Jason Kenney says he has not heard a “single voice of opposition” to the unification of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties except for “a communist professor from the University of Lethbridge”.
Public political discourse
The philosopher Jason Stanley says the most important political ideals in a liberal democracy are liberty, freedom and the norms governing political speech.
Political speech is flying around all over the place; in town hall meeting, in the speeches, platforms and statements made by candidates and their campaigns, in the Legislature where our representatives express their views on policy and proposed legislation, and in the media, both mainstream and social media.
Political speech should be reasonable and rational.
The last thing anybody needs, according to James Maddison, is political speech which divides mankind into parties, inflames them with mutual animosity and causes them to oppress each other rather than co-operate for their common good.
Sadly, we live in a flawed democracy; often political speech is biased…but red-baiting is beyond the pale.
Kenney sees a Commie
In an interview about the upswing in Wildrose memberships and what this means for the unification of the PC and Wildrose parties, Jason Kenney said that in more than 20 townhall meetings, “I have not heard a single voice of opposition to the agreement, save a communist professor at the University of Lethbridge.”
Dr Jay Gamble, a University of Lethbridge professor, has been identified as the “communist professor” Kenney was referring to.
Mr Kenney’s comment is odious for many reasons including the following:
- The implication that most Alberta conservatives support unification is questionable. A sitting PC MLA, Richard Starke, has expressed his concerns about unification and at least three Wildrose constituency associations are discussing breaking from the United Conservative Party if the merger goes ahead.
- Dr Gamble did not speak up at the townhall to oppose unification, he asked a three-part question about
- policy—why does Kenney believe schools should out LBGTQ students
- strategy—where will Kenney run for a seat (in other words which PC or WR MLA does he expect to step aside)
- integrity—where is the evidence to support the contention that conservative voices in Alberta’s post secondary education system have been silenced
- Dr Gamble is not in fact a Communist. (He has however changed his Twitter handle to Jay Guevara @DrJayDrNo and his Twitter icon now sports a dashing Che beret).
The Red Scare
Dr Gamble asked a legitimate question which would not have raised an eyebrow under ordinary circumstances, but Mr Kenney reacted as if he just met a card-carrying Commie.
Dr Gamble took Mr Kenney’s attack on his character and reputation in stride, however Albertans should not let Mr Kenney get away with this kind of anti-democratic behaviour.
Mr Kenney is an experienced politician. He has held many key federal portfolios including Immigration and National Defence. He’s represented Canada around the world. He knows what Communism looks like.
In 2010, he commemorated Ukraine’s historic election by quoting Stephen Harper’s comment that Canada stands with Ukraine and other “captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe” which were not “free people, living in free nations” and which were “grateful to the strong western leaders who stood firm against the Communists and their apologists.”
In 2010, Mr Kenney, a federal minister, described Canadians as free people led by strong leaders who stood against Communists.
In 2017, Mr Kenney, a candidate for the premier’s office, violated the norms of political speech by calling a university professor a communist because he didn’t like the questions the professor had asked him in a public political meeting.
It took less than seven years for Canadians who question conservative politicians to go from being “snowflakes” to “communists”.
Joseph McCarthy would be proud.
Source: How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley pp 80, 94
It is perhaps a small point but I believe it is incorrect to use the term ” the Ukraine” in any geo-political discussion. It’s just Ukraine.
Yes, you’re right Douglas. I just checked and “the Ukraine” is how the Russians referred to when it was part of the Soviet Union but that’s not the case today. Thanks for pointing it out, I’ve fixed it.
Well said. We can laugh and mock at Kenney, but there seems to be a group of people who are hysterical enough to take such nonsense seriously, so a serious response is also called for.
Val, that’s exactly what I thought. Kenney’s suggestion that those who question him, let alone oppose him, are communists, wouldn’t be that far fetched to WR supporters who’ve seen their MLAs stand up in the Legislature and accuse the NDP of plotting to confiscate their property as per the Regina Manifesto of 1933. (!)
Kenney’s communist reference is part of the right’s political strategy of attempting to brand progressives/liberals/NDP supporters, et al with the connotations of communism, since communism emerged as serious political force.
Yeah… propaganda. But nothing really new, is it?
I think he’s just brought it out into the open again, explicitly, as the classic ‘red meat’ for his base.
The thinking behind his comment is probably widespread, privately, in AB RW circles… they mostly just say ‘socialist’ for public consumption. But everyone on the right knows they mean communist like Russia or China, when they say socialist.
