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UCP leader discovers there's no affliction more persistent than an outbreak of political theatrics in India

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UCP Amigos Devin Dreeshen, Jason Kenney and Prasad Panda in their Reliance Industries coveralls and helmets (Photo: Facebook).

Jason Kenney's mid-September sojourn to India with a couple of his United Conservative Party sidekicks was pure political theatre, likely aimed as much at the Alberta Opposition leader's real main enemy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as at Alberta's NDP premier, Rachel Notley.

Still, lots of Albertans were wondering last week how three Opposition stooges from a Canadian provincial government could manage to snag all those official-sounding invitations in India.

Perhaps there was a partial explanation in the news yesterday afternoon that UCP Energy Critic Prasad Panda, one of the trio of travellers, owns shares in one of the companies the Alberta Amigos visited and, according to a statement on the Calgary engineer's Twitter account, helped to build the corporation's oil refinery in Jamnagar, which is said to be the world's largest.

The question remains: How could they be so dumb? Or maybe a better way to frame it would be: How can Alberta Conservatives still feel so entitled?

By the sound of it, at any rate, unexpectedly losing the provincial election in 2015 to Notley's NDP has done nothing to instil a sense of caution and propriety in the latest iteration of the party that sees itself as Alberta's natural government.

At any rate, the NDP caucus apparently concluded Panda was using his government office to engage in an activity that could very well benefit his stock portfolio and was therefore a violation of Alberta's ethics policy for MLAs.

Caucus Chair Heather Sweet filed a complaint with Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler yesterday seeking a determination on whether the trip was "a real or perceived conflict of interest," seeing as Panda owns shares and Kenney's been on the radio lately touting the profitability of Mumbai-based Reliance Industries Ltd.

The government caucus put out a news release quoting Sweet saying, "this appears to be the same old tired backroom politics the PCs used to practice," and reminding readers that UCP MLA Ric McIver was found in breach of the Conflicts of Interest Act last year and fined $500 by Commissioner Trussler.

I imagine there's plenty of hair afire over at UCP headquarters, where apparently nobody recalled the sage advice of Lord Chief Justice Viscount Hewart, that "not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."

Instead, talking to reporters, Kenney huffed about how the NDP's question is ridiculous, mere "amateur tactics," and insisted the trip had been cleared in advance by the Ethics Commissioner.

It's true there was a day when Alberta governments didn't stoop to even mentioning that there was an Opposition. But that was back in the era when, in some years, there actually barely was one -- unless you counted crusading publisher J.P. O'Callaghan and the staff of the Edmonton Journal.

When Peter Lougheed's Conservatives won all but five seats in 1979, O'Callaghan declared the Journal to be Alberta's "unofficial opposition," and acted on his declaration. Well, Mr. O'Callaghan is dead, the Journal is hanging by a thread, operating nowadays with the rest of Postmedia's Alberta papers as an echo chamber and cheering section for Kenney and the UCP.

And since the NDP, while it is the governing party, is not at this moment the frontrunner in the race to win the next provincial election, expected next spring, it's hardly a surprise it would remind voters of the very sort of thing that got the Conservatives in trouble in the first place.

We'll see after a spell what Trussler has to say about this. But one conclusion can be drawn from the adventures of the three not-so-wise men from the West: Political trips to India seldom seem to pan out as advertised for Canadian politicians. Federal Conservative Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer is scheduled to see if the third time's the charm in India next month.

The third member of the UCP party was Devin Dreeshen, the recently elected MLA who once campaigned enthusiastically south of the Medicine Line for Republican President Donald Trump. For that effort, he was awarded the post of trade critic by Kenney.

Speaking of Lougheed, Premier Notley was channeling the late Conservative premier at a pipeline conference in Calgary yesterday, warning the federal government to keep its paws off Alberta's energy sector.

Like many in the Alberta oil industry, she was unhappy with the way Ottawa proposes to manage the way major resource projects like pipelines are reviewed and approved.

She said she will dispatch her energy and justice ministers to Ottawa to argue Alberta's case against the Trudeau government's proposals.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Facebook

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