadership convention in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

I have just noticed that at some point recently Jason Kenney has become dramatically less sensible, which comes as quite a surprise.

As a federal cabinet minister, Kenney was deeply impressive: disciplined, articulate and hard-working, willing to do difficult things and defend them in public, bringing intellectual rigour and gritty intensity to every debate.

When Stephen Harper’s front bench was filled with spokesministers—people chosen for their willingness to stick to the talking points typed up in the PMO—Kenney was an empowered, activist minister, actually running his files, making, for example, important changes to our immigration system that Liberal governments had been too timid to tackle.

In his spare time, he travelled the country, hustling for votes in ethnic banquet halls, challenging the Liberals in communities they had taken for granted for too long.

He had the smartest staff, the best lines, excellent political instincts, organizational ability, boundless energy and a kind of cheerful zeal that made him a pleasure to watch.

It was no surprise, then, that he was able to sell Albertans on his scheme to unite the two conservative parties in that province, and no surprise that he was able to best Brian Jean and become leader of the United Conservative Party.

READ MORE: The battle of Notley the oil-hater vs Kenney the bully

I missed some of their policy debates, so I was surprised this week when Kenney announced that he would like to hold a referendum on equalization if he becomes premier in 2019.

The idea is that Alberta is being treated so unfairly by the rest of the country—what with the carbon tax, and continued intransigence over pipelines—that Albertans need to vote on the program that Ottawa uses to take money from Alberta and give it to the poorer provinces.

This is not a sensible plan.

Albertans could just as effectively hold a referendum to abolish daylight saving time in Manitoba, rename the Ottawa Senators or make Houston the capital of the United States. Equalization is a federal program. Taxpayers across Canada pay into it in equal amounts. Kenney must know this because he was part of the government that set it up.

He  seems to be counting on the fact that most Albertans don’t know that, and will see a referendum as a way for him to stand up for Alberta.

If you don’t understand the details, his lines sound pretty good: “If the federal government continues its attacks through the National Energy Board and the federal carbon tax, then Alberta should take a common-sense approach and hold a referendum demanding the removal of non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula.”

You would gather from this that including non-renewable resource revenues in the equalization system is an injustice forced on Alberta by oil-rustling eastern villains. In fact, non-renewable resource revenues were included in the equalization formula in the 2007 budget, by Harper and Jim Flaherty, following the recommendation of an expert panel headed by Al O’Brien, former deputy treasurer of Alberta. And the conservative Fraser Institute, which is traditionally anti-equalization, says that removing resource revenue would not help Alberta.

Kenney knows that, because at that time he was Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity in Harper’s government.

Now, suddenly, the Harper-Flaherty formula is an injustice so grave that Albertans need to hold a referendum!

The idea was dreamed up by former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton, who cites a 1998 Supreme Court ruling that declared Ottawa would be obliged to negotiate with Quebec if that province votes to secede. This seems like a thin legal argument, but it may work politically. Political arguments don’t have to make sense.

Albertans often complain about equalization, since they never get anything out of it, and I can’t tell them they should like it.

The system was established in 1957 to provide money to poor provinces—which always includes the Maritimes and Quebec, and sometimes includes other provinces, depending on the state of their economies. Alberta never gets any of that money, because even when the economy there hits a rough patch, it’s still richer than all the other provinces.

Ottawa cuts up the money using a complicated formula so that all provinces “have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation,” as the Constitution puts it.

This year, that means the have-not provinces get $18.3 billion: $11 billion to Quebec, $1.8 billion to Manitoba, $1.4 billion to Ontario, $4 billion to the Maritimes.

I’m from Nova Scotia, which gets $1.9 billion in equalization this year—$1,822 per citizen—almost 20 per cent of provincial revenue, more than the province took in with its 10 per cent sales tax. Without that money, Nova Scotia would not be able to provide “reasonably comparable levels of public services,” and would have to take drastic steps, closing hospital and schools, which would cause anxiety and suffering to people dear to me.

