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Alberta Target Trudeau: Jason Kenney’s battle plan and the potential risks

United Conservative Party Leader − and now premier-designate − Jason Kenney came to power on a platform that promised to confront a list of forces he sees as standing in the way of the province’s oil industry.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government are target No. 1, as Mr. Kenney challenges Ottawa on carbon taxes, environmental legislation and equalization, either in the courts or on the campaign trail this fall. But the incoming premier also promised fights with British Columbia, environmentalists and possibly Quebec.

Here are the conflicts that await Alberta under a UCP government and the potential risks.

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The campaign against Justin Trudeau

The strategy: Mr. Kenney capitalized on the Prime Minister’s deep unpopularity in Alberta during the provincial election, blaming a “Trudeau-Notley alliance” for the economic pain felt in Wild Rose Country. With a looming federal election, Mr. Kenney has promised to work to defeat the Liberals and elect Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. And the enmity is personal. After Mr. Trudeau’s time as federal citizenship critic, Mr. Kenney, who was the Conservative minister of that portfolio, called the Liberal an “empty trust-fund millionaire.” Alberta’s next premier will need to work with the federal government if he wants to get a new pipeline. Ottawa owns the Trans Mountain pipeline and is shepherding the project’s expansion through regulatory and court challenges. The premier-designate has softened his language toward the federal government in the days since the election. On Thursday, he said he agreed with Ottawa’s decision to delay cabinet’s decision on the pipeline by a month.

The catch: Mr. Kenney needs to give himself room to work with Mr. Trudeau if the Liberal wins re-election. At the same time, the premier-designate is pursuing policies that hinge on the Prime Minister’s defeat. Mr. Kenney says his first piece of legislation will be cancelling the provincial carbon tax. He said that he will fight the federal replacement in court and vows to allow coal plants to remain open longer − both of which would be easier if the federal Conservatives win the next election. “The conventional wisdom is that it’s hard to lose points when you’re the premier of Alberta and you pick a fight with Ottawa," said Jean-Sébastien Rioux, a professor at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. "We’re a confederation though and at a certain point, the different orders of government need to work together.”

British Columbia and turning off the taps

The strategy: The outgoing NDP government passed legislation last year to give Alberta the ability to cut off oil shipments to British Columbia in retaliation for opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The law would require producers to obtain export permits and allow the government to impose restrictions, such as deciding how much and by what means that oil is shipped, if at all. Bill 12 was never proclaimed, but Mr. Kenney says that proclamation will be the first thing he does after he and his cabinet are sworn in later this month, although he hasn’t said when he might actually start using the law.

The catch: B.C. is expected to file a court challenge almost immediately. The province sued over Bill 12 as soon as it was passed, but the case was thrown out because the law was not yet in force. Mr. Kenney’s plan to proclaim the law would change that. Joel Bakan, who teaches law at the University of British Columbia, said Alberta would lose in what would be an “open and shut case.” He said when it comes to interprovincial trade, governments can’t discriminate against other provinces. And the court would look at Mr. Kenney’s own comments about using the law to punish B.C. “What’s very obvious … is that their whole purpose was to target British Columbia.”

Carbon taxes and the environment

The strategy: Mr. Kenney plans to get rid of the provincial carbon tax and then go to court to oppose the federal tax that would replace it. He has also said that Bill C-69, which overhauls environmental regulations, and Bill C-48, which bans oil tankers from the waters off northern B.C., would mean no new pipeline construction if both are approved as currently written. Mr. Kenney has vowed to mount constitutional challenges against the federal carbon tax and Bill C-69. The carbon-tax lawsuit would join similar challenges launched by the governments of Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba. Mr. Kenney has said Bill C-69 could be amended to be made acceptable to Albertans. However, he has called Bill C-48 hopeless. Senate committees are holding hearings on how to amend both bills. Parliament is only sitting for a few more weeks before adjourning for the October election, raising the possibility that one or both of the bills could die on the order paper.

