Categories
Alberta Politics

It sucks to be Jason Kenney

Down in the polls, down in popularity, fighting off a caucus and party revolt and facing a vicious third wave of a global pandemic is probably not how Jason Kenney imagined he’d be spending the second anniversary of his party’s sweeping win in the April 16, 2019 election.

When he rode into the victory party in his leased blue Dodge Ram, Kenney looked like an unstoppable political force. The long-time politician imported from Ottawa to Alberta to unite the province’s two quarrelling conservative parties thumped the incumbent Alberta NDP in every region of the province, save Edmonton and a handful of districts in Calgary and Lethbridge.

To paraphrase a headline from another province, Kenney could have kicked a dog and still got elected.

But after spending two years burning through political capital and making new enemies on an almost daily basis, there is a real question whether Kenney will make it until the next election.

Factions of his caucus and party are rebelling against him, demanding the lifting of public health restrictions just as COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in Alberta and calling for his resignation as party leader.

Despite his reputation as a workaholic and micro-manager, his government’s actions and communications in response to the pandemic have been muddled, confusing, and unclear. And now, with cases almost at the same level as Dec. 2020 and hospitalizations closing in on 600, his government appears to be unwilling to introduce new public health measures to slow the growth of the virus.

He was forced to turn tail on universally unpopular plans to privatize provincial parks and allow open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.

It seems like nearly every school board in the province has rejected his government’s draft K-6 curriculum, which has been almost universally panned by parents and educators as overly politicized, American-focused, and out of date.

His government lost its bid to overturn the federal government’s carbon tax at the Supreme Court and now his Ottawa ally Erin O’Toole has now embraced his own version of the carbon tax.

And there has been almost no movement on the three big promises he so effectively honed in on in 2019: Jobs, Economy, and Pipelines. And if there has been movement, it’s been backward.

Now three years in, it looks like the one thing Kenney has been most effective in is making enemies, and, in many cases, enemies of people who would otherwise be allies.

Led by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the Kenney government decided it was a smart idea to launch a full scale attack against Alberta’s doctors in the middle of the global pandemic.

The government only recently backed down from its attacks on doctors, but it’s clear there is very little trust or goodwill between physicians and the government, especially as long as Kenney continues to back Shandro as Health Minister.

His relationship with the truth has been questioned as well, as he has become known for embellishing stories – like the superspreader birthday party in Athabasca – or twisting anecdotes to fit his own political narratives – like the crying restaurant owners who he claimed fled socialism in Venezuela.

His job approval ratings are in the tank, his party has fallen behind the NDP in every polls since last Nov., and today Elections Alberta announced that his party raised just half the amount of money as Rachel Notley’s NDP in the first three months of 2021.

Albertans are unhappy. Party members are unhappy. UCP MLAs are unhappy. Cabinet ministers are unhappy.

A month ago, the UCP executive narrowly avoided calls from disgruntled constituency association presidents to hold a leadership review at the party’s 2021 annual meeting by preemptively scheduling a review to take place during the 2022 convention, months ahead of the expected 2023 election.

Delaying the leadership review was designed to both give Kenney time to recoup his leadership approval among the public and the party, and threaten the dissenters with a potential leadership race months before the next election. But it looks like that didn’t quell the unrest in the party. His internal critics are calling his bluff.

Multiple reports allege that Kenney threatened his caucus with calling an early election if he did not have their support, but it was so clearly an empty threat. The UCP would lose the election if it were held tomorrow and Rachel Notley would be Premier again.

Unfortunately for Kenney, the United Conservative Party he helped create is an institutional mix of former Progressive Conservatives, who do not tolerate leaders who look like they are going to lose, and Wildrosers, who just don’t want to be lead.

At this rate, Kenney might not last the summer, which he has repeatedly promised will be the “best summer in Alberta’s history.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

Who opposes Kenney’s decision to allow open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies? Basically everybody.

The United Conservative Party government’s decision to unilaterally rescind a 1976 Coal Policy that protected large swaths of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and Foothills from open-pit coal mining has hit a nerve with Albertans.

Similar to the UCP government’s decision to close or privatize more than 160 provincial parks, which the government began to slowly back away from after widespread opposition in 2020, the decision to rescind the Coal Policy and enthusiastically support open-pit coal mining is an issue that is facing opposition across Alberta.

The opposition to the Coal Policy reminds me somewhat of the fight over electrical transmission lines that the old Progressive Conservative government stumbled into in the mid-2000s. In both cases, Conservative governments forgot how to listen to and speak with to their long-time rural supporters – and in the case of the PCs there were big consequences in the following election.

But in this case, the coal issue transcends the urban-rural divide that Alberta politicians sometimes like to exploit.

Albertans are proud of our Rocky Mountains. And we are acutely aware of how exploding the tops off those mountains would destroy habitat and pollute the water sources that millions of Albertans depend on.

Highwood UCP MLA RJ Sigurdson, who’s district includes part of the area directly impacted by the decision, says he is listening to his constituents concerns but he has not broken with his government on the issue. Livingstone-Macleod UCP MLA Roger Reid claimed the decision was made by the Alberta Energy Regulator, even though the policy was actually rescinded by Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Describing the Peter Lougheed-era Coal Policy as outdated, Premier Jason Kenney dismissed the opposition by claiming critics of open-pit coal mining were mostly “city-dwellers.” But the chorus of opposition from Albertans who actually live on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies tells the true story.

