Tactical Politics … What?

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.


The master tactical politician

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?

He said:

  • 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.

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42 Responses to Tactical Politics … What?

  1. Great article. This episode was completely dismissed by everyone and it’s disgusting. I love your blog. Have a great week.

    • Thanks Richard, yes the combination of the JWR/Trudeau mess and Post Media’s reluctance to print anything that might make their favourite premier-in-waiting look bad means this story sank pretty quickly. Thank goodness for social media for keeping it in the spotlight.

  2. Edison says:

    Hi Susan

    Just a quick suggestion to check the honorific, first word paragraph four

    • Edison says:

      and feel free to delete these two messages of mine

      • Thank you for your sharp eye Edison. I fixed it and left your comment up just to let you and others know that I appreciate each and every comment that cleans up the blog. There’s nothing more irritating that the sloppy use of words like “you’re” and “your”, etc.

      • Edison says:

        You’re welcome, Susan. Proofreading is a secret pleasure of mine. How sad is that?
        Btw, I struggled mightily with ‘honorific’ vs ‘honourific’. While there are references online to the latter as a non-standard version of the former, there is no mention whatsoever to ‘honourific’ in the OED, Mariam-Webster or Cambridge Dictionary, which settled it for me.
        Oh my, I do go on don”t I?

      • Edison you crack me up 🙂

      • Edison says:

        (quickly exits)

  3. Bob Raynard says:

    The irony is Jason Kenney could have made pretty much exactly the same point without using gender references and he would have saved himself a lot of grief. While hardly showing a great deal of insight, ‘newby politicians have a tough slog going against those with decades of experience and a well established network’ is usually undeniable, success of 2015 NDP candidates not withstanding.

    If I (a man) were to run against Rona Ambrose for a seat, I would certainly suffer the same disadvantage Jason Kenney describes women having.

    • I agree with you Bob, if Kenney made that statement without gender references he’d be correct, but then his answer wouldn’t address the question which was: you said you’d recruit more women, how’s that going for you? He could have said: we’re making progress OR we’re still working on it OR not as well as I’d hoped. But in an effort to avoid acknowledging he has more work to do he went down this convoluted path where he blamed his lack of success on the gender of the candidates. Not good!

      • Brian Pansky says:

        It looks to me like this is what people should be saying.

        When I watched the video after scrolling through tons of tweets about it, I felt very much misled (which then caused me to feel rather concerned and uncomfortable).

        What Mr Kenney didn’t explain was […] 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

        Maybe. What are the rates, has anyone checked?

        If the rates of newbies are about the same between men and women, then it isn’t an explanation. And presumably when questioned he’s supposed to offer an explanation, right? And there would be your answer to why he said what he said: because it would be the honest explanation. If it isn’t, that’s what we need to say.

        Saying “maybe he offered the wrong explanation” isn’t much of a criticism, we need to say whether he was actually right or not. I’d love to put a good citation on the Progressive Alberta Wiki I’ve been working on, and trying to get more contributors for.

        What Mr Kenney didn’t explain was […] why male candidates understand “tactical politics” better than first-time female candidates

        He basically said experienced candidates are more experienced, so I don’t see any mystery here. (First-timers VS “guys that have been running for years or decades and have a network”)

        What you said is the interpretation that I’ve been seeing endlessly before I ever watched it for myself. I think it’s clearly a false interpretation.

        Even the ctv news you linked to has a tweet by a seventh term woman asking Jason to mansplain tactical politics to her. But she’s exactly who he isn’t talking about: someone with years of experience, and presumably a network.

        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

        Yes, this is something I’d like to see more about. The comparison between NDP and UCP.

      • Thanks for your comments Brian. I was trying to get to the root of Jason Kenney’s comment. He was asked to comment on how his search for more female candidates was going. Rather than admit his search didn’t produce the desired result he responded with bafflegab. He said first time women don’t do as well as experienced men. As another commentator pointed out this response has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with experience. It’s nonresponsive. Then Kenney made the “tactical politics” comment which is meant to sound erudite but is utterly meaningless. Then he wrapped the whole thing up with the comment that women were usually doing more useful things “…like professions and running businesses and helping with families,” ie. anything but being politicians. What are we supposed to take from that–that women aren’t as foolish as men and won’t waste their time doing useless things like politics? It’s patronizing and insulting.
        What we learned from this episode is Kenney will not admit when he’s failed (ie. the UCP does not have as many female candidates as the NDP) and he’ll make stuff up to explain away his failure. I was going to say this is poor behavior for someone who wants to be the next premier, then I realized it’s just Kenney engaging in “tactical politics”.

