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Jason Kenney battles carbon tax, as his 'war room' tussles with local journalist

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Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer promises Alberta has a "unique fact scenario" to sway the courts in its fight against the federal carbon tax. Image: David J. Climenhaga

The linked weekend revelations that the NDP's carbon tax had no meaningful negative impact on Alberta's economy and that 40 per cent of Albertans received carbon-tax rebates larger than the tax they paid were ill-timed from the current government's perspective.

After all, the CBC's report on December 14 of what the Alberta government's own officials had to say about the carbon levy was published at almost the same moment as Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer was touting the government's constitutional challenge of the federal backstop carbon tax that was put into place when the UCP kept its campaign promise and pulled the plug on Alberta's consumer carbon tax.

How did the national broadcaster find out? Its reporters simply read the province's filings in the case Schweitzer was bragging about.

The court documents the CBC bothered to read said the Climate Leadership Plan enacted by the government of former premier Rachel Notley resulted in an average reduction in the growth of Alberta's gross domestic product of 0.05 per cent. Basically a rounding error, in other words.

Even if the tax had been increased from $30 to $50 per tonne, the CBC reported, the difference would have been marginal. And under the CLP, about 60 per cent of households received a carbon-tax rebate, and about 40 per cent got a rebate that was larger than the tax bite.

This is a far cry from the hysteria about the damage supposedly being done by the carbon tax to the Alberta economy that was spread by the UCP during the election campaign. The government's own documents show these claims were baloney.

Accordingly, over the weekend, critics gently accused the UCP of "misrepresenting" the facts. Arguably, "lied about them" would be a more accurate description.

That said, the NDP never sold the tax effectively, and responded to the UCP campaign's deceptions as if the facts would speak for themselves, not much of a plan in a media landscape like Alberta's.

Meanwhile, the government's constitutional challenge has commenced in the Alberta Court of Appeal. Similar challenges by provincial Conservative governments launched as part of their unsuccessful joint effort to weaken Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government in the lead up to October's federal election have not fared particularly well before courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

But according to Schweitzer, Alberta’s claim that taxing carbon interferes with provincial jurisdiction over resources to the point of rewriting the constitution has a better chance of succeeding. "I do believe Alberta has a unique fact scenario that is not there in Saskatchewan and Ontario," Global News quoted the justice minister saying hopefully.

This may seem like whistling past the legal graveyard, but going to court is always enough of a crapshoot that one supposes we ought to reserve our collective judgment until the Alberta Court of Appeal renders its.

Regardless of what happens in Alberta, all three cases are bound for the Supreme Court of Canada.

Still, the fact that the government introduced a carbon tax on large emitters and successfully lobbied Ottawa to treat it as complying with the federal backstop rules suggests the province is not as confident of its legal case as the Justice Minister's bluster would suggest.

Presumably, given its success in the election campaign persuading Albertans the NDP's too-small-to-detect carbon tax was an overwhelming burden, they were more confident they could continue to bolster their faltering public support by screaming at Trudeau about the federal consumer carbon tax.

Along comes the CBC's report with the message the provincial carbon tax did little harm and actually put more jingle in the jeans of those Albertans least able to pay.

One wonders if Premier Jason Kenney's "war room" will call up the national broadcaster and demand time and space to accuse the officials who wrote the court filings of being in league with European environmental radicals and the Rockefeller Foundation to exaggerate Alberta's ethical greenhouse gas emissions.

Oh what a tangled we weave when first we practise to deceive!

War room takes aim at Alberta's last real newspaper, the Medicine Hat News

Speaking of demanding space to reply, Kenney's "war room," otherwise known as the Canadian Energy Centre, decided to "reach out" pretty quickly when it read Medicine Hat News reporter Jeremy Appel's excellent column Friday that concluded, as the headline put it, "Energy War Room an Expensive Joke at Best."

War Room spokesperson Grady Semmens fired off an email to the News on Sunday morning promising to "provide a response to clarify many of the comments and inaccuracies in Mr. Appel's column."

"Bring it on, war room," Appel responded in a tweet.

"I will have you something on Monday afternoon and would appreciate if you could run it an as op-ed as quickly as possible," said Semmens, who enjoys the title director of content and external relations.

As one tweeter suggested, an appropriate response would be, "Here's our rate card if you'd like to buy an advertisement."

After all, what's the Kenney government going to do if the News just says no? Pass the Accurate News and Information Act and require newspapers to print "clarifications" of stories that a committee of government MLAs decides are inaccurate?

In case you missed it, that's been tried before in Alberta, in 1938, and the Supreme Court told the Social Credit League government to get lost. One thing has changed since then, though. Jason Kenney has the notwithstanding clause to play with, something William Aberhart didn't. Do you think Kenney would dare?

The News will be delighted, of course, with the opportunity to make news.

By the way, it will be 29 years on May 7 next since Ray Speaker, minister of municipal affairs in premier Don Getty's Progressive Conservative government, got up on his hind legs in the Alberta legislature and claimed that an "article that was written by Mr. David Climenhaga of the Calgary Herald has more than one inaccuracy."

Minister Speaker (not to be confused with Mr. Speaker) continued: "It is my intent to address those by direct letter to the author."

Let the record show, I am still waiting for the letter. Perhaps Canada Post is to blame, although I doubt that.

Until it is received and examined, AlbertaPolitics.ca, on behalf of the author and the Calgary Herald, is standing by the story.

If the war room has any brains, it might consider the wisdom of adopting the same strategy as that of Speaker. It is sure to cause them less pain in the long run than the fact checking -- and worse, the mockery -- that is bound to follow receipt and publication of their response by the News, which appears to be the last real newspaper in Alberta.

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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga​

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