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The two faces, and campaigns, of Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney is a highly unusual figure in Canadian political history, a full-time federal politician who is also a full-time provincial politician.

In fairness, it may be marginally more accurate nowadays to describe the leader of Alberta's Opposition United Conservative Party and MLA for Calgary-Lougheed as a full-time provincial politician who is also a full-time federal politician.

Regardless of the order of his priorities, though, the former Calgary MP and senior federal Conservative cabinet minister once touted as prime minister Stephen Harper's likely replacement is now campaigning full-time, both to unseat NDP Premier Rachel Notley and become the premier of Alberta, and on behalf of his federal party to unseat Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and restore the Conservative Party of Canada to power in Ottawa.

Politicians who have made the switch from provincial to federal politics, like the late provincial NDP leaders Tommy Douglas and Dave Barrett, or from federal to provincial politics, like the late Alberta premier Jim Prentice and former Alberta Opposition leader Brian Jean, are not all that unusual. But politicians who operate at once on both levels, as Kenney clearly does, are rare.

Not only does Kenney apparently continue to consult regularly with Harper to plot a Conservative Restoration in Ottawa, but under his leadership of the Opposition in Alberta there is no light whatsoever between the provincial UCP and the federal CPC nominally led by the hapless, hopeless, and soon to be eminently replaceable Andrew Scheer.

This sets the UCP dramatically apart from most Canadian provincial parties, including Notley’s Alberta NDP. The Alberta New Democrats are now clearly uncomfortable with the federal NDP and in a state of open warfare with the party of the same name that now leads the province of British Columbia next door.

Notwithstanding what one would expect his priority to be, Kenney seems to attack Prime Minister Trudeau more often than he assails Premier Notley. If nothing else, this level of interest suggests that his mind is still preoccupied with federal politics.

Kenney's gaslighting of his main enemies sometimes gets so tangled up it leads to unintentionally hilarious dissonance in his messaging.

"Justin Trudeau's carbon tax will take tens of billions of dollars out of the pockets of consumers, raise the cost of everything, & kill jobs," he (or his Twitter bot) tweeted in 2016, one of myriad Kenney missives on this topic.

"The Trudeau carbon tax will hit Alberta families hard," he tweeted in another example last year. "And rather than standing up against the Ottawa Liberals' plans, the Alberta NDP Government is cheering them on."

"There is no *federal* carbon tax. That's NDP spin," he tweeted on Tuesday, however. The explanation that followed did not entirely clarify his reasoning, which presumably depends on the fact the feds won't start collecting the tax till later this year, and only then if provinces don't tax carbon themselves at the same rate. You can read the tweet and the Trudeau Government's explanation of the federal carbon tax for yourselves.

The CBC's Michelle Bellefontaine responded to that last one sharply: "The *federal* carbon tax of $40 a tonne comes into effect in 2021 no matter who wins the next provincial election," she stated.

An obviously frustrated Emma Graney, Postmedia's Legislature reporter in Edmonton, tweeted back: "If there's no federal carbon tax, what’s the 'Trudeau carbon tax' you keep talking about? … Weird you'd call that 'NDP spin' when you're the one saying it. UNLESS... WAIT... ARE YOU A NEW DEMOCRAT?!? SCOOP!!”

This unusual rejoinder for a mainstream journalist set off a raucous discussion on the social media platform. Graham Sucha, NDP MLA for Calgary-Shaw, which shares some territory with Kenney’s old Calgary Midnapore federal riding, weighed in: "Wait, are you saying I'm not the first New Democrat elected in Midnapore?" General hilarity ensued.

I doubt such sniping by mainstream journalists will last for long. Their jobs depend on access to people like Kenney, and their bosses are typically hypersensitive about anything that smacks of criticism of the UCP.

Still, the momentary outburst illustrates the complexity of simultaneous campaigning at the federal and provincial levels in a federation in which voters historically often prefer a certain amount of creative conflict between levels of government.

Some readers will take this simply to mean Kenney cannot be depended upon to tell the truth. But while it sometimes seems as if his relationship with facts is fairly casual, he is no Donald Trump.

His real problem is that he is a full-on, lifetime career politician. He has never in his life done anything but politics, unless you count his stint leading anti-tax organizations -- a political gig if ever there was one! And while we can't know with certainty what's in Kenney’s heart, it's reasonable to suspect he still harbours long-term federal ambitions.

Why wouldn't he dream of being the first provincial premier since Sir Charles Tupper to transition into a prime minister, and the first ever to do it successfully? (Sir Charles, alert followers of Canadian political history will recall, managed to be prime minister for only 69 days in 1896 without actually being elected to Parliament at the time, after being pre-Confederation premier of the Colony of Nova Scotia for barely more than three years. There hasn’t been another one since.)

To achieve that goal, of course, Kenney would need to be elected as premier first. But it's fair to say that Jason, Janus-like, is simultaneously focusing on both jurisdictions right now!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Flickr/mmmswan

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