I tend to think, therefore, that equalization is necessary and useful way to ensure that even the poorest parts of Canada are able to have hospitals and schools.

It is possible to feel otherwise. I can see why Albertans, who pay into the system but get nothing out of it, feel put upon, especially when other provinces keep refusing to approve pipelines to allow them to export the darned oil that produces so much money for everybody.

But it’s silly to pretend that a referendum would do anything useful about that, and strange that a serious person like Kenney would suddenly start pretending it would.

MORE ABOUT JASON KENNEY:


 

What happened to Jason Kenney?

  1. He’s the same as ever. Because of the Barbarian Practices hot line etc Leitch and Alexander took all the blame for the anti Muslim xenophobic policies that were largely driven by Kenny and his court case and by Stephen Harper..

    His forte was in the war room where he was said to have coined the term”pooping puffins” to ridicule Dions environmental policies. There was of course his famous phony citizenship ceremony cooked up with his pal Ezra Levant and others from Sun News.

    Kenny was considered to be a brainiac compared to some of his cohorts in the Harper cabinet but like many of them has only a high school diploma and virtually no work experience before he vanished into the back rooms of politics

    No nothing new there at all. Seems like the same old Jason.

  2. The author neglected to mention that equalization formula allows Quebec and other provinces to exclude massive amounts of revenue from the calculation of equalization…namely from government-owned electricity facilities. A significant amount of Quebec’s wealth is excluded because Hydro Quebec is not included in the equalization calculation.

    • I noticed that as well. An interesting omission.

      Apparently the equalization formula is seriously complex. What I wonder is why it isn’t based strictly on provincial GDP.

  3. Listening to Kenny deride the notley government with gross and hyperbolic insults as if they were to blame for the oil crash or Alberta’s less than prudent historical fiscal management (no, that was their own precious but profligate Conservative governments) it is clear that he is no statesman and has more than a whiff of dishonesty about him. I see only a mini-me huckster using the tried and true politics of division and sowing discontent. Albertans should demand better.

  4. You know… At least the guy is trying to do something. Right or wrong, if it works out or not it doesn’t matter. In my opinion it is the effort put forward to get us Albertans who are struggling right now a piece of the pie. $11 billion dollars to Quebec (mostly paid by Alberta) when there are over 150 000 people in this province out of work and many more than that struggling to feed their families or keep a roof over their heads is absolutely pathetic. Perhaps they could do without paid post secondary education and government funded child care like every other province in the country. That should cut out about $5 billion that could go to helping the down and out citizens of Alberta instead.

    • It’s frustrating with Quebec.. Higher representation in the house per capita, as well… and by all reports it “could” if it chose to be the biggest have province in confederation.. A prime contributor, but no.. it purposefully does things to keep the province suckling at equalization..

      …adding insult to injury Ontario only gets equalization (I believe..) due to it’ obscene debt which is the largest sub sovereign debt of any state/province on planet earth. Some Provinces are just more equal than others I suppose. Alberta had to fight for years just to get a fair shake on health transfers and from what I understand it’s still not quite getting what it should.

  5. Pandering to the angry, uninformed base .. Kenney has always been good at that and nothing different now.
    “In his spare time, he travelled the country, hustling for votes in ethnic banquet halls, ” … what you forgot to add to this statement was that he was also hustling for donations, which he reaped in good numbers .. all of it allegedly going into his own local constituency campaign war chest… nothing like getting other provincial/non-Alberta campaign offices to pay for your re-election. Kenney can bluster and whine all he wants, but if he wants some sympathy and action for his province from the ROC, a carrot works better than a stick.

  6. “As a federal cabinet minister, Kenney was deeply impressive: disciplined, articulate and hard-working, willing to do difficult things and defend them in public, bringing intellectual rigour and gritty intensity to every debate.”

    Really? Not my impression of the guy. He just seemed like one more narrow-minded racist, xenophobic redneck swimming in a sea of them. Maybe that’s why he appears to have changed. Now he’s exposed, in the spotlight, leading the school.

    The good thing is that his presence will keep the Conservatives from any chance of being elected.

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