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Ian Bremmer Speaks with Canada’s Jason Kenney About Trudeau, China and Polarization

13 minute read

This week’s TIME international cover was of Ian Bremmer’s interview with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he faces a tough reelection battle and reels from scandals. Bremmer also spoke to a prominent Canadian Conservative, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation, which took place prior to TIME’s revelations of a photo showing Trudeau in brownface.

Ian Bremmer: First give us broadly the case against re-electing Trudeau. I started with a softball right, right?

Premier Kenney: Well, the primary concern of Canadians right now is the growing cost of living. His government is contributing to that leading with their carbon tax. And I think their fiscal irresponsibility implies higher taxes down the road.

This is an epically challenged government. This is a Prime Minister who has been found twice to be in violation of the law, which was without precedent in Canadian political history. People actually are more shocked about this and the commentary I’ve seen seems to be-

Ian Bremmer: In the US we think it’s okay now.

Premier Kenney: But I can certainly say from the perspective of people attached to our resource industries that this has been a very damaging government, that has prolonged an extended downturn in what was the great engine of Canadian economic growth and middle-class growth in particular in recent decades, adding massive uncertainty to major infrastructure with the Bill C69. We call it “the no more pipelines law.” Killing the Northern gateway pipeline, killing energy East, surrendering to a US veto on Keystone XL, bungling trans mountain, a prejudicial attack on our exports, Bill C48, the so-called tanker ban… all of these things collectively have done deep damage to an industry that has helped to create enormous wealth for the whole country. Alberta, for example, has contributed over $600 billion net in fiscal transfers to the rest of the Federation over the past five decades because of our energy industry, which has also been a huge engine of social mobility. People with modest levels of education moved to Alberta from unemployment to six figure incomes, a great engine of blue collar and middle-class jobs that is being deeply damaged by a government that’s openly hostile to that industry. So certainly, from my regional, our regional perspective, it would be problematic.

Ian Bremmer: In the United States right now, trade has been on everybody’s mind. To what extent are you aligned or not with the Canadian government’s engagement both with Europeans, with the, with TPP minus the United States and perhaps most importantly the now new NAFTA/USMCA?

Premier Kenney: Well, obviously we’re deeply concerned, Alberta exports $100 billion a year goods and services to the United States and the trade with United States that is existential for the Canadian economy. So, the continued uncertainty around USMCA is, it is, is deeply problematic. We, but you know, we that this is not, ultimately, it’s up to the challenges with the Democrat caucus and the House of Representatives, I think. And I understand the administration here is doing what they can to try to get this across the line. We certainly hope that happens, but more generally, Canada’s a pro-trade, pro trading nation, there has been very little of the kind of populace pushback against trade that we’ve seen in the United States and some other places. There’s actually a fairly broad cross partisan consensus for this, the NDP being an outlier, but generally there’s a pro-trade consensus in Canadian politics and … and so growing protectionism is a real problem for us. I think your question was to what, where, how is our province reaching out to the United States?

Ian Bremmer: No, I was saying more. How do you, again, in terms of Trudeau and the upcoming election, how do you think about what they have been doing.

Premier Kenney: I don’t think this is a big partisan question in the election, the conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, has, I think, plausibly suggested that Canada did not get the strongest deal we could have. But I, I think through those negotiations there was a deliberate effort to maintain unity in supporting the federal approach to put aside partisanship. So, I really don’t want to bicker on that front. We’ve got enough grievances with the Trudeau administration.

Ian Bremmer: Immigration: the Canadians now as of last year, taking in more refugees than the United States. A lot of push back domestically inside Canada.

Premier Kenney: A lot of those refugees come from the United States.

Ian Bremmer: Some of them do.

Premier Kenney: Or refugee claimants, I should say.

Ian Bremmer: So, your, your view on what the Canadians should be doing right now?

Premier Kenney: Well look, there’s a generally a pro-immigration consensus in Canada. But I as the longest serving Canadian immigration minister have always thought that we should not take that for granted. We’ve seen public opinion turn against immigration broadly in United States and other developed countries I think largely because of high levels of irregular and illegal migration that undermines public confidence in a properly ordered immigration system. So, I think it’s critical for Canada to demonstrate integrity in our system that that consistent application of fair rules, quite frankly, the large-scale irregular migration coming from the United States across our land border is unhelpful. We’ve seen public opinion turning against high levels of immigration. I think the two are connected and quite frankly, I think, you know, neoliberal types who are champions of high levels of immigration are doing this are doing the cause of immigration, a great disservice when they minimize or even ridicule wide public concerns about illegal and irregular migration. So what I tried to get when I was immigration minister was to strengthen the integrity of the system and to demonstrate that the economic benefits of immigration by choose, by using our power of selection to focus on folks who would integrate successfully and in generally would get a pretty good job with that. The Harper government ran the highest per capital levels of immigration in the developed world with pretty broad public support because simultaneously, we were cracking down on human smuggling and false asylum claims, immigration fraud, citizenship fraud, et cetera. I think where the Trudeau government has got this wrong is laxity on those on the illegal and irregular migration was undermining public support for at otherwise generous immigration policies. I think that Thomas Friedman said the ideal immigration system has a high fence so you can have a Broad gate right.

Ian Bremmer: You’re the first Canadian has ever quoted Tom Friedman to us.

Premier Kenney: That’s right. It’s a worthwhile Canadian initiative.

Ian Bremmer: Talk a little bit to me about the U.S. China standoff about you know, sort of how concerned you are about it. What do you think the U.S. should be doing? How much the Canadian should be on board with it?

