Jason Kenney, the newly elected premier, is set to clash with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister
“HELP IS on the way, and hope is on the horizon,” proclaimed Jason Kenney after his United Conservative Party decisively won the election in Alberta, an oil-producing province in western Canada, on April 16th. He was talking to Albertans depressed by a downturn in the oil industry, which has pushed up unemployment and left empty a quarter of the office space in Calgary, the province’s biggest city. For Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Liberal prime minister, Mr Kenney’s victory is more a source of worry than of hope.
Although Alberta’s slump was largely caused by factors beyond the province’s control—notably the fall in oil prices in 2014-15—voters took their anger out on the government of Rachel Notley of the left-leaning New Democratic Party. Her election four years ago had been a first for a province with a reputation for Texas-like conservatism and suspicion of the federal authorities in Ottawa. Ms Notley is a defender of the province’s oil industry, which extracts the stuff expensively from tar sands. She lobbied hard for an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline to take more oil to the Pacific coast for export.
But she is also an environmentalist, and introduced a carbon tax, now C$30 ($22) a tonne, to discourage greenhouse-gas emissions. In striking this balance she had an ally in Mr Trudeau, who championed the pipeline but also passed a law requiring provinces to set a price on carbon emissions or to submit to one imposed by the federal government.
Much of Canada has resisted that grand bargain. The province of British Columbia, the pipeline’s terminus, remains opposed to the project on environmental grounds. In August 2018 the federal government took it over from Kinder Morgan, the frustrated US-based firm trying to build it. Moreover, four provinces led by conservative premiers—Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick—are fighting Mr Trudeau’s carbon price in the courts.
Alberta will now join them. Mr Kenney, a former federal immigration minister described by Maclean’s, a magazine, as a “Guinness-sipping nerd”, is expected
- swiftly to kill the provincial carbon tax. He plans to
- raise an emissions cap on tar sands oil production and s
- low down plans to eliminate coal-fired electricity. He has
- threatened to cut off British Columbia from shipments of Alberta’s oil if it continues to oppose the pipeline expansion. Mr Kenney also
- promises to bring “tens of thousands of jobs” to Alberta by slashing environmental and labour regulation, and by reducing the corporate-tax rate from 12% to 8%.
At first glance, his victory will pose additional problems for Mr Trudeau, who has been hurt by allegations that his office put improper pressure on the country’s attorney-general to drop the prosecution of a Quebec-based engineering company. He faces a re-election battle in October. But Mr Trudeau may not mind a fight over climate policy. According to a poll conducted in March by Abacus Data, 69% of Canadians say climate change is one of the top five issues they will consider when they vote. Just 28% of Canadians are firmly opposed to a carbon tax.
The federal government has the power to override British Columbia’s opposition to the pipeline expansion. It could do so as early as May 22nd. That gives Mr Trudeau some hope that he can rescue his energy grand bargain, despite Mr Kenney’s opposition to the carbon tax.
Alberta’s new premier may benefit from an upturn in the province’s growth. The unemployment rate was 6.9% in March. That is still 1.1 percentage points above the national rate, but it is well below the peak of 9.1% in November 2016. TD Financial Group, a bank, predicts that Alberta’s economy will grow by 2.4% in real terms next year, the fastest rate in the country, thanks in part to a rise in oil prices. The sunnier outlook has nothing to do with the new premier’s pro-oil policies. That will not stop him from taking the credit.