Jason Kenney’s bizarre ‘Brexit’ broadsides: the explanation is in the dog-whistle

Posted on June 26, 2016, 12:50 am
10 mins

ILLUSTRATION: Press Progress’s take on Jason Kenney’s “Brexit” broadsides Thursday night and yesterday morning (Press Progress image used with permission). Below: The Acme Professional Dog Whistle, now commanding attention all over the world. It is made in U.K. You don’t even have to make this stuff up! Below that little gem, former Alberta politician Thomas Lukaszuk and Postmedia commentator Andrew Coyne. Bottom: Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

There was head scratching and puzzled disapproval on social media Thursday night at Jason Kenney’s seemingly bizarre Twitter celebration of Britain’s unanticipated “Brexit” vote, many unhappy returns of which are yet to be enumerated.

Responses from across the political spectrum ranged from perplexed to angry when the former Harper Government cabinet minister and rumoured candidate for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party – channeling Nigel Farage, Brexit advocate and leader of the crypto-fascist U.K. Independence Party – Tweeted “Congratulations to the British people on choosing hope over fear by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world!”

whistle-box-3Never mind that there isn’t really a British people, the U.K. being a united kingdom and all that, this was seen as peculiar coming from a man who is nowadays being touted as a future leader of a jurisdiction that depends desperately on international trade to prosper, and perhaps even to survive.

The Canadian province of Alberta, with an economy based heavily on the petroleum industry, is undergoing relatively hard times from low oil prices and a lack of access to foreign markets. So one might have thought Mr. Kenney would have been more cautious in his remarks on this sensitive topic, whatever his private views might be.

On the contrary, however. Faced with the wonderment and disapproval of his social media critics – “I’m speechless,” said former Alberta PC deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, about whom Mr. Kenney has a famously nasty opinion; “This is remarkably ill-judged,” exclaimed Postmedia bloviator-in-chief Andrew Coyne – Mr. Kenney fired back with both barrels and kept it up with a stream of Tweets reiterating the same point.

But it would be a mistake to assume Mr. Kenney didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he sent that Tweet, and the ones that followed.

The man, after all, is a master dog-whistle politician – the term of art for demagogues who send silent messages between their spoken lines to stoke their supporters’ fury and hatred. And, have no doubt about it, Mr. Kenney’s red-meat base here in Alberta is full of rage worthy of the angriest Brexit supporter.

LukaszukSo why would a politician who has been a tireless advocate of “free trade” deals like the NAFTA, the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU, all of which tend to chip away at Canada’s national sovereignty, be a big supporter of a foreign group that wanted to end Britain’s membership in the European Union on the grounds it was chipping away at the U.K.’s sovereignty?

The answer, one suspects, lies in the subtext of the Brexit debate, and in particular the arguments advanced by the far-right, xenophobic Ukip, as Mr. Farage’s party is commonly known.

The Brexit movement, as Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail summed it up bitterly, “despite being the product of an extreme-right leader whose party holds one seat, despite being rejected by the leader of every conventional political party, despite having descended into use of racial-terror images of brown-skinned hordes as its central argument, despite its more zealous followers resorting to the assassination of a sitting member of Parliament, managed to prevail.”

In other words, the “Leave” side’s principal argument came to be characterized by many of the EU’s British opponents’ racial, religious and cultural hatreds. And the outcome of the Brexit campaign suggests this approach is highly effective.

CoyneTherein lies Mr. Kenney’s dog whistle. His supporters know what they have in mind when he Tweets to one of his interlocutors: “I respect the decision of the British people who will be unencumbered to pursue more global free trade & non-EU migration.”

And, like Mr. Farage’s supporters across the pond, they are not displeased to see their potential leader signalling his support for their ugly view of the world, even if he insists to the rest of us he meant something else.

In this particular case, who knows for sure? It’s all just vague enough that maybe the only thing he really meant was that the British should be unencumbered by the human rights and labour mobility provisions of the European Union, which in fairness do not tend to be features of the corporate rights treaties masquerading as free trade deals favoured by Mr. Kenney and his party.

