A Shakespearean Analysis of Jason Kenney

How many books and articles have we read about the rise of Donald Trump in America, Doug Ford in Ontario and Jason Kenney in Alberta?

How many more historians, political scientists and armchair experts do we need to tell us how we got into this mess and how to get out of it?

Only one it turns out—his name is William Shakespeare.

Tyrant, Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt is a remarkable book about a remarkable playwright who tackled the rise of tyranny at a time when it was treasonous to refer to a ruler as a tyrant.

William Shakespeare 1564 to 1616 English poet and dramatist engraved by Samuel Cousins after a painting attributed to Joseph Taylor

The Bard

To be clear, Ms Soapbox is not suggesting Jason Kenney is Richard III writ small, only that Shakespeare’s insight into the rise of ruthless politicians in troubled times is still relevant today.

The black storm

The villain in Shakespeare’s plays is often a cunning nobleman determined to become king by doing away with his rivals.  This requires the nobleman to unleash what the Duke of York describes as a “black storm” to enflame the public, making it ripe for manipulation.

Alberta’s version of the “black storm” is a faux political crisis—we’re victims, we’re suckers, we’ve been used and abused by the other provinces and the federal government which is particularly devious by pretending to support pipelines while actually hating them and manipulating Harper’s equalization formula to rip us off (insert Alex Jones rant here).

Albertans are desperately trying to make decisions under what Greenblatt describes as “unbearable pressure…conditioned by emotional currents beyond their rational control.”

In other words, they’re being manipulated by a big fat lie.

Kenney ratchets up the “black storm” with a laundry list of Trudeau transgressions, everything from the border “crisis” to Trudeau’s apparel on his last trip to India, in an effort to cement his role as savior of the province.

Albertans are angry, some want to separate from Canada.  This is beyond ridiculous.  The last thing Kenney would do is let Alberta leave Canada and jeopardize his chances of becoming Canada’s next prime minister, but hey, Alberta separatism fuels Alberta rage, right?

Like the Duke of York, Kenney is happy to let others do the dirty work, some like John Carpay compare the Pride flag to a Nazi flag and launch lawsuits characterizing gay-straight alliances as “ideological sex clubs”.  Kenney issues mild rebukes and Carpay continues to hold his UCP membership.

The enablers

Greenblatt asks why people are drawn to leaders unfit to govern.  He examines why “evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty” isn’t a fatal disadvantage but a lure, attracting ardent followers.

Greenblatt calls these supporters “enablers”.

Some are dupes and victims, too small to play a significant role in politics.  In Alberta many of them are our neighbours who are so busy earning a living and raising their families they “don’t have time” for politics.

Others don’t believe the tyrant is as bad as he seems, trusting that at the end of the day things will revert to normal.  They believe there will be “enough adults in the room to ensure promises will be kept, alliances honored and core institutions respected”.  In Kenney’s case they’re blind to the fact that his trusted advisors are in a bunch of sycophants who march out of debates en masse rather than risk offending their leader and that Kenney is on record saying he, like Doug Ford, would invoke the “notwithstanding clause” to suspend Albertans’ Charter rights in the appropriate circumstances (leaving us to speculate what those circumstances might be).

Greenblatt says some supporters simply lose focus and provides the example of Richard III.  “They know he’s a pathological liar and he’s done this or that ghastly thing, but they have a strange penchant for forgetting, as if it were hard work to remember just how awful he is”.  Greenblatt’s reference to “ghastly things” reminds us of Kenney’s proud description of the role he played in defeating a proposition that would have granted same-sex couples hospital visitation rights at during the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.  In 1992 AIDS became the number one killer of American men between the ages of 25 to 44.  Instead of excusing Kenney’s “ghastly” behavior by saying he’s evolved, Kenney’s supporters should have demanded he beg the LBGTQ community for forgiveness.

Some of Richard III’s supporters expected to get rich from his rise to power, convinced they could stay one step ahead of him along the way.  This is the only possible explanation for Kenney supporters who stand by him because he promises economic prosperity notwithstanding his shameful record on pro-choice and LGBTQ rights.  Apparently, the promise of tax cuts is sufficient to justify what Greenblatt calls taking a “moral vacation”.

Finally, there’s the hoi polloi who carry out a tyrant’s orders simply because they enjoy “the cruel game of making his targets suffer…”  The viciousness of Kenney’s supporters’ attacks on Sandra Jansen and Rachel Notley springs to mind.

What’s it going to be?

