The 1358th chapter of the ongoing saga of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project ended today as the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously ruled to dismiss four challenges by First Nations in British Columbia.
Speaking in Montreal today, Premier Jason Kenney lauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, telling reporters that “I have my disagreements with Prime Minister Trudeau on a number of issues … but I think they did realize there has to be at least one project that gets Canadian energy to global markets so we can get a fair price.”
3000 kilometres away from Alberta is probably a safe distance for Kenney to effuse some praise for Trudeau, something he likely wouldn’t be caught dead doing back home. But praising Trudeau for a pipeline that is deeply unpopular in Quebec while he is in that province’s largest city is a shrewd piece of political theatre on Kenney’s part.
Since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017, Kenney has used the pipeline as a cudgel against his political opponents, tarring Trudeau and former premier Rachel Notley as opponents of a project they spent incredible amounts of political capital to see completed.
Nationwide support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion dropped by 11 per cent since 2018, according to a poll released by Angus-Reid last month. Urgency about climate change has become a more front and centre issue since then, most effectively demonstrated by tens of thousands of Canadians participating in climate strike marches across Canada, including more than 10,000 people in Edmonton. And since Kenney’s United Conservative Party formed government in April 2019, his government has taken a hyper-aggressive approach to responding to opponents to oil industry expansion, which may have had an impact on national opinion.
The creation of the publicly funded Canadian Energy Centre (aka The Energy War Room), a government-sponsored public relations company run by failed UCP candidate Tom Olsen and boasting a $30-million annual budget, has been front and centre in the government’s new approach.
The CEC largely duplicates public relations work typically done by industry associations like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and had a rough first few months as it was forced to replace a plagiarized logo and tell its staff not to identify themselves as reporters when writing content for the War Room’s blog.
The Canadian Energy Centre, the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns (which has been dogged by an alleged conflict of interest scandal), the pledge to open Alberta government offices in provincial capitals across Canada, and Kenney’s steady schedule of international travel, are part of what the UCP government calls it’s “Fight Back” plan.
The court ruled that First Nations have no veto and cannot refuse to compromise or insist a project be cancelled, and found that the federal government made genuine effort to consult and accommodated concerns raised by First Nations communities.
While this decision is expected to be appealed by First Nations groups at the Supreme Court, and will likely have political implications if UNDRIP is implemented in Canada, it is likely that the next round of opposition to the pipeline project will come in the form of civil disobedience and direct action.
This isn’t over yet.
UCP releases radical health care report, and look! Jason Kenney is leaving the country, again!
Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it seems pretty darn convenient that Premier Kenney was on a plane to Quebec when Health Minister Tyler Shandro shared a stage with Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu and Ernst & Young spokesperson John Bethel (who attentive readers will remember as the 2004 federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-East) in announcing the release of the international management corporation’s $2-million report on Alberta Health Services.
The report is big and bristling with the kind of ideological and predictable recommendations that you would expect from the right-wing Fraser Institute, which was cited a few times in the report. Privatization of services ranging from long-term care to security, gutting of collective agreements and salary rollbacks, and closure of rural hospitals were among the many recommendations included in the report.
While Shandro was clear that he would not risk further alienating his party’s rural base by closing rural hospitals, despite the report’s recommendations, the report did deliver the UCP with a powerful talking point – $1.9 billion in potential savings.
The report suggests that if all its recommendations were implemented, the government could potentially save $1.9 billion in costs to the health care system (of course, many of those costs could be transferred to patients). It might be unlikely that all of the recommendations will be implemented, but expect to hear Shandro repeat that $1.9 billion number, a lot.
Meanwhile, Kenney will soon leave Quebec for meetings in Washington D.C.
Kenney’s office stops releasing public travel itineraries
The Premier’s Office under Kenney appears to have stopped publicly releasing the Premier’s itinerary ahead of inter provincial or international trips. Previous premiers commonly released a brief daily itinerary that listed who or which organizations the Premier and their staff were scheduled to meet with.
A lack of publicly released itinerary meant that Albertans discovered on Twitter that Kenney’s trip to New York City in September 2019 included a speech at a reception hosted by the right-wing Manhattan Institute. It was also revealed by the Alberta Today newsletter through Freedom of Information requests that Kenney also held court at a historic speakeasy in midtown Manhattan, an event that was not listed in the standard government press release announcing his trip.
Kenney’s office also did not release an itinerary for his December 2019 trip to London, UK, citing concerns that individuals he was meeting with could be targeted by climate change advocacy groups.
With no journalists from Alberta accompanying Kenney on his international trips, the release of public itineraries is an important way to ensure some basic accountability and transparency when the Premier is travelling out of province on the public dime.
Note: Past requests for public itineraries of Premier Kenney’s international trips have gone unanswered by the Premier’s Office.