This kind of silent dog-whistling, though, is nothing new for Mr. Kenney. Indeed, it’s among his go-to techniques.

Consider, in the recent past:

  • His “corrosive” social media misrepresentation of an Islamic religious ceremony.
  • His accusation that “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were “politicizing” the niqab controversy his own party had ginned up for political purposes during the 2015 federal election.
  • His Tweet suggesting Indigenous people are just “settlers” too.
  • His characterization of “perfect, unaccented English” as an essential quality of being Canadian.
  • His catcalls in Parliament mocking the minister of national defence’s manner of speaking by demanding “English-to-English translation.”

Each one is wholly offensive. Each one is perfectly deniable. The man has become, in the phrase of Michael Stewart of Rabble.ca, “basically Canada’s greatest troll.”

The sotto voce message to those in the know, reminiscent of the Nixonian Southern Strategy, is: Shhhh … I’m your guy.

Well, one thing’s for sure, as yet another Tweeter said Thursday, with attitudes like these, Mr. Kenney has obviously lost interest in running for the leadership of the federal Conservatives. That’s not necessarily very reassuring if you care about Alberta, its reputation in the rest of the country, and the world.

+ + +

Second Scottish independence referendum ‘highly likely’ – First Minister

British media has reported that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says a second Scottish independence referendum is “highly likely” as a result of Thursday’s “Brexit” vote, which was won by the campaign demanding the United Kingdom leave the European Union.

SturgeonAs the leader of the Scottish National Party spoke, by coincidence, it was the 702nd anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, which led to the de facto establishment of Scottish independence from England in 1314.

Ms. Sturgeon diplomatically called it “democratically unacceptable” for progressive and social democratically inclined Scotland, which voted 62 per cent to remain part of the European Union, to be forced to leave the EU by voters in other parts of the United Kingdom who were in many cases motivated by racism and xenophobia.

The point underlying her statement, though, is that when Scotland voted in a national referendum on full independence from the United Kingdom in September 2014, Scots were persuaded to vote No by 55 per cent after being battered by fear mongering about the implications of a Yes vote. Scots were told repeatedly it would mean their country would be kicked out of the EU.

Economic concerns about the impact of facing a long process of negotiating their way back into the EU, possibly over English objections, prevailed over sentimental attachment to Scotland’s ability to, you might say, embrace a confident, sovereign future.

So where are the Scots now? Ms. Sturgeon says she will also lobby diplomats from EU member states to ensure Scotland can remain part of the union, but this is most likely a doomed gesture meant only to set the stage for a referendum in which the country can finally get away Scot free.

If you ask me, though, after Thursday they’d be within their rights to unilaterally declare independence.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

39 Comments to: Jason Kenney’s bizarre ‘Brexit’ broadsides: the explanation is in the dog-whistle

  1. Morag Mackenzie

    June 26th, 2016

    Certainly a very good grasp of the Scottish situation and Kenney’s continual lack of diplomacy.

    Reply
    • tom in Ontario

      June 26th, 2016

      David Climenhaga makes intelligent commentary on complex political issues look easy. I don’t think it is.

      Reply
  2. Martin d'Entremont

    June 26th, 2016

    Maybe Kenney wants to mount an “ABout” referendum?

    Reply
  3. Dnnie McLeod

    June 26th, 2016

    Those Canadians who want Canadians to know that Christ is the only safety net possible will be happy to see UK separate from Eorope. Jason Kenney spoke directly to these Canadians with his comment about Brexit. Is that good or bad diplomacy?

    Reply
    • PIGL

      June 26th, 2016

      How does being a tone-deaf, bible-pounding, fundie position you with respect to England and Wales’ inclusion, or not, in the EU? Chapter and verse, please.

      Reply
    • Leonard fiddler

      June 26th, 2016

      Don’t ask KENNY he doesn’t have a clue

      Reply
  4. Maria

    June 26th, 2016

    Now we know for sure that the ‘champion of multiculturalism’ who brought ethnic groups into the Harper tent really is a xenophobe. Perhaps Donald Trump can use his services, since the whistleblower technique did not work so well during the Canadian Federal election.