  4. Jerrymacgp says:

    When I first heard this recording of Mr Kenney’s comments, my jaw dropped so hard I’m surprised it didn’t show up as another Alberta earthquake. Calling out the misogyny and anti-feminist bias of a comment like this is not just “left wing anger”, it’s a serious issue that casts doubt on Mr Kenney’s commitment to gender equity.

    You sure can’t reasonably doubt Premier Notley’s commitment to the same issue.

    • Jerrymacgp, you’re absolutely right. It’s not as if Kenney was ambushed by the original question, he called a press conference to announce a program he says will benefit women so it would have been reasonable for him to expect questions on how the UCP campaign to recruit more women is going (that should help the UCP understand women’s issues, right?). Instead Kenney appeared to be unprepared for the question and gave a condescending answer. The fact he didn’t see the question coming and had no idea how to respond and then doubled down on his terrible answer by attacking lefties indicates where he stands on gender equity–which is in the 1950s.

  5. Keith McClary says:

    I took “network” to mean “old boys’ club”.

    • Exactly Keith, with the emphasis on “boys”. What I found it interesting about the She Leads program is the fact that Laureen Harper is a co-sponsor and her only claim to fame is she’s married to a former prime minister. I wonder how far down the political hierarchy one has do go before being the wife of a politician isn’t enough–are you disqualified if you’re “only” the wife of a back bencher? Is there a secret network of political wives we’re not aware of?

  6. Elaine Fleming says:

    Yes, interesting Kenney would use a term like “tactical politics”- like his tactics of using people and then throwing them under the bus? Stabbing his friends and colleagues in the back? Cultivating the support of people in the constituencies saying he represents their causes when he is really only about his own ambition? I’m sure he has a lot of tactics up his sleeve yet!

    The women candidates he has collected must realize they are just props, and if he didn’t need them to lure votes from other women he would happily send them back to their kitchens, or businesses or other “useful things”. As I was walking through Safeway last Friday, International Women’s Day, my eye caught the front page of the Edmonton Journal with a large photo-op of himself with all his lady candidates positioned around him. I just about ran my cart into the Food Bank bin!

    If Postmedia wants to celebrate the women of Alberta and their accomplishments there should have been a front page spread on our Premier (the only female one in Canada by the way), all the things she has done (and is still doing) for Albertans, as well as her hard-working caucus- many of whom are women. Not to mention, they should be praised for putting up with all the crap- the non-stop threats, misogyny, insults and lies- that his followers have directed at them since the NDP got elected, all thanks to HIS “anger machine”.

    • Elaine, you’ve made so many good points here! I’d like to pick up on your comment about the mistreatment treatment of female politicians. This runs the gamut from horrible personal attacks on social media to subtle (and not so subtle) attacks on female politicians’ competence and ability.
      Going back to Kenney’s example of Rona Ambrose. Ambrose said “politics is one of the worst old boys clubs”. She talked about how male politicians told her she’d been appointed to cabinet only because she’s a woman (she had a master’s degree, lots of experience and spoke 3 languages). She said it’s the story men tell themselves to justify why they didn’t get the job. It’s bizarre thinking. They’re mad at Rona for taking “their” job, but they’re not mad at the other 29 men who got cabinet posts because these guys “deserved” it. The one thing these guys haven’t considered is the men and women in cabinet are ALL better than they are.
      It’s old time thinking from old time politicians in an old time party.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        My goodness this is not just ‘old boys school’ – in today’s world this is ‘Men’s max idiot club’
        This is so stupid that makes me wish I was a woman politician with a baseball bat

      • Carlos, you made me laugh…but on a more serious note, men like this can do real damage and it’s time they stepped aside.

  7. diamondwalker says:

    .. excellent .. this is ‘journalism’.. & highly appreciated !

    • Thanks diamonwalker. There are times when social media drives me insane, but not so in this case. Twitter picked up the sexist nature of Kenney’s comment right off the bat, whereas Post Media played the story as a difference in approach with Notley using a top-down method to attract women candidates and Kenney “boosting women from the ground up”. Given Kenney’s lack of success it’s safe to say Kenney’s “ground up” approach is withering alongside of his “grassroots guarantee”.

