Jason Kenney, dressed up in his construction worker duds, at his all-male news conference on International Women’s Day (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government Video).

If you’ve been wondering how the United Conservative Party Government would explain that $1.3 billion gifted for nothing to TC Energy Corp. as a result of Premier Jason Kenney’s foolish bet Donald Trump would win last November’s U.S. presidential election, you need wonder no more. 

They’ve lumped it into the “the largest infrastructure budget to build things in the history of Alberta” mostly re-announced by Mr. Kenney, dressed up as a construction worker, at the government’s all-male news conference at an Edmonton construction site on International Women’s Day. 

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Finance Minister Travis Toews admitted this interesting tidbit about the money gambled away on the Keystone XL Pipeline that was cancelled by U.S. President Joe Biden in January at the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship yesterday. He was being pressed hard by a feisty Shannon Phillips, who is the NDP’s finance critic when she’s not being stalked by the Lethbridge cops. 

Notwithstanding Mr. Kenney’s hyperbolic claim on Monday that his government spent $10 billion on capital projects in 2020, Ms. Phillips observed that the year’s infrastructure spending was in fact on $8.2 billion, and pointed out that Rachel Notley’s NDP Government spent $9 billion in 2017-2018.

So where did the extra money come from to provide verisimilitude to Mr. Kenney’s $10-billion yarn?

“We have to recognize that in the summer of 2020, there was a significant effort in the construction of KXL in the province of Alberta,” the finance minister conceded. “That put many, many Albertans to work in the southeast corner of the province and it was a very significant infrastructure investment in play that created well over a thousand jobs.”

Sure. It’s not clear how many of those jobs, however, were in Canada. 

Mr. Toews promised “additional clarity” later on the money lost on Mr. Kenney’s bet on the U.S. election, and insisted he is being “fully transparent” about the deal.

Meanwhile, also yesterday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro was trying to have it both ways over at the Standing Committee on Families and Communities about the government’s previously announced plan to lay off about 11,000 health care workers, including at least 750 nurses.

NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The plan is going ahead, said Mr. Shandro, who was being grilled by NDP Health Critic David Shepherd. “There are no layoffs,” Mr. Shandro also said. 

You can’t square that circle, but you can engage in verbal gymnastics, which appears to be what the health minister is doing. 

He’s doubtless pretending, for example, that an employee isn’t losing her job if it’s privatized to a low-wage, low-benefits contractor. He’s probably also playing games with the meaning of “front-line,” since the government often insists that no front-line jobs will be lost without acknowledging that all jobs in a relatively lean organization like Alberta Health Services are pretty close to the front lines. 

According to the CBC’s report, Mr. Shandro said one of the cost-savings he expects to implement to find some of the $600 million the government promises its layoff and privatization plan will save will come from “new virtual care options.” 

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This doubtless means Babylon Health, the U.K. medical triage chatbot run in Canada by Telus Corp., whose “dangerously flawed” artificial intelligence driven diagnostic tool is reported to have never been properly approved by the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

One year ago, days after the first COVID-19 was recorded in Alberta, the government announced in a news release that “the service is being delivered to Albertans through an alternative relationship plan between the Alberta government and TELUS.”

“Using this app is an alternative to visiting physicians face-to-face when you’re not sure if your symptoms are related to the novel coronavirus or at any other time,” Mr. Shandro chirped in the release.

Say what you will about Jason Kenney’s UCP Government, as yesterday’s goings on illustrate, Alberta has never had a better Opposition than the NDP led by Rachel Notley. 

Well prepared, well informed, gritty and scrappy, the NDP Caucus is holding the UCP to account to a degree never before experienced by an Alberta government. 

As the unfortunate Thomas Mulcair, federal NDP Opposition leader between 2012 and 2015 proved in Ottawa, that is not guaranteed to be a route to government. Surely it should be, though.

NOTE: Apologies are owed to Tyler Shandro, I suppose, for my calling him “Travis Toews” at one point in an earlier version of this post. It could have been worse: I could have called Mr. Toews “Tyler Shandro.” This is what comes from writing blog posts late at night on an empty stomach. Leastways, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. It’s been fixed. DJC

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  1. I’m sure the UCP is not telling the truth about the cost of the pipeline. It’s likely more costlier than that. Can we ever trust the UCP to come clean about their many shortcomings? I doubt it.