Shakespeare pulls no punches when he describes what happens when a tyrant ascends to the throne.

Everything descends into chaos.

The tyrant is wary and suspicious.  Fearing traitors and double-crossers he surrounds himself with “fat, sleek-headed” sycophants who are of no use to him.  He’s restless and prone to failure because he lacks the diplomacy and administrative skills to govern well.  His promise to unite the country goes up in smoke because the public, polarized by his rhetoric, sees no reason to cooperate to make things better.

But all is not lost.

Despite this bleak prognosis, Shakespeare believed in “the sheer unpredictability of collective life, its refusal to march lockstep to any one person’s order.  He thought “the best chance for the recovery of collective decency lay…in the political action of ordinary citizens.”

Which brings us back to where we started.

Albertans are not subjects of the realm but citizens free to vote on how our story will unfold.  We can choose a politician who inflames our fears or we can choose a politician who cares about all Albertans regardless of where they come from, who they worship and who they love.

Chaos or caring government.

I know what Shakespeare would advise.

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24 Responses to A Shakespearean Analysis of Jason Kenney

  1. John McWilliams says:

    A great – and chilling- analysis.

    • Thanks John, in a way it’s almost reassuring to know that political skullduggery has been around for centuries. If we were able to claw our way out of it then, we should be able to claw our way out of it now.

  2. ed henderson says:

    We have been sucked into believing that the only politicians that count are the leaders like Mr Kenny, Ms Notley and Mr Trudeau. What is really vital but completely ignored is that each ridings candidate is actually the important person to those living in the riding. Ask anyone walking down the street who they voted for and you get the answer..”I voted PC or NDP or Liberal or the newbe on the scene but in reality old hat, the UCP”. This is wrong because it gives the party the power over the elected candidate.
    Kenny thrives on this power we stupidly give him. If your elected rep does not toe the line but tries to look after the interests of their constituents, they will be turfed and a new puppet who will dance to Kenny’s tune put in place who does not give a tinkers dam about anything in the riding and absolutely the only thing of concern to the leader of any of the political parties is the power given to them by the political party.

    • Ed, you raise some very important points, ones that many political scientists would agree with.
      One academic says it’s “naive” to believe it’s better to have a “strong leader” who dominates Cabinet and the party than a collegial leader who takes the time to get the input from the diverse and talented representatives who surround him.
      The UCP is an extreme example of the belief that a “strong leader” can do no wrong (remember Kenney’s comment that notwithstanding the policy convention he “holds the pen” on policy and the remarkable “coincidence” that resulted in ALL of the UCP MLAs marching out of the debate on expanding the bubble zone around abortion clinics).
      Notley is not as heavy handed. When the independent committee presented its recommendations on the new redrawn electoral boundaries a number of NDP MLAs went against the government and argued along side of the UCP, AP and independent MLAs who were concerned some of the rural electoral districts were too large.

  3. Frances Wright says:

    Excellent! Simply superb!!

