Alberta Premier Jason Kenney might be bilingual but he needs to learn a new language

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney might speak fluent French but he is having difficulty understanding the province of Quebec.

And Quebec doesn't understand Alberta.

The two, however, certainly know how to insult each other. Kenney and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet have been trading barbs in both official languages this week.

It all started with Kenney's "fair deal" speech last weekend that suggested unless Alberta receives more help from the federal government — including more energy pipelines — the province should look at loosening ties with Ottawa by, among other things, creating its own provincial police force, collecting its own income taxes and opting out of the Canada Pension Plan.

Kenney, who likes to think of La Belle Province as a historic ally of Alberta, must have thought he'd find a kindred spirit in Quebec's political leaders.

Instead, Blanchet happily took aim at Kenney's trial balloons.

"If they were attempting to create a green state in western Canada, I might be tempted to help them," said Blanchet. "If they are trying to create an oil state in western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us."

An irritated Kenney fought back.

"You cannot have your cake and eat it too," said Kenney. "Pick a lane. Either you can say as Quebec that you no longer are going to take the energy and equalization resources that come from western Canada's oil and gas industry, or you can do what we do as Canadians, coming together to support each other."

Blanchet's response: Alberta doesn't send cheques to Quebec (equalization payments come from Ottawa and are paid for by federal taxes).

And so it goes. Kenney and Blanchet are a perpetual motion machine of attack and counter-attack.

Welcome to the new federalism ... much like the old federalism.

This might seem like federalism gone bad. After all, haven't Alberta and Quebec always been allies against their common foe, Ottawa?

In fact the two have had a complex, sometimes contradictory relationship.

Alberta and Quebec have indeed been strong allies in the fight for provincial rights, more money for health care and more provincial powers in international trade.

Western disgruntlement and Quebec separatism were often willing to waltz together if they could agree on the tune.

Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

But one discordant issue has been increasing in volume for years: climate change.

Heading to the annual premiers' conference in Halifax in 2002, for example, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein complained that Quebec, developing its hydro power, was hypocritically targeting Alberta's emissions from the oilsands: "We should also consider the environmental impact of other forms of green energy, hydro power in particular, and the impact that the development of huge dams and reservoirs could have on the environment."

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry in turn accused Klein of playing cynical provincial politics by trying to downplay the significance of global warming: "It's an international problem related to the future of mankind, so we must not link that to self-serving interests."

This should have been a warning flag for Alberta. One of its most steady allies on so many other issues was digging in its heels on human-made climate change.

Canada and the world was changing; Alberta wasn't.

Alberta is in danger of becoming the Don Cherry of Canadian politics, unable to deal with change. - Graham Thomson

Klein's Progressive Conservative successors tackled the issue more seriously but just as unsuccessfully with various schemes that included experiments in emission-reducing technology and attempts to form a national energy strategy to get more energy products to markets.

Alberta's first NDP government introduced a serious Climate Leadership Plan that succeeded in getting Prime Minister Trudeau to approve the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and then actually buy the project for $4.5 billion.

However, the NDP's play-nice strategy didn't get the expansion project started before Alberta's provincial election in April.

That brings us to the new UCP government and Kenney's "fight back" strategy that has him rattling his sabre at the federal Liberal government and poking a stick at Quebec's political leaders.

Kenney is correct in saying that in October's federal election a majority of Canadians voted for political parties that support more pipelines. But he tends to ignore the fact that a majority of Canadians also voted for parties that support a carbon tax.

The world is changing. Canada is changing. Alberta is in danger of becoming the Don Cherry of Canadian politics, unable to deal with change.

Kenney must start a conversation with other provinces, not just on the economy.

Kenney needs to learn a new language. He needs to know how to talk about the environment. This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.