It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When Jason Kenney announced he was running for Rachel Notley’s job, he promised Albertans his government would fight back against the oil and gas industry’s foes — and that this fight would be a winning one. But following two years of defeat after defeat, from the Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline to his hapless War Room’s ongoing shenanigans, the Supreme Court of Canada has handed Kenney his biggest loss yet by reaffirming the federal government’s jurisdiction over carbon pollution.
In their 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada’s majority found that climate change causes harm beyond provincial boundaries, and so is a matter of national concern (and jurisdiction) under the “peace, order, and good government” clause of the Constitution. And in an interesting aside, the court also pointed out that “global climate change is real, and it is clear that human activities are the primary cause.” This isn’t something that federal Conservatives could agree on at their recent policy convention, mind you, and it sets the stage very clearly for the federal election that’s to come.
The next election will be the last stand for anyone in this country who still wants to fight the growing global consensus on climate change and carbon pricing, and you can be sure that everyone who is most heavily invested in it, from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to the Fraser Institute, will fight as hard as they can. It’s not a completely hopeless fight, either.
If Erin O’Toole can pull his approval ratings and polling numbers out of the metaphorical outhouse, and the Conservatives somehow form the next government, they could repeal the federal carbon tax and return Canada to the state Stephen Harper left it in when it comes to climate change.
That won’t help them build any new pipelines or do anything to support the oil and gas industry, and it would do tremendous damage to Canada’s ability to compete for the trillions of dollars in clean technology capital and investment that are being unleashed around the world. But it would give them a victory, Pyrrhic as it would be.
Right now, though, that seems like a longshot, and it just got longer with the Supreme Court’s decision. O’Toole has promised a “serious” climate plan, one that will help meet Canada’s targets without the use of a price on carbon, but that either means massive regulation of the oil and gas industry or empty promises about technological innovation.
We know O’Toole won’t dare propose the former. And the millions of Canadians who balked at giving Andrew Scheer the keys to 24 Sussex because of his lack of a climate plan in the last election aren’t likely to buy any new promises of climate rainbows and unicorns this time around. After spending years sowing the fields of climate skepticism, Conservatives may be about to reap a very disappointing harvest.
As for Jason Kenney? He will almost certainly double down on his position, if only because that’s the only political strategy he’s ever known. He will continue to blame Ottawa, attack Justin Trudeau and pretend that climate policy is a conspiracy against his province rather than a global reality.
But if and when O’Toole loses the next election, he and the other holdout premiers will face a difficult choice: either they continue to allow Ottawa to levy a tax and send rebates to their voters, or implement their own form of carbon pricing that meets the federal standard.
Kenney could, for example, bring in his own carbon tax and use the revenues to cut personal and corporate income taxes, as is his preference in virtually all situations. He could use it to pay down the province’s massive deficit, as the Business Council of Alberta suggested in a recent report. And he could use it to more aggressively subsidize the oil and gas industry, which is clearly something that’s near and dear to his heart.
Or, he can continue to fight his losing battles. He’s already indicated that the War Room, fresh off its inglorious campaign against a children’s cartoon, will be handed the keys to the province’s new ESG strategy, one that will play up the oil and gas industry’s virtues. And the province continues to chase its $1.5-billion investment in the Keystone XL pipeline, with Kenney recently championing the lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Texas and Montana against the Biden administration. “I can’t comment on the prospects of success in their legal effort,” he told reporters, “but I think it’s great to see.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has handed Kenney his biggest loss yet. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver #cdnpoli #ableg
Therein lies the rub for Kenney. You might think this pile of losses would change Kenney’s mind on the value of his “fight-back” strategy. But winning was never the point of Kenney’s strategy in the first place. Instead, it’s all about the fight. And in his Alberta, there seems to be no amount of losing that can change that.