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The Jason Syndrome: Conservative candidate melts down over Hollywood star in bid to derail NDP strategy that's working

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Jason Kenney

Albert Einstein's purported definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result -- has become a political cliché: Consider Jason Kenney, a man who believes so fervently in a failed strategy for developing Alberta's resources that he bitterly rejects all other approaches as heresy -- especially ones that work!

Kenney is like the guy who says the earth is flat, but always has an instant scientific explanation for why that ship just sailed over the horizon.

This would be amusing were Kenney not the front-running candidate to lead Alberta's conservatives (and therefore, unfortunately, quite possibly the rest of us as well) to market-fundamentalist nirvana. He is, so it matters.

On Wednesday, Kenney demonstrated this in a way that turned out to be mildly amusing when his Progressive Conservative leadership campaign, which nowadays looks and sounds much like a full-blown election campaign, produced a Facebook video excoriating Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government with a symbolic attack on Hollywood.

Don't worry. Kenney has not turned into a snobby wannabe French existentialist who looks down his long nose at American culture. Au contraire!

But he obviously hoped to get a little mileage out of this week's visit by a remarkably well preserved Jane Fonda, a legendary Hollywood star once reviled in right-wing circles for her opposition to the Vietnam War, and more recently for her enthusiasm for environmental causes.

Fonda is not, her Alberta performance strongly suggests, enthusiastic about bitumen extraction.

Kenney's claim, therefore, was that her continued opposition to Alberta oilsands development proves Notley's effort to build the social license needed get approval for pipelines through other jurisdictions for Alberta's resources doesn't work.

In the kind of sly little dig that passes for wit in conservative circles, Kenney referred to Fonda in his video as "the 1970s celebrity," thereby reminding all of us who remember the '70s fondly that we're not as young as we once were. Fonda is 79. Kenney is 48. The author of this piece will very soon be 65.

Notley (who is 52) has gone about seeking social license for Alberta's energy industry, as is well known, by implementing environmental measures like the carbon tax, which Kenney has chosen to make a vociferous effort to oppose.

In recent campaign-style town hall meetings, the PC candidate has repeatedly vowed to make the first action of any government he heads repeal of the carbon levy.

Unfortunately for Kenney, the federal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 45, has put him in a box by approving, last November, two of the projects Notley and Kenney both enthusiastically support -- to the apparent disgust of Fonda.

The strategic problem for Kenney is that the prime minister made it emphatically clear he never would have approved Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion project to the West Coast without the Alberta NDP's climate leadership program.

So Kenney, who presumably doesn't want to risk flip-flopping on the carbon tax, which is proving to be a popular position with his base, is very anxious to make the case the whole social license thing doesn't really work.

"The NDP government told us that their job-killing carbon tax would produce 'social license' for our oil and gas products," Kenney lectured his video viewers in a smarmy Teacher's Pet voice. "That it would get all of these environmental organizations and celebrities to support Alberta oil and gas. And we can see that that's not true. I mean, Jane Fonda was opposed to Alberta's oil and gas and pipelines before the NDP carbon tax, and she remains opposed to it now!" (Emphasis added.)

This is a teensy-weensy fib by Kenney. As he well knows, Notley promised no such thing.

Like most of us, I doubt Alberta's premier gives a fig what American celebrities say and do -- unless, of course, they manage to get themselves elected President of the United States like Ronald Reagan and that other guy Kenney likes. In her eight decades of life, however, Fonda has never run for president.

What Notley actually argued is that the NDP's social license approach would have an impact on two related groups of people who really matter: Voters in other jurisdictions, and the leaders they elect.

That's where the amusing part of this story came in. Because it couldn't have been more than a couple of hours after Kenney posted his video than Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, proved Notley's point.

The Kinder-Morgan project has now met the five conditions set by her (nominally) Liberal government, Clark, 51, told reporters at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria. Among those conditions was that social license thing.

Clark is looking for some social license of her own. That's why part of the deal includes a revenue sharing deal with Kinder Morgan to finance something called the "B.C. Clean Communities Program."

In the decade during which Kenney was prime minister Stephen Harper's right-hand man in Ottawa, a big kahuna in a government that made pipeline extension the sine qua non of government, the shut-up-and-do-what-we-tell-you approach never got a metre of pipeline approved by anyone. Democracy and the rule of law kept getting in the way.

Rather than acknowledge the obvious fact Premier Notley's strategy is working and thereby have to defend his now-economically risky anti-carbon-tax policy, Kenney makes the weak case in his video that it doesn't work. He makes a troubling case at his town halls that seeking voter social license amounts to handing a veto to people who don't acknowledge the rule of law.

In reality, it is Kenney and his backers on the neoliberal right who refuse to acknowledge the rule of law and show contempt democracy -- which, after all, is what seeking "social license" is all about.

How frustrating for him that thanks to Notley two big steps have now been taken that would not have been possible with any likely Alberta conservative at the helm.

Since Canada remains a free society, whether Kenney approves or not there remain Canadians and foreign celebrities who will publicly oppose pipelines and bitumen development.

While conservatives would doubtless love to bulldoze such people eventually, Kenney and his political advisers presumably wish them well for the moment.

Indeed, they will likely be on their knees praying to their market-fundamentalist god for an NDP victory in May's B.C. provincial election. After all, the B.C. wing of the NDP doesn't share Premier Clark's willingness to countenance a pipeline from Alberta to the Coast. Failing that, Alberta conservatives will take anything that slows down our province's economy until they can get their paws on the power levers.

There's nothing new about Kenney's carbon-tax denialism. It was the timing of his video and Premier Clark's announcement that made him look like such a prat!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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