Edmonton

Opinion | Courtesy meets diplomacy: Question is, how long will it last?

Not that they’re suddenly best friends but both Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley are keen to make the transition of power as smooth as possible.

Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley meet to talk about Alberta's transition of power

Premier-designate Jason Kenney and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley meet in Edmonton on Thursday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

By all accounts the meeting was cordial: Jason Kenney, courteous; Rachel Notley, diplomatic.

The premier-designate and premier-departing met Thursday morning to discuss the transition of power from the New Democrats to the United Conservatives.

Considering the level of elevated animosity between the two during the 28-day election campaign, you almost expected the room to burst into flames from friction.

But, no, the 30-minute meeting had Notley offering Kenney advice on issues such job-creation programs and the "turn-off-the-taps-to-B.C." legislation — and Kenney listening carefully.

Not that they're suddenly best friends but both are keen to make the transition of power as smooth as possible.

The transition actually started unofficially and tentatively several weeks ago, in the middle of the election campaign, when Kenney's chief of staff met discreetly with Alberta's top top civil servant.

This was no conspiracy by the public service. Nobody was officially prejudging the outcome of the election. But neither was anybody sticking their head in the sand.

Notley had quietly given permission to the top civil servant to meet with officials from parties interested in discussing a transition of power. Jim Prentice, when he was premier, did the same thing during the 2015 campaign, allowing the civil service to begin talks with the NDP weeks before the election was over. It's all about a premier respecting the democratic process, being open to losing the election, demonstrating a sincere interest in a smooth transition of power, and putting the interests of Albertans first.

During their meeting, Kenney thanked Notley for the courtesy.

And he thanked her publicly, too, afterwards.

How long will détente last?

Premier-designate Kenney is much more conciliatory, more measured than UCP-leader Kenney.

He even sheathed his sabre-rattling with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

When Trudeau told Kenney in a post-election phone call that the federal government was delaying a final decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion until June, Kenney said no problem.

"I agreed with the prime minister that they need to make sure that they cross every 't' and dot every 'i' when it comes to discharging the federal government's duty to consult (with Indigenous people)," said Kenney. "We certainly don't want them to have to go back to the drawing board a third time on this. And we will continue on our part to build an alliance across the country that supports TMX and other pipelines."

You have to wonder how long this détente will last. And you have to wonder how Trudeau can approve the construction of the pipeline expansion when Kenney has promised to repeal the very reasons that convinced Trudeau to give the green light back in 2016, namely Notley's Climate Leadership Plan with its provincial carbon tax and a cap on emissions from the oilsands.

Without that cap, and with Kenney scrapping Notley's climate plan as well as vowing to fight the federal carbon tax, Trudeau might find it impossible to give the green light again — unless Kenney offers Trudeau something on the climate change front.

Then there's Kenney's election night appeal, in French, to Quebecers to allow the energy industry to resurrect a proposal to build the Energy East pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick.

That didn't get very far.

After thanking Kenney for his "elegant gesture" of speaking French, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said "non."

"Regarding other oil pipelines, I want to remind him there is no social acceptability for it," said Legault.

Notley, mindful of her quasi-truce with Kenney during the transition of power, refrained from a told-you-so moment. But she did manage this.

"I think what it does demonstrate is that it's not as simple as having press conferences and expressing people's outrage over and over," said Notley, referring to Kenney's penchant for holding news conferences to express his outrage over and over during the election campaign. "This is a complicated country. It involves considered diplomacy and strategic pressure in a thoughtful way."

Will he turn off the taps?

And then there's the "turn off the oil taps" legislation that Kenney has promised to enact his first day as premier April 30. The legislation was passed by the Notley government in 2018, as a way to pressure B.C. over the Trans Mountain pipeline dispute, but never proclaimed as a law.

Kenney has said he won't turn off the taps April 30 but he wants the law on the books so he has the power to immediately shut off oil to B.C. whenever he feels the need.

However, Notley has said that would be a strategic mistake because the minute the law is proclaimed, the B.C. government will be in court to have it struck down as unconstitutional — and then Kenney, if Alberta loses the court fight, would never get an opportunity to turn off the taps when he wants to.

That's reportedly what Notley told Kenney diplomatically during their meeting Thursday.

Kenney courteously said he'd take it under advisement.

They may have buried the hatchet but it's in a very shallow grave. They will be quick to dig it up May 21. That's when the re-elected and newly elected MLAs return to the legislature for their first session with Kenney as UCP premier and Notley as leader of the NDP Opposition.

About the Author

You can find columnist Graham Thomson's thoughts and analysis on provincial politics every Friday at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News and during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM).