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Alberta NDP to ask UCP cabinet to release risk analysis of Kenney's pipeline deal

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NDP Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley at the Premier's Breakfast in 2016. Image credit: David J. Climenhaga

Opposition NDP members plan to make an emergency motion on Tuesday at a meeting of the legislature's Public Accounts Committee calling for full disclosure of Premier Jason Kenney's $7.5-billion Keystone XL pipeline deal last March.

Technically, the motion will urge the United Conservative Party cabinet to waive its privilege and release the full risk analysis, along with all financial documents related to the deal.

Calling the premier's decision in March 2020 a "risky bet," Opposition Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley said that "now that the project has been stopped, Albertans deserve to know exactly how much of their money is at stake, and how much analysis -- if any -- was conducted by the UCP before spending billions on this project."

The Keystone XL deal died on Wednesday, hours after Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States. Among Biden's first acts in office was the revocation of the permit issued by former president Donald Trump in 2016 allowing construction of the controversial pipeline to proceed.

If a risk analysis had been done before Kenney's decision on March 31, 2020, to provide an immediate $1.5-billion cash subsidy to Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. and an additional $6 billion in loan guarantees, it seems likely it would have mentioned the fact Biden, then a leading candidate to represent the Democrats in the November 2020 election, had promised to pull the plug on KXL if he was elected.

Remember, on March 3, Biden won 10 states in the Super Tuesday primary. On March 10, he won another five states. So even though it was early June before he was considered the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee, it was obvious he had a strong chance of winning. Biden formally accepted the party's nomination on August 21.

Presumably any Alberta government risk analysis would also have noted that that any new president could revoke the KXL construction permit without a vote of the U.S. Congress because when Trump approved construction he did so by executive order and took no further action.

Up to now, the UCP has refused to reveal any of the details of the deal.

During his news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Premier Kenney defended his gamble last March as a wise and prudent "investment," a term that echoed the government video press release last year describing the plan, and not as a high-risk gamble.

Claiming he had no regrets about what he did, Kenney said in response to a reporter's question that "any responsible Alberta government would have made that decision." (This answer begins at 14:35 on the YouTube video of the premier's news conference.)

"Had we not done so," said the man who while campaigning in 2017 promised to introduce legislation preventing governments going into the market to pick winners and losers, "the project would have died last year because of the perceived political risk associated with it."

In the end, of course, it turned out the political risk was real, as surely any government risk analysis would have shown even in March 2020.

The goal, Premier Kenney continued, revealing his core strategy, was to "create facts on the ground." Facts, in the event, that did not divert President Biden from keeping his promise to American voters.

At a meeting of the Public Accounts on November 17 last year, NDP committee member Marlin Schmidt called on the government to release the details of the deal. Cabinet responded that a formal request to release documents was required before that could happen.

"We are making that formal request," Ganley said, "so the deal can be released and Albertans can finally get some answers."

It seems unlikely details will be forthcoming from this secretive government. After all, the UCP holds a majority on the committee with eight members compared to four for the NDP, so the request is not likely to be forwarded to cabinet.

Still, you never know, perhaps Kenney, having strongly defended his "investment," will want to back up that interpretation with the facts he had on hand.

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 credit: David J. Climenhaga

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