Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday’s Keystone XL news conference (Photo: Government of Alberta).

When U.S. President Joe Biden killed KXL yesterday, Jason Kenney lost the largest cash bet in Canadian history

Posted on January 21, 2021, 1:39 am
11 mins

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden’s swift action yesterday to revoke the permit to build the Keystone XL Pipeline has exposed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to the world as a hopeless prat. 

Mr. Kenney gave away $1.5 billion on a dumb bet that he’d look like a hero if Donald Trump were re-elected president of the United States and construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline went ahead. 

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden taking the oath of office at yesterday’s inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C. as his wife Jill Biden looks on (Photo: Screenshot of Biden Inauguration Committee video).

Never mind that the case for KXL was a dubious one, as was Mr. Kenney’s claim Alberta’s continued economic success depended on it. 

In terms of electoral strategy, though, giving $1.5 billion to Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. to continue working on the troubled project and promising it another $6 billion in loan guarantees to finish it would have been a triumph if only the American electorate had cooperated. 

Not only could Mr. Kenney have claimed to have Made Alberta Great Again, as he promised when he ran successfully against Rachel Notley’s modestly sensible NDP government in 2019, he would have been perfectly placed to return to Ottawa covered in glory and ascend to the prime ministership of Canada as soon as the latest federal Conservative leader had gone the way of the last one. 

The pipeline didn’t need to be a financial success. It just needed to be under construction when Mr. Kenney took his leave from dreary Alberta to return to the bright lights of Ottawa. 

And while it may have been a foolish strategy, it wasn’t a hopeless one. Had it not been for COVID-19, Mr. Trump might very well have won. 

But punters don’t always win their bets. Mr. Kenney can stomp his feet at the injustice of it as much as he likes, but he wasn’t the first man to come home from the casino without his shirt and he won’t be the last. 

Mr. Trump lost the election on Nov. 3, and pretty persuasively at that, even if most Republicans in the United States have bought into the crackpot theory the election was stolen. 

Former U.S. president Donald Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

Mr. Biden, the Democrat, was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States yesterday morning and almost the first thing he did was sign an executive order killing KXL, just as he promised he would do before the American people elected him. 

This time, nothing will bring that pipeline back. 

You could argue the handwriting was on the wall back in 2014 when President Barack Obama killed it by executive order, even though Mr. Kenney’s former boss Stephen Harper said he wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

The Democrats had decided the survival of the United States not only didn’t depend on dirty bitumen from Alberta, they were starting to think it might depend on somehow transitioning away from the carbon economy. 

Determined to undo everything Mr. Obama had achieved in his two terms in office, Mr. Trump used an executive order of his own to breathe life back into the project. 

Mr. Biden, in turn, campaigned on undoing that Trump policy, and once sworn in yesterday morning he acted immediately.

You can rage, as Mr. Kenney did yesterday, or you can rejoice, as did many environmentalists did on both sides of the world’s longest undefended border. 

You can argue, with some credibility, that if the only way to enact a policy in the United States is by executive order, then there’s something wrong with their system of government. 

You may think this is the worst thing to happen in living memory or the first sign of sanity from the United States in the past four years and you’re welcome to your opinion. 

But the deal is done. It won’t be undone, for the same reason TC Energy wouldn’t put its own investors’ money into the project. 

Whatever you think, KXL has already had one latter-day Lazarus moment and it’s not going to have another. 

Premier Kenney will go down as the man who lost what surely must be the largest cash bet in Canadian history. 

Nothing will salvage his reputation. 

Part II: Jason Kenney’s news conference 

Mr. Kenney, in a Royal Canadian Legion necktie and looking as if he could use a haircut, was raising his voice even before his staffers could turn on the video feed and start streaming his news conference to the masses yesterday afternoon. 

He called Mr. Biden’s decision to keep the promise he made on the campaign trail a betrayal of the United States’ best friend at least three times. Maybe more. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Liberal Party of Canada).