  4. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. I have some comments to make regarding these leaders, immigration, and the separation issue. First of all, Jason Kenney is a blatant hypocrite. He was the Minister of Immigration, under Stephen Harper’s CPC government, when someone slipped through the cracks. That person was responsible for the tragic van attack in Edmonton. Second, what was Jason Kenney doing in India? He is an Opposition leader in the Alberta government. What was his purpose there? He was acting like he was going to be the premier, and wanted some type of future business dealings, which makes no sense whatsoever. Immigration in Canada does not work like many people believe it does. Sure, the odd person might slip through the cracks, but for the most part, there is a stringent process involved with coming to Canada. Where in Canada are all these illegal immigrants, that many people are talking about? Chris Alexander, another one of Stephen Harper’s Immigration Ministers, in the CPC, was quick to call out Andrew Scheer’s lies and misconceptions about how immigration works in Canada. The U.N migrant compact is another misunderstood thing by many Canadians. Again, these people twist and misinterpret the facts, to mislead and put unneeded fear into others. What does not help in any way either is certain “journalists” on YouTube, giving their twisted narrative about immigration. You pretty much can figure out who I’m talking about. With Alberta separating, that ship has already sailed, in metaphorical terms. Logically speaking, Alberta cannot separate. There are multiple obstacles. First of all, what will Alberta do to deal with shipping issues, as it is landlocked? We are not New Jersey, which does have agriculture, industry and oil, but is located near a very large body of water, called the Atlantic Ocean. Second, there are different things that were under federal control. How will these things get replaced? Our postal service, our Employment Insurance, our federal pension, (CPP), our money, our federal police force, (the R.C.M.P), passports, and our armed forces all will need to be replaced. The quality of our oil in Alberta, is of a poorer grade, and can’t compete with what Saudi Arabia and America have been supplying. Lastly, there is one other group that are under federal administration. The First Nations. There is no way they will support Alberta separating. Long before we had the Canada we have currently, there were treaties signed. They can’t be compromised. Also what else if fueling this is certain media outlets, like The Sun. Their columnists and letter writers are so off base. One staffer of Rachel Notley, who has previous media experience, took a Sun columnist to task over their obvious bias to favouring the UCP. With Doug Ford, he is a bully and also a hypocrite. First of all, he has revenge motives, to try and silence his critics. These lead to very costly lawsuits, (which have revenge as their motive), and then when these hit a proverbial brick wall, Doug Ford uses the Notwithstanding Clause to try and get his way. That’s not what the clause was originally intended for. Then, Doug Ford has wasted money on Ontario News Now. What is the benefit of this? It’s a one sided media outlet, and nothing more. Also, Doug Ford lost Ontario $3 billion by scrapping the cap and trade program. The hypocrisy is that Doug Ford has slammed Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals, for being fiscally reckless, but he is not fiscally prudent. In just a few short months, Doug Ford has racked up some pricey bills. If past and present Conservative politicians in Canada disagree with what Doug Ford has been doing, there is something wrong. People think that Doug Ford will have one term. The good Tory (PC) governments in Ontario ended in the 1980s. Once the 1990s started, the Tory (PC) governments in Ontario turned very nasty, and it is many years, before they get reelected. Donald Trump also has issues and I cannot see him lasting that long either. With this migrant issue from Latin America, it stems from the U.S government’s policies over many, many years. Donald Trump wants to reject the people from coming to America, from Latin American countries, when it is the U.S government that helped cause the problems in Latin America (as well as in the Middle East and in South America), to begin with. That’s not right.
    I’ll try and see if I can get back on Twitter. It’s been around 6 months since my account started having issues.
    Hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

    • Dwayne, thanks for the link, I was able to pull up the article by typing it into Google. Very good article which points out the US bears much responsibility for the immigration crisis given it helped set up dictatorships in Central America; undermined efforts to establish democracies there, and created the conditions for cartels and gangs. Then the US tries to prevent entry by legitimate refugees and asylum seekers because they’re criminals. There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy going around.
      I agree with your comments, especially the lunacy of Alberta separation. I saw a comment on Twitter where an Alberta separatist said Alberta would prevent the rest of the country from flying in its airspace and crossing its borders. Just how are we going to do that? Shoot down planes that cross into our airspace? With whose military? And who’s going to pay the increased taxes that will be required to pay for all the things we get from the feds? Are we going to create our own money? More Klein bills?
      These people have lost the ability to form rational thoughts.

  5. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Here is the proper link. There was a typo in the other link.

    • Dwayne says:

      Another typo, somehow, with the link. Susan, you may have to try typing it yourself. It is a good read. Sorry that I could not get the link properly put in. Hope you can get it to work.

  6. Jim Lees says:

    Another fine, informative post Susan, thanks. On another topic, I was very surprised to hear Quebec got $13B in balance of payments during the most recent year reported, not sure if that is 2018 or 2017. Anyway, I’m surprised, and confused, on how balance of payments work….is this a topic you might consider covering from the soapbox one day? I would sure appreciate hearing your insight and explanation of what is for me a very sore point! All the best for XMas and the Holidays! Cheers, Jim

    Sent from my iPad


    • Jim, I think that’s Kenney’s intention, to make us so confused about how equalization works that we’ll just believe whatever he says.
      I like your suggestion of doing a blog on this topic and need to look into it further, one thing I do know is Quebec’s provincial tax rate is much higher than the rest of the country and they have a provincial sales tax, so this reduces how much money Quebec residents send to Ottawa which in turn impacts whether Quebec is defined as a “have” or “have-not” province according to the equalization formula.

  7. Beck McGrath says:

    Can we appoint a commission to check nearby towers for 2 young princes?

    Great take, as usual.

  8. graham mcfarlane says:

    One can only hope that Ford, Kenney, et al will soon be echoing Trump’s cry, “A horse, a horse, all my hotels for a horse!” (maybe I’m dreaming)


  9. Jason Valliere says:

    That is A GREAT story!