The catch: Alberta would be late to challenge the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax and either of the two challenges already heard in court are expected to make their way to the Supreme Court. Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Mr. Kenney’s threat against Bill C-69 would be “a pretty hopeless constitutional challenge.” In the early 1990s, the Alberta government challenged the concept of federal environmental assessment and the federal authority was upheld by the Supreme Court.

A referendum on equalization

The strategy: Mr. Kenney has promised to hold a referendum in October, 2021, on removing the federal equalization program from the Constitution, if “substantial progress” hasn’t been made on a coastal pipeline and if Bill C-69 is not repealed. The program has long been a target of scorn in Alberta, and Mr. Kenney argues it’s unfair for Alberta to pay into a program that benefits Quebec while that province opposes Alberta’s energy industry. Mr. Kenney says the ultimate goal is to use the results as leverage in the pipeline debate, but he also wants the equalization formula revised to exclude non-renewable resource revenue from the calculations and impose caps on transfers.

The catch: Equalization is a federal program and enshrined in the Constitution, so legal experts have cast doubt on whether a referendum would have any practical effect. As well, critics have pointed out the current formula was adopted when Mr. Kenney was a federal cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada who has written extensively about equalization, said a referendum would nonetheless add pressure to confront an issue that successive federal governments have attempted to avoid. “Some people might call it a political stunt,” Dr. Béland said. “I think it will certainly embarrass the federal government … and it would increase pressure to Ottawa to at least address equalization in a more systematic way."

Quebec

The strategy: While adopting a combative position toward British Columbia, Mr. Kenney has made forging an alliance between Quebec and Alberta one of the first priorities of his premiership. In a victory speech delivered in downtown Calgary, the premier-designate declared in French that the two provinces are “natural allies” who should work together to build pipelines and keep a lid on Ottawa’s ambitions. Mr. Kenney has drawn a link between future pipelines, including one that could possibly cross Quebec’s territory, and Quebec’s status as a significant recipient of equalization. After Quebec Premier François Legault’s pledge to wean his province off equalization payments, Mr. Kenney said new pipelines could fuel prosperity there. He has also argued that a new pipeline from the oil sands would lessen Quebec’s imports of foreign oil. Mr. Kenney, a strong French speaker, has said he intends to bring his message directly to Quebeckers.

The catch: Hours after Mr. Kenney’s victory, Quebec’s Premier declared there was “no social acceptability” for a new oil pipeline in his province − an assertion that was then unanimously backed by the provincial assembly. The proposed Energy East pipeline, which would have transited Quebec as it carried Alberta oil to New Brunswick, was abandoned partly due to Quebec’s opposition. There has been no talk of reviving it, according to Dr. Rioux. "There is just too much market uncertainty combined with political and regulatory uncertainty for TransCanada to reconsider it,” he said. However, he said Mr. Kenney’s outreach efforts could lessen Quebec’s opposition to Alberta developing its own resources.

Environmentalists

The strategy: The UCP Leader argues that environmentalists who have used the courts and political campaigns to oppose Alberta’s oil industry are part of a “foreign-funded” strategy to land-lock Alberta oil. He plans to set up a campaign-style “war room” to respond to anti-oil activists, investigate the charitable status of environmental groups and hold a public inquiry into foreign funding. Mr. Kenney argues that the industry and previous governments have been too slow and timid when it comes to challenging those opponents.

The catch: It’s not clear how much impact foreign − more specifically, American − funding has really had when it comes to blocking pipeline projects (which, Mr. Kenney might argue, is all the more reason to hold an inquiry). The main obstacle in the way of Trans Mountain is a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that hinged largely on inadequate First Nation consultation, and environmentalists have disputed the assertion that they receive significant amounts of foreign cash. For example, the David Suzuki Foundation, a frequent target of Mr. Kenney, says 90 per cent of its donations come from Canadians. Mr. Harper’s government also targeted environmental charities, spending $12-million on audits, although one of the side effects was a surge in donations to those groups.

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