Jason Kenney following well-known authoritarian playbook

Photo: Jason Kenney/Facebook

The Alberta election should be a straightforward choice between two competing visions of the future.

The United Conservative Party (UCP) opposition stands for doubling down on the historic economic strategy of supporting the petroleum industry and promoting oil exports. It calls for pipeline expansion east and west, as well as south.

The NDP government wants to end the boom-and-bust cycle of dependence on oil and gas prices, by re-cycling resource revenues into a knowledge-based economy. It wants Alberta to have a more diversified economy and supports investment in high-tech industries such as artificial intelligence and in alternative energy sources.

Alberta is still recovering from a vicious recession caused by a deep fall in oil prices. The Jason Kenney-led UCP are playing on the fears, anger, and anxiety of citizens who have been dealing with recession insecurities.

Problems include not just serious unemployment and income losses, but also increases in social ills that accompany an economic bust: family violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and mental illness. 

Instead of addressing these issues, Kenney has decided to troll the federal government, threatening to call a referendum on equalization payments if approval for pipelines is not given by Ottawa.

Promising to stand up to Justin Trudeau, Kenney is making statements he knows are not true, which is the dictionary definition of lying. Kenney wants Albertans to believe they are the victims of a scheme to take money out of their pockets and give it to Quebec.

In 1982, as part of the patriation process, the Canadian Constitution was amended. At the request of Saskatchewan and Alberta, which entered Confederation in 1905 without this assurance, it was clearly stated in the Constitution Act 1982 (part VI) that non-renewable natural resources fell under exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

At the same time, the Constitution Act 1982 (part III) gave the federal government responsibility for reducing regional disparities and confirmed that all Canadians should have access to comparable levels of public services. To this end, provinces with income (and therefore tax revenues) below the average are entitled by the Constitution to receive transfer from the federal government as equalization payments.

Alberta has income per capita about one-third higher than the Canadian average, so it receives no equalization payments.

The federal government collects taxes from Canadian corporations and individuals. From its revenues, it makes equalization payments, and makes transfers to all the provinces for health and social programs on a per-capita basis.

Alberta receives transfer payments for health and social programs. Though it has the lowest provincial tax rates in Canada and the lowest provincial debt, these transfer payments help Alberta spend the most on health care per capita of any province.

Quebec has the highest provincial tax rates and the highest provincial debt, and income per capita is well below the national average, so it receives equalization payments to allow it provide services comparable to elsewhere.

Kenney was part of the Conservative federal government that established the latest version of the equalization program he is now saying hurts Alberta. You would think he would be ashamed of his hypocrisy, but he is following a well-known playbook now being used in Ontario and in Washington.

Populist leaders like Ontario Premier Doug Ford or U.S. President Donald Trump or Jason Kenney, more accurately described as right-wing authoritarians, divide societies into friends and enemies, and employ all measures at their disposal to attack their supposed enemies without respect for science or truth.

In Alberta this includes inciting hatred of Premier Rachel Notley and signalling approval to extreme right-wing, white supremacy groups that protest and threaten violence against her person, her government, and her supporters, as recent disturbing incidents involving champions of militant patriarchy such as Soldiers of Odin or Yellow Vests Alberta have shown.

Authoritarian leaders scapegoat LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, Sikhs, visible minorities, and Indigenous peoples, which distracts attention from issues that need to be addressed like climate change, early childhood education and a host of others.

In Alberta, as Mack Lamoureux has reported, an armed anti-Islamists group known as III% or the "three percent," has been formed and openly speaks about making war on Muslims.

Kenney identifies external enemies like Ottawa to foster confusion and create divisions. Identifying imagined threats to Alberta, Kenney then promises to save the province from its enemies.

Leaders like Ford, Trump, or Kenney have no intention of governing in the usual sense of gathering ideas and information from consultations with citizens, and debating and implementing spending and policy measures.

An authoritarian leader puts on a show; citizens pay the price.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Jason Kenney/Facebook

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