A photo of Jason Kenney, who was disappointed recently when he was unable to secure a meeting with the President of the United States while in Washington. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he says he don't get no respect.
Jason Kenney, large and in charge, as he would like to be seen south of the 49th Parallel. Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr. Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr.

Jason Kenney is the Rodney Dangerfield of Canadian politics – he don’t get no respect!

Alberta’s premier went to Washington, D.C. He wanted to see someone important, but when he got there, no one was home. 

At least, by the sound of it, no one answered the door when he knocked. 

So Mr. Kenney found a right-wing podcast to complain to about it.

“When I go down to Washington, I’m schlepping around in a Yellow Cab, I can barely get a meeting with a janitor in the State Department,” he recently told one of the hosts of the Ruthless podcast – presumably Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Republican powerbroker Senator Mitch McConnell. 

It’s not completely clear when the conversation took place. The podcast was published on Tuesday, April 26. Presumably Mr. Kenney was on the phone from Calgary. But you’ll have to forgive me if I didn’t listen to the first hour of the podcast closely enough to be certain it was Mr. Holmes lobbing the gentle softballs at the premier. Life’s too short. 

Truth be told, if Mr. Kenney had asked for a meeting with the janitor at the State Department, he wouldn’t have gotten that, either. That guy has work to do. 

“About 60 per cent of U.S. oil imports come from my province, come from Alberta,” Mr. Kenney complained to his genially sympathetic host at the podcast The Guardian oversold as an edgy-oftentimes-irreverent entertainment show.

“And it’s kind of funny,” he whinged. “The Emir of Oman blows into town, which actually happened when I was last there, going around in a 40-car motorcade, aaaand every door is open to him. And Oman is responsible for less than 5 per cent of U.S. energy imports!”

Well, that’s what happens when you’re not the leader of a sovereign nation – a factoid that surely bothers Mr. Kenney considerably, although he didn’t acknowledge that point directly while slagging Justin Trudeau, Canada’s real prime minister.

The fact is, when you’re the premier of a Canadian province, you’re going to be about as significant as a speck of lint on the president’s coat sleeve when you visit the Imperial Capital. The smart strategy for any interloping tourist is to take in the sights, enjoy a drink of D.C. Brau, and get out of town without embarrassing yourself or telling any fact-checkable lies that might make their way back home. 

This is especially true if you haven’t even been very nice to the president, or other important figures in his party and administration. Worse still is if you’ve been hobnobbing with the man most likely to wreck the president’s re-election chances.

Mr. Kenney’s unhappy predicament and his possibly imaginary ride with a D.C. cabbie – perhaps a refugee from Venezuela – was entertaining enough to earn a mention in a CBC story about the province’s latest effort to build a faux diplomatic corps in the United States, an Alberta project that waxes and wanes over the years depending on whether the province is in the midst of a boom or a bust. 

Painful as it is to listen to a Republican podcast, though, it’s worth the effort to take in Mr. Kenney’s cheerful bloviations if you’re a serious student of Alberta politics. 

For one thing, it’s clear that narratives that have worn a little thin north of the 49th Parallel still spring easily to the man’s lips when he’s got a new audience. 

That tall tale about the Rockefeller Foundation and its nefarious plot to landlock Alberta oil? It enjoys new life in Q-adjacent circles south of the world’s longest undefended border. 

“There’s this constellation of organizations, and many of them were present at a conference hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation in New York in 2008 to develop what they called the Tarsands Campaign,” Mr. Kenney breathlessly told his interlocutor. “The reason why those groups focussed on landlocking Canadian energy, Alberta energy, is because I think they saw us as kinda boy scouts, they saw us as the easy kid to bully in the schoolyard. 

“They’re not going to be able to persuade Vladimir Putin or any OPEC dictatorship to produce or ship one less barrel of oil. But they figured, you know, Canada, we’re this apologetic … What’s the definition of a Canadian? Someone who apologizes when you step on their foot, right? How do you get 10 Canadians out of the pool? You say, ‘Excuse me, would you please get out of the pool.’ And then they get out and they apologize for having been in the pool. So that’s our national character. It’s kinda charming in a way, but it means that we’re an easy target for political and legal pressure,” Kenny continued.

Not all Canadians will be impressed by the easy contempt of this condescending caricature. Indeed, some of us would be mildly offended. Mr. Kenney’s obsequious description seemed to please his American host. 

Mr. Kenney went on: “They just had a crew of about two dozen radicals storming a pipeline construction site in my next-door province of British Columbia, with axes, to … basically, eco-terrorism! And ultimately, a lot of this stuff, traced itself back to U.S. Foundations that have been funding it.” (The emphasis is mine, not Mr. Kenney’s. The facts are open to considerable dispute. In reality, no one yet knows who did the damage, or why.)

Mr. Kenney – sounding more relaxed and confident than he does nowadays at any Alberta Government news conference – rambled on: “In my government, we appointed a judicia… a legal inquiry into the foreign funding behind the campaign to landlock Alberta energy,” his small correction a tacit one. (He said nothing to his host about the findings of the inquiry in question – to wit, that there’s no evidence anyone, anywhere, did anything wrong, let alone illegal.)

He trotted out the old ethical Alberta oil yarn for his new, if somewhat limited, audience.

“If you look at the world’s top 10 energy producers, oil and gas producers, there’s only two that are democracies, Canada and the United States,” he said. (One imagines Australia, No. 6 on that Top Ten list according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and India, No. 7, might have something to say about that.)

Kenney actually broke some news that should concern the good people of Alberta, low as their taxes may be.

The Keystone XL Pipeline may be done and dusted, he told his host, but “the dream hasn’t died … We’re willing in principle to participate in de-risking a major pipeline, and if there’s a future alignment in the U.S. Congress and or administration that want it to happen, I’m sure we can find pipeline companies that will build it, and maybe pick up some of the assets from Keystone XL.”

That, folks, presumably means more free billions for pipeline companies if Mr. Kenney manages to stick around!

He touted the chances of federal Conservative leadership contender Pierre Poilievre, whose name for his American listeners he pronounced Pawliver

He claimed in his youth at the University of San Francisco – where, “I studied philosophy, right?” – that “I was a bit of a young lefty. … I actually ran the Al Gore primary campaign on my campus in 1988.” 

And he corrected his host’s pronunciation of Alberta – a change that will come as news to most of us Albertans. “It’s not Alber-ta, It’s Alberda. We kinda pronounce it just ’Berda. Kinda like Alabama, ’Bama, you know?”

We do, actually. Mr. Kenney’s dream really does live on!

He ended on this note: “I’ve won 12 elections, so I don’t know what defeat is like. Hopefully never do.”

Some Albertans may not share that sentiment. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...