Alberta, home of the Conservatives, land of the strong and free. Nary a homegrown provincial political leader can save us from ourselves, but praise be, our saviour Jason Kenney has arrived from distant lands to bring us to prosperity and restore the Alberta Advantage. Just as Jim Prentice did before him, and Allison Redford before that.
Finally, help is on the way and hope is on the horizon.
But can such a saviour carry the weight of such heavy expectations? Ask Paul Martin about lofty expectations, or even Redford for that matter and one might think that such an endeavour is an exercise in foolishness and futility.
Let’s start with the bellicose rhetoric that became the norm in the multi-year plan to restore Alberta to its ordained leadership. For years Kenney railed against British Columbia and their obstructive practices, Justin Trudeau and his anti-Alberta policies, Quebec and their hypocritical practices, and finally Notley and her accidental government and destructive policies.
Immediately following the election, one might be excused for thinking the hawkish Premier they had elected may have been body-snatched and replaced with a snowflake dove instead.
Don Braid of the Calgary Herald stated that Kenney’s gunboat diplomacy sounded more like teacup statesmanship after he had cordial discussions with BC Premier John Horgan, Quebec Premier Francois Legault (who also said Kenney’s victory speech was “elegant”), and Prime Minister Trudeau.
Herein lies the challenge for Kenney on his relationships with his avowed enemies; Does Kenney continue the antagonistic rhetoric and appease the frenzied Alberta patriots who put him in the Premier’s office, at the risk of having no allies to achieve desired outcomes? Or, does he moderate and find common ground with those who have obstructed Alberta’s economic interests, and try to find a conciliatory path forward that leaves him looking Notley-esque?
Either pathway is fraught with a damned if you do, damned if you don’t outcomes.
Kenney has been seen to be hedging his position on the carbon tax since his election. To be clear Kenney has always supported a carbon tax, just not the Notley version – vowing to keep and expand on the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulations (CCIR) that were implemented as a replacement to the former PC Government’s Specified Gas Emitters Regulations (SGER) carbon tax on large emitters.
Kenney was also quoted on CTV as saying that the Trudeau carbon tax was better than the Notley one.
With an economic recovery that has come to all but a standstill, and the central bank and OECD cutting growth forecasts for Canada, will Kenney be able to deliver on his promise of jobs, economy, and pipelines, all while balancing the budget and keeping taxes low?
University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe thinks the Premier Designate is in for a reality check.
“In the short term, there’s only so much the government can do. The carbon tax may shave a few tenths of a point off GDP, while a corporate tax cut may add a few. Even pipelines, while incredibly important for Alberta’s economy and finances, will take some time to come online. The government can’t turn the province’s economy on a dime,” argues Tombe in his column.
One thing is certain: Kenney has raised the bar on expectations for what he will be able to accomplish in a short period of time. Simultaneously he will be expected to cut taxes, kickstart growth, get a coastal pipeline built, reduce spending, balance the budget, invest in education and healthcare, fight Ottawa and Trudeau, fight BC, and start paying down debt while maintaining services.
Without the advantage of historically high resource revenues to fill the holes in the Alberta Budget, tough decisions will need to be made, or magic will have to be made.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Four years from now Kenney may wish he hadn’t created such a heavy one to wear.
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