Kenney goes to Ottawa seeking gold, returns with participation medal

Premier Jason Kenney’s much-anticipated two-day visit to Ottawa this week ended with a 'frank' but civil chat with Prime Minister Trudeau, and an assurance that the federal government will take Alberta’s requests under advisement.

Much-anticipated two-day visit ends with 'frank' but civil chat with Prime Minister

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 10. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He was like the month of March: came in like a lion and left like a lamb.

Premier Jason Kenney's much-anticipated two-day visit to Ottawa this week ended with a "frank" but civil chat with Prime Minister Trudeau, and an assurance that the federal government will take Alberta's requests under advisement.

Any fireworks in the room had fizzled by the time Kenney made it to the microphone to speak with journalists after the meeting.

"I made the case for action by the federal government as strongly as I could," said Kenney. "I appreciate the prime minister listened and seemed to be responsive on a number of points."

This is Kenney in Ottawa.

Back in Alberta, Kenney is more apt to say things like, "Come hell or high water, Alberta will get a fair deal!" — as he told exuberant members of his United Conservative Party at their annual general meeting in Calgary 10 days ago.

Different cities, different audiences.

Kenney is being diplomatic, of course. He couldn't treat Ottawa like a partisan UCP rally, even though he brought a planeload of UCP members with him: eight cabinet ministers.

Kenney wasn't tip-toeing into a lion's den. He did everything but include a marching band in his entourage.

Making headlines back home

He wanted to let the federal government know he was there. More importantly, he wanted the folks back home to know he was there.

That's the thing about Alberta premiers going off to fight for Alberta. It's all about making headlines back home.

Kenney, though, actually bought his own headlines in Ottawa. The government paid for a front page wrap-around ad in the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun newspapers on Monday to itemize five of Kenney demands from Trudeau. They include: a fixed completion date for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion; $2.4 billion in aid; and changes to Bill C-69 (that Kenney has dubbed the "no more pipelines" bill).

What Kenney received was a prime minister "willing to listen to our case," as he told reporters after the meeting.

But no commitments, no promises, no assurances. Other than to carefully consider Kenney's pleas.

On the extra aid money, Kenney wants $2.4 billion from the federal Fiscal Stabilization Program that is designed to help provinces deal with major drops in revenue from year to year. There's a per-capita cap on the payouts and Kenney wants the cap removed.

According to Kenney, Trudeau didn't say no to more money but he didn't say yes, either. Kenney told reporters the prime minister is "open to changes" to the federal stabilization program.

A participation ribbon

Kenney pointed out that just last week at a premiers' meeting in Ontario, he managed to convince every other premier in the country that the federal cap on payments should be lifted. "Miracles will never cease," he said, implying that getting premiers collectively to agree to ask Ottawa for more money was somehow miraculous, rather than chronic.

On Bill C-69, Ottawa won't scrap or rewrite federal legislation, but Kenney said Trudeau has agreed to tweak how the bill works through regulations.

And there was no commitment to guarantee a completion date for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

If they gave out medals for high-level political meetings in Ottawa, Kenney just received a participation ribbon.

The most significant victory for Kenney actually came last week, when Ottawa announced it would grant Alberta "equivalency" for its carbon tax on the province's heavy emitters, such as the oilsands. Alberta's Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program means Ottawa will not be imposing its own tax on Alberta's industry.

It's actually a pretty big deal and demonstrates that while Kenney likes to publicly denigrate carbon taxes, his government has worked behind the scenes to apply one to large commercial emitters.

However, the federal government will still be imposing a consumer carbon tax on fuel at the pump. Kenney has vowed to fight that in the courts. And there's still a potential fight brewing over the TIER program, because even though Kenney has agreed to match the federal government's current rate of $30 a tonne, he has not agreed to keep raising it annually in lockstep with Ottawa.

Oh, there are all kinds of fights brewing between Kenney and Trudeau.

Now, on to the 'war room'

No matter how many pipelines are built, or legislation tweaked, or more money delivered, it won't be enough for Kenney. 

He has made it abundantly clear for years he does not like Trudeau professionally or personally. And he has made it a goal to one day help the federal Conservatives defeat Trudeau.

After meeting with Trudeau, Kenney did a hurried few interviews and then headed to the airport.

He wanted to be back in Calgary for Wednesday morning's unveiling of the government's $30-million Canadian Energy Centre that will counter what Kenney calls the "lies and myths" that exist about Alberta's energy industry.

The centre is better known as Kenney's "war room."

He might have been a diplomatic lamb Tuesday afternoon in front of the microphones, but the lion is coming home.

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Graham Thomson

Freelance contributor

Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years, much of it as an outspoken columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Nowadays you can find his thoughts and analysis on provincial politics Fridays at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News, during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM) and on Twitter at @gthomsonink.