Opinion | Jabs between Kenney and Notley reach new level of ridiculousness
Thursday's legislative committee meeting was like question period but on steroids
Just when you thought Alberta politics couldn't get any more divisive or combative or just plain ridiculous, you get Thursday morning's legislative committee meeting where NDP leader Rachel Notley butted heads with Premier Jason Kenney.
The committee was examining the spending estimates of the premier's office for 2019.
But Notley happily cast a wide net to question Kenney on a host of issues including the UCP's 2017 leadership race, Kenney's plans to fight the federal equalization program, and a $16,000 charter plane trip for Kenney's premier friends and their wives.
This was like question period but on steroids. Notley was not limited to the kind of brief exchanges she has with Kenney in the legislative assembly each afternoon but was allowed to delve into topics at length. And delve she did.
She delved until she hit bone and nerve.
She attacked Kenney for spending $16,000 of public money to charter a plane to fly three premiers and their spouses from Calgary to Saskatoon for the Council of the Federation meeting last July.
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She called it a "gross misuse of public funds" to have the Alberta government "flying Conservative premiers from other provinces who have their own budgets, and their wives, and their staff from Calgary to Saskatoon."
Kenney shot back that he was simply building alliances with "like-minded" premiers "to help to protect this province, its jobs, and its interest, against a hostile federal government."
This is how it went for more than an hour with Notley, who turned what can be a terribly boring budget-related committee hearing into a cudgel to politically beat Kenney about the head.
Besides blaming Kenney — the self-described defender of tax dollars — of misusing tax dollars, she accused the self-described federalist of cynically fanning the flames of western alienation for his own political ends.
She ridiculed his proposal for a public referendum on the federal equalization program, pointing out that he is misleading Albertans by suggesting that he, as a provincial premier, can change a federal program.
"Do you think it is responsible as the premier and also a minister who has an obligation as a member of this federation to put to the people of Alberta that they vote on something that you know you cannot deliver?" asked Notley. "And then to speak out of the other side of your mouth about how you're worried about concerns around western separation."
It was here that both politicians managed to take their debate down the rabbit hole.
An irritated Kenney accused Notley of questioning his patriotism.
"I resent the leader of the opposition casting aspersions on my loyalty," said Kenney. "I am, and always will be a proud Canadian."
Notley had not questioned Kenney's patriotism. However, Kenney's verbal misdirection served its purpose by changing the topic.
He then accused Notley of diminishing and ridiculing Albertans who feel alienated in their own country.
She had not done that (Kenney has himself in recent weeks referred to western separatism as a "ridiculous concept") but he managed to knock her off stride. Suddenly, she was on the defensive.
"Let me be clear: In no way, shape or form did I do that," said Notley, clearly irritated with Kenney for being so slippery. "I find it offensive every time – "
But she never got to finish her thought.
UCP MLA Glenn van Dijken, chair of the committee, called them both to order and announced time for that topic had run out.
It had been a ridiculous exchange, with each claiming to be more patriotic than the other, perhaps proving the old adage that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
During Thursday's meeting, Notley even veered into the issue of the 2017 UCP leadership race that is under an RCMP investigation into complaints of voter fraud.
Kenney has long denied he or his campaign officials did anything wrong.
But it is a knife that Notley enjoys thrusting and twisting.
This is the current state of Alberta politics.
The premier and leader of the Official Opposition are like two vipers in a bottle.
Alberta politics is more polarized than ever before. We've seen deep divisions in the past between the government and the Opposition. But this is the Grand Canyon of divides.
We have a new government determined to wipe out all vestiges of the previous government. We have an opposition comprised, for the first time in Alberta history, of a former premier and almost a dozen former cabinet ministers.
The UCP and NDP are so hostile on so many issues that there seems little or no room for compromise.
As we saw Thursday morning, it is a political hostility made flesh in Notley and Kenney.