But it was evident within seconds that the object of this overwrought theatrical performance wasn’t to get President Biden to change his mind. Even Mr. Kenney and the members of his United Conservative Party Caucus must know that presidential train has left the station. 

It was to find a way to somehow transfer the disaster onto the shoulders of his political arch rival, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You could almost smell the flop sweat coming off the computer screen.* 

Mr. Kenney demands the prime minister start a trade war with the United States. 

If the U.S. government won’t play ball, he said, “then it is clear that the Government of Canada must impose meaningful trade and economic sanctions in response to defend our country’s vital economic interests.”

Never mind that they’re already basically our only customer for this stuff. 

This seems to have come from the place Mr. Kenney gets a lot of his dumb ideas: a National Post op-ed yesterday morning by Jack Mintz, the UCP’s favourite economist. 

Dr. Mintz and Mr. Kenney are proposing a trade war that wouldn’t be over an illegal tariff by the U.S. Government, but because the Americans won’t build an infrastructure project that we want on their sovereign territory, even if a previous president said they would. 

To say that would be a shaky case in international trade law would be understating it. 

You’d think Mr. Kenney, of all politicians, would understand that new governments in democracies get to reverse the policies of the old ones they replace, and that there’s not much he can do if Mr. Biden decides to hold an American version of Alberta’s summer of repeal. 

Premier Kenney implied that if Ottawa won’t flog this dead horse it would be being unfair to Alberta because it pursued a new NAFTA aggressively when Mr. Trump demanded one in 2017. 

He even tried to defend his assertion in March 2020 that his $1.5-billion up-front gift to TC Energy was a wise “investment” and not a foolish gamble. 

Like his effort to make Mr. Trudeau wear the blame for the failure of the UCP’s pipeline campaign, and like KXL itself, that dog won’t hunt. 

Former Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan joins Ecojustice Canada as staff lawyer

Former Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan has a new job: senior Calgary legal counsel for the Ecojustice Canada Society. 

Ecojustice Canada Society Senior Calgary Counsel David Khan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Public acknowledgement of Mr. Khan’s new role appeared yesterday on Linked-In. 

So while The Calgary lawyer may never have won a seat in the Legislature he will nevertheless be well placed to be a thorn in the side of the Kenney Government. 

Ecojustice will be back in court on Feb. 11 and 12, challenging the legality of the government’s so-called inquiry into “anti-Alberta” environmental campaigns. 

Greenpeace Canada took a different tack yesterday, announcing that since the inquiry is obviously biased and probably operating outside the bounds of the province’s Public Inquiries Act, they’ll sue if Commissioner Steve Allan dares to mention their name in his report. 

The report is due on Jan. 31, but unlikely to be delivered on that date. 

*Credit for this vivid image goes to Duncan Kinney of Progress Alberta. 

34 Comments to: When U.S. President Joe Biden killed KXL yesterday, Jason Kenney lost the largest cash bet in Canadian history

  1. Dave

    January 21st, 2021

    Yes, it is as if Kenney took $1.5 billion to the pipeline casino, plunked it down on all on red and instead it it turned out blue. Perhaps at the time he fancied himself a high roller. I suppose it is easier to make foolish bets when it is not your money personally. However is it not so easy to avoid accountability after when the stuff hits the fan.

    As for Mr. Mintz and Kenney, what the heck are they on, some of Trumps left over pills? Talking about starting trade wars now and all sort of crazy talk! I suppose when all else fails, try to create a distraction, even if it involves flailing around wildly like a petulant child who didn’t get what he wants.

    Regardless of what you think about the merits of this decision, the US has every right to decide about what crosses their land. They take their sovereignity quite seriously. We should too.

    It was fairly clear to anyone who could read a poll, and knew anything about Biden and his party’s history on this, they were not keen on this pipeline and chances were it would get cancelled. This is exactly why TC Energy had trouble getting financing. Why was Kenney so foolish to take this big risk?

