Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is beset with woes—woes he believes are caused by everyone else but himself. So called zealots and urban militants lost Kenney his precious Teck mine. Trudeau is to blame for the Keystone XL pipeline’s second death. And Albertans are to blame for the country’s second highest rates of COVID-19. The reality is the only person to blame for Alberta’s economic and social woes is the person in charge—Jason Kenney.
At the outset of the pandemic, Kenney was publicly critical about pandemic safety measures like mandatory face masks and time-limited lockdowns. His equivocation about pandemic measures sent mixed messages to Albertans at a time when the province needed strong leadership based on legitimate science. Seeing pictures of Kenney and his senior officials in meetings without face masks and the fact that at least six United Conservative Party MLAs and his own chief of staff travelled outside Canada during the holidays—all in violation of their own health advice—are just a few of the many examples of Kenney’s poor pandemic leadership. Instead of prioritizing human health and wellbeing, he mused mostly about the impact on businesses. It should be no surprise that Alberta is overrun with COVID cases and currently has the second-highest active case rate per capita in Canada.
Kenney appears to have also used the pandemic as a cover to make cuts to social programs, like education, creating layoffs at a time when people most needed their jobs. Many saw this as a political attempt to force the federal government to bear the costs of the pandemic. Yet, even when the feds came through with significant emergency funding for Alberta, the province sat on it. According to a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Alberta received the most financial support from the federal government (per capita), yet sits on the highest amount of unspent federal dollars—more than $675 million.
Imagine what those funds could have done to help Albertans in need of housing supports and wage subsidies, or all those educators impacted by Kenney’s cuts. Meanwhile, his pro-oil “war room” has not only wasted millions in embarrassing industry propaganda and picking public fights with scientists, academics, journalists and other countries, but according to some analysts, it may cost Alberta billions in global investments. The world is transitioning to sustainable energy sources and strengthening measures to fight global warming, and even banks, pension funds, insurance companies and investment firms can see the writing on the climate change wall. Kenney’s steadfast commitment to oil is more about ego than the best interests of Albertans.
Kenney’s actions are increasingly irrational and are more Trump-style than those of a leader that has assumed the legal and moral responsibility to carry Albertans through this pandemic and the other challenges facing society like poverty, homelessness, racism, and climate change. In the middle of the pandemic, when people were worried about whether they would be able to feed their families, Kenney committed $1.5 billion to revive a dead pipeline. Not only was this a shock to most, but it showed Kenney’s inability to see the political writing on the wall. We all knew that Trump’s days were numbered and Joe Biden had already given a heads-up that if elected, he’d revoke the permits for Keystone XL. And he did—to no one’s surprise but Kenney’s.
Instead of taking the time to regroup and work across party lines and in partnership with First Nations to create a sustainable economic path forward, his knee-jerk response was to threaten the United States with economic sanctions and then blame Trudeau for the second death of Keystone XL. This was the same tactic Kenney used to deflect responsibility for his lack of economic leadership when Teck Resources pulled out of the proposed $20.6 billion Frontier oil sands mining project. This is despite the fact that many economists had previously indicated that the mine would not be economically viable. Instead, Kenney blamed actors Leonardo Di Caprio and Jane Fonda, together with so called urban militants like yours truly and David Suzuki for Teck pulling up stakes.
At every turn, Kenney seeks to deflect blame for his lack of leadership and refuses to take responsibility for the devastating impacts of his decisions. It should be no surprise that his approval ratings have taken a massive nosedive. According to an Angus Reid poll released weeks ago, Kenney’s approval rating has fallen from 61 percent in June 2019 to 40 percent in December 2020. This ranks him in the bottom two—alongside Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister—with the worst approval ratings in the country. This is to be expected, given Kenney’s public antics and lack of substantive action to address the pandemic or the economy. Alberta continues to rank as one of the worst provinces in terms of COVID transmission, yet government officials refused to make the province’s R value (reproductive number) public—a type of secrecy that does not instill confidence that their premier can lead Albertans safely out of the pandemic.
We are all tired of hearing Kenney complain about his self-inflicted woes in the media. His latest appearance on FOX News to ask for his pipeline money back, was not only embarrassing for Albertans, but for all Canadians. Kenney needs to stop complaining to Trudeau about Western alienation and look in the mirror. The only one alienating Alberta is Kenney. It is long past time for Kenney to step up as a leader or move over for someone who can inspire hope, health and wellbeing for Albertans now and for generations to come.
Pam Palmater is a Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick. She is a longtime CD columnist, and has been a practicing lawyer for 20 years. Currently, Pam is a Professor and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.