I didn’t hear about Energy Relaunch until a few days before the event. The guest list was a who’s who of Conservatives from yesteryear and, they hope, tomorrow. Headlining the event was Conservative leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition Jason Kenney, Conservative leader of Canada’s Official Opposition, Andrew Scheer, Saskatchewan’s Conservative Premier Scott Moe and … The Honourable Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous of the New Democrat Party. The panels were made up of mostly Conservative groups and … Dr. Andrew Leach and Mark Cameron for good measure. The media panel held a wildcard in Jen Gerson but I’m not sure if New West Public Affairs (a Solberg family venture with previous UCP communications director Sonia Kont) knew that when they invited her to speak.
It smelled like a Conservative love-in but Minister Bilous and Dr. Leach gave it some credibility and I bought my ticket.
Energy Relaunch was billed as an opportunity to hear about policies and plans for the energy sector. There were tables full of energy sector managers, owners, senior employees and United Conservative Party supporters, nomination candidates and UCP MLAs. The first question they asked the crowd was “Do you think construction on Trans Mountain will begin next year?” 71% of the attendees with cell phones answered “no”. My table included a dedicated UCP supporter, a nomination candidate for the UCP, an oil and gas senior staff member, a small oil and gas businessman whose commentary indicated a strong support for the conservative speakers and myself – just for context.
The woman to my right leaned over and said “I don’t think they’re going to like my answers”. She was representing an oil and gas company. During Kenney’s speech, she took notes for her cohorts. The first line of her email originally said “(t)his is a very partisan event”. She didn’t seem impressed.
Kenney’s speech was supposed to set the tone for the day. By the general lack of response he received, I would say that tone was awe. He gave the same speech I’ve heard many, many times at his town halls and campaign rallies. “Bill 1 of a United Conservative government will be to repeal the carbon tax” he said and, surprisingly, received silence in return. It might be because the carbon tax, while it may affect these individuals when they put gas in their vehicles, does not apply to the corporations whose employees and owners were in the room. They’ve been paying a price on carbon emissions since 2007 under SGER.
Or it might have been because people paid to hear about policy for an Energy Relaunch, not a campaign speech or a step-by-excruciating-step detailed plan of how Kenney plans to fight anti-oil sentiment on social media and in the courts. Sure, it’s a solution you might be able to sell on Twitter, but these people aren’t looking for soft steps – they want plans for the future; their future.
The Honourable Minister Deron Bilous was up next and he softened the crowd immediately by saying “I feel a bit like a Red Sox fan at a Yankees game”. Whether they all knew they were coming to a Conservative love-fest or not, the crowd had a good laugh – especially after Kenney’s obviously campaign-themed speech. Bilous acknowledged the government’s opposition to Bill C-69 and noted Minister of the Environment, Shannon Phillips, had just returned from a meeting with the feds.
Bill C-69 was mentioned a lot and Duane Bratt from the University of Calgary sent a tweet that it would have been nice to hear from someone from the federal government on the file. Unfortunately, the speakers were overwhelmingly delivering “what I’ll do if I’m elected” speeches. By the time Andrew Scheer gave his highly partisan perspective, the room was beginning to clear. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took the stage as the final speaker of the day and I noticed the room was about half as full as it had been at the beginning.
New West Public Affairs was undoubtedly using the conference as a business launch as well but I’m not sure they hit the mark; unless they were trying to cement their support from the UCP. If they form government next year, I suppose it will pay off but if they were trying to show that they will be a leader in showcasing innovative ideas, the densely conservative talking points failed.
They didn’t fail because they were conservative, mind you, they failed because they are either willfully or naively ignorant of the issues for oil and gas businesses. Martha Hall Findlay of the Canada West Foundation put it simply when she said never in Canada’s history have we had successive governments so focused on scrapping policies by previous governments.
“Political uncertainty is hardest; it’s unusual for Canada to have governments who are willing to make major changes. Doug Ford, Northern Gateway, Jason Kenney: business doesn’t mind strict environmental regulations – what stifles investment is uncertainty.”
And while Kenney acknowledged jurisdictions who had scrapped the idea of a carbon tax, like Australia and France, he neglected to mention those who do have a tax on emissions. There are 40 as of 2018 and they include China, the U.K., Japan, South Korea, Scandinavian countries, Iceland, California and Colorado in the U.S. as well as our own B.C. (a province that hasn’t experienced a “job killing”, “economic disaster” over a tax that has been in place for the past 10 years), Ontario and Alberta.
As Jen Gerson pointed out in the media panel, it’s great that conservatives can unite behind their hatred of a tax but does it get us anywhere on a global front? Alberta businesses trade globally, Canada trades globally. If countries are implementing similar policies, there may be political pressure to reduce trade with countries that have opposing policies; like attracts like. And while Danielle Smith asked the oft-repeated question of Saudi Arabia’s environmental and human rights policies, again, these are subject to political pressure. As one person at my table suggested, “throw a $100/barrel tariff on Saudi oil and see how quickly free enterprise adjusts”. That was from the UCP nomination candidate.
It is unlikely the carbon tax will stop being a political golden egg for the conservatives but it would be nice if they managed to tell the whole story. Then again, I suppose I wouldn’t have much of a market if they did.
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