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Jason Kenney tries to look tough, but that ship's already sailed with Rachel Notley at the helm

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Rachel Notley. Image: David J. Climenhaga

You know, I don't think Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's actually been having a very good February.

These days Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, though, seems to be enjoying herself.

Ever since Notley started demonstrating how to sound and look tougher than supposedly tough Conservative leader in the ongoing pipeline scrap with British Columbia, the former federal minister of defence has been looking almost as nervous as he did standing behind his old boss out there on the dusty plains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Back then, though, Kenney was more than a horizon away from the nearest sniper. Now the danger's much closer to home, and the U.S. Air Force is not available to render assistance.

Lately, indeed, the United Conservative Party leader almost has the look of a man who's caught a glimpse of the future, and doesn't particularly like what he sees. Then again, maybe he's just looking a little hollow-eyed as a result of slimming down in preparation for the next round of PAC-funded election ads.

Regardless, just days ago, Kenney seemed to be trying to remake himself in the mould of the now thankfully departed Brad Wall, that is to say, as the new Mr. Congeniality of Confederation. "We believe Albertans deserve a Legislature, deserve an Official Opposition, that demonstrates civility and respect for our democratic institutions, including our opponents," he preached to the choir at his swearing-in ceremony.

But no sooner had Notley begun to bash B.C. Premier John Horgan, who like Alberta's premier is also a New Democrat, such pieties went out the window faster than a Donald Trump promise, and Kenney flip-flopped right back to his normal nattering narrative of negativity.

But trying to sound tougher than a premier who is beating up Horgan (metaphorically speaking) like Justin Trudeau in a boxing ring with a karate black belt doesn't really look very convincing. (For his part, the prime minister seems to have made himself scarce on another continent while Notley delivers the heavy punches.)

Mind you, as has been argued here before, notwithstanding the claims to the contrary from all the usual suspects in the oil industry's corner, this may be working almost as well for Horgan as it is for Ms. Notley. But that's a topic for another day. This post is about Alberta politics.

Kenney's whole pre-election shtick has been that he's much tougher than Notley and her snowflakey social democrats. So how's that working out for him now that Notley is showing the steel that those of us who have paid attention to her career have always known was there? Plus, Notley's NDP caucus is far more disciplined than the rag-tag Wildrose-Tory B-Team Kenney inherited.

Well, nowadays he's attacking the B.C. NDP as ideological -- always a bit of an irony coming from the leader of the most ideological major political party in Canadian politics -- hoping, I guess, that a bit of that accusation will rub off on the local Dippers.

It seems to me, though, that this is about as effective as accusing Kenney of secretly supporting a carbon tax because Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister openly does. Any old port in a storm, as they say in places like British Columbia that have God-given access to tidewater.

Kenney has sanctimoniously called for a non-partisan emergency debate in the Legislature, presumably to give his caucus an opportunity to grandstand despite the almost total elite consensus on this issue in this province.

But as blogger Susan Wright explained this gambit in her excellent Susan on the Soapbox blog, this idea's "just in from the 'train-has-left-the-station' department.

Kenney's other big idea: attack the Alberta Teachers Association for inviting B.C.-based environmentalist David Suzuki to address their convention.

The UCP Leader has tried to organize morning and evening Two-Minute Hate sessions on Facebook in hopes of straightening out the zig-zaggy line from Suzuki to the B.C. Greens, to the the B.C. NDP they're propping up, to the teachers at the ATA (often mocked in in the past in certain progressive circles as the Alberta Tory Association), to the union movement (which in Alberta and B.C. is nowadays determinedly pro-pipeline), to the Alberta NDP, to Notley.

Well, it's a reach, but good on him for trying, anyway. Die-hard UCP Wildrosers will be persuaded, maybe, although this is a pretty complicated narrative even for people who hate everything on that long list. For the rest of us, the effect is … well, pathetic, basically.

But, the modern Conservative movement's motto is, "When in Doubt, Attack Teachers." Plus Kenney has long had a thing about Suzuki, who for some reason particularly gets up his nose. So at least the UCP is reverting to form.

As for Suzuki, why not talk to him? What do you want to bet he's going to be the next leader of the B.C. Greens, and after that maybe the next premier of British Columbia?

Oh, you're laughing at me now. But just remember where you heard it first.

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

Image: David Climenhaga

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