Conservatives’ faux shock at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s relatively news-free pipeline construction announcement in Edmonton last week was a thing to behold.
The tone generally was, “there oughtta be a law,” to wit, a law against making announcements when you have nothing to announce. Only with considerably harsher language, of course, because nowadays the Conservative rage machine is, well, fully enraged.
Now, Trudeau may not have had much to announce, and he may have been surrounded by men and a few women in blue boilersuits when he announced it, but two things must be remembered about this in half-hearted defence of the PM:
First, announcements that don’t contain much news, and re-announcements of things that have already been announced, are absolutely a staple of democratic politics, employed by all political parties in all democratic jurisdictions.
Second, the Conservative Party of Canada and its provincial farm teams are masters of this political art form, as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers demonstrate regularly in a stream of government news releases that don’t contain much news.
Not only that, but using humans as props is standard operating procedure, as Kenney famously illustrated back in his days as federal immigration minister when his department dragooned a dozen professional civil servants into pretending to be new Canadians for a political Kabuki performance put on for the benefit of the Sun News Network.
Say what you will about Trudeau, at least the blue-boilersuited folks standing by supportively Friday in Edmonton were real workers, not, in effect, actors, and unwilling ones at that, as in the case of Kenney’s fake citizenship ceremony in 2011. Naturally, Kenney denied that he was responsible for the hoax, blamed his officials and refused to apologize.
Nor were Trudeau’s human props actual actors with political science degrees like the once and future roughneck trotted out by one of the multitude of Conservative support groups not so long ago — although, that’s not to say no one in the group with the PM had a university degree, of course.
Meanwhile, as Canadian Conservatives were reacting with weirdly hysterical fury to Trudeau’s newser, Kenney was doing essentially the same thing to better reviews from the trained seals in mainstream media.
The same day as Trudeau was in town, Kenney was announcing a meaningless “bold step to increase free trade in Canada” by dropping half of the province’s exceptions to the so-called Canadian Free Trade Agreement, a bit of neoliberal inter-provincial folderol cooked up by the usual suspects in 2017.
This was done, I guess, to show that a Conservative federal government would make Canada more prosperous by discouraging provincial public sectors from supporting local businesses. How making sure big corporations in other provinces can shove aside local suppliers is supposed to support hard-pressed regional economies is not entirely clear, despite the market fundamentalist dogma nowadays pretty well universally accepted as gospel among Canadian political parties.
As an aside, it’s important to note that most of the exceptions on the list were demanded by Rachel Notley, then the NDP premier of Alberta, to ensure profits from rebuilding Fort McMurray after the devastating fire in 2016 weren’t pocketed by companies from outside the community. Many had been recommended to her by then Opposition leader Brian Jean, the Wildrose MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, to protect his community.
So it’s interesting that Kenney is willing to toss these useful tools over the side for meaningless symbolism without much thought to future disasters to which his government’s climate policies may well contribute.
Regardless, on the list of restrictions “unilaterally” dropped by the United Conservative Government was “procurement of local food under the Supporting Alberta’s Local Food Sector Act.”
Now, the Supporting Alberta’s Local Food Sector Act is a somewhat misnamed bit of NDP legislation passed last year, mainly concerned with ensuring food sold in local markets as organically grown is accurately described as such.
Still, there’s something mildly ironic about the idea of unilaterally ensuring that a legislative effort to support local farmers no longer excludes farmers from other provinces!
Lending even more cognitive dissonance to this posturing was the fact, only a week earlier, that Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen was imploring us to “buy Albertan” to save farmers “caught in the crossfire of a bunch of international fights that have nothing to do with them.”
“Everyone can do their part and help our farmers by buying Albertan,” the MAGA-cap minister pleaded.
I suspect most Albertans will do exactly as Dreeshen’s boss is encouraging government officials to do, to wit, look for the best price, regardless of where it comes from.
Of course, a certain amount of policy incoherence from Premier Kenney is not entirely unexpected, as we Albertans are coming to learn.
An appropriate response, however, is one of genial contempt, not the seething fury that greeted Prime Minister Trudeau’s newser.
We can only speculate on why this might be, but it suggests that Canada’s Conservatives, having talked themselves into the idea they’re a deadbolt cinch to win the next federal election, are starting to realize that thanks in part to friends like Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Andrew Scheer’s coronation as prime minister in October may not be the sure thing they’d imagined.
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 and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Photo: Justin Trudeau/Twitter