The 5 Worst Things Jason Kenney Did - Dundurn
Feb 29, 2024

The 5 Worst Things Jason Kenney Did

My new book Kenneyism: Jason Kenney’s Pursuit of Power examines the rise, fall, and long-term influence of its namesake.

I’ve compiled five of the most damaging decisions Kenney made as an influential Cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and as premier of Alberta, which I will count down.

5. Shooting the Messenger During the Climate Crisis

Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP) government had a two-fold strategy to “fight back” against environmentalists, who were accused of being part of an international conspiracy to defame Alberta’s tar sands.

It launched a rapid-response war room, known as the Canadian Energy Centre, in December 2019, which quickly became a costly international laughingstock.

An inquiry into alleged foreign funding of environmentalists, breezing through several delays and adjustments to its terms of reference, came to the conclusion that environmentalists weren’t doing anything nefarious.

But the goal of dragging environmentalists’ names through the mud and putting them on the defensive was achieved.

4. The Best Summer Ever (2021)

Kenney’s government was so confident in its plans to remove all COVID restrictions by July 2021 that it sold Best Summer Ever — Alberta 2021 baseball caps on the UCP website.

By mid-August, as Alberta’s intensive care units started filling up with people seriously infected with the Delta variant, Kenney opted to go on a three-week vacation and was nowhere to be found as admissions kept climbing.

On September 28, there were 257 ICU patients in a province with just 246 ICU beds, signifying Alberta’s healthcare system was in full collapse.

3. Dismantling Harm Reduction Services During the Drug Poisoning Crisis

Kenney campaigned on a promise to take a harsher law and order to the drug poisoning crisis, which was then in its infancy, promising heavy scrutiny of supervised consumption sites, which he regarded as a source of chaos and disorder in urban centres.

After shutting down Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site, the most frequented in North America, he began shelling out large sums of cash to private, abstinence-only recovery clinics, misdiagnosing the problem as one of addiction rather than an increasingly toxic drug supply at a time when drug poisoning deaths were beginning to reach previously unseen heights.

2. Vilifying Roma Asylum Seekers

Kenney’s tenure as the federal minister of citizenship and immigration from 2008 to 2013 was characterized equally by open arms towards immigrants of a certain economic status as it was by a clenched fist towards asylum seekers, particularly those who came from European countries with which Canada is aligned, who Kenney continuously vilified as “queue jumpers” and “bogus refugees.”

In January 2013, Kenney paid $3,000 to erect a billboard in the Hungarian town of Miskolc, where Roma people were increasingly facing violent harassment from neo-Nazis, warning them to think twice about fleeing to Canada.

1. Cutting Health Care for Refugees

Kenney cut $100 million in extended health-care benefits for refugee claimants as minister, including dental care, eye care, and most prescription drugs. Pitting refugees against the broader population, Kenney claimed it was unfair that they receive better health care than most Canadians.

This resulted in physicians absorbing the costs of providing life-saving care to refugee claimants. But others weren’t so fortunate. 

Jeremy Appel has been covering politics in Alberta since 2017. His work has appeared in CBC News, the National ObserverJacobinRicochetThe BreachThe Maple, and the Canadian Jewish News, among other places. He lives in Edmonton and writes The Orchard newsletter on Substack. Learn more here.