Mitchell-MacLean: Kenney’s new gamble – Alberta’s race to restart the economy

This post contains opinion.

Jason Kenney has been called a lot of things but most recently it was Alberta’s “unluckiest Premier” – which ties in perfectly with the risks he’s taking with the province.

The thing about risk is that sometimes it pays out – Kenney just hasn’t managed to make that happen yet.

Many have recalled the late Jim Prentice’s words, “look in the mirror”, and, with the great benefit of hindsight, noted he was right. Prentice took a risk and it didn’t pay. He took a risk in telling the truth – and brought a 44-year dynasty to an abrupt end.

One moment, followed by another, and yet another – and it was over.

Prentice’s moments were close together, and right before an election, but he took the risk and it didn’t pay out.

Kenney is taking risks too, as Alberta’s Premier, and his unlucky streak hasn’t seen a break – yet.

After offering tax breaks to businesses, they still left the province. They laid off employees and sought greener pastures in other provinces (with *gasp* higher taxes) and countries.

In an attempt to show doctors who was really in charge, Kenney cancelled the contract with the Alberta Medical Association – a mediator between doctors and the province – and his proxies refused to deal fairly with them.

Then came a pandemic – forcing the Kenney government’s changes back and even managing to increase incentives in rural areas – but by then, the damage was done and another risk didn’t pay out.

The wealthiest province in the country has seen its fortunes change since Kenney became premier. Oil prices were better under Rachel Notley than Kenney – and it hurts – the province’s treasury, the economic outlook and Kenney’s chance of re-election.

So he made a decision that he expected would provide hope: he handed $1.5 billion to TC Energy – enough to sustain construction for the rest of the 2020. And that risky play was sidelined within a week and a half when another order came down from a Montana District Court Judge that could hold up the Keystone project for another two years if they have to appeal the decision.

Still dealing with a pandemic, Kenney denied any knowledge of a hiccup in his recent gamble and carried on with trying to be a face of the health crisis gripping the continent.

While every other provincial leader’s popularity increased, Jason Kenney’s did not. It could have been that he was elected on soundbites of “jobs, economy, pipelines” and the messaging was so darned good that no one thought, or expected, he could fail to deliver on all three.

It could have been that every time he appeared in front of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, his speeches about demanding help from Ottawa for the independence-minded, entrepreneurial spirited province fell flat.

Or it could have been that when he took over obviously complex briefings that would have been better left to the professionals, he looked out of his depth. In any case, his desire to be the face of the pandemic didn’t do him any favours.

Which makes Kenney’s latest move – to push the province ahead and restart the economy (when even B.C. isn’t willing to risk it) – the biggest gamble he has taken so far.

Although, it would explain why Health Minister Tyler Shandro is leading more and more health updates – one doesn’t want to take a massive political risk at the same time as they decide to risk the health of the people, or families of those, who elected them.

But this risk could pay off.

It’s possible that reopening the economy won’t result in more deaths than would have happened anyway.

It’s possible that the worst is over and Kenney’s timing is perfect and this will be his moment to shine.

But that’s the thing about gamblers; they’re never thinking about their losses – only their next chance to win.

This post contains opinion.

We are a team of independent writers and podcasters – support our work by becoming a patron.

Deirdre is a freelance writer and podcast host social distancing in southern Alberta.

@Mitchell_AB on twitter
[email protected]