UCP READY FOR WAR OVER PIPE­LINE

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The NDP hasn’t called an elec­tion cam­paign but Ja­son Ken­ney is run­ning one any­way.The UCP’s week­end bash in Ed­mon­ton was pure cam­paign hype and hoopla. The pres­ence of 500 party mem­bers on a frigid Fam­ily Day week­end shows how primed and zeal­ous these peo­ple are.The ses­sions fea­tured a lot of fierce talk from Ken­ney about fight­ing Ot­tawa over the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line.Then came Mon­day’s jolt­ing news that Ot­tawa may ex­tend its re­view time be­yond the 90 days re­quired af­ter re­lease of a Na­tional En­ergy Board re­port on Fri­day.Two cru­cial points are look­ing more ob­vi­ous.The Justin Trudeau Lib­er­als have no in­ter­est in help­ing the Al­berta NDP win the pro­vin­cial elec­tion to be held by May 31.And they may even stall a pipe­line re­boot un­til af­ter their own fed­eral elec­tion com­ing no later than Oct. 21.Will Trudeau’s cabi­net risk more demon­stra­tions and los­ing large chunks of the party’s en­vi­ron­men­tal base, just as an elec­tion ap­proaches? Not likely.Will they mol­lify the many Cana­di­ans who want the pipe­line by con­tin­u­ing to vaguely back it, some­day? Very likely.Fur­ther omi­nous signs are the SNC-Lavalin scan­dal and now the sur­prise res­ig­na­tion of the prime min­is­ter’s prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary, Ger­ald Butts.This looks like a cabi­net in cri­sis and a PM los­ing author­ity. Min­is­ters will be div­ing un­der their desks. Who’s go­ing to be say­ing, “hey, let’s do that pipe­line!”By af­ter­noon Mon­day, fed­eral sources were dis­put­ing the re­port of de­lays be­yond the 90-day pe­riod af­ter a new NEB cer­tifi­cate.But the fact re­mains that cabi­net must then vote its own new ap­proval, and that does not have to be done within 90 days. His­tory has long since taught us to be skep­ti­cal.On the week­end, Ken­ney vowed to use every le­gal and po­lit­i­cal lever to fight Ot­tawa and B.C., in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tion that al­lows cuts in ship­ments of oil to the Lower Main­land.He says Ot­tawa must in­voke a con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion declar­ing the pipe­line a ben­e­fit to Canada, and start build­ing.Premier Rachel Not­ley is stuck in the mod­er­ate mid­dle — ad­vo­cat­ing for the pipe­line while tak­ing mea­sures such as oil cur­tail­ment and rail car pur­chases, but not re­ally fight­ing Ot­tawa.The lat­est fed­eral dodge can only in­flate the anger that helps Ken­ney’s cause.And, maybe, it even helps the Trudeau Lib­er­als.Some would like to see Ja­son Ken­ney as premier dur­ing that fall fed­eral cam­paign. Trudeau could run as the pro­gres­sive saviour against the grow­ing wave of con­ser­vatism in the prov­inces.What­ever hap­pens, the toxic ef­fects of Ot­tawa’s dis­mal fail­ure on pipe­lines are per­haps only be­gin­ning to be felt.Ken­ney spent a lot of the week­end stok­ing lo­cal is­sues as well.Most strik­ing was his pledge to cut MLA pay by five per cent — and his own, should he be premier, by 10 per cent.Leg­is­la­ture mem­bers now make $127,296 per year. That would drop to $120,931.The premier’s to­tal pay is $206,856. It would fall to $186,170.Ken­ney said all the UCP MLAs and nom­i­nees at the gath­er­ing ap­proved the move.This is pure sym­bol­ism, of course. It will have neg­li­gi­ble ef­fect on debt and deficits.These pay lev­els had al­ready been frozen for most of the decade. They sit roughly in the mid­dle of the Cana­dian pack.Once a hot is­sue, pay for pro­vin­cial politi­cians isn’t much of an Al­berta irritant these days.But Ken­ney is send­ing a mini-aus­ter­ity sig­nal that’s bound to be pop­u­lar with fis­cal con­ser­va­tives — and alarm­ing to pub­lic ser­vants.The move raises in­stant echoes of the five per cent pub­lic pay cut in the Ralph Klein era. That ap­plied not just to politi­cians but the en­tire pub­lic ser­vice.Ken­ney promised there will be no pay re­duc­tions for gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees or the much larger group work­ing for pub­lic agen­cies (ed­u­ca­tion, AHS, etc.).Those lev­els, too, have been quite well con­tained by the NDP.But there’s no doubt about the UCP’s in­ten­tion to cut or de­fer fund­ing for projects and many NDP pri­or­i­ties.While Ken­ney specif­i­cally promised not to cut pub­lic pay lev­els, he point­edly did not say he wouldn’t elim­i­nate jobs.In some ar­eas, UCP poli­cies are sub­tly shift­ing from blus­ter to­ward the real world.For in­stance, Ken­ney yanked the NDP’s school cur­ricu­lum re­view out of the “shred­der,” where he’s been promis­ing to de­posit it since last May.He now con­cedes that the NDP may have a good idea or two. The re­view will be “paused” for ex­am­i­na­tion by ex­perts and par­ents on the hunt for NDP ide­ol­ogy.Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter David Eggen im­me­di­ately called the UCP plan a “drive-by shoot­ing,” not the most ap­pro­pri­ate phrase for a per­son in his po­si­tion.Eggen did point out, more rel­e­vantly, that the NDP is do­ing much of what the UCP de­mands (em­pha­siz­ing ba­sic skills, nu­mer­acy, fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy, com­puter cod­ing, etc.).Ken­ney also blasted the NDP for an­nounc­ing new re­new­able en­ergy deals dur­ing the for­mal elec­tion pe­riod, which be­gan Feb. 1. He said it’s not proper for the NDP to sign deals that a new gov­ern­ment might not agree with.Ken­ney did not say, how­ever, that he would stop or re­verse wind and so­lar projects — only that a UCP gov­ern­ment would not sub­si­dize them. With the car­bon tax ex­tinct (an­other re­peated promise) there would be no cash pool for sub­si­dies any­way.As it hap­pens, the huge so­lar project an­nounced by the NDP last week — to sup­ply 55 per cent of so­lar elec­tric­ity to gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ties — does not use sub­si­dies or car­bon tax rev­enues.Ken­ney pledged to re­scind the NDP’s prized Bill 6 on farm safety. While de­cid­edly vague, he did promise to re­place it with a regime fair to work­ers on com­mer­cial farms.All told, he gave a slightly more nu­anced view of UCP plans for top­pling the NDP su­per­struc­ture. But there’s no nu­ance about the pipe­line. If Ken­ney is elected, a con­flict to ri­val the 1980s en­ergy wars will start very quickly.While Ken­ney specif­i­cally promised not to cut pub­lic pay lev­els, he point­edly did not say he wouldn’t elim­i­nate jobs.

Ger­ald Butts has re­signed as prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau amid the scan­dal over SNC-Lavalin. It has thrown the fed­eral Lib­er­als into dis­ar­ray and fur­ther com­pli­cates pipe­line pol­i­tics in Canada.

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