Ford and Trudeau take carbon tax fight to court

Politics Insider for April 15: Carbon tax in court, our Sunday political show round-up and dispatch from Alberta

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(Christopher Katsarov/CP)

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Since Doug Ford swept to power in Ontario last year, he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have often been at each other’s throats—particularly over Ottawa’s national price on carbon, which Ford claims will lead to a “carbon tax recession” and Trudeau heralds as an important step in confronting one of “the greatest challenges of our time.”

Heating up: This week the two will outsource their dispute to their lawyers. The Ontario government is asking the provincial court of appeal to decide whether the federal climate change law is unconstitutional. The four-day hearing before a five-judge panel, which kicks off this morning, will also hear from a number of interveners, including Saskatchewan (which still awaits an appeal court ruling on its own provincial carbon tax challenge) and British Columbia, the Alberta Conservatives as well as Indigenous, business and environmental groups. (The Canadian Press)

Canadians will be able to watch the court case unfold themselves. In a rare move the Ontario appeals court is allowing the hearings to be livestreamed, the first time it has done so since 2008. Beginning at 10 the livestream here.

Do-over: Trudeau was welcomed at a Sikh temple and parade in Vancouver Saturday, hours after his government agreed to take out references to Sikh extremism from a report on terror threats. The Public Safety report, originally released in December, had angered many in the community because, for the first time, it listed Sikh extremism as one of the top-five extremist threats to Canada, alongside Sunni extremism, right-wing extremism, Shia extremism and Canadian extremist travellers. (Canadian Press)

The move drew an angry rebuke from the leader of India’s Sikh-majority Punjab state, Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, who slammed Trudeau for what he called a “knee-jerk decision that was clearly aimed at protecting its political interests in an election year.” (Global News)

Weekend politics show roundup

If only: With her fate as Alberta premier up in the air, the NDP’s Rachel Notley reflected on how things might be different today had the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion gone ahead. “Things would have been a little bit better,” she said on CBC’s The House. “There’s no question that last summer people were really looking up, there was a much higher sense of optimism, the economy had been moving forward in a better way, we led the country in growth the year before and we led the country in growth last year. It was when the pipeline was delayed and then at the same time we reached capacity in terms of takeaway capacity and the differential blew up, people suddenly got worried again, and things did slow down as a result. But at the end of the day what you have to do is remain focussed on the plan to get out of that problem, and that’s what we have.” (CBC News)

Fair mongering: Border Security Minister Bill Blair repeated his party’s claim that the Conservatives are “fear mongering” when it comes to refugees, even as the Liberal government faces criticism from refugee advocates for proposing a clampdown on asylum seekers. Even though the new Liberal proposals reflect some of the changes Conservatives have been calling for in recent years, Blair drew a distinction on motive:There is no safety issue but there is a fairness issue,” Blair said on CTV’s Question Period. “We have a responsibility to Canadians to ensure that the system is managed in an efficient and fair way, so we’ve been taking steps to encourage people to cross at a regular point of entry and not to do it irregularly.

Pick and choose: Jane Philpott may run again for another party, but as of right now, she’s not sure which, if any, she’d choose—it just wouldn’t be the Conservatives. Appearing on Question Period, she said she’s had conversations with the federal NDP and Greens, but that there are “too many policy differences” for her to join Team Scheer. While she said she’s still occasionally tempted to quit politics, she wants to find a way to run again because “I stood up and said what I believed, tried to advance the truth, tried to stand up on principle… and was essentially pushed away as a result of that. If people that are trying to do the right thing and standing up for truth and justice get pushed away and leave politics forever, I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing, so I’d like to think that I could stay at it. (CTV News)

Jason Markusoff’s Alberta election dispatch

In the dying days of this campaign, it’s time for closing remarks. The party leaders will make their final pitches, sure, but I mean my own concluding observations:

What we learned about Notley and the NDP

  1. She’s not such an amazing campaigner, after all: The 2015 election introduced Alberta and Canada to a sunny dispositioned, not-too-socialist-seeming New Democrat leader, who looked especially intriguing in the debate as the short, smiling lady in crème blazer against a row of dour men in navy suits. This time, Notley struggled with high expectations, turning in a carefully scripted and less-than-dazzling debate performance, and overdoing it on the attack-side rhetoric. While she professed to offer cleaner government than Jason Kenney, she didn’t excel at playing defence when faced with questions about her two unnamed MLAs accused of sexual misconduct while in office.
  2. Fear is what fuels their supporters: Notley began the NDP campaign stating she didn’t think Kenney was a racist, but his party had a racism problem. The UCP campaign did turn out to have an abnormally high quotient of homophobia and xenophobia in its ranks, and this became a core message from an incumbent party struggling on their economic message. Notley proved she could be harsh and bare-knuckled at times: “You may not agree with everything I’ve done, but we share core values—and we won’t attack minorities,” she said at a campaign stop in a day care. If this strategy yields dividends for Notley, expect to see Justin Trudeau swipe it in this fall’s federal campaign.
  3. We learned about Notley’s family: In 2015 and throughout her term as premier, Notley shielded her children from public view. This time, her 20-year-old son Ethan introduced her at a rally, and teenage daughter Sophie was in a Facebook video, joking about how much her mom cusses in front of friends. It was designed to give Albertans further reason to like this generally likeable politician, though it may also been designed as contrast to Kenney, who would be Alberta’s first child-free premier (though Danielle Smith came close to winning the position in 2012).
  4. Back to corporate-bashing: Gone this campaign were the images of Notley at a boardroom table with captains of industry. She instead reverted to a classic NDP posture, talking about CEOs as the billionaire “corporate buddies” of conservatives who line their pockets at the working class’s expense. The UCP were joined by Liberals and the Alberta Party in promising to cut the provincial corporate tax, as a way to attract investment. Notley played the economic populist in response, saying that Donald Trump’s corporate rate cuts didn’t stoke investment. While that’s true, this occurred because the U.S. economy was hot, something nobody says about Alberta’s.
  5. NDP’s economic solution: more government: The centrepiece of Notley’s jobs plan is to double the number of incentive dollars for petrochemical and oil upgrading—economic diversification, like former premier Peter Lougheed did in the 1970s, the NDP argues. (This “diversification” remains focused on oil and gas, and Lougheed’s bets included a money-losing investment in an airline). A key basis of her pledge to balance the budget by 2023 is the assumption the Alberta government will make tanker-loads of money by leasing oil-hauling rail cars another risky venture.
  6. Her party needs her: Their own brand, not so much. It’s sometimes hard to remember Notley’s name isn’t part of the acronym NDP. Her party would be directionless without her, especially in the (probably unlikely) event Notley steps down as leader should the NDP lose. One Calgary candidate introduces herself while door-knocking as a local professional running to be the MLA; no mention of the NDP, lest that close off the conversation. When a couple of male residents asked the candidate what party she was with, her answer ended the conversation. “We’ll cut this short then, thanks,” said one seemingly decided voter.

What we learned about Kenney and the UCP:

  1. He’s not such an amazing campaigner, after all: Jason Kenney came into Alberta politics renowned for his organizational prowess for the federal Conservatives—a co-architect of the Harper majority. In his first test as a political frontman, his flaws could be glaring. While charismatic and times, his stump speeches showed his wonkish tendencies: overlong, stuffed with 12-point platforms and constantly interrupted with “and oh, by the way” asides that Kenney just had to squeeze in. His vetting of candidates with intolerant views and past remarks was subpar, or perhaps his team was kept busy with a wide field of rejects and he had to overlook a few problematic figures.
  2. Revenge fuels their electorate: Kenney likes to remind his partisans that Vancouver’s mayor has discussed a carbon-free city by 2040. It tees up his applause-grabbing line about “turning off the taps.” “Well, if the B.C. New Democrats continue to block our energy, we’ll happily give them a carbon-free Vancouver by 2020.” Alberta has curtailed shipments as leverage before, during the 1980s National Energy Program. Kenney’s self-proclaimed “fight back” strategy has targets and demands all over the place: environmentalists, international banks, Quebec, energy companies (they need to fight back, too) and of course Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa. One sign this works politically? Notley has often aped his approach, like her B.C. wine ban last year, his idea months earlier.
  3. He was accessible to media—up to a point: Kenney rose through the political ranks at Stephen Harper’s side, but was always far more comfortable parrying with journalists. He engaged in long scrums throughout the campaign, eschewing the former Prime Minister’s policy of taking only five questions per day the media. He let reporters spend one-on-one time in his campaign vehicle (a pickup truck). Then, in the final days of the race, he stopped welcoming reporters’ questions; they were physically prevented from getting close enough to ask him about his candidate whose business was raided by RCMP.
  4. Investigations will dog a Kenney government from Day One: Last week’s late-night police search warrant on a business owned by Calgary–East candidate Peter Singh is one in a series of legal troubles the UCP would bring with them into government, if polls prove correct and they win. The RCMP is also questioning people about alleged voter fraud in Kenney’s party leadership victory, while the Alberta Election Commissioner continues to investigate the shenanigans of Jeff Callaway, Kenney’s stalking-horse candidate in that contest. This many controversies can sometimes be enough to drum a politician out of office. But to enter office with this many problems? In a way, Kenney must be grateful economic anxiety is running so high in Alberta.
  5. The UCP will legislate on social issues: Two years ago, when Kenney first mused about parental notification of students in gay-straight alliances, he faced overwhelming backlash. So it was surprising he promised mid-campaign to undo some legislated protections for GSAs that the NDP enacted. This triggered some of the fiercest reaction his campaign has provoked, from rallies to Charles Adler’s radio program. Given the aggressiveness of the NDP’s attack strategy and Kenney’s willingness to nibble at the edges of LGBTQ rights, it surprises me that Notley’s team didn’t warn darkly about what a UCP government might do on abortion rights.
  6. Kenney might be a bigger drag on the party than expected: Many UCP candidates were not only wary of bringing up Kenney at the doorsteps, for fear of backlash, but also shied away from their provincial party’s name. Saying “hi, I’m your Conservative candidate” was a handy way to focus on the popularity of generic conservatism, and downplay the party Kenney created. If there was a campaign brochure with Kenney’s face, odds are it was from the New Democrats. UCP pamphlets were less likely to feature photos of the candidate with his or her leader.