Some excerpts from USA history, which I can’t claim to necessarily be representative or deliberative, but which I believe are evidence that illustrates my point:
excerpt: ‘The Florida Republican spends the majority of his op-ed defending his argument that progressives are simply communists by another name.”
excerpt: ‘West continues: “You can call this what you wish. The esteemed scholar and author Mark Levin calls it ‘statism.’ In our lifetime, the unpalatable and pejorative brands ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ have been replaced with the more user-friendly ‘progressive’ term.”’
excerpt: After World War II, the right slowly put together a coalition united by a hatred of communism and a profound suspicion of where secular liberals were leading the nation and the “Free World.”
excerpt: ‘Efforts to redefine the family structure have been long at work, and there have been some influential forces on the far left and communist left that cannot and should not be ignored in that process.’
I expect there are more than a few instances of RW political leaders in AB using communist! as a label to undermine the credibility of their critics/political opponents, but for me, the only other time I recall of significance was Ralph Klein calling Kevin Taft communist (and by implication, the Parkland Institute) publishing a book, Shredding the Public Interest, exposing the Klein PCs machinations to hide actual evidence about public spending, use propaganda instead, and what I remember in particular was the issue of seniors needs in AB, where as part of that Klein austerity agenda, they destroyed good policy developed under Getty. Hence the title Shredding.
So for Kenney, he’s just going back to the core game plan. The Klein agenda of austerity cuts defended by name-calling. Kenney’s plan again.
excerpt: ‘…Shredding the Public Interest, a book written by current Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft contesting the idea that social spending was out of control when Klein became premier in 1992.
“So we announced the foundation of the institute at the same time that we announced the release of Taft’s book,” explains Laxer. “And Ralph Klein rescued us from what may have been obscurity by denouncing Taft as a Communist the next day. We had a lot of fun with that story.’
Sam: thanks for these links which point out that red scare tactics are a staple of RW politicians who have nothing of substance to offer. The reference to Klein denouncing Taft was particularly enlightening. Intelligent politicians can make their points without resorting to name calling–Lougheed clashed endlessly with Pierre Eliot Trudeau but never resorted to red baiting based on Trudeau’s long standing friendship with Castro–Klein couldn’t rebut Taft’s evidence-based critique of the PC austerity program so he resorted to making slanderous accusations. And here we are today, Kenney is using the same tactic; sadly his supporters are falling for it.
So what do we do?
The New Republic article says Conservatives could fit their core ideology on a single index card because “unlike most progressives, they appreciated that a movement can prosper only in symbiosis with a major party—and parties always translate their agendas into headlines and slogans [laissez-faire economics, big military, traditional values] and [were] composed mainly of white middle- and upper-class Christians [no fragmentation which blurred the message].”
The article concludes that the best solution for progressives may be “to build movements and nominate candidates who can speak in clear and rational ways about the need to build a decent society that mixes the creativity of the marketplace with the altruism of well-funded, well-run government programs and community and religious activism.”
Clarity and rationality is exactly what’s required…and people like Dr Gamble who have the courage to go into the lion’s den and ask questions Kenney et al don’t want to answer.
Jason reminds us daily that churlish chatter sells to the angry mob on the edge of society.
MISTER Pedant: I hope rational conservatives are in the majority and can see through Kenney’s red scare tactics. Some people say he’s just engaging in political “banter” but his divisive rhetoric is polarizing and dangerous in the long run, well even in the short run.
PS thank you for the editorial pointers, I’ve made the corrections.
The “communist label” is used reflexively now by Conservative Snowflakes, in response to any slight “violation” of the safe and insular spaces they need to inhabit. (edited)
Brunswick, your point picks up on the one made in the New Republic article referred to by Sam. It says that after WWII, “the right slowly put together a coalition united by a hatred of communism and a profound suspicion of where secular liberals were leading the nation and the “Free World.” What I find interesting is that the label is flung around today by people who have little, if any, understanding of what communism or socialism really is (as per Jerry’s comment below). I believe it’s exactly what you say, the label is used reflexively with no understanding of what it means in order to shut down further conversation (which would require an understanding of the issues and rational thought).
There is nothing truly socialist, let alone communist, about Alberta’s current NDP provincial government. They have not nationalized a single private sector business or industry, as a socialist government would do; in fact, the only nationalized retail business in Alberta, a publicly-owned financial institution (ATB Financial), was created back in the Social Credit era. They have made no moves towards abolishing private property, as communists would do. The carbon tax is a market-based incentive, not exactly a socialist concept.
Their policies are fairly mainstream and quite moderate, unless you’re the kind of red-meat, ultra-right-wing “Canadian Republican” that sees no legitimate role for government at all other than enforcing laws and imposing [a narrow view of] morality.
Sadly, Mr Kenney’s base, like Mr Trump’s, comprises the kind of rage machine that is impervious to arguments based on facts and evidence, and such wild, outrageous claims are raw meat to them.
