The first step towards political megalomania is berating journalists. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney did just that on Friday.
With oil prices around zero, Kenney was asked by a reporter if he was prepared to speak to advocates of the Green New Deal. The GND is the ambitious plan to transition the energy economy towards renewables and conservation in order to address climate change. It’s just been rejected by the Republican-dominated Senate in the United States.
Instead of answering the reporter’s question, Kenney claimed the question, coming “from a Calgary-based media outlet,” threw him “for a loop” and then scolded for even having to entertain such “pie-in-the-sky ideological schemes.”
Horsefeathers. It was Kenney who was doing the throwing. As Jason Markusoff of Maclean’s magazine tweeted:
“What’s particularly odious about @jkenney’s swipe is the inherent assumption that Calgary reporters ought to be petro-patriotic hometown industry defenders; like there’s something un-Albertan about even asking about a Green New Deal or sharp transition.”
He added: “I’m a Calgary journo who isn’t a big believer in Green New Deal or swift energy transition as Alberta’s economic saviour; I’m more incrementalist. But considering such ideas unseemly for a Calgarian is a crappy look for a political leader.”
Why does the premier imply that the job of Alberta-based media is to shill for the provincial government? It’s true that then-publisher of the National Post Douglas Kelly made clear his paper would “leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively” to advance the cause of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. That’s the kind of media Kenney and the Cons love. Embedded.
But it’s worse.
Jason Kenney is plugging into an international phenomenon: right-wing leaders who mint their own facts and brook no opposition — kings of confabulation who rule with an iron microphone.
Kenney gives every sign that he is learning from Trump’s daily pandemic grandstanding. Reporters ask the president perfectly legitimate questions that are in the public interest. Before they get their queries out of their mouths, he responds by attacking them like a rabid chihuahua. Trump says their questions are nasty. He denounces them as terrible journalists and awful people. He bristles that they are employed by fake news agencies. He even accuses them of trying to undermine his presidency by withholding praise for his many good ideas. You know, like mainlining Lysol, or burning your innards with pulses of light to purge COVID-19.
Kenney is now pulling similar stunts to avoid questions that have unflattering answers or no answers at all. Tom Ross of 660 News, the local radio reporter who asked the offending question last week at that press conference, was doing his job. Jason Kenney was not.
Why does this matter?
It doesn’t, unless one is still enamoured of that quaint notion that goes by the name of democracy. Journalists and a robust press deliver the lifeblood of freedom — reliable information.
Journalists are the anti-venom for the snake bite of government spin and messaging. And Kenney doesn’t like that one bit. In fact, his relationship with the truth, and his commitment to democracy and free speech, have often been underwhelming. Which is one of the reasons he doesn’t like answering questions. Edicts are more his thing.
Everyone remembers how as federal minister of immigration, Kenney used his own civil servants for a televised, fake citizenship ceremony. At the time, Kenney refused to apologize. Instead, he went with the line that it was the government workers who deceived the public, only to walk back that story when found out.
Kenney didn’t get much more democratic when he moved to provincial politics. This is the guy who earmarked $30 million of taxpayers’ money for the Canadian Energy Centre, a so-called “energy war room.” The government employees who worked there called themselves “reporters” when interviewing people for their pro-oil propaganda articles.
The idea was to use the resources of government to slap down anyone who dared criticize Alberta’s energy industry or the government support is receives. Not a war room at all really — merely an exercise in ideological thuggery aimed at curbing free speech.
But the effort was an award winner. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation gave the Canadian Energy Centre a prize for wasting money. It had to change its logo after it was learned that an American tech company was already using the logo. We don’t know how much this cost because the “war room” is not subject to freedom of information requests. The CEC has since lost 90 per cent of its bloated budget in the dark days of COVID-19.
And it was Jason Kenney who championed a $2.5 million public inquiry into possible “foreign funding” of the anti-tarsands movement in Canada. His targets were U.S. foundations concerned with mitigating climate change, preserving nature and fostering a green, sustainable economy, issues that straddle borders.
Kenney spread the bogus theory that this group of influential Americans was conspiring to keep Alberta’s oil landlocked in order to favour U.S. oil interests. Remember, Trump once said that Obama founded ISIS.
As for Kenney’s true feelings about democracy, one need look no further than his government’s infamous Bill 10. I have written in this space before that unscrupulous politicians have used the pandemic to justify brazen power grabs. Kenney’s Public Health Emergency Powers Act is a cautionary example of political opportunism in overdrive.
Kenney actually thought that Albertans would be okay with a bill that would do away with the untidy formality of having the legislature endorse any new laws. How much speedier if a Kenney cabinet minister could simply proclaim new law or new offences without the meddlesome NDP asking for amendments or a sunset clause on what is nothing less than democracy-killing legislation.
The bill the NDP opposition aptly termed “a colossal overreach” even Kenney had to admit wouldn’t fly. This odious legislation is now back on the drawing board.
There is something else that won’t fly for Premier Kenney. Attacking the press instead of answering questions that are clearly in the public interest. Here are some that won’t go away:
Why does this premier have such an obsession with a commodity that recently fell into negative values and experts say may go there again? As one wag on the internet put it, “the most precious part of a barrel of oil is now the barrel.”
Is that the kind of future for Alberta that Kenney wants to invest in?
Is that the kind of industry he wants the federal government to rescue?
When will Alberta’s premier accept the urgency around climate science, and the need to curb carbon emissions?
What does Kenney make of the research that has detected coronavirus on particles of pollution, enabling it to travel greater distances?
Why are Canadian taxpayers paying for oilfield cleanups in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan? This is a jobs project, and fair enough. But why aren’t the mess-makers paying for it? It used to be called polluters pay.
And what about the quality of all that donated equipment sourced from China? The Edmonton Journal recently reported that the masks provided by the Kenney government to Alberta health-care workers are substandard. Unions, doctors and the political opposition claim that the masks “don’t fit well, smell bad and cause skin irritation.”
And why, for all the Conservative boasting about being sound fiscal managers, is Alberta a hot mess and getting worse?
The province’s debt-to-equity ratio is headed for 20 per cent by end of fiscal year. That is a far cry from the province’s negative net debt from 2007, as reported by the CBC.
Making matters worse, the government’s pension manager, Alberta Investment Management Corp., lost $4 billion on what the Globe and Mail reported as a “wrong way bet” against sharp fluctuations in stock prices.
Maybe that’s why a mid-April poll by Research Co. and Glacier Media showed the first signs of buyer’s remorse amongst Albertans regarding their premier. The survey found that 54 per cent of respondents believe that previous premier Rachel Notley would handle the economic and health crisis engulfing Alberta better than Jason Kenney, while only 29 per cent prefer the premier they have today.
Try hanging that one on the media.