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A blustery wind from Alberta

By: 
Pam Johnson

April 24, 2019

On election night in Alberta, Jason Kenney began his slick victory speech declaring Alberta ‘open for business!’ Again and again he promoted oil development and pipelines as the road to prosperity. He railed against Trudeau’s carbon tax and called for an alliance of right-wing premiers to cooperate and fight ‘foreign-funded’ climate campaigns in order to keep the oil flowing.

All of this flies in the face of climate science, the global climate protest movement and rising calls for a Green New Deal, plus the prediction of every oil industry report warning of waning supply. At the same time federal scientists have just released a report saying that Canada is warming at twice the global average.

Kenney doubled down on fossil fuel development with the same populist message that masquerades as concern for ‘the people’ that brought Trump and Ford to power. Kenney channelled Trump’s ultra-nationalism, with an Alberta first focus, but in a sleeker, more polite style. With only the faintest two-sentence nod to the climate, he spoke about need for Canada to compete or lose out to ‘foreign’ countries like the US, Russia and the OPEC ‘dictators.’ The true benefactors of this scheme, of course, are the oil companies, not workers.

But his last ditch call to get the oil out of the soil seems like madness even to industry experts. One recent Globe and Mail editorial titled, ‘Let’s get honest about the real outlook for the Alberta oil sands and Trans Mountain’, cited no benefit to producing expensive tar sands oil with the current glut of cheaper oil. The same article concluded that it is likely the Trans Mountain pipeline will end up as a ‘stranded’ asset that Canadians will pay for for generations.

Resistance

But, what is really hounding Kenney and his follow climate change deniers, is the rising global movement to stop climate change. Students around the world, inspired by Greta Thunberg, have gone on weekly climate strikes, The Extinction Rebellion protests in London have shut down major intersections for the past week. In Quebec,tens of thousands have protested on the streets in the past two years in a rising climate movement.

The movement in Quebec has also gained the support of Quebec Solidaire (QS), the anti-capitalist party that won ten seats in the Quebec Assembly. QS has vowed to put addressing climate change at the top of its priority list. The sentiment in Quebec is so strong that the newly elected Premier of the right-wing CAQ party, Francois Legault, could not join his right-wing counterparts in condemning the federal carbon tax for fear of losing support.

A recent poll also shows majority support in Canada for a Green New Deal. 61% support this project that would radically transform the economy and an even higher number support raising taxes on the wealthy to help pay for the transition.

Bigot

Kenney’s dubious oil jobs and prosperity pitch was enough to convince voters who have been facing job loss and high cost of living. Rachel Notley’s NDP government did not deliver despite being on the same oil prosperity page. She and Trudeau talked out of both sides or their mouths about building pipelines and climate stewardship. It is a muddled and confused message and voters didn’t buy it.

What is most scary about Kenney’s pitch is that it drives his anti-worker and social conservative agendas and gives comfort to bigots and the far-right who are a significant part of his base. Without speaking directly to specifics in his victory speech, his use of the term ‘foreign’ to describe climate protesters and oil competitors is a dogwhistle and fodder for this base.

He campaigned on cutting the minimum wage and overtime pay for workers. He campaigned for school ‘choice’, code for eroding the public school system.

Students, teachers and parents protested Kenney's anti-GSA policies during the election

His anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive rights stances are well-documented going back to his days at a Catholic college in the US in the 1980s, when he initiated a campaign against allowing same sex partners visiting rights in hospitals during the height of the AIDS crisis.

He also campaigned on changing the law regarding gay-straight alliances in schools so that, in some cases, teachers could disclose to parents that their children were members. Protests were called across alberta as soon as he announced this part of his platform.

Now Alberta students are planning a walk-out in their schools on May 3. This will be latest in a string of actions across Canada and Quebec for justice. Kenney should call on his right wing buddies in the premiers’ offices in other provinces, as the walkouts and protests spread from province to province, he is going to need all the help he can get.

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