Jerry, I agree with you. Peter Lougheed’s PCs were more socialistic than Notley’s NDP (a point Kenney and Jean avoid making when they evoke Lougheed as their guiding spirit). The fact that their supporters fail to recognize this demonstrates how the power of propaganda and how it can be used to polarize public opinion. When Kenney tells a newspaper reporter that someone who asked him a question at a town hall meeting is a communist he’s engaging in demagoguery which is the worst kind of propaganda.
My five year old son made a statement to me one day just after I voiced my opinion of another driver who had cut me off. He said>>>””Remember Dad, you are what you say””. I have never forgotten that comment he made some 40 years ago.
Perhaps Mr Kenny should have those words spoken to him.
Ed, I hope that thoughtful conservatives have as much sense as your five year old son when it comes time to vote in favour or against the merger. Your son’s comment “You are what you say” sums up Kenney and Jean in a nutshell. .
If I’m a communist because I consider myself a social democrat, then Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and Derek Fildebrandt should be referred to as “White Walkers” (similarity with “Game of Thrones” characters intended).
It’s ironic that Kenney purports to want to distance himself from and end “argy-bargy” in the legislature, but resorts to name-calling in public. If that’s not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.”
This makes me wonder what Kenney would have said if the professor had been a member of the LGBTQ community and had dared asked a question.
That’s a very good question Athabascan. I suspect Kenney’s reaction would have been similar to his reaction to Mike Morrison, travel writer, blogger and member of the LBGTQ community. Mike posted a tweet recently in which he said “For opposing him, @jkenney emailed his supporters calling me a radical activist. Now he’s calling this professor a communist. Scary stuff.”
J.E. the fact Kenney made the comment to a reporter for publication in the press makes me wonder whether the UCP merger vote is not going to be the spectacular success he’s been hoping for. The PCs 50% threshold is doable, but if the WR fall short of 75% Kenney and Jean will have inflicted serious damage on the WR party. Jean may recover but Kenney’s political future will be over.
I’d actually say the opposite. Jean has staked his whole career on the 75% for the Wildrose. If he doesn’t make it, his political career will be over and most of the Wildrose will move over to Kenney’s rebranded PC party (including many Wildrose MLA’s) which will likely make Kenney the next Premier and Brian will retire from politics (forcibly).
Roy R: I don’t agree that Kenney’s accusation that Dr Gamble is a communist is part of Kenney’s effort to stop the spread of communism because (1) Dr Gamble was asking legitimate questions of a political candidate who wants to become the premier of the province, and (2) Kenney’s reaction was the kind of thing an oppressive dictator would adopt.
You may be right that Jean will be punished by the WR if the members don’t meet the 75% threshold for merger, but this doesn’t necessarily mean Kenney will become premier because the WR and PC will not merge leaving the province with two conservative parties, not one.
The irony is that the Chinese economy has been going like gangbusters the past 20 years under communism. Calling somebody a communist now should be a codeword for hardworking and successful, etc. IMHO
Ronmac, wouldn’t that make a great town hall question? Also Kenney has repeatedly said social issues are of no concern to him so a good follow up question would be does he have any issues with China’s investment in the oilsands given China’s appalling human rights history?
When you really look at it, China hasn’t been true communism in a good long while – Deng saw to that. People are allowed to own homes, cars, businesses and they are allowed to save up for a rainy day; that is, in fact, expected. They also, surprisingly, don’t have “universal” health care – when my stepmother was visiting her father in China a few years back, the bed was paid for, as was the procedure, but she was responsible for doing all the caregiving that nurses are responsible for here.
Grace, your comment underlines the importance of getting the facts before we start throwing around pejorative labels. Thanks.
China was never a communist country I think. Just like Russia they were very much pure dictatorships run by MAFIAS. I think China less so but still very much a police state.
People in China never had any rights other than follow the line or perish. I experienced a communist system half Russian style and another half East German and it was to say the least appalling. Nothing in it had any value to me and nothing really made me understand what a communist system could be like. It was pure force and rule of the hammer. The sickle was for more extreme cases of disobedience. Just a bizarre true distortion of human values and human rights.
Calling China Communist now just does not make any sense. If anything China is the great representation of cowboy capitalism with a Central Committee.
Kenney makes a valid point about the recent insurgence of communism in Alberta. Look at Rod Loyola, NDP MLA who was formerly a member of the communist party for example. We need to take heed before it is too late to change back the culture of this province to what has made it successful, which certainly is not communism.
My goodness your post sounds like McCarthyism.
‘We need to take heed before it is too late to change back the culture of this province to what has made it successful..’
