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Whatever happened to the UCP's belligerent response to inconvenient European bankers?

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Deutsche Bank AG headquarters in Frankfurt. Image: Thomas Wolf/foto-tw.de/Creative Commons

Once upon a time in Alberta if some foreign bank had dared to announce it wasn't about to put money into any more Alberta oilsands projects there would have been a furious roar from Jason Kenney.

There would have been threats to unleash a "war room" on the bankers as well as fearsome denunciations of Rachel Notley's NDP -- proof, Kenney and his supporters would have screeched, that seeking social licence for oilsands mining was a pathetic failure and Alberta needed a more muscular response to foreign lovers of dictator oil.

And if some environmental law organization had launched an embarrassing court action, the reaction of Kenney and his United Conservative Party would have been bitter and fierce. They would have threatened to haul them before an inquiry into foreign-financed enemies of Alberta, or worse.

But that was when the UCP was the Opposition and Notley's NDP was the government of Alberta -- or before that even, when the conservative party was just a twinkle in Wildrose party leader Brian Jean's ambitious eye and before Kenney had come up with a scheme to snatch it for himself.

Already this week both those things have happened and yet the reactions of the UCP and Kenney have been remarkably passive.

On Monday, Deutsche Bank AG, as the CBC put it, "is joining a lengthening list of European lenders and insurance companies that say they won't back new oilsands projects."

Kenney grumbled a bit for local reporters, calling the chilling news from Frankfurt the result of "a misinformed campaign from European financial institutions which have wrongly judged the Canadian oilsands as being the environmental equivalent of thermal coal."

He also complained "they're lumping in the Canadian oilsands because they've seen that on a brochure from a series of green pressure groups in Europe." This is probably not how a multinational bank with more than 62 billion euros in equity does its due diligence. The premier told a reporter he would hold Deutsche Bank to account.

But there was no sign of the wall-to-wall outrage we would have seen and heard when the NDP was in power. The UCP online rage machine had gone strangely quiet, perhaps not wishing to call too much attention to a debacle that is sure to get worse and about which the premier can do little.

As for the "war room," nowadays known as Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., it has a new logo and a new website theme but not a word about the latest news from Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, the same day, the Ecojustice Canada Society was back in court seeking an injunction to suspend the Kenney government's public inquiry into so-called "anti-Alberta" environmental campaigns until the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench makes a ruling in the environmental legal charity's challenge of the inquiry's legality. 

Calling the inquiry "an illegitimate, biased, and unfair political stunt," Ecojustice executive director Devon Page said "organizations and individuals -- particularly those working at the grassroots level -- should not be expected to redirect resources away from the critical work they're doing to prevent the climate catastrophe and take part in a process that is stacked against them."

The injunction would force inquiry commissioner Steve Allan to halt the public inquiry until a court can rule on whether the process is legal in the first place, the environmental law organization explained.

Ecojustice launched its court challenge last fall. The crux of Ecojustice's case for an injunction is that since its scheduled court hearing was cancelled because of COVID-19, and the government has postponed the deadline for the inquiry to submit its final report to October 30, updated its terms of reference, and given it another $1 million, the inquiry should not proceed until the courts have determined whether or not it is legal.

"Irreparable reputational harm may be inflicted on the applicant and other organizations by the release of unproven evidence with no procedural protections in place," the application for the injunction states. "The potential harm to the applicant and other organizations far outweighs whatever public interest there may be in concluding the Inquiry by an arbitrary date."

Allan, all but missing in action for months, had nothing at all to say about this.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage's press secretary seems to have sent media outfits a one-liner saying "the Government of Alberta is committed to protecting Canada's largest economic sub-sector from attack by foreign opposition, and we will see this inquiry through to its completion.”

But other than a few screeches from UCP supporters who apparently didn't get the issues-management memo and tried to spin the application as an unlikely coverup conspiracy theory, there was very little reaction from the government itself.

Probably UCP spin doctors are trying to figure out how they can make the inquiry look like smart move if it fails to find any evidence for the government's pre-election conspiracy theories, even with four extra months and an infusion of additional cash.   

It just goes to show that it's easy to be a hero from the Opposition benches. Not so easy when you're the government and you've realized -- even if you're not about to admit it aloud -- that the only thing that might work now to save the oilsands industry's bacon is more social licence, Rachel Notley style.

Meanwhile, as University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe pointed out in a CBC op-ed yesterday, this year "for the first time in 55 years, Alberta will be a net receiver in the federation."

That is to say, Tombe explained, because of the COVID-19 crisis, low world oil prices and the worldwide recession, 2020 will be the first year since 1965 Ottawa will be spending more cash in this province than it collects in taxes.

Don't expect Alberta to stop complaining about the state of Confederation's finances any time soon, however.

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 his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Thomas Wolf/foto-tw.de/Creative Commons​

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