We’ve been so focused on Jason Kenney’s public rhetoric that we didn’t see him transform the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose MLAs into a bunch of hush puppies ready to recite whatever speaking notes he gives them.
The transformation took less than two years. This probably says more about the integrity of these MLAs than the persuasive skills of their leader.
But it’s all there in Hansard.
Members’ Statements are part of the daily business of the House. They come after Question Period and give Opposition MLAs a chance to make speeches attacking the government or highlighting an issue in their constituency. Government MLAs use Members’ Statements to support government policies and criticize the Opposition.
A review of the Members’ Statements* made by PC and WR MLAs reflects how Mr Kenney shifted the narrative when he took over the PCs, merged them with WR and transformed them into something completely unrecognizable.
It’s like reading someone’s diary as they pass through three of the five stages of death: denial, bargaining, and acceptance. Some conservative MLAs may have experienced anger and depression as well but likely chose not to share their pain in public.
A self-respecting Lougheed conservative would bailed at stage one but many ambitious conservatives rode the wave all the way to stage five.
Before Mr Kenney dropped into the Alberta political scene the narrative of Brian Jean’s WR and Ric McIver’s PCs was the battle of the grass roots vs the centralized elite.
The WR said the PCs had no one but themselves to blame for their downfall, citing the PC’s belief in command-and-control centralized thinking—right down to deciding who would be allowed to run for the party and where. The WR said unlike the PCs they were a member-driven party where the ideas of the grassroots mattered more than the elite.
The PCs responded that one loss in 44 years wasn’t the end of the party and they were the only party with a solid fiscal policy and a caring social policy. They said they were elected to give their constituents a voice and ensure their concerns were heard “loud and clear by the government.”
Members’ Statements reflected this narrative as the WR and PCs berated the government for the carbon tax, its energy policies, and the growing deficit while at the same time demanding the government increase spending in their own ridings for more schools, hospitals, long term care facilities and police.
A week after Mr Kenney became the leader of the PC party but before the two parties merged, a WR MLA (Drew Barnes) added a new thread to the conservative narrative: not only was Alberta stuck with a carbon tax, it was paying “obscene equalization payments” to Ontario and Quebec. The equalization rip-off narrative was new and jacked the conservative fight up to the federal level.
Previously the PCs and WR used the feds to undermine the Notley government at home, claiming Notley was in cahoots with Trudeau and the two of them secretly wanted to kill the energy industry, or that Trudeau had duped Notley into believing her carbon levy to buy the NDP social license.
Now they argued Alberta was being “beaten up by the BC NDP, the Trudeau Liberals and the Mayor of Montreal.” The entire country was against us, what ingrates!
Members’ Statements that once focused on the NDP’s failure to address local issues turned into personal attacks on Justin Trudeau.
Mr Yao who had previously used Members’ Statements to push for more seniors housing in Fort McMurray and praise social workers and ambulance drivers said the only thing the federal government was good for was grooming tips.
Mr Panda who discussed everything from the Calgary Veterans Food Bank, emergency dispatch, unemployment, the importance of being a friend to First Nations, and the fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline railed on about the negative impact Trudeau’s “disastrous trip” to India had on Canada-India relations.
Attacks on NDP policies included a Trudeau element whether they were criticisms of the Notley government’s plan to conserve caribou habitats or the need for stable funding for agricultural societies.
Conspiracy theories and muddled jurisdiction
It wasn’t long before the UCP MLAs uncovered a conspiracy to kill the energy industry.
Mr Panda alleged that environmentalists who were preventing Alberta from developing its “God-given natural resources” were hysterical ideologues bankrolled by their American sugar daddies.
Mr Yao praised a “good Canadian patriot” (who Mr Kenney identified in speeches as Vivian Krause) for releasing information purporting to show Canada was being attacked by US groups funding environmentalists in order to protect the American energy industry, not the environment.
The fact the we live in a province within a federation and are subject to the division of powers set out in the Constitution Act soon became irrelevant.
Mr McIver ignored the distinction between provincial and federal jurisdiction and blamed the Notley government for allowing Northern Gateway and Energy East to be cancelled “under the NDP’s watch”. This makes as much sense as saying the pipelines were cancelled under the Pope’s watch because federal pipelines do not fall under provincial or papal jurisdiction.
Jason Kenney entered the Legislature in March 2018 as the Leader of the Official Opposition. The number of wacko Members’ Statements increased dramatically.
UCP MLAs squandered their air time with odes to their dear leader. Mr Barnes made a golly-gee speech about “a guy in a blue pickup” who came to town to talk about uniting common-sense and free-market Albertans, and guess what, average Albertans listened. Mr Stier described Mr Kenney as a “humble conservative statesman” committed to servant leadership. Mr McIver praised Mr Kenney’s “wise counsel” which was freely given even when the NDP rejected it because “that is the true mark of a leader.”
Some UCP MLAs (literally) took a page out of Mr Kenney’s speaking notes. Ms Pitt urged Albertans to heed “notable Canadians” like Rex Murphy (a newspaper columnist) and Vivian Krause (a conspiracy theorist) who want us to stop being a “soft target” and “fight back against foreign meddling with our energy industry”.
Ms Pitt came in handy when former UCP MLA Mr Fildebrandt denounced the UCP after Mr Kenney refused to let him rejoin the party for failing to disclose wildlife charges (he’d shot a deer on private property). Ms Pitt, who usually talks about mental health initiatives and food banks in Airdrie and underfunded schools in Rockyview, told the Assembly that certain rules applied in hunting season and it was unacceptable not to know you needed permission to hunt on private land.
She also propped up Mr Kenney’s reputation when necessary, assuring the Assembly that Rona Ambrose knew Mr Kenney well and “is confident he supports women” and “makes decisions on merit not tokenism.”
Ironically, the only topic not mentioned in any UCP Members’ Statements is their unwavering belief in the grassroots guarantee. Notwithstanding the WR’s conviction that it was a grassroots members-driven party, the only WR MLA to mention the grassroots after Mr Kenney took the helm was Mr Fildebrandt who said he’d been barred from running in his own riding because of “affirmative action gender quotas”, he’d kept quiet and did what he was told and allowed “scheming backroom operators to dictate [his] behavior as they are now dictating others”.
Mr Fildebrandt said, “Unity was conditional on the grassroots guarantee. What happened?”
What happened dear boy was this: The grassroots guarantee served its purpose. It convinced the WR to merge with the PCs into the UCP. The UCP is a command-and-control-top-down-driven party and its leader tossed the grassroots guarantee into the graveyard of spent political slogans.
The PCs and the WR were duped by Mr Kenney’s narrative. They can accept this and fall into line or they can do what any self respecting Lougheed conservative would do—get out.
*All references to the PC, WR and UCP narratives come from the MLAs’ Members’ Statements as recorded in Hansard from June 2015 to Dec 2018.