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Jason Kenney just lost the largest cash bet in Canadian history

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday’s Keystone XL news conference. Image credit: Video still/Government of Alberta

U.S. President Joe Biden's swift action yesterday to revoke the permit to build the Keystone XL Pipeline has exposed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to the world as a hopeless prat.

Kenney gave away $1.5 billion on a dumb bet that he'd look like a hero if Donald Trump were re-elected president of the United States and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline went ahead.

Never mind that the case for KXL was a dubious one, as was Kenney's claim Alberta's continued economic success depended on it.

In terms of electoral strategy, though, giving $1.5 billion to Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. to continue working on the troubled project and promising it another $6 billion in loan guarantees to finish it would have been a triumph if only the U.S. electorate had cooperated.

Not only could Kenney have claimed to have Made Alberta Great Again, as he promised when he ran successfully against Rachel Notley's modestly sensible NDP government in 2019, he would have been perfectly placed to return to Ottawa covered in glory and ascend to the prime ministership of Canada as soon as the latest federal Conservative leader had gone the way of the last one.

The pipeline didn't need to be a financial success. It just needed to be under construction when Kenney took his leave from dreary Alberta to return to the bright lights of Ottawa.

And while it may have been a foolish strategy, it wasn't a hopeless one. Had it not been for COVID-19, Trump might very well have won.

But punters don't always win their bets. Kenney can stomp his feet at the injustice of it as much as he likes, but he wasn't the first man to come home from the casino without his shirt and he won't be the last.

Trump lost the election on November 3, and pretty persuasively at that, even if many Republicans in the United States have bought into the crackpot theory the election was stolen.

Biden, the Democrat, was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States yesterday morning and almost the first thing he did was sign an executive order killing KXL, just as he promised he would do before the American people elected him.

This time, nothing will bring that pipeline back.

You could argue the handwriting was on the wall back in 2014 when President Barack Obama killed it by executive order, even though Kenney's former boss Stephen Harper said he wouldn't take no for an answer.

The Democrats had decided the survival of the United States not only didn't depend on dirty bitumen from Alberta, they were starting to think it might depend on somehow transitioning away from the carbon economy.

Determined to undo everything Obama had achieved in his two terms in office, Trump used an executive order of his own to breathe life back into the project.

Biden, in turn, campaigned on undoing that Trump policy, and once sworn in yesterday morning he acted immediately.

You can rage, as Kenney did yesterday, or you can rejoice, as many environmentalists did on both sides of the world's longest undefended border.

You can argue, with some credibility, that if the only way to enact a policy in the United States is by executive order, then there's something wrong with their system of government.

You may think this is the worst thing to happen in living memory or the first sign of reason from the United States in the past four years and you're welcome to your opinion.

But the deal is done. It won't be undone, for the same reason TC Energy wouldn't put its own investors' money into the project.

Whatever you think, KXL has already had one latter-day Lazarus moment and it's not going to have another.

Premier Kenney will go down as the man who lost what surely must be the largest cash bet in Canadian history.

Nothing will salvage his reputation.

Jason Kenney's news conference

Kenney, in a Royal Canadian Legion necktie and looking as if he could use a haircut, was raising his voice even before his staffers could turn on the video feed and start streaming his news conference to the masses yesterday afternoon.

He called President Biden's decision to keep the promise he made on the campaign trail a betrayal of the United States' best friend at least three times. Maybe more.

But it was evident within seconds that the object of this overwrought theatrical performance wasn't to get Biden to change his mind. Even Kenney and the members of his United Conservative Party (UCP) caucus must know that presidential train has left the station.

It was to find a way to somehow transfer the disaster onto the shoulders of his political arch rival, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You could almost smell the flop sweat coming off the computer screen.*

Kenney demands the prime minister start a trade war with the United States.

If the U.S. government won't play ball, he said, "then it is clear that the Government of Canada must impose meaningful trade and economic sanctions in response to defend our country's vital economic interests."

Never mind that they're already basically our only customer for this stuff.

This seems to have come from the place Kenney gets a lot of his dumb ideas: a National Post op-ed yesterday morning by Jack Mintz, the UCP's favourite economist.

Mintz and Kenney are proposing a trade war that wouldn't be over an illegal tariff by the U.S. government, but because the Americans won't build an infrastructure project that we want on their sovereign territory, even if a previous president said they would.

To say that would be a shaky case in international trade law would be understating it.

You'd think Kenney, of all politicians, would understand that new governments in democracies get to reverse the policies of the old ones they replace, and that there's not much he can do if Biden decides to hold a U.S. version of Alberta's summer of repeal.

Premier Kenney implied that if Ottawa won't flog this dead horse it would be being unfair to Alberta because it pursued a new NAFTA aggressively when Trump demanded one in 2017.

He even tried to defend his assertion in March 2020 that his $1.5-billion up-front gift to TC Energy was a wise "investment" and not a foolish gamble.

Like his effort to make Trudeau wear the blame for the failure of the UCP's pipeline campaign, and like KXL itself, that dog won't hunt.

Former Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan joins Ecojustice Canada as staff lawyer

Former Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan has a new job: senior Calgary legal counsel for the Ecojustice Canada Society.

Public acknowledgement of Khan's new role appeared yesterday on LinkedIn.

So while the Calgary lawyer may never have won a seat in the legislature he will nevertheless be well placed to be a thorn in the side of the Kenney government.

Ecojustice will be back in court on February 11 and 12, challenging the legality of the government's so-called inquiry into "anti-Alberta" environmental campaigns.

Greenpeace Canada took a different tack yesterday, announcing that since the inquiry is obviously biased and probably operating outside the bounds of the province's Public Inquiries Act, they'll sue if Commissioner Steve Allan dares to mention their name in his report.

The report is due on January 31, but unlikely to be delivered on that date.

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.

*Credit for this vivid image goes to Duncan Kinney of Progress Alberta.

Image credit: Video still/Government of Alberta

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