Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro bashes Justin Trudeau at yesterday's daily COVID briefing. Image: Screenshot of Alberta government video

Facing mounting public anger over a truckload of scandals and bungles, Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government has doubled down on its favourite fight-back strategy: rancorous attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Yesterday’s daily COVID-19 briefing was only the latest example of how the UCP strategic brain trust thinks they can change the channel on Kenney’s disastrous $1.5-billion lost bet that Donald Trump would win the U.S. presidential election, the Aloha-gate caucus vacations scandal, the effort to sneak open-pit coal mining into the eastern slopes of the Rockies, and the province’s lacklustre response to the coronavirus pandemic.

When Premier Kenney failed to make his scheduled appearance at yesterday’s COVID news conference, it fell to Health Minister Tyler Shandro to heap the ritual abuse on Trudeau, when he wasn’t refusing to answer reporters’ questions.

“Ottawa continues to fail us, and to fail all Albertans,” he moaned, naming Trudeau as the source of all the province’s troubles, especially when it comes to supply problems with various COVID-19 vaccines.

“Prime Minister Trudeau, Health Minister Hajdu, and Public Services and Procurement Minister Anand need to come clean with Canadians and fix this now,” Shandro said in a press release, published just in case anyone missed him carrying on at the news conference. “Anything less is unacceptable.”

The actual battle against COVID — presumably the one we should all be focusing on — is clearly now taking a backseat to the UCP’s effort to distract the public from Kenney’s recent troubles and its potential to be a spoiler in the next federal election, should one be called soon.

If Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw wasn’t embarrassed by Shandro’s performance as she waited to deliver the latest infection statistics at was is supposed to be a daily pandemic technical briefing, she should have been.

Constantly yelling at Trudeau about circumstances over which he has little control may seem like a non sequitur, but the UCP’s strategic advisers obviously think it will work. And here’s the thing: they might be right.

For one thing, it helps rebuild ties to key parts of the UCP base disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the holiday scandal and deeply troubled by the loss of that $1.5 billion gone to subsidize the Keystone XL pipeline that will never be built and the coal-mine plan that has infuriated farmers and ranchers all the way to the Saskatchewan border.

Kenney’s advisers — or Kenney himself — have obviously concluded these folks hate Trudeau more than they fear selenium pollution in their water or are offended by UCP MLAs sunning themselves on the beaches of Hawaii or Mexico during a pandemic.

It doesn’t help that the NDP opposition appears to be gun-shy on a couple of these issues.

Having been successfully branded as anti-pipeline by Kenney during the 2019 election campaign, it’s understandable the NDP might fear going after him too hard for hosing away billions on KXL.

But, c’mon, that was then and this is now! Joe Biden is the president and carbon neutrality is coming to General Motors, for heaven’s sake, which said yesterday it’s going to stop making petroleum-burning vehicles in 14 years!

The idea that someone could Make Oil Great Again might have had some tattered credibility left two years ago. But that pipe dream’s dead now.

The NDP needs to hammer the UCP for betting everything on a pipeline and denying reality, instead of managing change that everyone knows is coming.

The opposition needs to keep asking — forcefully and regularly — what else Kenney has hosed away on that doomed pipeline. With another $5 billion in loan guarantees, it’s quite possible the government is covering up bigger losses by refusing to disclose the details of their deal with TC Energy Corp.

Likewise, having been effectively smeared as allies of Trudeau and the Ottawa Liberals during the last election, the NDP is shy about slamming Kenney’s cynical attacks on the PM to distract us from his own government’s pandemic mistakes.

But by playing it too softly, the opposition risks letting Kenney make his way back to that convenient false narrative that only he will stand up for Alberta.

Meanwhile, UCP creates an unneeded new bureaucracy

It may add a whole new bureaucracy with all the expenses that go with it, but the Alberta Parole Board announced yesterday by Justice Minister Kaycee Madu will let the UCP play at being tough on crime.

The new board can only grant parole to prisoners in provincial jails, in other words, people serving sentences of less than two years. Ottawa used to do that job gratis since there’s not much need for it.

But this unneeded announcement allowed Justice Minister Madu to join the Ottawa-bashing yesterday and proclaim that “given the lack of action by the federal government in addressing Alberta’s request for a fair deal in Confederation, the Alberta government must continue to assert its jurisdictional authority where it can, like a provincial parole board.”

Former Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, who for a spell was public security adviser to a group promoting Canada’s new recreational marijuana industry, will head the unnecessary new bureaucracy.

Bob Hawkesworth resurfaces as Bow Valley College board member

Well, that’s a mild surprise. Revealed in Wednesday’s cabinet orders was the appointment of former Calgary NDP MLA and city councillor Bob Hawkesworth to the board of governors of Bow Valley College.

Hawkesworth was elected to Calgary city council in 1980, and to the legislature in 1986, beating a Progressive-Conservative candidate named Jim Prentice by a narrow margin. Hawkesworth was re-elected in 1989, defeated by a now-forgotten Tory in 1993, and soon returned to Calgary city council, where he stayed until 2010.

That year, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Calgary, withdrawing from the race less than a week before the election in a futile effort to block Naheed Nenshi from winning. In 2015, he tried for a comeback in provincial politics, running to replace his old adversary Prentice, who had resigned as premier immediately after losing the May 15 election to Rachel Notley’s NDP. He was beaten by then-Wildroser Prasad Panda by a comfortable margin.

Hawkesworth’s term will expire on March 31, 2022.

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: Screenshot of Alberta government video

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...