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Dispatches from the front lines of Alberta politics: Jason Kenney reveals his nasty streak, again

Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

My, my, Jason Kenney's vow to become the new Mr. Congeniality of Confederation sure didn't last very long, did it?

Twitterists are having fun comparing the Alberta Opposition leader's response to a gentle jab by Premier Rachel Notley in the Alberta legislature Tuesday afternoon with what he had to say about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday. Actually the same day, seeing as it must take a few minutes at least to type out a typical anti-Liberal screed in the Calgary Sun.

Debating how best to complete the Kinder Morgan Pipeline in the House, Premier Notley remarked that Kenney may have moved back to Alberta, but he sure acts as if he's still picking up his mail in Ontario. And the mail must be coming from his "bosses" in the Conservative Party of Canada, she implied, a suggestion that clearly got up the sensitive nose of the former lieutenant to Conservative PM Stephen Harper.

"That's alright, Mr. Speaker," the Opposition leader sniffed, "when they go low, we'll go high." It turns out, though, some exceptions to Kenney's high-low distinction apply.

This took place -- what? -- no more than an hour or two before Rick Bell's column was sent to the pressroom over at the combined Calgary Sun-Herald newsroom in the bleak and now mostly empty bunker on Deerfoot Trail.

"I know Justin," Kenney told the Sun columnist. "He doesn't have a clue what he's doing. This guy is an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl. He can't read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin, OK?"

This is a far cry from Kenney's pledge last January, when he told a friendly party audience, "I and our caucus will raise the bar of civility and decorum in the legislature, and in the course of the next 16 months before the next election."

Well, as my mama used to say, nasty is as nasty does. We're all getting to know Jason, and the guy's got a streak of nasty as wide as the highway from Calgary to Edmonton, not to mention a capacity for hypocrisy that'll frankly take your breath away. So none of this should surprise anyone.

It does come as a mild surprise that Kenney would admit to knowing his way around a finger bowl. Surely that's hardly the image of the man of the people he's struggling to portray. But this kind of brass is not unimaginable for a fellow who's never really held a real non-political job and whose principal way of dismissing the prime minister is that the man once worked as a schoolteacher, an honest job if ever there was one!

As an aside, Bell's official Sun biography states that he himself is a former teacher and principal.

Regardless, Kenney's characterization of the prime minister in his chat with Bell was astonishingly offensive, even by the standards of the army of online United Conservative Party trolls that nowadays inhabit the underside of Alberta's bridges.

As this incident suggests, I don't think the rhetorical inclinations of Alberta's putative premier in waiting, who will be 50 in two weeks, are really all that far removed from the internet trolls in short pants that his party employs.

As Government House Leader Brian Mason pointed out yesterday, the man clearly nurses a personal grudge against the prime minister -- whose success in October 2015, it could be argued, put paid to Kenney's dreams of ascending to the prime ministership of Canada.

"Anyone who is presenting themselves as being equipped to lead the province needs to learn very quickly to rise above his own personal hostilities," observed Premier Notley, who regularly demonstrates that capacity in debate in the legislature. Indeed, the debate in which Kenney accused her of taking the low road is instructive in this regard, and well worth reading in Alberta Hansard.

UCP MLAs get their exercise avoiding votes on 'bubble zone' bill

When he is not abusing federal politicians who have thwarted his personal ambitions, Kenney continues to lead his hapless UCP MLAs in and out of the legislature in his ongoing effort to avoid any debate whatsoever on Bill 9, the NDP's abortion clinic "bubble zone" legislation.

This is surely one of the more bizarre parliamentary strategies to have been devised in the history of democracy, although one cannot say with absolute confidence that it will not be effective, at least among the UCP base.

Whether the UCP's unwillingness to say a word for or against the bill is motivated by a search for perfect deniability of holding any position on a divisive issue, or concern about what members of his current B-team caucus might say or do is not clear.

What is clear is that they're getting their exercise, almost as if they were benefitting from the efforts of the newly svelte Kenney's personal exercise boot-camp trainer. In debate on the bill Tuesday, each of the five-times former UCP member Derek Fildebrandt proposed an amendment to the bill, the entire caucus obediently popped up and trooped out to the hallway.

Federal NDP leader takes sides on KMX … but not Alberta's

Speaking of the Kinder Morgan pipeline on which so many politicians seem lately to have staked their future, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has finally, ever so gingerly, sided with British Columbia Premier John Horgan and the B.C. NDP's fight against the Texas company's planned expansion megaproject.

Several times in the past few days Singh has said the $7.4-million project needs more thorough environmental assessment, a position that lines up neatly with Horgan's and is seen as anathema by Notley's Alberta NDP, not to mention virtual treason by her opposition. It also reflects the political realities facing the federal NDP in B.C., Alberta and Quebec, of course. 

This may not result in a name change by the Alberta party -- just yet, anyway -- but it is fair to describe this widening rift as powerful evidence of irreconcilable differences between the federal and Alberta NDPs.

Is Canadian democracy too important to be left to voters?

Meanwhile, facing Kinder Morgan's threat to take its Russian pipe and go back to Texas if it doesn't get a profit guarantee by the end of this month, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau yesterday plaintively promised the corporation that Ottawa would cover any losses it may suffer as a result of the functioning of democracy in Canada.

The federal government has a "clear role to play," Morneau told a news conference in the nation's capital, to buffer Kinder Morgan's owners from any financial risks that may arise from legitimate constitutional court challenges by the B.C. government.

This prompted a mild rebuke on Twitter from Singh, who in turn was less mildly rebuked for being wrong about everything by Notley.

Given all this, one surely wonders when we're going to hear from the fossil fuel industry's friends in government that Canadian democracy is simply too important to be left in the hands of voters!

Another old Tory joins the pot parade

Finally, there is something more than a little unseemly about the spectacle of former conservative politicians rushing to embrace Canada's burgeoning legal marijuana industry.

The latest to join the pot parade is former federal and provincial Progressive Conservative stalwart Peter Elzinga, who effective immediately becomes chair of the board of Atlas Growers, which is building a huge medical and recreational marijuana operation northwest of Edmonton.

Elzinga served as both a federal PC MP and provincial MLA, and as a member of the cabinets of premiers Don Getty and Ralph Klein. In addition to being Klein's deputy premier, he returned after retiring from elected office in 1992 to serve as King Ralph's chief of staff from 1998 to 2004.

With the honourable exception of Fildebrandt, nowadays relegated to the back corner of the legislature as an Independent, not a single conservative seems to have spoken up for the many Canadians who will be stuck with criminal records for marijuana possession.

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

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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