    How much is Alberta going to lose on this? One media story mentioned $1 billion, but with the loan guarantees, it could be way more than this.

    So Kenney’s sure not doing so well on his key election promises – no jobs, the economy is worse now and pipelines not looking so good right now either. He is getting very close to three strikes on these.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    January 21st, 2021

    The UCP certainly is losing credibility, and also billions upon billions of dollars more, time and time again. When all else fails, the UCP will have someone else to blame. Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau will be on the top of the list, but they can’t be blamed for this. Whatever America wants, it gets, and the premier of Alberta can huff and puff all he wants, and it won’t change a thing. Albertans were cautioned about voting for the UCP, and now they are reaping the consequences. The disdain for the UCP is magnifying as time goes by. It won’t be long before Albertans come to their senses and say enough! Albertans let the Alberta PCs get away with so much, and for so long, when they were ruining Peter Lougheed’s legacy, but I’m not so sure they would want the UCP to linger in power for that long. Even one more term of the UCP will bring Alberta to ruin.

    Reply
  3. Bill Malcolm

    January 21st, 2021

    You know? Jason Kenney is in fact a weirdo, with loose cannon Bolsonaro tendencies. That’s the beginning and end of the matter. His latest tantrum that Canada should impose trade tariffs on the US as retribution for his PERSONAL shortcomings? In what universe is that going to happen?

    He cannot discern black from white or up from down. He thinks “they” are out to get him — foreign plotting ecofreak gremlins, and he took no notice of the changing political winds and the worldwide shift to renewable energy. In other words, he is a typical far right wing authoritarian conservative loon living out a mind fantasy. Out of time, out of place. When you’ve got even popular country singers on your case for being a hypocritical behind the public’s back conspiring jackass on coal extraction, the times they are a-changin’. In Ottawa, he would be even more out of sync with the real world, a blabbering dinosaur from a bygone age, hostile to change of any kind and a subject of derision.

    The real wealthy elite who run the Western world for their advantage were not amused when Trump won the Electoral College vote in 2016, 3 million citizen votes shy of fairness. That was not The Plan. They tried everything to unseat him, by fair means or foul. But the grasping right wing side of the US Uniparty governing dynasty ran with Trump as a way to get easily personally re-elected themselves in 2018, and perhaps 2020, rather than believing in fundamental policy shift; look at the senior Repugnicans now sheepishly returning to the fold. kenney, who is less than half as smart as he thinks he is, completely misread the actual tea leaves because joy filled his blinkered ideological soul, eliminating contemplation and reason so completely that he flushed a billion and a half stolen public pension bucks down the toilet. And now he rages like a spoiled brat whose parents finally put their foot down and told him: no more nonsense from you. Bwaaaah!

    Reality has returned with a vengeance. If kenney jumps up and down much more, causing a big ruckus and publicly defacing Biden’s “unity and tolerance” plans from OUTSIDE the USA, it’s likely he may well get a severe talking to from an emissary of the big boys, and I don’t mean a mere Canuck. They’re not going to stand for a foreign backwoods nitwit from nowhere giving them the gears, there’s plenty of actual Americans eager for a swing and a miss who need subduing. Biden has bragged he wrote the Patriot Act, so think on that.

    Doug Ford, another Con dope, wound himself up in a fit of rage and called on Biden in his “kumbaya moment” of inauguration to ship over some Pfizer vaccine from the Michigan plant. What, with US plague rates five times Ontario’s? Such outbursts are duly noted, you can be sure. Kumbaya moment? That’s an insult unlikely to be forgotten. Canada’s parochial provincial incompetent Cons are treading on thin ice, oblivious. As usual. They believe they’re actually of consequence in the world. Not a chance.

    Reply
  4. tom

    January 21st, 2021

    So much for becoming the 51st state.

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      January 22nd, 2021

      Somehow I think I can live with the disappointment….

