Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin at yesterday’s news conference.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin at their joint news conference. Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr

Alberta Conservatives should enjoy basking in the glow cast by Joe Manchin while they can⁠—the visiting U.S. Senator likely has a short shelf life remaining as “the key swing vote in the U.S. Senate,” as Premier Jason Kenney put it at a news conference in Calgary this week.

After a little tarsands tourism on Monday, Kenney trotted the Democrat from West Virginia onto a news conference stage set up to make it look as if Alberta’s premier is the leader of a sovereign nation, with very few Canadian flags in camera range.

Kenney soon breathlessly announced the senator is “probably the most influential member of the Legislative Branch of the United States.”

That may have seemed embarrassingly obsequious, but it was accurate enough … for the moment

Thanks to the fact votes in the U.S. Senate split 50-50 in the 2020 election, the former West Virginia governor⁠—who could be fairly described as a Democrat in name only in the two-party American political system⁠—found himself holding the key swing vote in the upper chamber of the U.S. Congress. 

As is well known, he has used this power to stymie most of the good things President Joe Biden promised to do to alleviate the environmental and economic challenges facing the Republic to our south, much to the delight of Republicans in the U.S. government and conservative Canadians like Kenney and his United Conservative Party government.

It was Sen. Manchin more than any other American politician, for example, who plunged the knife into the heart of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which will likely go down in history as the greatest disappointment of the Biden presidency. 

Alas for Kenney, despite his visitor’s current role as chair of the senate committee on energy and natural resources, the influence of the great hope of the fossil fuel lobby is likely to swiftly evanesce after the U.S. mid-term elections in November.

American commentators seem to think that the senate will tilt to the Republicans in that vote. Maybe something will happen to make it go the other way. But whatever happens in the 2022 mid-terms, Manchin’s influence will almost certainly dissipate like a fart in a breeze⁠—an unpleasant memory, to be sure, but gone with the wind. 

After that, Republicans will ignore him. They’re certainly unlikely to persist with their efforts to get him to switch teams if the mid-term election hands sufficient additional gerrymandered seats to their party. His fellow Democrats will revile him. 

And his star power will be gone. He’ll just be another NRA-endorsed politician from a poverty-stricken state, albeit one with some interesting 19th century history. 

Few will remember Manchin’s visit to Alberta, which will be about as memorable as the August 2015 oilsands visit by South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, later renowned as a bitter critic turned loyal toady of President Donald Trump, that sent the Wildrose Party into such a tizzy when NDP environment minister Shannon Phillips failed to greet that visitor with sufficient enthusiasm. 

Since none of the media virtually or physically at yesterday’s news conference seemed to want to talk to Kenney at all, the senator probably ended up casting more shade than light on Alberta’s beleaguered premier. Props to Manchin, though, for politely tossing one of the Canadian reporters’ softball questions to his host so that Kenney wasn’t completely embarrassed by the lack of interest. 

As for the two of them actually having anything serious to talk about like pipelines, Putin and North American energy security, the underwhelming recycled quotes produced at the news conference tell the story.

The members of Kenney’s cabinet who had walk-on roles in the proceedings didn’t add much to the performance either.

Unlike Kenney, who is in the midst of a party leadership review vote he didn’t want right now and faces a general election next spring, Manchin, who is 74 and has been known to use a Maserati Levante to escape from protesting environmentalists, won’t have to run again till 2024, if he chooses to.

And why bother? As he once told a reporter when another West Virginia politician demanded his resignation: “I don’t give a shit, you understand? I just don’t give a shit. Don’t care if I get elected, don’t care if I get defeated, how about that?”

So long, Joe! Hope you had a nice visit. 

David J. Climenhaga

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...