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Analysis
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Politics

Jason Kenney’s Political Paranoia

His blame game feeds anxious citizens false enemies. It’s an old trick.

By Crawford Kilian 2 May 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

In his first couple of days in office, Jason Kenney hit the ground whining.

First he proclaimed Bill 12, the “Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act.” This is the turn-off-the-taps law that would let him “require companies to obtain a licence before exporting energy products from Alberta via pipeline, rail or truck.”

At a news conference, Kenney then explained: “Alberta is serious about sending a message to those who wage a campaign of obstruction against our vital resources.” Note the choice of words, casting Alberta as the hapless victim of aggressors “waging a campaign.”

The campaigners are soon identified: “We want to work with other jurisdictions, like British Columbia... ” and Kenney segues into Churchillian “fight them on the beaches” mode: “everybody should be aware that we will use every option available to defend Alberta, our economy, our resources and our people.”

Protecting Alberta suddenly becomes a national defence issue: “We mean business when protecting Canada’s economic interests.”

Kenney’s energy minister Sonya Savage then explicates her boss’s words: “This is not a mechanism to punish others,” she reassures us. “It’s a tool to protect Alberta. Alberta’s prosperity fuels Canada’s prosperity.” Having hinted at the stick, she offers a carrot: “It’s in every province and territory’s interest that we get these products to market.”

But that wasn’t all Kenney had to say in his first hours as premier. He and Savage also spoke to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications about Bill C-48, which would ban Canadian oil tankers from much of the B.C. coast: “to defend our province and add my grave concerns to the growing list of voices calling for this arbitrary, illogical and discriminatory bill to be killed.”

A ‘massive attack’

Again Alberta is framed as under attack, and Kenney is simply jumping on the bandwagon of a “growing list of voices.” He goes on to say “Bill C-48 is only part of a massive attack on Alberta’s — and Canada’s — natural resource economy under the current federal government’s agenda.”

Note that this “massive attack” is by anonymous attackers, but the implication is that the “current” federal government (whose days are legislatively numbered) is encouraging the attack. Kenney is signaling his readiness to launch a two-front war, against B.C. and Ottawa. “Agenda,” of course, normally means “list of things to be done”; it’s also right-wing code for “things we don’t approve of.”

Kenney then goes into full-blast self-congratulation: “And we will continue to fight back, because our track record in protecting the environment, our commitment to leadership in innovation and, above all, our success in sharing those benefits throughout the Canadian economy, are unmatched.”

Evidently he missed the scientific report last month in Nature Communications that reported oilsands CO2 emissions intensities are anywhere from 13 per cent to 123 per cent larger than the industry has publicly reported: “This leads to 64 per cent higher annual GHG [greenhouse gas] emission from surface mining operations, and 30 per cent higher overall [oilsands] GHG emission (17 Mt) compared to that reported by industry.”

In fairness, Kenney doesn’t mention climate issues much, if at all. He isn’t through with the oil tanker ban, however. He complains that it’s “a ban against oil only from Alberta,” since we can’t stop the Americans from carrying Alaskan oil to the lower 48.

Why is everybody always picking on me?

And after pointing out that tankers routinely ply the waters of Eastern Canada, he asks: “Why is Alberta being singled out for attack?” Veterans of childhood sibling rivalry will recognize the tactic.

Kenney's statement concludes by moving from whine to threat: if “Bill C-49 is forced through against the wishes of the Alberta government and many First Nations, the federal government will be responsible for an entirely avoidable threat to Canada’s economic union and to our national unity.” This is a reminder of Alberta’s separatist fantasies, like the Western Canada Concept, which wanted to secede from Canada. It then morphed into the Reform Party under the ironic slogan “The West wants in.”

The paranoid style is a largely American political stance. In fact, it was first diagnosed in a famous 1964 essay and then book titled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” and it’s now enjoying a resurgence under Donald Trump. He panders to whites who think they deserve to rule but feel threatened. They cast themselves as victims of those they’ve victimized for centuries, and reward politicians who encourage their misdirected ire.

A similar Canadian paranoia rumbles under the surface wherever Indigenous peoples or immigrants or non-whites are seen to be nearing equality. In Alberta, the paranoid style is now in full eruption mode. Jason Kenney understands it very well: as a Harper minister, he saw the conservatives in many immigrant groups, and played to their paranoia to win their votes.

Now he runs a province that has felt intensely sorry for itself at least since Peter Lougheed left office, a province deeply uninterested in climate collapse even when Fort McMurray burns. After 70 years of petroleum boom and bust, it can’t imagine an economy that doesn’t involve fossil fuel, and it’s eager to cast itself as the victim of hippy-dippy British Columbia.

When he originally described the paranoid style in politics a half-century ago, Richard Hofstadter said it is “made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary.”

Alberta has welcomed the paranoid style of Jason Kenney, and we’ll all have to learn how to deal with that style. It’s not going to be pleasant.  [Tyee]

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