On Sunday afternoon Mr and Ms Soapbox were jammed into an overheated community hall listening to five politicians explain why they were the best choice to represent the good citizens of Calgary-Lougheed in the by-election triggered when Dave Rodney stepped down to give UCP leader Jason Kenney a seat in the Legislature.
The media characterized the debate among Mr Kenney, Dr Philip van der Merwe (Dr Phil, NDP), Romy Tittel (Green Party), Wayne Leslie (Independent, Alberta Advantage Party) and David Khan (Liberal) as “boisterous”.
That’s wrong. The event wasn’t “boisterous”, it wasn’t even a “debate”, it was a Kenney “rally” intent on heckling and jeering the NDP candidate to the point where we couldn’t hear him speak over the din.
This is deeply disturbing. The purpose of political debates is to give candidates a chance to explain their policies, but perhaps heckling is all we can expect from Mr Kenney who prides himself on having no policies whatsoever.
What they said
Kenney blamed the NDP for ruining the economy with “job-killing” tax increases. He promised to fix the economy by killing the carbon tax (which he said did nothing for pipeline approvals), renewing the Alberta Advantage, reigniting the economy and creating new jobs. We have no idea how he will achieve this because he provided no details.
Dr Phil said the NDP’s policies supported Albertans through the recession and pushed Alberta ahead of the rest of the country in GDP growth. He outlined the benefits of the climate leadership plan and said Kenney’s plan to cut spending by 20% would gut education and healthcare.
Khan said the Liberals were the moderate alternative to the extreme left (NDP) and extreme right (UCP) and promised “comprehensive tax reform” to balance the budget (is this code for a sales tax?)
Tittel reaffirmed the Green party’s support for proportional representation and suggested Alberta could turn its attention to “intellectual extraction” whereby its young, well educated work force would focus on artificial intelligence and science and technology to tackle environmental problems at home and abroad.
Leslie said he represented the grassroots and urged the implementation of recall legislation to hold MLAs accountable to their constituents.
Kenney and the hecklers
Kenney and his hecklers focused all their attention on Dr Phil. He took Dr Phil to task over a number of comments:
- Kenny denied he ever said the UCP would cut spending by 20%. He promised to balance the budget by 2022 by holding spending to zero or perhaps cutting it by one or two percent. Kenney is on record saying he’d exercise “a period of sustained restraint in spending…to get [Alberta] down to more or less [BC’s] per capita spending”…“BC spends about 20 per cent less than Alberta per capita.” Lord only knows whether his 2% maximum spending cuts are doable given his refusal to put out a shadow budget.
- Kenney said climate change is real, it’s caused by man, and greenhouse gases need to be reduced, but he won’t impose economic costs on Alberta industries unless other jurisdictions do so first. If this is true Kenney is a hypocrite because he’s allowing his MLAs, particularly Don MacIntyre, Drew Barnes, and Rick Strankman, to express contrary views.
- He dismissed the NDP claim that he oversaw six deficit budgets while in Harper’s government by blaming it on the recession but rejected the NDP’s position that they are running a deficit budget because of the recession caused by slumping oil prices and the legacy of the PC’s austerity plan.
- He rejected the NDP’s claim that the carbon tax is funding Calgary’s Green Line with the bizarre argument that he provided billions for the Green Line when he was in the federal government and didn’t need a carbon tax to do it. The federal government’s promise to deliver funding in 2015 does not diminish the fact that Notley delivered provincial funding from carbon tax revenues in 2017. These are two separate buckets of funding.
- He said Dr Phil called him an extremist and said 70% of the voters elected Kenney every time he ran for office, therefore Dr Phil must be calling 70% of the voters extremists. This is a perfect example of how Kenney riles up his supporters with lies. Dr Phil said Kenney’s spending cuts were extreme, not that Kenney was an extremist. Also, Kenney did not get 70% of the votes every time he ran for office: in 1997 he got 55%, in 2000 he got 63% and in 2015 he got 67%.
The erosion of democracy
Candidates debates are a fundamental part of the democratic process, but only when the candidates respect the rules.
The debate organizers made numerous attempts to stop the heckling and booing but failed. Instead of stepping in to quiet the hecklers, Kenney let his supporters run roughshod over the process.
The heckling bordered on intimidation and came to a head when a UCP supporter blocked NDP MLA Sandra Jansen twice as she moved about the hall. The heckler posted a video of his actions on social media where it was lauded by others who called Ms Jansen vile names.
And no, Ms Soapbox isn’t being overly sensitive. In the last few weeks Kenney and the UCP have taken civil discourse to a new Trump-like low. They’ve said socialists eat dogs, marijuana leads to communism and Pinochet’s reign of terror was “a success story”.
The Pinochet example is particularly egregious given the UCP’s attempt to confuse the public by posting a draft version of Hansard which did not include UCP MLA Strankman’s “success story” comment as evidence that Strankman did not say what the NDP said he said. Surely after all his years in Harper’s cabinet, Kenney knows the draft version of Hansard does not become the official transcript of what was said in the House until it’s been checked against the video and audio recordings. (The veracity of the official version of Hansard is why lawyers use it as evidence of Parliament’s intention when the meaning of a particular piece of legislation is in dispute).
When they go low…
Kenney says he’s going to correct the record and tell the truth when the NDP lie about UCP policies.
Given the performance of the UCP leader, his MLAs, and his supporters over the last few months I say we do this for ourselves…
…and when they go low, we get the facts and hold Mr Kenney, his MLAs and his supporters accountable for their misrepresentations and lies.