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Liberals set to exploit Jason Kenney's 'Canada is broken' tweet

Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley in 2016

Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's now-famous "Canada is broken" tweet from a week ago may turn out to have been the symbolic starting point of the 2019 federal election campaign.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his federal Liberals were quick to jump on the opportunity handed to them by the former federal Conservative cabinet minister, who is still strongly associated in the minds of Canadians with the government of Stephen Harper.

"Canada is the best country in the world. There is not a single country on Earth that wouldn't trade their problems for ours. I love this country down to my bones, and I will defend it and our values against anyone who says it's broken," Trudeau told the closing session of his party's national convention in Halifax yesterday.

Kenney's April 15th Tweet contained a link to a characteristically tendentious Calgary Herald story that complained B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan was "still blocking Trans Mountain" after his meeting in Ottawa to discuss the pipeline impasse with the PM and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

So what Kenney presumably meant was not so much that "Canada is broken" as "Canada must be broken because the oil industry isn't getting its way." (People elsewhere in Canada might be inclined to paraphrase my paraphrase as "Canada must be broken because Alberta isn't getting its way." In Kenney's mind, and the minds of many other Alberta politicians, though, that's pretty much the same thing.)

In other words, Kenney is unhappy that we still have a rule book in Canada that more or less applies to everybody. This includes both Alberta politicians and the oil industry, even when the government of British Columbia threatens court action to protect the province's environment from the risks posed by a pipeline carrying large amounts of diluted bitumen.

It's ironic that Kenney -- not to mention many of his opponents in Premier Notley's NDP government -- use the phrase "rule of law" to express their anger at the fact Canada is still a country that abides by the rule of law, as this situation illustrates. After all, if Alberta's case on pipeline expansion project proposed by Kinder Morgan Inc. of Texas is the constitutional slam-dunk everyone insists it is, Alberta will get its way soon enough. But not until it can be dealt with in the courts -- as befits a country governed under the rule of law.

Alas for impatient legislators on both sides of the aisle in Edmonton and Ottawa, and for Kinder Morgan's owners in Houston, that means we're going to have to wait for the courts to rule on it. The wheels of justice grind slowly. Still, that's hardly evidence the country is broken. Au contraire!

Saying Canada is broken may play in Ponoka. I am sure that is Kenney's educated bet. Since he's not a politician to be underestimated, I don't know that I'd want to bet against him. But in Penticton, Pembroke or Pointe-Claire? Probably not so much!

I'm guessing most Canadians will react to this as Trudeau is guessing they will. That is, they will see Kenney's remark as maybe not exactly unpatriotic, but leaning that way. And, if you think about the things Kenney likely had in mind when he passed that epigrammatic judgment, they may conclude it's verging on un-Canadian, too.

It also sounded whiny, self-righteous and over the top, as we Albertans tend to be when we're not getting our way, so that makes it easier to attack in most parts of the country without offending other Canadians, who are generally fair-minded about situations like this.

Finally, the fact this comment was made by a social conservative activist closely associated with the worst aspects of the Harper Government allows the Liberals to remind Canadians of what so many of us didn't like about the decade of Conservative rule in Ottawa. That makes it easy to paint Andrew Scheer, the putative leader of the federal Conservatives, in the same dark colours.

We can now see the Liberals setting up a national campaign that is about 50 per cent Sunny Ways and 50 per cent Beware the Dog. For this, Kenney looks better for the role of the dog than the smilingly vacuous Scheer.

But from Scheer to Kenney to the glowering visage of Harper is a short, straight line. It will be easy for Trudeau to connect those dots in the minds of voters.

As the Prime Minister said: "The current Leader of the Opposition introduced himself to Canadians a year ago as 'Stephen Harper with a smile.' It may be Andrew Scheer's smile. But it's still Stephen Harper's party… The same policies, the same politics of fear and division. If anything, they've been emboldened by successful campaigns elsewhere in the world to divide people against one another."

Trudeau can now use Kenney as a metaphorical club with which to beat Scheer. This may not hurt Kenney in Alberta, but it sure as heck won't help Scheer most other places.

And why not? As has been argued here before, Kenney still can't let go of his past role as a federal big shot. If he can't keep his oar out of the national pond while he campaigns in Alberta, his friends and admirers in Ottawa shouldn't complain if somebody tries to ensure the waves he makes tip the Tory canoe!

Canada is broken? Not yet, it's not.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Flickr/premierofalberta

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