United Conservative leader stands by calling prime minister empty, clueless

EDMONTON — Alberta United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney is standing by his personal attack on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom he called empty and clueless.

Kenney says, from his experience, Trudeau struggles with nuanced political issues, particularly the contentious debate around the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“I worked with dozens of MPs in Ottawa, including (opposition) critics who were thoughtful, intelligent, engaged people with whom I had a constructive relationship. He wasn’t one of them,” Kenney said Wednesday.

“(Trudeau) is a person that I worked with as a minister for three years who I got to know quite well as somebody who has difficulty with complex files, and I think (Trans Mountain) is a very complex issue.”

Kenney dismissed suggestions it’s a personal issue with Trudeau, whose Liberals defeated Kenney’s Conservatives in the 2015 federal election.

“This is about standing up for Alberta against a federal government that has inflicted massive economic damage on our province,” he said.

In a Calgary Sun column published Wednesday, Kenney was quoted attacking Trudeau’s ability to resolve a dispute that has delayed construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple the amount of Alberta oil flowing to tankers in B.C. Trudeau doesn’t have “the foggiest idea what’s going on,” Kenney said in the column.

“I know Justin. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. This guy is an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl,” he is quoted as saying.

“He can’t read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin, OK.”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the comments show “personal hostility” toward Trudeau.

“Anyone who is presenting themselves as being equipped to lead the province needs to learn very quickly to rise above his own personal hostilities, and that is not what we see demonstrated in the quotes that were reported today,” said Notley.

Government house leader Brian Mason said the true Kenney is peeking out.

“He’s been Mr. Civility in the house and it struck me as a pose,” said Mason. “I think he’s let the mask drop a bit here and revealed his own personal grudge against the prime minister.”

Kenney has pledged to return civil discourse to politics. During debate Tuesday, he responded to shouts from the NDP benches, by saying “When they go low, we’ll go high.”

When asked how calling out the prime minister’s IQ squares with a return to civility, Kenney said United Conservative members have gone 10 weeks without heckling in the legislature.

“I was asked about whether I think the prime minister understands the complexity of the pipeline issue, and frankly based on my first-hand experience I don’t think he does.”

Trudeau approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline but B.C. Premier John Horgan’s government says it is concerned about the potential for oil spills on its waterways and coastline.

The $7.4-billion project has faced court challenges and permit delays to the point that the builder, Kinder Morgan, says it may not proceed.

Kenney has promised a more antagonistic approach to Trudeau’s government should his party win power in the spring 2019 provincial election.

Kenney, in a speech to party members earlier this month, said he will challenge Trudeau on everything from carbon taxes to equalization payments to make sure Albertans are not shortchanged.

Jason Kenney

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