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Commentary: Alberta needs to stick to its knitting

'We need pipelines not headless statues'
Nelson Chris web
Chris Nelson is a syndicated columnist. File photo

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled statues yearning to breathe free.

Maybe Jason Kenney intends making that our new provincial motto. After all, he’s been taking time out from figuring how to stop borrowing $25 billion a year to keep the lights on here in Alberta and instead turned his steely gaze on the plight of downed statues.

Come on, you have to give these politicians credit. When they find themselves in a seemingly hopeless bind they are whizzes at discovering some peripheral yet emotional issue to deflect attention from those much more substantial matters at hand.

No doubt that’s why our premier, only 48 hours after a fiscal update by his own treasurer that surely ranked as the most sobering and frightening set of numbers ever uttered in Alberta’s 115-year history, took to social media and offered a home for a headless statue of Sir John A. Macdonald that had just been toppled in Montreal.

The statue in question was pushed over, thereby knocking its head off, and then spray-painted by a bunch of yahoos using the pretense of protesting racism and police funding to engage their collective-stupidity reflex.

This obviously annoyed Kenney. So much so he took to Twitter and announced: “If the City of Montreal decides not to restore Wade’s statue of Macdonald to where it has stood for 125 years, we would be happy to receive it for installation on the grounds of Alberta’s Legislature.”

Is this some new industrial strategy? We’ve been trying to diversify the Alberta economy for decades without too much success, but getting into the business of statue repair is indeed a rather different approach. Hey, maybe we’ll qualify for some federal grant – such refurbishment could be deemed as supporting green jobs.

Seriously though, why is Alberta’s premier getting involved in some vandalism issue in Montreal? He certainly didn’t mince words.

“Many of those on the extreme left responsible for this kind of violence claim that Canada is an illegitimate state, all the while enjoying Canada’s rights, freedoms, privileges & prosperity. None of those things were created by accident,” he tweeted.

Yes, stirring words indeed. And was the province he’s paid to run not heading towards a fiscal cliff at breakneck speed then spending time brushing up on the Churchillian-prose might be acceptable.

But right now it’s not. Picking an issue to appeal to many Albertans and therefore energize Kenney’s base is simply political gamesmanship. If we want to be entertained or aroused by such partisan antics we can watch, with wide-eyed wonder, the happenings south of our border.

Alberta needs to stick to its knitting, because the ball of wool it’s dealing with is wrapped in a Gordian knot of epic complexity.

True, the UCP government has been dealt a tough hand indeed, with the double-whammy of plunging oil prices amidst an ongoing pandemic, which has resulted in a massive economic blow here, there and everywhere.

The hole we’re in is almost 25-billion bucks-a-year deep, while our accumulated debt is within spitting distance of $100 billion.

OK, the gradual re-opening of our economy will alleviate some of that annual shortfall, but we still face a horrendous struggle if Alberta is ever to return to the province it was a mere decade ago.

Huge decisions must be made: on spending, on taxes, and on our relationship with Ottawa.

There’s no time to waste. But wasting time, looking for some easy applause, is exactly what Kenney engaged in by getting involved in the Montreal statue fracas.

So, in case it’s slipped his mind: We need pipelines not headless statues, here in Alberta.

Chris Nelson is a syndicated columnist.