  2. I generally think of infrastructure as something that will benefit us in the future, not be written off this year. So, it is a stretch to call the money spent on Keystone XL infrastructure, although they might try call it an investment. There seems to be a long standing tradition of past Alberta conservative governments having to write off investments.

    Anyways, at least the UCP seems to be publicly stating an amount lost on Keystone XL now – $1.3 billionish or so. Also not too surprising, UCP budgets are like a fun house mirror on spending, one that makes it seem bigger than it really is.

    As for Mr. Shandro, he also seems to be busy working on a Master Degree in revisionist history these days. Apparently the war on doctors never happened. It was just a vigorous negotiation. Even many totalitarian regimes often have the decency to wait a while after their enemies are eliminated or silenced, before starting to completely rewrite history.

    1. “Investment”? Like betting your mortgage payment on a lame horse at the track is an “investment”? Yes, maybe they’ll call it that, but does anyone really believe that?

  3. The NDP is the only viable alternative to the rookie UCP government—the one that’s completely botched everything it’s touched in its inaugural term. It’s the nicest thing that can be said about Albertans electing the UCP: it was, at the time, an untested party.

    Albertans took a gamble on the NDP when they’d had enough of the tired, four-decade-plus ProgCon regime. Then they bet heavy on the new UCP which raised the stakes gambling Alberta’s future after it defeated the one-term NDP—so far with some spectacular busts. All indications point to some very unpopular UCP measures biting Albertans hard going into the UCP term’s back stretch.

    It would seem the only way for Albertans to cut losses is to bet on a surer thing—like a party that will have had as much experience in government by the time the next election rolls around, and also somewhat more as Loyal Opposition than the upstart UCP will have had. It’s true: the Dippers are plainly more genuine, diligent, organized, moderate and adult. But, to be fair, they’ve had a head start.

    The choice between NDP and UCP couldn’t be more stark: the next election will probably pit against each other two one-term governments with almost the same amount of experience in Opposition and both having endured natural crises and pipeline politics. All these being nearly equal, the comparison is about as clear as it could get.

    1. Scotty: The journalist George Monbiot remarks that impunity is the worst thing that can happen to a society and portends a failed state. Alberta Cons/UCP have enjoyed impunity for over 40 years now. The video below is worth watching if for no other reason than it explains why your hope for the NDP may be misplaced because of a media owned by dirty money, a plutocracy wholly out of touch with reality, and an opposition party which does not articulate something better than more of the same.

    2. This is why I get impatient & deeply frustrated with left-wing progressive purists critical of the very moderate & pragmatic Notley NDP government — some of whom are frequent commenters here. In Alberta we don’t have the choice between the cautiously progressive NDP and a truly progressive much more socialist party— we have a choice between the cautiously progressive NDP and a deeply doctrinaire, hard-right neo-conservative party with a hate on for ordinary working people that don’t work in extractive resource industries, as well as for anyone concerned with the state of the planet we all have to live on.

      Could the NDP have done better? Of course. They could have taken their strong majority government and made major courageous changes to Alberta society and governance. But all that would have done is give Kenney et. al. more targets for their infamous “summer of repeal”.

      Their only hope was to show a skittish Alberta electorate — none of whom had never seen any government in their lifetimes that wasn’t conservative, unless they had lived elsewhere in Canada — that you don’t have to be a conservative to provide good, clean, honest, competent government. Yes they still ended up a one-term government, but their demonstrated competence — & lack of scandal while in office — means they’re well-placed to show Albertans they deserve to replace the increasingly-discredited UCP in 2023.

  4. Oh, well. Just two more years of plundering the treasury for Kenney. So many billions, and so little time left.

    Suffer Albertans who voted for this incompetent and corrupt politician.

    Is this a good time to ask how the RCMP investigation into his leadership “irregularities” is progressing? It’s been two years of investigating. How long do they need?

  5. Now that we know Jason “Mr Dressup” Kenney has the cowboy and construction worker costumes in his wardrobe, could there be an audition with the Village People in his future?

  6. Let’s see…he’s been a cowboy:


    He’s been a construction worker, as you say.
    He’s been a good ole boy in a red baseball cap:


    He’s even shown a softer side in shorts and terry towel hotel slippers:


    Heck, he even asked for help in choosing a fun hat.


    Is there some kind of interactive song with arm actions we could dedicate to him? I think there might have been one already that could be adapted to these circumstances.

