Brian Jean

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Don’t expect Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean’s public spat with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, which has flared up again recently, to end any time soon.

After all, getting up each other’s noses about the Energy East pipeline is a nearly perfect low-risk political soapbox for both of them — largely irrelevant in the case of Mr. Jean other than as proof to potential voters who favour a united right that he still has a political heartbeat.

Coderre has been expressing doubts and concerns for months about the potential environmental impact of Energy East, which would have to pass through Quebec. Whether or not you agree that his fears are justified, this seems like an entirely appropriate topic for an elected official of a jurisdiction that could be impacted by the line to speak up about in a democracy.

Jean — still unused, perhaps, to the fact we apparently once again have functioning democracies in Canada and Alberta — has been expressing outrage at Coderre’s “interfering” with Alberta’s God-given right to build pipelines wherever it pleases and ship diluted bitumen and the like through them.

From the Wildrose Leader’s perspective, notwithstanding the logical failings of some of his arguments, this is good politics, because it allows him to imply that Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government is not employing the right strategy to get pipelines built by seeking “social license” for such projects instead of engaging in the Harperite bullying the rest of Canada had come to expect from Alberta on this topic.

The feud really started bubbling back in January when Coderre, apparently piqued at Jean’s shots about the sorry state of Montreal’s sewerage system — which was temporarily pumping directly into the St. Lawrence River while emergency repairs were done — accused the Alberta politician and his advisors of being “the same people who think the Flintstones is a documentary.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had some success at the time calming down Coderre, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister. But it’s fair to say the sewage-Flintstones exchange cut a little close on both sides, and the effect was keen enough both politicians appear to have developed a thorough dislike for one another.

Now Jean is at it again, publishing a news release — widely quoted by mainstream media — accusing Coderre of “continued attempts to interfere with the world-class independent review process currently assessing the Energy East pipeline project.” (Emphasis added.)

“Mr. Coderre needs to immediately step away from this independent review,” Jean said in his release, accusing the mayor of personally attacking the National Energy Board commissioners — which isn’t really what Coderre was doing when he called for the hearings to be suspended on the grounds commissioners of the Calgary-based federal regulatory agency had met privately with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who at the time was acting as a lobbyist for the pipeline company.

Coderre argued this created a “major perception problem” about the independence of the hearing and, whether one agrees or not, it is a position a reasonable person could take. At any rate, brusquely ordering Coderre to back off, of course, will have the opposite effect as the Montreal mayor postures for his voters.

Jean revived the sewage dumping issue — which ended as soon as the repairs were completed last November — and insulted Coderre in intentionally patronizing tones.

“A politician who dumps raw sewage into his city’s fresh waterways while accepting billions of dollars in equalization from Alberta taxpayers has no right to cast judgment on the independent National Energy Board process,” the release said. “I encourage Mr. Coderre to get back to his important municipal duties at the City of Montreal and leave the business of building pipelines to the professionals.” The professionals in this case, presumably, being politicians from Alberta.

And while Jean is almost certainly right in his contention that “the science of pipeline safety will win the day” — at least, that is, on the narrow question of its safety relative to rail or truck transport of petroleum products — the political problem for Coderre is that once a pipeline has been built, it’s never going to move.

As Jean also knows well, equalization money comes from all Canadian taxpayers, including those in Quebec, and these kind of shots are unlikely to persuade anyone in Quebec with doubts about Energy East that Coderre is on the wrong track. Au contraire!

But then, that may work just fine for Alberta’s conservatives if they can encourage conditions in which the NDP’s campaign to win social license for pipelines fails.

Anyway, taking cheap shots at Quebec politicians is a time-honoured custom in Western Canadian politics that always has a receptive audience among certain segments of the Alberta electorate.

Still, it seems mildly ironic that Jean is so upset with Mayor Coderre’s “interference” in the pipeline approval process, but has no problems whatsoever with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s similar recent intervention in the provincial political process when it comes to the notorious Enron Clause that allows electricity sales companies including city-owned Enmax Corp. to pass off losses onto all Alberta taxpayers.

This represents something of a change for Alberta’s conservatives, by the way, who hitherto have reviled Nenshi as too liberal for their taste.

For that matter, Jean doesn’t hesitate himself to advise the federal government — in which, since resigning his seat in the House of Commons in 2014 he no longer plays a role — on how to conduct its affairs.

Certainly, as a legislator, Jean understands this is how democracy works. But perhaps he agrees with Ralph Waldo Emerson — the 19th Century American essayist and poet who believed that God suffuses the natural world and the best way to understand reality is to embrace nature — that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

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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...