Not a week goes by without Jason Kenney saying something stupid, being called on it, and then saying something even more stupid in a failed attempt to silence his critics.
This week’s clunker came in response to a question about Mr Kenney’s progress in attracting female candidates to run for the party. He said:
“I do recognize that very typically women candidates who are running for nomination for the first time are running against guys that have been running for years or decades and have a network and understand tactical politics a little bit better, than women who are usually doing more useful things like professions and running businesses and helping with families,”
Mr Kenney’s comment drew significant criticism. Premier Notley said it demonstrated “an unprecedented level of condescension”. Druh Farrell, a seven-term city councillor, invited the gents “to mansplain ‘tactical politics’” to her, and others described the comment as problematic and very old school.
Kenney dismissed the criticism by calling his critics the “left wing anger machine” and saying Albertans expect “a more serious conversation” on these issues.
What did he say?
There are two positions on the table: Mr Kenney says his comment was reasonable and it’s been distorted by the “left wing anger machine.” His critics say his comment was classic mansplaining (a man explaining something on behalf of women, to women, and getting it wrong) and condescending.
One way to determine who’s right is to take a careful look at Mr Kenney’s words.
Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times, and author of Enough Said, says words matter in politics, especially when they’re used by a skillful politician to deliver a message to their target audience.
Bearing this in mind, what message did Mr Kenney’s words convey?
- I recognize a problem
- The problem is first-time female candidates fail because they’re competing with experienced male candidates
- Experienced male candidates have a network and understand “tactical politics” better than first-time female candidates
- This is because first-time female candidates are doing “more useful things” like professions, running businesses and helping with families.
What Mr Kenney didn’t explain was:
- what “tactical politics” means (we assume it’s not hijacking the on-line voting process, running kamikaze candidates to take out the competition, funding campaigns with illegal campaign contributions, or slipping through the “rigorous” UCP vetting process only to be disqualified later for making homophobic, sexist, racist and/or Islamophobic comments)
- why he’s comparing first-time female candidates with experienced male candidates when the appropriate apples-to-apples comparison would be first-time female candidates with first-time male candidates
- why male candidates understand “tactical politics” better than first-time female candidates
- why male candidates are not disadvantaged by engaging in “more useful things” like professions, running businesses and helping with families but first-time female candidates are
- what Mr Kenney is doing to attract first-time female candidates other directing them to the “She Leads” program co-sponsored by former federal MP Rona Ambrose and Laureen Harper who has never held political office but happens to be married to Stephen Harper
- and the $64 million question: why the lack of female candidates is a problem for the UCP but not a problem for the NDP who have a female leader, gender parity in Cabinet and are running with a candidate slate that is more than 50% female
When you strip away the bafflegab, what Mr Kenney really said was: I care, I really do, but it’s the first-time female candidates’ fault they don’t understand “tactical politics” and they should contact Rona Ambrose and sort themselves out because it has nothing to do with me.
If Mr Kenney had any respect for Ms Ambrose, he’d know she attributes the lack of gender parity in politics to two things: women lack self confidence and they refuse to put up with the toxic sexism that makes it extremely difficult for them to get on the ballot, win a seat and land a Cabinet post. A lack of “tactical politics” has nothing to do with it.
Mr Kenney was asked to respond to the public’s negative reaction to his “tactical politics” comment. He attributed the furor to the “left wing anger machine” and scolded the journalist for asking him the question–her colleagues didn’t question it when he first said it, why was she raising it now?
This is as troubling as Mr Kenney’s original comment (and a good example of Mr Kenney justifying a stupid statement by something even more stupid).
By attributing the criticism to wacko lefties Kenney is further polarizing the political sphere.
More importantly, he’s reinforcing a message he’s delivered before: he expects journalists to be scribes recording and presenting his comments to the public; not professionals who will analyse what he’s said and ask him to explain himself when he says something offensive.
Mr Kenney also said Albertans expect a more serious conversation on these issues. In this he’s right, Albertans deserve an explanation for the UCP’s lack of success in achieving gender parity; a patronizing bit of mansplaining trotted out on International Women’s Day doesn’t cut it.