Premier Kenney: We are in the middle of that, that’s no secret. Most of the agricultural products produced in Alberta have been effectively blocked from China. So, one way we have to deal with it I think is this is a… a wakeup call for us to diversify our export markets in developing countries and in Asia and elsewhere. I think strategically we became too dependent on the Chinese export markets. Even if we get ourselves somehow extricate ourselves from the current unpleasantness. And there’s no immediate sign of that. This could happen again, we could become collateral damage in the U.S.-China relationship. There might be other reasons why, why we get arbitrary barriers to our exports to China. So, export diversification is critically important. It will be putting a big emphasis on, on India, Korea. I mean our, my provincial government. I think other provincial government should be doing the same. But let me be clear. I support the Trudeau administration’s approach to the, to the tension with China. We have to be team Canada. I don’t want to sit, and I’ve made this point to all of my fellow Premiers that we need to be completely shoulder to shoulder when it comes to standing up for our, our interests. And it’s not prime minister Trudeau who started this, this dispute. It’s Beijing that did. And the way they are acting is… it’s frankly outrageous and, and we need to demonstrate, resolve unity and strength in response.

Ian Bremmer: So, for example with this detention of the CFO of Huawei and now two Canadians, you know, has been detained…

Premier Kenney: Effectively kidnapped.

Ian Bremmer: Kidnapped in China and the response and first of all the alignment with the United States appropriate in your view?

Premier Kenney: We are country predicated on the rule of law and we should not jeopardize that central Canadian value because of aggressive tactics from Beijing, and there should be no question about that. We’ve had some people, some prominent Canadian saying just give up on the extradition case. Look, this is, this is for the federal government and the courts to administer and offer me as a provincial premier. There is no grounds for political interference in this. This, this must be governed by our judicial system and I am confident it will be.

Ian Bremmer: You know, have to let you talk at least directly about climate for a second because Trudeau is, if there’s anything, Trudeau has been really known for on the international station and at the G7, it’s being a leading voice on climate. How do you, what do you, what, what role do you, you think Canada should be playing with that issue?

Premier Kenney: A constructive role. We have I think a consensus in Canadian politics that we need to do what we can without massively damaging our own economic interest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And the Canadian energy industry is I think a very positive part of that story. In a world where there will be growing local demand for the gas in coming decades the question is what are the best sources? And we argue that Canada a liberal democracy with the highest human rights, environmental and labor standards – should at least be a, a more competitive source of, of energy in an unstable world. And we think that when you look at everything objectively, including, I’ll call it conventional environmental, considerations, not just carbon intensity. When you look at, at human rights and labor standards, that Canada should be the most preferred source of energy on earth. And I think that is clearer now than it was prior to the…

Ian Bremmer: Are you prepared for the Norwegians just come right after you?

Premier Kenney: Well they’re not even in the top 10. They’re not in the top ten. Amongst the top 10 we’re, we’re, we’re, we’re the outlying superstars and by the way there was a story about reducing carbon intensity in our hydrocarbon, in our oil industry, which is very positive, 30% reduction in carbon intensity for the average barrel of oil sand enrichment and we have vast quantities of natural gas that we can share with global markets to displace coal. That’s a very positive story. So, we can play a a positive role in, in, in we look at this globally and not just, if we only look at emissions in Canada, then we are ignoring the significant carbon leakage. You know from Alberta, we’ve seen the flight of capital from our sector to the Permian. We have a carbon tax and they don’t, we have higher environmental regulations and they don’t. I don’t know how that’s a benefit to the… We have reduced, we have reduced the carbon intensity of average barrel heavy Canadian crude by our measurements is lower than the average global carbon footprint for heavy crude and continues to go down with the massive investments in, in technology and research. We are, I think on the cusp of, very significant reduction. So, encourage that rather than penalizing the country that I think is the most responsible producer.

Ian Bremmer: So look to the extent that oil and gas is becoming the new coal and new tobacco, right. I mean it’s just that’s, that’s going to be an increasingly hard argument to make, but it’s one that you should be making.

Premier Kenney: Sure, and people who fly to Davos in their private jets, we’ll continue to, to do say, look, I’ve, I don’t think they’ve figured out how to do that with unicorn farts yet.

Ian Bremmer: So last question: Is it does sound to me like the level of cohesiveness, political alignment, even between the conservatives and the sitting government is a lot greater than it is in the United States right now.

Premier Kenney: Oh, absolutely.

Ian Bremmer: Why do you think that is?

Premier Kenney: Well, there’s, I think there’s something in the Canadian political DNA and deeply grounded in our political culture, which tends towards moderation and against polarization. You know, even when we have populist movements, they’re, they’re pretty modest compared to versions of populism around the world. So, I can certainly say in my province, Mr. Trudeau is a very polarizing figure. He’s the least popular prime minister in the history of my province… for shockingly more than his father was who drove a devastating policy called the national energy program. But, but on a lot of big questions, we don’t have the same kind of bitter polarization that exists in parts of Europe and the United States. And again, I think that, you know, part of my explanation for this is just in, in Canadian history, English Canada was founded by United empire loyalists whose basic political impulse was deference to authority and French Canada was whose political culture had a similar kind of small-conservative respect for order, stability, continuity. And so, Canada’s not been subject to wild swings of political temperament.


The original version of this story misstated what Premier Kenny said about the government’s impact on the energy industry. He said government policies have damaged an industry that has created enormous wealth for the “whole country”, not for coal.

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