      Reply
  5. Mark

    January 21st, 2021

    I recall the angry, oily midget shouting out to a crowd of mindless minions, “ Promises made!” To the refrain, “Promises kept!”. Apparently being on the receiving end of such nonsense isn’t as fun.

    Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    January 21st, 2021

    Thank you for posting the link to Jack Mintz’s column, David. When I first heard Jason Kenney wanted Ottawa to implement tariffs in response to the cancellation of KXL, I shook my head in disgust at the guy’s amateurish approach. Now that I see an academic making the same argument I am appalled. Can Mintz and Kenney really imagine the United States backing down because Canada got tough with them? I thought academics were supposed to be smart.

    I also rolled my eyes when Dr. Mintz opened his piece discussing his job estimates, given that we are still waiting for the 55,000 jobs Alberta’s corporate tax cut was supposed to produce.

    Reply
  7. TENET

    January 21st, 2021

    “From dreary Alberta to return to the bright lights of Ottawa.” Many of us knew exactly why Kenney came to Alberta: it is a dreary place ripe for the pickings.

    Reply
  8. Simon Renouf

    January 21st, 2021

    Thank you DC, great post as always. Two brief observations:

    1. Mr Kenney may as well threaten to hold his breath and turn blue. I think we can safely assume that any briefing note that President Biden receives about Alberta oil will reproduce the widely circulated photo of Mr Kenney’s agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen in his “MAGA” cap.

    2. What on earth was an allegedly “free market” party doing investing $1.5 billion in government funds in a pipeline business that couldn’t attract market investors? Wasn’t there any fiscal grown-up in the Kenney cabinet saying “Um, Jason, if they can’t raise the cash from investors or even banks, that means the market is trying to tell you something”?

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      January 22nd, 2021

      Allow me the honour of two brief replies, though in reverse order:

      2) I think our host David is correct about the “investment”–political, not economic. Now Kenney won’t have a pipeline-in-construction to brag about in 2023. And forgive me pointing out, the funds weren’t “government”–they were raided from Alberta’s Public Service Pension Plan–my plan, in fact. Maybe I can start a class-action lawsuit to make Kenney pay it back personally.

      1) “Hold his breath”? At least he’d be quiet for a time.

      Reply
  9. Abs

    January 21st, 2021

    My dog came home from the groomer with a necktie collar the other day, too. Despite the authoritarian barking, that dog won’t hunt, either.

    I was waiting for Kenney’s famous “special place in hell for people like that” speech. Maybe that would have been a step too far on inauguration day, even for him, and he’s no youth poet laureate.

    We’re very sorry that the tiny tyrant is misbehaving again, America. Unlike you, we have to put up with it for another 2.25 years. He’ll up your Keystone XL, and double down on coal mining. Enjoy your selenium-free water while you can. Prepare to get salty, friends!

    (Alberta, please disregard the loss of $1.5- to $7.5-billion, that could have gone a long way toward building the Green Line LRT and other public infrastructure, creating jobs in Alberta for Albertans, rather than jobs for Americans in America.)

    Reply
  10. tom in Ontario

    January 21st, 2021

    Many easterners outside Ottawa are likely unfamiliar with the details of the KXL pipeline including its distance. The Daily Universe (universe.byu.edu) reports: “The Keystone XL oil pipeline’s proposed route in U.S. territory would run from
    Morgan, Montana to Steele City, Nebraska, a total of 875 miles.” (1408 km)
    The road distance from Calgary to Winnipeg is 1334 km. How would Canadians react to a proposed bitumen pipeline connecting the two cities?

    Reply
  11. Political Ranger

    January 21st, 2021

    Dumb and dumber just doesn’t cut it, these conservatives are just plain stupid!
    Here’s a link to an insightful piece on the tRump era: https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/01/witless-ape-rides-helicopter/
    As more than one commenter has commented, kkkenney is just a mini-tRump and MAGA-nation is alive and (un)well right here in Albaturda, so this piece provides a good snapshot of the nutjobs here at home too.