Change it back to what exactly and from what? The province has been the domain of the PC party for 43 years and the NDP took over 2 years ago and has changed almost nothing other than a tax rate from 10% to 12% and implemented a carbon tax and you are already fearful of a communist take over?
It does not surprise me that Jason Kenney made a point to suggest recent insurgence of communism in Alberta because the man is so far right and such a market fundamentalist that anything 1 degree off to the left is communism.
My concern is of an Idiocracy which is what Jason Kenney will bring to Alberta if he gets elected.
Well said Carlos. The problem with propaganda in a liberal democracy is that we don’t recognize it when we see it and therefore don’t realize we’re being manipulated. Using the Kenney/Dr Gamble exchange as an example, when Kenney called Dr Gamble a “communist” his supporters stopped thinking rationally (what are the answers to Dr Gamble’s questions? why won’t Kenney answer them?) and reacted emotionally (Kenney said Dr Gamble is a communist, therefore he’s a communist and his concerns are of no consequence and can be ignored).
Democracy is in trouble when politicians feel they can safely ignore or denigrate citizens who ask legitimate questions.
You are absolutely right Susan. We still live in a democracy and so I will use all the opportunities to get rid of this garbage – propaganda copied from the Nazis.
These people will not win.
This is ridiculous and it clearly defines the non-character of this individual who to me is way more dangerous than the real communists.
By the way for those who read this blog Communist Parties are everywhere in Europe and they participate sometimes in coalition governments. They are not a disease and they have the same right to a democratic process as Jason’s lunatic party does. Calling people Communists as a synonym to derailed is to say the least disrespectful. If Jason thinks that only communists have damaged countries around the world he should visit those that have been governed by idiots like him
Roy R., then you agree with Mr. Kenney that words don’t mean anything, and have little value except as weapons to be used against your opponents. How are we going to have a civil discussion of the important issues that affect Albertans when people are unable to learn the basic definitions of words?
Here, I’ll start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communism
Thanks for the link Morbeau. It’s always a good idea to know what we’re talking about before we go galloping off in all directions. The other definition that would be helpful here is “socialism” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism
I really hate all of the things 75% of the potential UCP candidates have been saying lately.Doug seems to be the only potential UCP candidate that does not say something outrageous or awful 99.9% of the time. A lot of the people that support unity don’t seem to recognize that a lot of the people that do not support unity don’t want to support because the people promoting it are really awful, hate the idea of a united conservative party in general or feel that the UCP represents the return of the old corrupt AB PC’s.
Good point Mohamed. I predict an increase in divisive rhetoric if the unity vote succeeds this weekend. It looks like Jean is trying to position himself as a centrist candidate (recently he said Albertans don’t want a hard right government), Kenney dismissed Jean’s comment saying Jean shouldn’t fall into the trap of using the language of the left (whatever that means), and Fildebrandt is sending up trial balloons to gauge support for his own run. I would agree with your assessment, Doug Schweitzer seems the least outrageous of the bunch.
He tweeted he would get rid of two regulations for each new one put in place. That apparently is exactly what the UK Conservatives have been doing.
It’s a silly idea in the first place, and he had the bad timing to tweet it soon after the Grenfell Tower fire.
I’m talking about Doug Schweitzer.
I just wanted to thank you for this post; I greatly appreciate your support and am grateful you brought this story to a wider audience.
Jay, you are very welcome. THANK YOU for attending Jason Kenney’s town hall meeting, standing up in that crowd and asking the questions that need to be asked. That took real courage.
“Mr Kenney is an experienced politician. He has held many key federal portfolios including Immigration and National Defence. He’s represented Canada around the world.”
No doubt, though it makes one feel a bit sick, no?
Yes, GoinFawr, it does…and just wait until the UCP leadership race is over…then we’ll have the true measure of the man.
If they reunite he will get rid of Brian Jean. I have no doubts. We just have to wait.
GoinFaw – it is indeed very sick. If they reunite the parties I will keep watch to see if I can go to a couple of sessions to ask real questions. I know exactly what will happen but I can try anyway
I was looking at an anti-Islam twitter & they had a photo of Justin Trudeau in the Halifax Pride parade – he and others had a fist raised. Someone on twitter asked what that was about and someone else said it was the communism salute.
I think it’s for solidarity. According to news reports it was during a moment of silence. http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1488434-trudeau%E2%80%99s-pink-shirted-stroll-a-hit-at-sunny-30th-halifax-pride-event
But you know, reds under the beds, etc.
Val you’re so right. I fear the “reds under the beds” thing is going to get a whole lot worse in the runup to the next election, both here in Alberta and federally. People have to learn to think about what they’re told before they jump to unfounded conclusions.