Kenney can throw a punch but Moody's report shows he can't take one

When Moody's Investors Service downgraded Alberta's credit rating this week, Premier Jason Kenney reacted swiftly and decisively — to attack the messenger.

'The economy is in trouble and it's Jason Kenney's fault,' NDP house leader says

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at a media conference earlier this month at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Calgary. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

When Moody's Investors Service downgraded Alberta's credit rating this week, Premier Jason Kenney reacted swiftly and decisively — to attack the messenger.

He took aim at Moody's for daring to include environmental risk in its report card.

As Moody's pointed out: "Alberta's oil and gas sector is carbon intensive and Alberta's greenhouse gas emissions are the highest among provinces. Alberta is also susceptible to natural disasters including wildfires and floods which could lead to significant mitigation costs by the province."

Moody's conclusion was understandable. In a time of climate change, credit rating agencies are taking environmental risk into account.

But Kenney refuses to accept that.

For him, this is just one more example of an anti-Alberta conspiracy.

According to Kenney, financial institutions, including Moody's, "are buying into the political agenda emanating from Europe, which is trying to stigmatize development of hydrocarbon energy. And I just think they are completely factually wrong."

Kenney all but accused Moody's of being part of the foreign-funded conspiracy he claims is out to landlock Alberta's oil.

Feel free to give your head a shake. Feel free to give Kenney's head a shake, too.

That was then ...

The UCP, while in opposition, was happy to accept the conclusions of agencies, including Moody's, whenever they downgraded the NDP government's credit rating.

Consider this quote from UCP MLA Jason Nixon back in December of 2017 after the NDP government-of-the-day suffered yet another credit downgrade: "We have a government that is showing no signs of controlling their spending and clearly the credit agencies don't trust them right now."

However, as former-premier Ralph Klein was fond of saying, that was then, this is now.

According to the UCP back then, Moody's was a purveyor of the truth.

According to the UCP now, Moody's is "completely factually wrong."

The Moody's report, of course, put the UCP government in an awkward spot. This is a government that promised to turn the Alberta economy around with jobs and pipelines. Even though the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is forging ahead, significant job creation is stuck in neutral.

And New Democrats happily rub it in Kenney's face every chance they get.

When the legislative session wrapped up Thursday, the government trumpeted its success in passing a litany of bills that, among other things, cut red tape, imposed a carbon tax on heavy industrial emitters, and helped Indigenous groups invest in the energy industry.

The NDP, though, was gleefully raining on the government's parade.

"Albertans have been lied to by this corrupt government," said NDP house leader Deron Bilous. "The economy is in trouble and it's Jason Kenney's fault. He did nothing to move Trans Mountain forward, although he will claim he did. His policies have failed to create jobs."

NDP hammering Kenney about jobs

The NDP also criticized the government for firing Alberta's election commissioner, Lorne Gibson, and setting the stage for reductions in the public sector that could see as many as 6,000 jobs cut over three years.

Kenney has accused the unions and the NDP of "making this out to be the arrival of the apocalypse" and said he wished "everybody would be a little more objective in their language around this."

What Kenney doesn't seem to realize is the unions and the NDP are simply doing what he's been doing for years: invoking hyperbole to attack opponents.

Kenney long blamed the NDP's "job-killing" carbon tax for undermining the provincial economy. In question period this week, he again said the Rachel Notley government "left this province in a recession, with a jobs crisis and a fiscal crisis."

That is a massive oversimplification of facts that manages to demonize the NDP while ignoring the real culprit: a collapse in oil prices.

But during the spring election campaign Kenney cynically and successfully focused attention on the unpopular carbon tax because that was the NDP's Achilles' heel.

Now, the NDP is bashing away at the UCP's tender spot: job creation.

NDP leader Notley knows she drives Kenney a little nuts whenever she refers to his government's corporate tax cut as "the $4.7-billion no-jobs corporate giveaway."

The government says that's not accurate, that the cut will cost about $2.4 billion and pay for itself by creating an estimated 55,000 jobs over four years.

But yadda-yadda.

If Kenney can simplistically blame the NDP for killing the Alberta economy, Notley can simplistically blame him for breaking an election promise to create jobs. And for breaking his promise to find efficiencies "without affecting front-line services."

Politically, Kenney seems to be the glass-jawed boxer who can give a punch but can't take one.

If he fails to create jobs and/or improve the economy, there will be plenty more punches coming his way from his growing list of enemies that, in Kenney's mind at least, now includes professional credit rating agencies.

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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.