Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image credit: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

According to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, he was so sure his government would win its challenge of the federal government’s carbon-mitigation law that he never gave it a second thought, let alone plan what to do if the Supreme Court of Canada thought otherwise.

Gee, it just seemed like a sure thing, the premier explained last week, what with the Alberta Court of Appeal agreeing with the United Conservative Party (UCP) government’s arguments and everything.

Apparently the UCP strategic brain trust was so confident it never considered the prevailing opinion in legal circles that the appeal had the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell before the Supremes, or that the Alberta ruling was an outlier.

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., conservative media was in a swivet at the thought that President Joseph Biden, a Democrat whose election Kenney also apparently neither anticipated nor planned for, used notes of all things when conducting his first press conference since becoming president.

“New photos show cheat sheets used by Biden during his first press conference,” the New York Post screeched. (Emphasis added.) A Fox News commentator breathlessly told listeners that President Biden not only used speaking notes, he could be observed “often referencing them, at times appearing to read directly from them”!

There is a thread that connects these two events.

Of course, Republican commentators south of the Medicine Line want to portray President Biden, 78, as a doddering old man, unable to function without a cheat sheet similar to the ones used by John F. Kennedy, the youngest president in American history to win an election. (Wait! Strike that last line!)

Likewise, it is certainly true Kenney wants to leave the impression that the Supreme Court’s decision was outlandish and dangerous, not that it was pretty obvious to almost everybody that Alberta’s argument in the case was so weak it was unlikely to succeed, and that the province’s UCP government is just lurching from crisis to crisis without a coherent plan.

More significantly, though, it seems increasingly likely the entire conservative movement in North America has been drinking its own ideological bathwater for so long it’s no longer capable of making coherent arguments or paying much attention to what’s actually happening.

“At a deeper level,” wrote economics columnist Paul Krugman in the New York Times Thursday, “Republicans may simply have lost the ability to take policy seriously.”

From that perspective, the idea of using notes to make sure you’ve got your facts right must seem positively eccentric!

Krugman quoted American political author and journalist Jonathan Cohn, who argues that the U.S. Republicans, long the model for Canada’s conservatives, “no longer know how to think through hard choices, make the compromises necessary to build alliances and get things done.”

Bereft of ideas, they offer “boilerplate denunciations of socialists killing jobs,” wrote Krugman, and focus on cancel culture and Dr. Seuss.

This certainly sounds like the UCP, doesn’t it?

Well, you can’t really blame Premier Kenney, the guy who was gobsmacked by the court’s decision, for wishing he wasn’t going to have to re-enact the Alberta NDP’s carbon levy while pretending whatever he comes up with is completely different. That’s going to be embarrassing after he wound up his base making such a big deal out of how horrible carbon taxes supposedly are, especially with the federal party he wishes he were leading still doing the same thing as Erin O’Toole leads it into the eco-wilderness.

The ludicrous sight of Kenney defending Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax as not quite as bad as NDP Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley’s carbon levy even had Postmedia’s Don Braid snickering at the bind the premier has managed to get himself into.

Remember, Ottawa imposed its carbon tax after Kenney ripped up the NDP carbon levy, which he did as soon as the UCP won the spring 2019 provincial election.

This mainly seems to have been done out of knee-jerk spite. But it couldn’t have helped, from Kenney’s perspective, that the NDP version was designed in part to make Alberta less dependent on the fossil fuel industry.

Certainly the decision wasn’t carefully thought out from a policy perspective, or even as a partisan strategy to help the unsuccessful Conservative effort to defeat the Trudeau federal government in the fall of 2019.

“Imagine the hilarity in Ottawa,” chuckled Braid, offering some gentle advice to the premier on the best way to get out of the mess he’s created without looking too much like he has no plan at all.

That seems unlikely to work.

So maybe this would be a good time to bring back a line from those whispery-voiced Albertans for Change “attack ads” from 2008 that made premier Ed Stelmach so mad?

Jason Kenney. No plan. No way!

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: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

David J. Climenhaga

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 with the Globe...