  8. Lorne says:

    Great analysis! Thank you for taking the time to parse Kenney’s words.

    • You’re welcome Lorne. Things have gotten to the point where we’re parsing every word that falls from Kenney’s lips. we’re not alone. Brian Jean is parsing as well. He’s written a scathing article on Kenney’s misguided plan (the “fiscal fairy tale”) to balance the budget. I don’t agree with Jean’s proposals but you know what they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend…and if people listen to Brian they may decide to stay home this election. Here’s the link: https://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/brian-jean-kenney-selling-a-fiscal-fairy-tale

      • carlosbeca says:

        This is an interesting article but never once did he mentioned that there is a revenue problem as well. After Klein gave away all the goodies to the corporations there is nothing else to cut unless of course they want to try to run the province without income taxes like Klein suggested at one of his drunk moments.
        Unless one cuts services or raise taxes nothing can be fixed at 10 billion deficit level – whether they like it or not. The time to lower taxes is over and it did not work so it is time one implements taxes at civilized society levels and those that think they can get the services and quality of life we get here somewhere else, just have to move and have fun and do not come back when you are sick and need to use our services.

      • Excellent point Carlos. I particularly liked how you said it’s time to implement “taxes at civilized society levels”. The US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” I wish everyone who complains about paying taxes would pay for a moment to consider where we’d be without them…ie. in a brutal horrible world, certainly not anywhere civilized.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Exactly Susan the problem is that people like Jason Kenney with all the propaganda machine of the Calgary Herald and others behind him, manage to convince people with short slogans – they are being ripped off and ‘Government is the problem’ – the private is way more efficient than the public and on and on. They get in there just for the power and to enrich their already bulging supporters and themselves. Then they become speakers and get even richer. They then hope that a center party takes over like the NDP and they can use their propaganda to blame them. This is horrible dishonesty but it works until one day when things collapse under the weight of lies, incompetence and deceit. It is already starting to happen in the US but just wait until the Democrats take over and the Republicans or whatever is left of them will immediately start talking about the deficit. Right now it is not a problem despite the fact that it is getting worse, but soon they will do it. Here they call it the Notley’s deficit. She should have done much better in this file but still this is completely inherited from 43 years of mismanagement and in special the years Klein reigned supreme with waves of money coming in and just giving away the goodies to corporations and powerful rich people.

        I am not sure we will be able to make facts and reason prevail but what I am absolutely sure about is that if we do not, we are going to pay an extremely high price in the future. We choose to ignore everything but reality is reality even in the psychotic world of Jason Kenney types.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    ‘Left Wing angry machine’ – this guy is a master of spin and deceit – it is simply disgusting
    Another issue on the weekend as he tries to ram all that he wants on everybody else in his party and then denies everything and just keeps moving as if nothing has happened.
    Is it possible that Albertans are so darn aloof that they will let this guy get away with murder?
    Amazing – this is beyond stupidity – it is an embarrassment to our province.
    More tax cuts for corporations. Might as well just let them take over the government rather than pulling the strings from the their offices.

    • Carlos, I was equally troubled by the way Kenney tried to put down the journalist who asked him for a response to the negative reaction his stupid comment elicited. He said something along the lines of: none of your colleagues asked me about it when I said it. Since when does the fact no one asked Kenney about a comment at the time mean they are forever barred from asking about it. If Kenney had any brains he could have said they’ve misunderstood me OR they’re overreacting, instead he said something along the lines of how dare you ask me that AND they’re the left wing anger machine. Kenney’s reaction reminds me of Trump banning reporters from press conferences because they ask tough questions. Pathetic.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Yes that is the correct word PATHETIC – and that someone can see anything of value in this guy is to me absurd. The press takes him as serious as if he was Einstein. This is all so bizarre to me that I am starting to wonder if our political culture has changed to the point I cannot operate in it anymore as a person.
        On the weekend I got a visit from the conservative running in my constituency for the federal election and he asked me if I was happy with the Liberals – I answered that no I was not that happy but that I would never vote for the conservatives because it makes me feel that I am living in Jurassic Park. He left right away which was a relief.
        Seriously – hos can someone call Andrew Sheer anything but another disaster in the making? and an embarrassment internationally if that is possible these days.