Who opposes the Kenney government’s decision to remove the 1976 Coal Policy?

The opposition to Kenney’s removal of the coal policy has been building since 2020, with ranchers, farmers and conservation, hunting, recreation and environmental groups, and the NDP opposition raising the alarm. But the opposition to Kenney’s coal push got a big boast when country music artists Corb Lund, Paul Brandt, Terri Clark, and kd lang, Heartland actor Amber Marshall, and television’s Terry Grant (aka the Mantracker) spoke out against the removal of the Coal Policy and in favour of protecting the Rockies and Foothills from open-pit coal mining.

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations – Landowners and the Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations have filed separate requests for a judicial review of the decision, which they argue was made without legally required consultations. (Alberta Native News, Jan. 18, 2021)

Municipal District of Ranchlands – Several groups are seeking intervenor status to join the ranchers seeking a judicial review: the M.D. of Ranchland, the Bearspaw, Siksika, Kainai and Whitefish First Nations, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Alberta Hiking Association, the Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association, the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Livingstone Landowners Group. (CBC, Jan. 20, 2021)

Town of Claresholm: Town Council voted to send a letter following up on a June 20, 2020 letter to the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Energy, and to cc MLA Roger Reid and Premier Jason Kenney raising concern over the rescindment of the 1976 Coal Policy. (Town of Claresholm, Jan. 25, 2021)

Foothills County – Foothills councillors are expressing their concern with a lack of policy around coal mining in southern Alberta. Council agreed to draft a letter to the provincial government regarding the controversial application for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, an $800-million coal mining operation proposed in the Crowsnest Pass by Benga Mining Ltd., a subsidiary of Australian parent company Riversdale Resources. (Okotoks Today, Jan. 25, 2021)

Town of Edson – Edson officials penned a letter to the premier on Jan. 19 that asked the province to reopen closed, already-developed metallurgical mines instead of moving forward with new ones. (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Village of Longview – “We are definitely not in favour of it,” said Kathie Wight, mayor of Longview, a community of 334 that looks out on the rangelands and mountains of the province’s southwest. “More public consultation needs to be taken into consideration.” (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Town of Nanton – The Town of Nanton has sent a letter, signed by the mayor, to Alberta’s premier stating its concerns about open pit coal mining in southwest Alberta. In the Jan. 20 letter, the Town first thanks Premier Jason Kenney and Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, for the government’s Jan. 18 announcement cancelling 11 recently issued coal leases and the pause in issuing coal lease sales in former “Category 2” lands, which include large swaths of the Eastern Slopes and were previously protected. (Nanton News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Town of OkotoksOkotoks Town Council passed a motion to draft a letter addressed to Premier Jason Kenney and other members of the provincial government regarding the recently rescinded 1976 Coal Policy. The letter would request an immediate rollback on the rescinding of the policy, a consultation process on the desired changes to the policy, and an impact report on how the project may affect local water. (Okotoks Online, Jan. 28, 2021)

Town of High River – “Coal exploration is causing irreparable damage to the landscapes and watersheds as well as adversely affecting the public’s access, use and enjoyment of Crown lands,” says the letter from town council in High River, about 55 kilometres south of Calgary. (CBC, Feb. 1, 2021)

Town of Canmore – Canmore Mayor John Borrowman will write a letter to Premier Jason Kenney urging him and the UCP government to reinstate the 1976 Coal Development Policy that was rescinded last year. (Rocky Mountain Today, Feb. 2, 2021)

Kainai-Blood Tribe – The Kainai-Blood Tribe will be launching a legal challenge against the Government of Alberta over its decision to unilaterally rescind the 1976 Coal Policy. (Lethbridge Herald, Feb. 2, 2021)

Town of Turner Valley – Turner Valley town council voted in favour of submitting a letter to the provincial government regarding coal exploration, joining several other Alberta towns in doing so. The letter includes several requests, including for the provincial government re-instate the 1976 Coal Policy, to institute a consultation process with relevant stakeholders, and for an analysis of environmental, hydrological, economic, and recreational impacts of the proposed changes. (Okotoks Online, Feb. 3, 2021)

Siksika First Nation– Siksika First Nation is launching a legal challenge against the province’s decision to rescind its coal policy, effectively allowing open-pit coal mining in the Rockies. (Calgary Herald, Feb. 4, 2021)

City of Airdrie – City council voted unanimously Feb. 1 to offer support to municipalities in southern Alberta that are advocating against the development of open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. At the Feb. 1 meeting, Airdrie resident Jessica Jacobs submitted a letter to council as public correspondence, urging the City to take a stance against the Grassy Mountain Coal Project – an $800-million coal mining operation that has been proposed in the Crowsnest Pass. (AirdrieToday.com, Feb. 5, 2021)

City of Lethbridge – Lethbridge could be joining a chorus of communities across southern Alberta to voice concerns about the UCP government’s decision to rescind a 45 year old policy on coal mining. Councillors will discuss an official business resolution next Tuesday (Feb. 9) which, if adopted would have the mayor write to Premier Jason Kenney and the Ministers of Environment and Energy requesting the policy be reinstated. (MyLethbridgeNow.com, Feb. 5, 2021)

It has been reported that the Town of Black Diamond and Clearwater County are also expected to discuss the issue in the coming weeks. Calgary City Council will discuss the issue at a Feb. 8 meeting.


Listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast to hear this weekend’s podcast discussion about the Coal Policy with writer and conservationist Kevin Van Tighem.