UCP co-founder urges Alberta premier to 'fire yourself' from intergovernmental post

·3 min read

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is getting some unsolicited advice from the co-founder of the United Conservative Party: fire yourself as the intergovernmental affairs minister.

Brian Jean says Kenney’s “fight everyone” approach is not getting the job done for Albertans on critical issues, including energy and federal relations.

“Fire yourself as intergovernmental affairs minister and appoint a new one,” Jean wrote in a guest column published Wednesday by Postmedia.

“Ideally, we would use a ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach, and this (new) minister could be the good cop to assist you in negotiations.

“We are currently without a good cop, and we are missing out on co-operation from other governments.”

While Kenney is at it, said Jean, he could impart a softer diplomatic tone throughout his government.

“Those in your government too often pick fights with Albertans and others rather than asking them to help solve problems," he wrote.

“Albertans want the premier’s and ministers’ offices to be staffed by grown-ups who can be trusted to maturely address the issues facing Albertans.”

Jean helped create the UCP by joining his Wildrose party with Kenney's Progressive Conservatives. Jean ran against Kenney for the UCP leadership and lost.

Asked about Jean’s comments, Kenney said he hadn’t read the article, but noted: “It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and be an armchair quarterback as we make our way through these multiple crises at the same time.”

In answer to a similar question on CHED radio Kenney said: “We were elected to fight for this province’s best interests, not to sit back passively and let others determine our future for us.”

Kenney often has a combative rhetorical style in pursuing Alberta’s vital interests, most recently on the Keystone XL oil pipeline expansion.

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the trans-border line last month on his first day in office in keeping with a campaign promise. The decision cost Alberta $1.5-billion in direct investment, perhaps more given Kenney's government also pledged another $6 billion in loan guarantees.

The premier -- who once publicly dismissed Justin Trudeau as “an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl” -- accused the prime minister of not fighting hard enough to change Biden’s mind and urged Ottawa to issue retaliatory trade sanctions.

He accused Biden of "insulting” Canada on his first day in office.

Kenney is also battling Michigan’s environmentally focused opposition to Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline under the Great Lakes. He has called Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “brain dead.” Whitmer was national co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign.

Kenney's government has also focused on what he has called shadowy global foes and environmentalists who he says are seeking to undermine Alberta's oil industry. He set up a $30-million-a-year "war room" and struck a public inquiry into foreign funding of oil opponents. Critics say both endeavours have been undermined by self-generated mistakes and controversies.

The government has been publicly tangling with doctors, teachers, academics and organized labour as it seeks to reform everything from pensions to to health care to public-sector wages.

Also Wednesday, Kenney responded to a call from UCP caucus member Drew Barnes for Alberta to hold a referendum on independence as a message to Ottawa to take seriously the province's concerns about energy development and revenue-sharing.

“Ottawa has to be 100 per cent aware of the consequences of not giving Albertans resource movement and a fair deal,” Barnes said in an interview.

“Albertans everywhere, every day, are telling me the desire to stand up to Ottawa is stronger than ever.”

Kenney said UCP founding documents make it clear the party is loyal to a united Canada.

“MLAs have a right to speak their mind, but this government will continue to fight for a strong Alberta within the Canadian Confederation,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2021

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press