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Carbon tax blunder leaves Alberta few options

Imposing a carbon tax across Alberta was among the most destructive policies in this province’s 114-year history. But it’s not the actual tax itself that’s the true disaster.

Imposing a carbon tax across Alberta was among the most destructive policies in this province’s 114-year history.

But it’s not the actual tax itself that’s the true disaster. The extra cost of filling your tank or warming the house was annoying but not so financially destructive as to cause many of us to alter our lifestyles to any large degree.

Nor was the lack of forewarning by the recently booted-into-touch NDP government the most pressing concern: true, they didn’t mention the darn thing when door-knocking in 2015 but expecting transparency during an election campaign is akin to believing in April that a Canadian team will hoist the Stanley Cup.

No, it was the timing of its introduction that’s led to an inevitable showdown with Ottawa, one sure to cause grief to Alberta even if eventually victorious.

Essentially Premier Rachel Notley showed her hand before the political poker game even started. Why anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of this country’s history would be so daft is hard to fathom.

By voluntarily presenting the Liberals in Ottawa a huge prize and publicity bonanza, effectively showing a world briefly besotted with newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that even Canada’s energy heartland was onboard with such levies.

And what did we get in return? Nothing but disdain and puffball platitudes about how one day, over some rainbow, we might see a shovel in the ground somewhere leading, perhaps, to a new pipeline to tidewater; something Alberta desperately needs.

In short, we gave them the farm and they returned the manure.

That’s not how Canada works. Relations between the feds and provinces are about deal making. How can it be otherwise in so large a land where the concerns of Newfoundland’s fishermen, Ontario’s auto sector and Alberta’s oil workers have little common thread?

But we didn’t deal. Instead, we merrily acquiesced and were left with nothing in our bartering back pocket.

Such were the subsequent feelings of betrayal among Albertans left fearing for their livelihoods that an end to this hated carbon tax became the rallying cry for the United Conservative Party under Jason Kenney. Now it’s high up on his to-do list after just being sworn-in.

That in turn has some in Trudeau’s cabinet licking their lips in anticipation of fighting the upcoming federal election as saviors of the environment up against those greedy, earth-despoiling Alberta oil barons.

Already the natural resource minister is refusing to guarantee a start to construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline extension before the election while his colleague holding the environment file tweets about oil executives holding secret meetings “to make pollution free again.”

Of course, if we hadn’t imposed the darn tax in the first place, we would be in the driver’s seat and could tell Ottawa: “Yes, we’ll do so, but only when two pipelines are complete: one to the Atlantic and one to the Pacific.”

Folk would still grumble of course but a smart politician could sell that deal to Albertans as a quid pro quo in which our economic futures are secured.

But Kenney can’t make that bargain today because he was forced to demonize the tax itself while Trudeau has nothing to lose in Alberta, the chances of a single Grit being elected in October are zip, zilch and zero.

So, thanks to Notley’s rush to prove her green credentials, we’re cornered and have to fight. Turning off taps, war rooms, referendums – all are in the works and while they’ll feel good initially they have serious risks.

Yet there’s no other option, not following the worst political blunder in the province’s history.

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.