  10. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. The UCP seems to be doing what the Wildrose and even Ralph Klein were doing for so long, which also sank them both politically. Saying (and also doing) inappropriate things. Jason Kenney can’t keep himself under control, nor can he keep candidates and MLAs for the UCP under control. This will certainly cause the UCP to sink. It happened with Ralph Klein so often, that eventually, his own party deemed him a liability. It happened with Wildrose candidates and MLAs, that they could not get elected to hold power. Politicians, including candidates, have to realize that what they say and do does matter. If they want to be defeated, they have to exercise control.

    • Dwayne says:

      *If they don’t want to be defeated, they have to exercise control.*

      • Dwayne, you’ve raised an important point. I’ve noticed a number of articles lately reporting frustration at the constituency association level, often to the point where members of the board resign. Kenney acts like there’s nothing wrong. His spokesman, Jason Nixon, blames the unrest on people not getting their candidates elected, but I think it goes deeper than this. Kenney made a bold promise about the WR and the PCs working together for the greater conservative good and backed it up with his “grassroots guarantee”. UCP members at the constitutency association level have finally figured out he didn’t mean it. This election might hinge on whether Kenney can hold the party together enough to get elected.

  11. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Another quick comment, relating to another comment on here. We know who Postmedia and the polling companies are aligning themselves with. With these continuous missteps by the UCP, why are they still favouring the UCP? In the age of electronic communication, via social media, people are not going to let their misdeeds slip. I doubt the UCP will get very far, with how they have been conducting themselves. I sense the UCP will do more screwups.

    • Dwayne I was talking with a media person about polling companies. She told me the polls published in newspapers are nothing more than advertising and that political parties spend 10 times more than newspapers on polls. This might explain why Bill Smith is not the mayor of Calgary notwithstanding the Calgary Herald’s polls that said he had the election in his pocket.
      And yes there will be more screwups the closer we get to the election, Kenney is already getting testy and he’s not even in the thick of it yet. Surprising lack of control for a seasoned politician.

  12. Dave says:

    Mr. Kenney can be a tricky one to explain. I think the starting point is while he is a polished performer and good at smooth talking, it falls apart when he doesn’t know what he is talking about or tries to hide behind his words.

    Let’s start with his phrase “tactical politics”, replace it with “dirty politics” and it makes a bit more sense. Of course, Kenney would never use that phrase, so thus the confusion. Second, lets start with the women who are doing something more useful than politics. Given Kenney is a career politician, did he just admit in a roundabout way he is useless? I think so.

    As to why Lauren Harper has to mentor women candidates, perhaps its because there are so few prominent women Conservatives so Rona and the others are too busy, or maybe its just not a priority for the Conservative party.

    I suspect Kenney prefers inexperienced women (or lets say politically naive), because it is easier for him to pull the wool over their eyes or control them. It’s also easier to get them to run in constituencies where they don’t have a good chance of winning, but on the other hand he can put their smiling pictures on the front of the local newspaper to show how many women candidates he has.

    Kenney would find if he tried to recruit more experienced women, in winnable constituencies, he wouldn’t have such a gender imbalance in his party, but I think he is more interested in photo ops and dispelling the (somewhat accurate) impression of his party as an old boys club, than doing much about it.

    • carlosbeca says:

      This is so true
      🙂 🙂
      Right on the money
      Jason Kenney has a shelf life expired since 1982

    • Excellent observations Dave, particularly the point about inexperienced or politically naive women being easier to control. I note that after Kenney became the leader of the UCP, Angel Pitt (MLA for Airdrie) made a number of members statements in the Legislature which amounted to nothing more than being Kenney’s mouthpiece. These included a shot at Derek Fildebrandt (who wouldn’t stop giving Kenney a hard time), the Tides Foundation conspiracy theory (Kenney’s explanation of what’s really going on in the industry) and Rona Ambrose saying Kenney supports women (so how can he be sexist). An MLA has limited time to speak in the Legislature, Pitt squandered hers by letting Kenney turn her into his personal cheerleader.

  13. Valerie Jobson says:

    It’s a good post. I have to say I miss Sandra Jansen’s presence on twitter, first because she is interesting and intelligent, but also, speaking of tactics, it becomes easier for people to forget how she and other women were mistreated by the Kenney fans.

    • Valeria, Sandra Jansen is the litmus test when it comes to determining whether Jason Kenney supports women. Notwithstanding what he says, he didn’t do much to stop to the vile attacks on Ms Jansen when she was running against him for PC leader and later when she joined the NDP. As you said, she’s an intelligent savvy politician but I’m sure the 24/7 abuse ground her down; which was probably the intention all along.

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