    In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see see what he’ll pull out of the Tickle Trunk next. Am I the only one who thinks that running Alberta is not all fun and games, but something that should be taken seriously? Is this Mr. Dressup imitator the person we want at the helm in the post-pandemic era?

    1. if only we could get Randy Rainbow to do one of his musical parodies about Kenny

      what fun that might be !!

      for those of you unfamiliar with Randy Rainbow here’s one of my favourites
      A VERY STABLE GENIUS – Randy Rainbow Song Parody

  7. This is the same sort of weird accounting that justified the creation of the War Room/Boondoggle/Slush fund. Except instead of serving partisan interests, this method is being applied to assure that the Crying & Angry Midget’s own expensive gaffes are swept under the rug and hidden forever.

    In Kenney’s distorted reality, he is a genius, a great leader, and loved by all. No wonder he’s been hiding in his Sky Palace and digging into his supply of cough syrup.

    He can’t get back to Ottawa soon enough.

  8. Over at the Narwhal, Sharon Riley is reporting the GOA is paying the rent for petro-corps to the tune of $20 million. This is just another subsidy to the petro-industry, that much is clear.
    But this is also me and you and the rest of Alberta taxpayers paying for UCP campaign advertising. The UCP base are mostly rural folks, lots and lots of farmers, and they are all getting their rent cheques. Why wouldn’t they continue to support a political machine that sends them money every month.
    So this is me paying a conservative knuckle-head stubble-jumper to deny there is any problem in the petro-industry and continue to support the UCP. It ain’t right!
    The GOA says that it’s not subsidizing the petro-corps because “The government is supposed to be able to recover that money from oil and gas companies through its Crown Debt Collections arm.” but of the $20 million they were only able to collect $21,000. More conservative road apples!

    This is over and above the quarter-Billion $$$ outstanding municipal taxes that the petro-industry operators are shirking. And the conservatives are allowing to happen.
    Add another quarter-Billion $$$ for abandoned wells and environmental liabilities.
    How long, and how much does it take ?

    1. Sadly it ‘s a well known fact that any fool can call himself a conservative and that’s good enough for many Albertans. Let’s hope they have finally realized how stupid it is.

  9. You guys are so right in the obvious competency difference between Rachel’s NDP & Jason’s UCP. The question is as our blogger suggests, whether enough Alberta voters will see it that way.

    That link DJC posted above regarding the TC Energy gift from Jason Kenny on behalf of Alta taxpayers is interesting and important, giving us a clue as to why the govt has been so secretive about it. The US$1.3 billion investment is one thing but what’s scary is TC going ahead and borrowing the US$4.1 billion in Jan (guaranteed by the govt of Alta) when everyone knew KXL was going to be cancelled. TC Energy states that the loan is not recoverable to TC Energy. How can that be? Well the KXL financials are somewhat opaque and convoluted but it appears that the pipeline project is owned by a separate corporation based in Texas. I believe this to be quite normal for projects like this and this corporation is undoubtedly wholly owned by TC Energy – but if this company goes tits up (highly likely now) then maybe the loan recourse passes to Alta not TC? The fact TC calls it a “US$4.1 billion project-level credit facility” hints to me that this is the case.

    Also interesting in TC Energy’s annual rpt last month is a note about using some of the US$4.1 billion Alta-guaranteed loan to buy back most of the previous Alta govt equity investment. So are Albertans going to hear some future good news that TC has returned Alta’s gift when actually it’s bought back with Alta’s money? Sell some shares to Alta, take money from Alta to buy the shares back, good scam if you can do it. There’s some speculation on my part with only a cursory look at DJC’s link and then to the TC annual rpt but this is crying for a qualified person to flesh out. CCPA? What’s Robyn Allan doing these days?

    And, “…feisty Shannon Phillips, who is the NDP’s finance critic when she’s not being stalked by the Lethbridge cops.” Hilarious quote although sadly true…

    1. And also, it seems TC Energy pulled an indigenous organization (Natural Law Energy) into the scam with an agreement for them to contribute up to $1 billion onto the project. Fortunately for NLE they wouldn’t be putting any money in until late 2021 so I guess they’re smarter than Jason, which isn’t too difficult of course…

  10. Sweeping $1.3 B under the carpet is going leave a heck of a big lump in the UCP shag carpet.

    If the Government is owning up to $1.3B it would be a VERY good bet that the number is greatly understated.

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