    Reply
  12. Tom

    January 21st, 2021

    Jason Kenney crying crocodile tears fot the 2000 good “Union ” jobs lost from KXL. He realizes now that union jobs are better…because he knows that will make his case stronger except the ” union he’s referring to isnt’t part of the building trades. In fact the pipeline contractor isn’t Albertan nor even Canadian. Good chance all the supervision jobs are held by Americans. Where are the canadian union pipeline contractors…sitting at home? Doesn’t matter anyway…not now except he’s made Albertans look like fools.

    Reply
    • Tom

      January 21st, 2021

      Also when he first announced his/our stake in KXL it was 5000 good jobs, now it’s 2000…I can’t believe ANYTHING he says.

      Reply
  13. Abs

    January 21st, 2021

    Memo to Jason Kenney:

    “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”

    Regards,

    Joe

    Reply
  14. Keith McClary

    January 21st, 2021

    I think Kenney wouldn’t mind ditching the nothingburger Anti-Alberta farce if he could whingeingly blame it on the evil legal machinations of Ecojustice and Greenpeace.

    Reply
  15. Expat Albertan

    January 21st, 2021

    I worry that this will make Kenney even more dangerous and unstable.

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      January 22nd, 2021

      Not sure it’s that bad…not yet. Kenney is obnoxious, domineering, arrogant, stubborn, self-absorbed, and as dishonest as he can get away with. He’s also calculating, has a good grasp of political tactics (strategy not so much) and a rigid disciplinarian–that last very useful in the Westminster system of government. But he still has some contact with reality, unlike his American role model. Being the most-disliked premier in Canada must have a chilling effect on a career politician.

      I could be wrong. He might lash out at government employees (my local’s contract is in mediation). Doctors and nurses might see more snark and sniping. But I don’t think he’ll lose it completely. It’d make his mentor look bad.

      Reply
  16. ronmac

    January 21st, 2021

    Some interesting background on pipeline politics in the US. Yes we all know Trump has shredded environmental regulations in order to fast track infrastructure projects. But did you know Trump was merely using tools handed to him by the previous Obama Administration who overturned the regulatory process to sidestep rigorous environmental reviews to get pipe in the ground faster.

    https://youtu.be/Ix7IX_TfIC4

    Reply
  17. Lars

    January 21st, 2021

    “You could almost smell the flop sweat coming off the computer screen.”

    Please, David. Not before lunch.

    Reply
  18. MoS

    January 21st, 2021

    Well done, Dave.

    Reply
  19. Just Me

    January 21st, 2021

    The Angry Midget’s latest tantrum is pure full-on dementia.

    Calling for a trade-war with the US? Kenney is already having to deal with far too many UCP MLAs and staffers running to the US for the holidays — and a few seemingly living there permanently already; one wonders why he would go off on an rant that declares the US public enemy #1 and demands swift action against the Biden Regime.

    Isn’t that the sort of behaviour one would expect from North Korea, Iran, or Venezuela?

    Of course, Kenney can always call his buddy Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and ask for another insurrection attempt.

    Pretty please? He is the Premier of Alberta, now, and must be obeyed.

    Reply
  20. Gromster

    January 21st, 2021

    “You’d think, Mr. Kenney, of all politicians, would understand that new governments in democracies get to reverse the policies of old ones they replace…”
    Has our petulant Priktator forgotten about his summer of reversal of ND policies including cancelling the Edmonton superlab that was well under construction and would have been a valuable asset dealing with pandemics? Or, how about reversing a decades old policy restricting coal mining in the eastern slopes of our Rockies? Not a little hypocritical.

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      January 22nd, 2021

      “Hypocritical”? Nonsense. Every Con knows it doesn’t count when YOU do it to THEM.

