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Jason Kenney's ineffective pandemic strategy mirrors his failure to support clean energy

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Memo to United Conservative Party issues managers: Your boss will need to take some time today away from defending his COVID-19 response to attack the New York state pension fund for its decision to dump all fossil fuel stocks in the next five years and eliminate investments in companies that contribute to global warming by 2040.

It's been hours since the New York Times reported the announcement by the state's comptroller and still no insults from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney!

There hasn't even been a story on the website of the Canadian Energy Centre, our province's vaunted $30-million "war room," which was supposed to teach these urban green types not to mess with Alberta.

Maybe Kenney could call Thomas P. DiNapoli "brain dead," which is apparently the premier's preferred epithet for American officials who don't share his view of the benign nature of fossil fuels like Alberta's vast reserves of bitumen.

That ought to be effective. Five days after he called Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer the same thing last June for her opposition to Enbridge's Line 5 shipping Alberta crude through her state, she took legal action to completely shut down the pipeline in 2021. (Happy New Year, Mr. Premier!)

As political columnist Graham Thomson observed last month about Whitmer's riposte, "in politics, there are no coincidences."

But then, since when did being effective ever have anything to anything UCP strategy?

While we've all been focused on the UCP's hesitant response to COVID-19 -- which created the conditions that led to the renewed lockdown-by-another-name reluctantly announced by the Kenney government on Tuesday -- we've momentarily forgotten that the premier's management of the economy hasn't been any better.

Kenney's favoured approach of insulting anyone who disagrees with him won't work with the coronavirus, which doesn't have an ideology or care what he says, any more than it's going to work with U.S. politicians who are worried about global temperature increases.

It's all very well to tell a local reporter that his query at a news conference about COVID "sounds a lot more like an NDP speech than a media question," but it's doubtful many New York state politicians would even know what NDP stands for.

Anyway, according to the Times, DiNapoli resisted skidding energy stocks for a long time, but finally gave up when Premier Kenney's favourite corporations refused to do anything to transition from fossil fuels to renewable, less-polluting forms of energy.

"New York State's pension fund is at the leading edge of investors addressing climate risk, because investing for the low-carbon future is essential to protect the fund's long-term value," the elected state official said in a statement.

That's important because, as the Times reported, with assets of US$266 billion, the state's pension fund is "one of the world's largest and most influential investors."

Said the Times: "Mr. DiNapoli, who is the fund's sole trustee, joins other investors in concluding that energy companies that do not reshape themselves to part with oil and gas are poor long-term bets."

And this is just a harbinger of what is to come, with a president committed to a greener economy, if not quite a Green New Deal, about to move into the White House next month. Like president-elect Joe Biden, DiNapoli is a Democrat.

Also poor long-term bets, my friends, are governments of petro-provinces that don't recognize the dawning realization in world capitals that civilization won't survive if we destroy the planet's climate to keep pumping oil.

Despite the timidity of their plan to use Alberta's energy know-how to transition over time to cleaner sources of energy, at least the Alberta NDP under Rachel Notley recognized this reality and had a plan.

Kenney's UCP successfully booted the NDP from power in 2019 with campaign of pure denial about that reality.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

This is not so different, come to think of it, from the way Kenney set the stage for Alberta's holiday lockdown by insisting for months COVID-19 was just "an influenza that does not generally threaten life apart from the elderly and the immunocompromised."

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.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

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