Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, sans masks, take questions from UCP members (Photo: Twitter).

Jason Kenney may have missed it, but Lyndon Johnson’s famous comment about how certain people weren’t up to walking and chewing gum at the same time was an observation about their lack of intelligence, not their ability to get away with saying contradictory things at the same time.

Alberta’s premier is said to be a pretty bright guy, so presumably he understands what the Democrat from Texas had in mind when he pithily observed that Republican Congressman Gerald Ford was “so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”

The premier’s surprisingly uncontroversial socks — can you imagine what would have been said if Justin Trudeau had been wearing them? (Photo: Twitter).

It was a different time, so the press kindly laundered Mr. Johnson’s observation to make it suitable for family newspapers. Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ford later served as president of the United States, and the kinder gentler version of LBJ’s crack was the one that went down in history.

But Mr. Kenney, the current United Conservative Party premier of Alberta and a man very much cut from the climate-change cloth of the contemporary Republican Party, seemed to have something rather different in mind when he used the phrase.

In an an online question-and-answer session during the UCP’s virtual annual general meeting Saturday, Mr. Kenney admitted, rather startlingly, that governments like his are going to have to be seen to be taking action on the environment if they expect bankers to loan any money to the oil and gas industry to build new projects. Needless to say, this was a big change from the days when he used to rail against NDP premier Rachel Notley for saying the same kind of thing.

Former NDP premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So, Mr. Kenney continued, “we have got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to the energy and environment dynamic.

Given the backstory of the question — about whether Mr. Kenney should have supported Erin O’Toole when the new federal Conservative leader said that he would commit to meeting Canada’s target for greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement — it seems Mr. Kenney had in mind the idea both he and Mr. O’Toole could say that and not really mean it.

“I don’t think Erin is wrong to say that we have to find a way forward for our industry where we don’t stick our head in the ground and pretend that the aspirations behind the Paris thing are not hugely influential in how capital is allocated and how market access decisions are made,” Mr. Kenney said. (Emphasis added.)

Further evidence was presented when Mr. Kenney answered another question about the War Room, the tax-supported private company run by three cabinet ministers and euphemistically known officially as the Canadian Energy Centre, saying it will soon be fully back in business after a short COVID-19 lockdown hiatus, ramping up its pro-oilsands advertising effort again.

U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson (Photo: Arnold Newman, White House Press Office, Public Domain).

“I do expect that in the weeks and months to come, the CEC will go back to Plan A, which was to launch a number of large advertising campaigns,” the premier said.

AGM delegates, voting from their home computers, passed a variety of controversial resolutions, including the hardy perennial call to adopt an unconstitutional Cotton-Belt-style “right-to-work” law in Alberta.

Likely to scare the bejeepers out of larger numbers of voters, though, was the approval by the delegates of a resolution calling on the government to create a parallel, private, for-profit health care system.

This is a long way from Mr. Kenney’s signed pre-election pledge in February 2019 that he would maintain health care funding and “a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system.”

In the Westminster Parliamentary system, of course, a governing party has no obligation to enact nutty policies just because rank and file members have voted in favour of them — “I’m the leader and I get to interpret the resolution and its relevance to party policy,” Mr. Kenney said sharply back in 2018 when convention delegates passed an ill-timed resolution demanding that schoolkids who join gay-straight alliances be outed to their parents.

U.S. president Gerald Ford (Photo: Public Domain).

But as the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid pointed out last night, the premier’s response to the AGM health care resolution was as clear as mud, sounding a lot like the musings of a man who hadn’t quite figured out how to say two completely contradictory things at the same time in a way that would fool all of the people all of the time.

What President Johnson, who died in 1973, would have said about Mr. Kenney’s use of his witticism and the premier’s habit of promising different strokes for different blokes is hard to say, but I can guarantee you it would have been worth quoting.

Mr. Kenney was joined by Mr. O’Toole for part of the Q&A session. The two Conservative leaders sat close together, facing one another, not wearing masks.

Well, having recently been afflicted by COVID-19, Mr. O’Toole presumably has some antibodies to the disease, whatever one may think of the example the gruesome twosome was setting for the rest of us.

For his part, Mr. Kenney wore brightly striped socks, which looked as if they might have been borrowed from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s sock drawer.

The PM’s socks often seem to provoke near apoplexy among Mr. Kenney’s supporters and their media echo chamber. For some reason, however, the premier’s similar choice of hosiery seems to have passed without comment.

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  1. Yeah, I thought Kenney was brighter too, but I am begiining to have some doubts now. I always thought of him more as a Nixon than a Ford, more likely to have downfall from trying to be too clever rather than not smart enough. Perhaps his smarts have been over rated in the Conservative political spin cycle.

    The thought that we need to appear to be doing something about climate change first occurred to the Alberta PC’s around 2008 or so. Good that Kenney is finally catching up to the early 2000’s here. The problem is the expectations of the world have grown since then. Now, lip service, platitudes and a big war room ad campaign are not going to cut it anymore. The world expects real action.

