You have to wonder if Jason Kenney’s paranoia about the federal government is sometimes rooted in fact, not fallacy.
Take this week, for example.
On Tuesday, the Alberta premier announced a new ambitious job-creating proposal to recycle plastics. But on Wednesday, the federal government announced a new ban on plastics.
Two weeks ago, Kenney played up the future of petroleum for transportation and played down the future of electric vehicles.
But on Thursday this week, Prime Minister Trudeau joined Premier Doug Ford to announce they were jointly investing a total of $600 million to mass produce electric vehicles in Oakville, Ontario.
“For our auto sector, for the environment, this is a win-win,” declared Trudeau in a comment that, to Kenney, must have sounded like fingernails on a blackboard. Making it more irritating is the fact that Ford and Kenney are political allies.
Kenney has long used the 2009 federal bailout of Ontario’s auto sector as a precedent for some sort of major aid package for Alberta’s beleaguered oil industry today.
What Kenney tends to ignore is that the federal bailout of GM and Chrysler hurt shareholders, left creditors in the lurch and allowed the government to sit on the companies’ board of directors.
Kenney also seems to forget that in 2018 the federal Liberal government spent $4.5 billion to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline and then committed another $7 billion-or-so to expand the Alberta-friendly project.
No matter the awkward details of reality, Kenney’s unyielding narrative is that the Trudeau government is out to screw over Alberta every chance it gets while coddling Ontario and Quebec.
The federal government’s ban on plastics seemed to fit that narrative.
“It’s another example of Ottawa proceeding in a direction that suits their agenda and their purpose,” said Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage. “Stay in your own lane, stay in your own constitutional bounds and let Albertans get back to work.”
However, Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson insists the limited federal ban on products such as plastic straws, stir sticks, take-out bags, cutlery, and six-pack rings is not going to derail Alberta’s ambitious plans to become a “centre of excellence for plastics diversion and recycling.”
“(The federal plan) is really focused on those specific items that are very hard to recycle so it’s hard to see how it would have any significant bearing on the development of a recycling industry,” said Wilkinson.
What’s driving the antagonism here is a lack of communication. Even though Alberta knew Ottawa was planning a plastics ban, the province didn’t know Ottawa would unveil it one day after Kenney’s announcement.
Then there’s Kenney’s new plan to make Alberta a leader in the production of clean-burning hydrogen, also announced this week.
The plan — still in its infancy — sounds like it would fit perfectly into Ottawa’s goals for net-zero emissions by 2050 as outlined in the recent throne speech. But Kenney made a point of loudly criticizing the speech and he doesn’t seem keen to acknowledge his plan could work with Ottawa’s plan — probably because of the term “net-zero.”
It’s an environmental mantra in many parts of Canada but a curse in Alberta. The Kenney government is worried that significantly reducing greenhouse gases to net-zero would further undermine Alberta’s already shaky fossil-fuel-dependent economy.
The two sides do talk to each other, insists Kavi Bal, press secretary to Alberta’s energy minister. But they don’t always acknowledge each other.
“There’s a lack of understanding on some of the issues especially when it comes to our oil and gas sector,” says Bal in something of an understatement.
Alberta and the federal Liberal government are so far apart on some issues they need a telescope to see each other.
Ottawa sees the oil and gas industry as a tool to help Canada transition towards a carbon-reduced future. Alberta sees the industry as an end in itself, like in the good old boom days.
But the world is shifting. Oil companies are downsizing and transitioning towards renewables. Oilsands giant Suncor recently announced it will cut 2,000 jobs over the next 18-months not simply because of low oil prices but because of technological advances such as self-driving trucks in the oilsands.
In July, French-based Total declared it is writing off $9.3-billion worth of oilsands assets in Alberta. In the same month, the Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank said it was joining a list of European financial companies blacklisting new oilsands projects for environmental reasons.
Kenney responded by figuratively shaking his fist at the “misinformed campaign from European financial institutions.” But the dominoes keep falling.
On Thursday, OPEC predicted world demand for oil would plateau in the late 2030s.
Kenney is desperately trying to find ways to create jobs or at least look like he’s trying to create jobs.
In August he even created a ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation. Virtually every day, jobs minister Doug Schweitzer holds a news conference to unveil another ambitious but vague plan to spur the economy.
You have to think when Suncor announces massive layoffs amidst a never-ending recession; the title “Minister of Jobs” seems ominously Orwellian.
Kenney wants to give the impression he is moving forward but the ground is shifting under his feet in the opposition direction. He is on a treadmill going nowhere.
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