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OPINION | 'You ain't seen nothing yet': A look at what's ahead in Alberta politics

The year 2020 might look like a new year on paper but in many ways it’s going to feel mighty old mighty quick. At least when it comes to Alberta politics.

There won’t be an election but you’ll feel like you’re trapped in a nasty campaign

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivers his address to the Alberta United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Calgary last month. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

Psychics, astrologers and other impeccable internet sources tell us 2020 promises to be an interesting year in which, "animals tell us what they think," the world "becomes one country," and Trump speaks "only nonsense."

I suppose only two of those are actually predictions while the other one is a sad statement of fact.

Making predictions is always a mug's game. And considering how much politics has changed in Alberta the past year, only a fool would attempt to predict what's going to happen in 2020.

So, let me try.

The year 2020 might look like a new year on paper but in many ways it's going to feel mighty old mighty quick. At least when it comes to Alberta politics.

Many of the big issues from the past year will continue to dominate the new.

Let's look at a few.

Economy and jobs

Yes, it didn't take a crystal ball to figure this one out. Jason Kenney and the United Conservatives won the election on a promise of a strong economy and more jobs. It didn't work out that way and the NDP has been gleefully rubbing it in Kenney's face every chance they get.

And they'll keep it up in 2020 as the UCP government tries to kick-start the economy and create jobs. Economists predict "modest growth" in the province's economy for the new year. Kenney will need to do better than that if he hopes to mute the critics — and claim "promise made, promise kept" in 2020.

Pipelines

If there's one issue that has defined Alberta politics, this is it. Getting a new energy pipeline to tidewater has become an overwrought symbol of Alberta's dreams and frustrations — the dream of another energy boom and the frustration at failing to get a new pipeline built.

In fact, a new pipeline will not solve our fiscal problems that are actually caused by a depressed price of oil and a world moving away from fossil fuels. And delays in getting a new pipeline built are not the fault of the federal Liberal government, as Premier Jason Kenney likes to suggest, but the courts. And the courts have delayed projects because of genuine complaints from First Nations.

Work on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is underway in Parkland County outside Edmonton. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Work has started on twinning the Trans Mountain Pipeline and that work will continue through 2020 (and for two years after that) but the project will still face opposition from some First Nations and environmental groups.

This will be a win-win for Kenney. If construction continues on TMX, he can point to it as a "victory" for his government; if it doesn't, he can blame the federal Liberals and "foreign-funded" environmental organizations for continuing to undermine Alberta's struggling economy.

Fight back strategy

Speaking of blaming others for Alberta's ills, 2020 will see the UCP government maintain its pugilistic approach to issues via its Fight Back Strategy that includes the "war room" — officially, the Canadian Energy Centre — the public inquiry into the government's foreign-funded conspiracy theory, and the "fair deal" panel that is looking into whether Alberta should have, for example, its own police force and pension plan.

These are all tactics designed to keep Alberta on a war footing and keep Albertans angry, frustrated and easily manipulated by a government that equates legitimate opposition with sedition.

Labour unrest

The past year ended with some frustrated public sector workers musing about a general strike. That strike never happened and perhaps it never will. But we might see strikes by individual public sector unions in 2020. They are upset by a government that is pressing workers to take wage cuts. The government has made it clear if the unions win wage hikes, they can expect job cuts.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, speaks to a crowd gathered for an information picket outside the South Health Campus in Calgary on Nov. 5. (Julie Prejet/CBC)

Perhaps the government was peering into its own crystal ball this fall when it passed a piece of legislation giving it the right to hire replacement workers in the event of a public sector strike.

Panels, panels, panels

In 2019, the UCP government commissioned a long list of panels and committees to review everything from the $20-billion Alberta Health Services, to car insurance rates, to safe consumption sites. The granddaddy of them all was the blue ribbon panel that issued a report that formed the basis for the government's cost-cutting budget that rolled out in October.

Those panels — with members and mandates carefully chosen by the government — will continue to influence government policy throughout 2020.

That includes Budget 2020 coming in late February, which will actually be the first true UCP budget. The 2019 budget, introduced in an election year, was an amalgam of UCP policies and leftovers from the previous NDP budget.

The never-ending campaign

There won't be an election in 2020 but you're going to feel like you're trapped in a nasty election campaign anyway.

The animosity between the UCP government and NDP opposition isn't just political, it's personal. Kenney has gone to great lengths to dismantle the former NDP government's legacy and the NDP sees Kenney as a right-wing bully. The mutual antagonism will continue as Kenney has already promised even more sweeping legislation in the spring session.

Kenney's popularity took a substantial hit late in 2019, according to several public opinion polls, because of a sputtering economy and cuts to government services.

But it appears he doesn't plan to stop or change direction.

"You ain't seen nothing yet," he told cheering UCP members at their convention a few weeks ago. "We're just getting started."

In one of the few times NDP leader Rachel Notley agreed with Kenney in 2019, she told a year-end interview she doesn't think Kenney is about to ease up on the gas pedal in 2020: "There's nothing that makes me believe that they're going to change course and I think they're going to push harder."

Happy New Year.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.  

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