    If figuring out how to appear to do something about climate change while doing very little wasn’t challenging enough, Mr. Kenney’s party has just handed him another dilema – a resolution supporting private health care. Perhaps Mr. Kenney’s cryptic response was showing his political midas touch has deserted him. He couldn’t quite tell his party to forget it and he doesn’t want to unduly alarm voters about his private health care agenda, especially as his Health Minister has already made such a mess of things. So, Kenney seems to have said something confusing and contradictory that satisfied no one. I suspect health care may well end up being an achilles heel for the UCP.

    Just as they were starting to figure out the climate change thingy, the UCP has more self created health care problems to deal with. Its starting to look like the captain of the UCP ship is not the swiftest after all.

  2. At least we know which provincial conservative leader Justin Trudeau will run against in the next federal election.

  3. Am I the only one who noted that Mr Kenney has changed his tune on energy & the environment only in response to what “capital” has to say about it, but had until now been adamantly opposed to doing so at the behest of other knowledgeable people, like scientists?

    I’ve never been much for Marxist class-war theory … but Mr Kenney is sure making a strong case for it.

    1. I caught that, too. Kenney has…not “reversed” course…but steering across the prevailing wind. Not surprising that he only pays attention to suits with large bank balances.

  4. There is a saying that trends in fashion are best on the young, the tall and the svelte. On others, they can come across as mutton dressed as lamb. I wouldn’t care, but this seems fair game, due to aforementioned apoplexy. I bet the jeans are dry-cleaned, too.

  5. I’ve come to the conclusion that Kenney and Co. are not that bright after all. Here is a government that is obviously following orders from someone else. Be it Harper (my pick) or/and corporate Alberta/oil and gas. The UCP blunder ahead with their plans to remove medicare as we know it within the middle of a global pandemic not seen in 100 years, support oil and gas against the vast amount of information available surrounding the slope that demonstrates it’s decline globally.

    This is a government led by blind ideology when a smarter one would have seen these signs earlier on and adjusted accordingly.

  6. Not to belabour the point, but he said, “having an aspirational goal to limit green house gasses” was the necessary requirement.

  7. as far as Kenney’s intelligence goes, or not

    i’m going with Kenney’s just not a very bright bulb,
    clever in a conniving, weasley, party politics, kinda of way and he’s certainly adept at pushing certain types of Albertans buttons but i find him belligerently inflexible, boneheaded and dogmatic

    although it doesn’t seem to be a popular position i quite like Johnston in spite of the debacle of his handling of the vietnam war
    In domestic policy, Johnson designed the “Great Society” legislation to expand civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, aid to education, the arts, urban and rural development, public services and his “War on Poverty”

    he was a character with character and an accomplished legislator,
    they were such different times

  8. “I don’t think Erin is wrong to say that we have to find a way forward for our industry where we don’t stick our head in the ground and pretend that the aspirations behind the Paris thing are not hugely influential in how capital is allocated and how market access decisions are made,” Mr. Kenney said. (Emphasis added.)

    Lord Jason’s speechifying is an amazingly convoluted, weasel-worded semi-retraction. From the CBC report (link below), an excerpt to expand on the weaseling:

    “Kenney said oil and gas companies are telling him that it is getting harder to access funding … without demonstrating a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Kenney’s comment, in plain speech: “Erin’s right, we have to get our heads out of corporate butt and stop pretending global warming is a hoax. We’ve scared off investors and CEOs are telling us to stop.”

    Next step: Kenney will meet with bitumen CEOs (the ones who told him to shut off the noise) and offer to pay for pollution-reduction tech–you know, carbon capture or whatever. The meetings will be behind closed, locked and soundproof doors.

    Meanwhile, I wonder what instructions the ConTrolls in the war room have received. “Keep it upbeat” just doesn’t suit their style.


  9. Erin the Tool may come to regret being seen at the same table with Premier Angry Midget. Such a display of Alberta-pride will surely make the Red Tory gang in the GMT run to the Liberals, in spite of whatever crazy PMJT is dreaming up. Of course, it was Kenney and the monied Calgary crowd that bought O’Tool’s leadership, the same way they are trying to buy Scott Moe an election win in Saskatchewan, regardless of what the people of Saskatchewan want. They are trying to dethrone the NDP in BC, but that is turning into a disaster, thanks to all those GOP-inspired insane attack ads that are popping up on FB accounts in that province. I wonder when there’s going to be a crackdown on Alberta’s foreign interference in the affairs of other provinces? No doubt the coming backlash will the severe, far-reaching, and devastating to the vast population of knuckle-draggers in Alberta.

    As for Ken-DOH’s seeming disregard for keeping his lies and distractions organized, if LBJ saw him in action, he would fall on his arse laughing. In the middle of all LBJ’s guffawing, he would pronounce, in his thick and slow Texas twang, “I swear that Jason boy couldn’t organize his two lone thoughts, let alone lose his virginity in a whorehouse. Oh, wait. He’d be the piano-player in that whorehouse.”

    Seeing the War Room resurrected means that another entertaining silly season is about to get underway.

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