The idea that the end of the federal election campaign might mark the return of some civility and fair-mindedness to the Canadian political scene always seemed like a dubious proposition.
We live in more hyperpartisan times. Politics is a constant war, waged more than ever by ideologues, especially on the right. Truth and honesty feel like quaint qualities of a bygone era. The same can be said for statesmanship and the notion of a common fight for the greater good.
And so it was when petroleum giant Encana Corp. announced this week that it was shifting its headquarters from Calgary to the United States. You knew it was only a matter of time before Alberta Premier Jason Kenney used the news to bludgeon his favourite pinata, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Kenney laid Encana’s decision directly at the feet of Mr. Trudeau, suggesting it was the result of an overarching desire by the Prime Minister and his Liberal government to undermine the Canadian energy industry.
“It’s about the broader decline [of the industry], which I think is a deliberate policy of the Trudeau government,” Mr. Kenney said.
Imagine that. A provincial leader in this country accusing the sitting Prime Minister of setting out to intentionally destroy an industry at the heart of the country’s economy. The same Prime Minister who spent oodles of political capital – not to mention $4.5-billion to buy a pipeline – with the pledge to spend upwards of $9-billion more to twin it.
Once upon a time, politicians didn’t make those kinds of reckless and irresponsible allegations without repercussions. But there won’t be any. Mr. Kenney knows he can make statements like this and, if anything, his reputation and stature in his province will only grow.
This weekend, many Albertans will sit around their dinner tables stewing over the fact that Encana’s decision to relocate to the U.S. was “Trudeau’s fault,” when that is completely not true.
Encana didn’t make this decision because the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion hasn’t been built. They moved to get access to a greater pool of cash in the United States that wasn’t available to the company as long as it was headquartered in Canada. There are no job losses associated with the decision, although reaction to the news in Alberta left one with the impression that thousands would be affected.
Exploration and production companies are in a state of flux around the world. Virtually all forms of outside capital fled the oil and gas sector in Canada starting with the oil crash in 2014. It forced companies here to become much more efficient in their operation. There is a wide belief the same recalibration that hit Canada is now set to rock oil and gas in the U.S.
None of this has to do with the Trudeau government or its “no more pipelines bill,” as Mr. Kenney calls Bill C-69. That doesn’t matter to the Alberta Premier. Encana leaving makes for good domestic politics. It gives him a platform upon which he can demand more pipelines, demand Catherine McKenna not be renamed environment minister in the next cabinet, demand an energy corridor to the east coast commence immediately, demand an urgent meeting of first ministers, demand equalization reform.
It’s completely nuts.
Mr. Kenney’s ego is out of control. I’m not sure whether he’s politicking for his current job or whether he’s establishing his bona fides to take over as federal Conservative leader. He certainly has become the loudest conservative voice in the country. And whether it’s current leader Andrew Scheer or someone else who ultimately assumes command of the federal party, they should be prepared for a long to-do list the Alberta Premier will have waiting for them.
The risk Mr. Kenney runs is overreach. He becomes so obsessed in his demonization of Mr. Trudeau that he actually creates sympathy for the Prime Minister instead. Because at some point, people outside of Alberta and Saskatchewan are going to see straight through the narrative.
They are going to see a provincial premier, who has some legitimate grievances, attempting to bully the person running this country (and an old political foe he doesn’t much care for on a personal level) into acceding to his every wish. They are going to see someone seemingly more interested in personal aggrandizement than engaging in the kind of give-and-take inherent in national deal-making.
And Mr. Kenney needs to understand that deliberately mischaracterizing the decisions oil and gas companies make for his own political gain ultimately doesn’t get him anything other than angrier citizens.