Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, boyish and freshly beardless as if a summer election is blowin’ in the wind, showed up in Alberta yesterday to bestow $1.5 billion in federal cash on Calgary’s Green Line LRT, a mega-project unpopular with many of the well-heeled donors who support Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party.
Kenney, whose government demanded a revised business plan from the city of Calgary and then allowed suspense to build about whether it would pay its share of the $5.5-billion price tag for the project backed by outgoing Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, didn’t turn up for the news conference held by the PM and the mayor.
But the province confirmed it would fork over its share of the dough in a news release apparently rushed out before Trudeau’s announcement in what seems to have been a not-particularly-successful effort to upstage the Liberal prime minister and the liberal-leaning mayor, both of whom occupy prominent spots on the premier’s lengthy enemies list.
“Alberta’s $1.53-billion commitment toward the Green Line is a massive investment in the future of Calgary, one we are happy to make because we believe our best days are ahead of us,” Transportation and Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver was quoted saying in the provincial press release.
The headline on the release read: “Calgary Green Line LRT awaits federal approval” — which seems churlish given the expected timing of Trudeau’s announcement minutes later.
With the UCP down so far in several polls it’s dragging Erin O’Toole’s federal Conservatives into the vortex and has pollsters talking openly about potential for federal Liberal and NDP gains in solidly conservative Alberta, Kenney must have been particularly annoyed by the media excitement generated by Trudeau’s visit.
The UCP’s social media troll army was hard at work yesterday attacking the PM and earning scorn and derision from UCP opponents, not all of them Liberals, who pointed out Kenney’s starring role in his days as a federal politician in Ottawa’s equalization formula, which he nowadays constantly misrepresents and complains about.
This constant whinging earned a sharp rebuke from Trudeau, a politician who normally acts as though soft words turneth away wrath, in response to a reporter’s question.
“The concerns that Premier Kenney has raised on equalization — he was part of the very government that negotiated and put in place the actual equalization formula that is there now,” the prime minister said.
“When came time for renewal, we just rolled over the very things that he had negotiated as part of Stephen Harper’s cabinet. So the fact that he’s now railing against it means he can probably explain better what it is that he disagrees with his younger self on!”
This sums up Premier Kenney’s equalization gaslighting about as neatly as anyone has.
The two men met later in the day. There was a “photo opportunity,” but no questions were taken.
Last night, Kenney was once again being reported by conservative-leaning political commentators to be ready to announce his impending cabinet shuffle soon, maybe today.
The UCP has been in power long enough and handled the job of governing Alberta poorly enough for the premier to need cosmetic changes to his cabinet to enhance his party’s chances at the polls in 2023 — or before, if he can eke out an advantage by calling an early election.
In the meantime, if Kenney can get any kind of bounce by moving around some of his worst cabinet performers or inserting several congenial new faces into a larger cabinet, perhaps he can do some damage control to shore up the federal Conservatives’ traditional dominance here in wild rose country before it’s too late.
Inquiry commissioner’s candidate endorsement? No rules were broken
Speaking of Green Line foes and UCP embarrassments, the office of Alberta Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan is handing out a statement defending his endorsement of a candidate in October’s race to replace Mayor Nenshi.
If the idea of the commissioner of a supposedly impartial government-ordered public inquiry endorsing a political candidate while his investigations into who’s been financing environmental opposition to Alberta’s oil sands are ongoing seems highly unusual to you, you’re not alone.
Allan’s wordy letter endorsing Jeff Davison was based in part on what the inquiry commissioner described as the mayoral candidate’s efforts to get the Green Line LRT project “right sized and de-risked.” That is to say, presumably, at least partly derailed, metaphorically speaking.
Davison soon tweeted that, no, he supported the entire Green Line project. Allan’s many critics wondered how he found the time to write such a lengthy letter when he’s had to ask for four extensions to complete the inquiry’s report, which was originally due in July 2020.
Regardless of how this appears, though, commissioner Allan has an excuse, one that’s truly evergreen in UCP circles: no rules were broken.
“The commissioner is not considered a part of the Alberta Public Service, and is not subject to the Code of Conduct,” said Energy Minister Sonya Savage, in a statement sent by Allan’s office to reporters who asked.
“The commissioner’s contract does not prevent him engaging in political activities as an individual, unless they were to interfere with his obligations and role as commissioner,” Savage’s statement said. “The letter in question does not in any way involve the inquiry’s mandate nor does he cite his role in the inquiry, and as such, there is no conflict.”
End of story, or so Savage says. Move along please, folks.
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 the news conference stream/rabble.ca