  10. David says:

    It is a tried and true campaign strategy of demagogues everywhere – demonize someone outside of your community and whip up people into a frenzy of anger preferably right before the election. It helps if there is already some historical antipathy or dislike and perhaps it also helps if the local media is weakened and/or goes along with this fairly uncritically.

    It might seem that Kenney is again running against the Federal government, but the truth is after decades in Federal politics, I don’t think he ever really stopped. Yes, he has temporarily relocated to Alberta, when it was clear his Federal leadership aspirations would have to be deferred, but I think he still really wants to play on the Federal scene. Therefore, this might seem like a no risk strategy for him right now – the Federal Liberals are unlikely to lose the next election because of a few seats in Alberta and after Scheer is gone, Kenney can come back to Ottawa and tell the Federal Conservative elite how hard he fought against the Federal Liberals.

    Of course, his path to Federal power is largely based on him winning in the Alberta election. If he falls short there, he can probably kiss his Federal aspirations goodbye. Perhaps that is why he seems so desperate and overreaching at times in his attacks against the Federal Liberals. Perhaps the over the top rhetoric might help distract voters from the fact he does not seem as interested in or as passionate about most provincial issues, you know the ones the Government of Alberta can actually do something about and he disappears when contentious issues come up or come to a vote.

    Its easy to pummel your political enemies, especially if they are far away and they have a lot of political baggage. However, stirring up anger is easier than looking at the problems realistically and coming up with real solutions. If you ask Kenney how he would get a pipeline built, his answers are basically a rehashed version of the previous Federal Conservative Harper’s policy – you know the previous Federal government, that also did not get any any of these three major Canadian pipeline projects built, despite being in power for over 10 years.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      The Harper Government – ten lost years of nothing. Conservatives seem so proud of it. Not sure about what.
      He muzzled scientists
      He muzzled journalists
      He controlled everything that was said in public by his ministers
      He never built a pipeline
      Never did anything for Health Care. Not even destroy it like he suggested he would do
      Represented us abroad as if he had had surgery to fuse is non smile with the spine
      Never made a good speech
      Never did anything for the environment
      Never did anything that mattered to our common lives
      Never created anything new or interesting
      Never had a surplus despite being an economist that for years despised the progressive in power.
      Now to crown his achievements, he is a supporter of Victor Orban, the new dictator in Hungary.
      Gosh even our Bolywood Prime minister has done more so far. At least we have legalized Marijuana to keep us entertained. 🙂
      Seriously what is the big deal about Harper? Who actually liked him? Jason Kenney maybe? He was 10 years in power because the Liberals refused to bring him down. They were as disjointed and leaderless.

      • Carlos, thanks for the list of Harper’s (non)accomplishments. We had a very narrow escape when you consider the way Harper attacked the media, science and the facts–he also did away with the long form census which meant we couldn’t compare how the nation was doing with how we’d done in the past.
        Harper curtailed the role of science and the media in government and we hardly realized it was happening until it was over. When Trump pulled the same stunt in the US scientists and journalists went nuts which made it more difficult for him to succeed. This is a lesson we must take to heart so we can be ready if and when a future prime minister or premier tries to do the same thing.
        PS You’re right, legalized marijuana will keep us amused as we move into the next election cycle 🙂

    • David, I agree 100% with your take on Kenney’s strategy: win Alberta and then ride the wave into Ottawa to show them how it’s really done.
      As you said, if Kenney fails here he’s done. I’d argue if he gets anything less than a resounding majority he’s finished because he’s always said the NDP were an “accidental government” and Albertans didn’t vote FOR the NDP, they voted AGAINST the PCs who were not true blue conservatives and the WR who were too extreme. Now that he’s taken over the PCs and the WR he will be offering Albertans the conservative alternative they are thirsting for and as a result he should be able to take Alberta with a huge majority. That’s why it’s so important for us to support the progressive choices, every seat Kenney loses weakens him and lessens his chances of making it to Ottawa (and if we play this right, Edmonton). Wouldn’t it be nice to be rid of Kenney once and for all (please note I’m not saying this in the same way that Richard III said it when he was talking to one of his supporters about the little princes :))

  11. Rose says:

    My knowledge of politics is limited, however, I do come by here to read your blog and absorb what I can. Great story and a big welcome to Rudy on his first Christmas. Happy Holidays to all.

    • Rose, I suspect you’re like our mother when it comes to politics, she understood human nature, consequently she understood politics.
      Thanks for continuing to support the Soapbox, I really appreciate it!
      Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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