In a recent statement disavowing a former employee’s white supremacist ties, Jason Kenney reiterated his stellar record on immigration issues which, as some pointed out, isn’t really all that stellar. Kenney, who many believe is using Alberta as a springboard back into federal politics, has much more to lose than he may have realized when he began his “Unite the Right” journey into the darker corners of Alberta’s political fringe. At one time proclaiming the United Conservative Party a “big tent coalition” where citizen input is “welcome”, Kenney has spent an unflattering amount of time walking that description back in disqualifying candidates running for his Party, groups who attend his Party’s events and now, his own former employees.
The most common question seems to be “why are people with these views attracted to the United Conservative Party in the first place?”
One probable answer is that Kenney worked tirelessly to remove their options. The Wildrose was called the “Lake of Fire Party” for good reason, yet not all Wildrose members accepted or even acknowledged that fact. It is also widely believed to be the reason the Wildrose lost the election in 2012. .
Kenney purposely courted the religious right for his leadership bid of the Progressive Conservative Party and relied on their continued support throughout the United Conservative leadership race; which was easy because he speaks their language. After winning the leadership bid for the UCP, Kenney talked a good talk about “letting the rank-and-file members decide policy” but apparently forgot who he had been wooing, allowing the “lake of fire” to rear its ugly head once again.
As a Reform Member of Parliament, Kenney called upon Ralph Klein to invoke the notwithstanding clause to effectively legalize discrimination against LGBTQ Albertans after the Vriend decision. Kenney has a “green light” from Campaign Life Coalition, a “family values, pro-life” lobby group for his record of voting in line with their causes. Additionally, Kenney is a solid supporter of Christian values and beliefs.
On immigration he worked his magic to welcome immigrant communities into the folds of the federal Conservative Party because he realized many newcomers to Canada hold religion and socially conservative views very highly; again, he spoke their language.
But he also spoke another language alongside Stephen Harper; that of a low grade dog whistle to “old stock Canadians“. With his niqab ban and subsequent appeal, fake citizenship ceremony, request for an “English to English translation” of Harjit Sajjan’s comments in the House, and the Conservative Party of Canada’s barbaric cultural practices hotline, Jason Kenney has helped stoke the sentiment he is now trying to blow off. And it may be too late.
The “Conservative Heartland” of Alberta may have seemed like a safe place to “unite the right” and rip governance from the left of centre New Democrats, but Kenney’s past, and present, may tar his future prospects of leading Canada. As a number of UCP nomination candidates showed, the anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim/immigrant sentiment seemed to go hand-in-hand. Though some were disqualified, others were allowed to stay in the races. It is a “big tent” after all.
Once the religious right had a hold on the United Conservative back room and saw a clear path to enact their agenda in forming government, other “oppressed” groups may have seen their chance as well. From climate change deniers and anti-vaccination proponents to anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ advocates the UCP has attracted people with all kinds of regressive views for the modern world. They are counting on Jason Kenney and “conservative” Albertans to put them into positions of power. And Jason Kenney will wear the badge of shame if it comes to fruition.
As we saw in the highly divisive leadership race of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017, it came down to two individuals to lead the Party: Maxime Bernier, now of anti-immigration fame and Andrew Scheer, the social conservative next door who also jumped to spread misinformation on immigration; two men whose reach is very deep in “conservative” Alberta. Like it or not, Kenney is part and parcel of that name, that shade of blue and the benefactor of that Conservative sentiment here and across the country.
From his perch in Alberta as the Leader of the Official Opposition, Kenney has a spectacular view of all that he has wrought. And there are so very many people who do not want his “good old days” in our future. The days of Martha and Henry are literally dying off and a new generation of Canadians, and Albertans, have the ability to steer the direction of both our politics and our politicians.
In “taking Alberta back”, Jason Kenney can receive credit for removing political preference but also must accept responsibility for unleashing the prominent rise of intolerance directly, and continuously, associated with the Party he created. Since he insisted upon remaining a national force politically, this too will follow him around the country should he prove the speculation about his future endeavours correct. In that context, his foray into Alberta politics may well turn out to be the greatest misstep of his political career.
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Categories: Alberta Politics