      Reply
  21. Bruce Turton

    January 21st, 2021

    Soooooo, $1.5 Billions gone so far! How much more to be had by TC Energy maybe? And then there was the $2.1 Billions lost by AIMCO earlier!!! Are not Albertans glad that they have put there ‘trust’ in such forward thinking and people of action who get to play with other people’s money? If I were a teacher, current or already retired, I would be totally pissed and fearful of what these guys will do ‘for us’!! And there are probably other pension funds out there the UCP wants to get its hands on so that Alberta can ‘benefit’ from such foresight and expertise. How much more going down the drain can we really afford? Probably cannot afford what we have already lost!!

    Reply
  22. Geronimo

    January 21st, 2021

    A senior employee of our province just lost $1.5 B, on a bet. Immediate termination, with cause. Buh bye, Jason.

    Reply
  23. Curtis in Calgary

    January 21st, 2021

    “Mr. Kenney … looking as if he could use a haircut …”
    Didn’t he just get a $1.5 billion haircut on our behalf?

    Yet another Kenney fail.

    Reply
    • tom in Ontario

      January 22nd, 2021

      He certainly got trimmed.

      Reply
  24. Public Servant

    January 21st, 2021

    The Breakdown did an outstanding job of explaining just how much $1.5 billion could provide for Albertans. It is truly jaw-dropping how much money this is.

    To make matters worse, Kenney is now throwing a hissy fit on CBC trying to blame the federal government for his own incompetence and wilful blindness to reality. Albertans can’t afford 2 more years of this financial mismanagement.

    Reply
  25. brett

    January 21st, 2021

    Jason Kenney is embarrassing Albertans and making a fool of himself.

    Reply
  26. Mike in Edmonton

    January 22nd, 2021

    Jason Kenney’s self-important ranting means nothing to President Biden. (It might mean barely more to Justin Trudeau; that phone call might have been, “Just for the record, Mr. President, I have to ask–will you reconsider cancelling Keystone XL? No? OK, then, I can say I tried.”) I suspect it was the desperate attempt of a political makeweight to deflect the inevitable anger onto someone–ANYONE–else. So Alberta’s going to sue the US? Puh-leeze. “Justin–DO SOMETHING!!!” (See fictional conversation, above.)

    (I hadn’t realized Jack Mintz was still around. Does he still work for Imperial Oil?)

    Goodness, even Jen Gerson, of the Calgary Herald’s op-ed nirvana for Conservatives, is so disappointed she can’t contain herself:
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/road-ahead-alberta-ucp-jason-kenney-how-is-it-going-1.5882168

    When the loyal spokespeople begin criticizing in the most public way possible, you KNOW you’re in trouble. We might even see something like remorse from Kenney…for a minute or so. From his loyal and devoted followers? Not so much….

    So where now? All is not lost. There are three pipelines building: TMX, Line 3 and Line 5. There are lots of people who need jobs, and lots of potential in abandoned-well cleanup, and in green jobs–wind and solar generation, building retrofits, maybe mineral extraction (e.g. lithium) from old oil wells, geothermal from purpose-drilled wells or repurposed oil wells. Once we have trained workers, they can work on jobs in other provinces, too.

    Kenney’s cabinet looks more and more like the Keystone Kops (look it up). There’s not one thing the UCP has done right. (Cancelling the oil-by-rail contracts was half-right or less, but that’s all I’ll give them.) Alberta calling Rachel Notley: we’re still waiting for your progressive economic program. Don’t wait till the campaign is announced! Act like a government now, and you’ll BE the government soon!

    Re David Khan: how appropriate! I think he’ll do well at an NGO that uses the courts to uphold and enforce Canada’s environment laws. He’ll do more good there than the Alberta Liberals have done since…since…whenever….

    Reply
  27. Peter Wilson

    January 22nd, 2021

    First time I have read the term “prat” used in connection with a Canadian Politician.
    Quite mildly apt!
    You are being gracious to Mr. Kenney.

    Reply

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