    Reply
  5. Mike

    June 26th, 2016

    Remember, you’re griping about Twitter, the source of informed schoolyard bullying.

    Reply
  6. political ranger

    June 26th, 2016

    C’mon David, there is absolutely no evidence that greater access to tidewater would have the slightest effect to Alberta fortunes. Talk about dog whistle politics indeed!
    On the other hand, I think you’ve got it exactly right describing the corporate MSM deflection and detraction of ‘immigration’ being the force behind the Leave side. Nothing could farther from the truth; the corporate set, their bankers and political lap-thingys are just continuing their inexorable control over democratic populations.
    People are finally on to the buggers and are not willing to support any more of their criminal nonsense.

    Reply
  7. Filostrato

    June 26th, 2016

    An interesting alternative for Scotland instead of another referendum came to light today. When powers were devolved to the other countries in the UK – Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland – in recent negotiations, there was a provision that each country could veto any bill put forward that would harm its prosperity. Each of them could veto a Brexit if they wanted to, although Wales seems to like the idea of leaving. And the referendum is non-binding, so the UK parliament doesn’t have to act on it if it doesn’t want to, although doing that without some other reason might be a bit difficult.

    Some law expert said that the parliament couldn’t thwart the will of the people, or words to that effect, by refusing to carry through on the Brexit, but parliaments have been doing a pretty good job of thwarting since they first existed.

    May you live in interesting times, eh?

    As for Kenney’s dog whistle, I can think of a very good location where he can store it but I’m way too polite to mention it.

    Reply
    • Lars

      June 26th, 2016

      It would still make a whistling noise on occasion if he stored it there.

      Reply
  8. ronmac

    June 26th, 2016

    Maybe Kenney is reading the political tea leaves and is now dressing himself up as a populist rebelling against the global elites.

    The Scottish referendum is interesting. And here I am speaking as someone who’s bloodline once had a horse in this race during an earlier Scotexit campaign. I am referring to the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1746 where an ancestor of mine died leading a charge against the British monarchists, the global elite of their time.

    There is now a commemorative plaque where he fell. Moral of the story: don’t believe that old saying about the pen being mightier than the sword. I’d rather be cussed at than have a musket ball ripping thru my chest.

    In any event the next exit campaign I’m really looking forward to is “NATOEXIT.” Last week the German Foreign Minister was calling NATO a gang of warmongers.

    Reply
    • Val Jobson

      June 26th, 2016

      One of my ancestors was there too. He survived the battle with a wound, was eventually captured by the British, escaped before they could hang or transport him, and dressed as a woman for a year or two until an amnesty was declared and it was safe to be himself.

      Kenney is willing to speak up when others would not, but has he shown any other evidence of being able to lead? You can’t be a leader if others aren’t willing to follow.

      Reply
      • ronmac

        June 27th, 2016

        Small world, isn’t it. Oh well, Death to British Imperialism!

        Reply
    • PIGL

      June 26th, 2016

      Was he indeed? We he’s right. Those morans will have us fighting a land war with Russia.

      Reply
    • pogo

      June 26th, 2016

      It seems that the Brexit vote has exposed the fractures on the right and the left (Jason Kenney is just the cheap suit opportunist he’s always been and likely he wouldn’t mind being a demagogue either if we let him). To me it seems like we’re now into the creative destruction phase of politics. Disaster politics if you stretch a bit. Create chaos and turn the panic to advantage. No bullets required. Yet.
      Read the linked article and imagine that inarticulate grievance and xenophobia are the real problems we have to face. Then imagine that we decide to stabilize the middle east and Africa before the tipping point (yes that’s just a year or two yonder).
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/brexit-britain-disintegrating-eu-yanis-varoufakis

      Reply
  9. jerrymacgp

    June 26th, 2016

    With both Scotland & Northern Ireland having voted to Remain, while England & Wales voted to Leave, it seems the country should now be called the Disunited Kingdom…

    Reply
  10. Eva

    June 26th, 2016

    Totally love Jason Kennedy and think he is one of the most astute and intelligent politicians we have today. He gives me hope for our future.

    Reply
    • Kang the barbarian

      June 26th, 2016

      Forgive me Mrs. Perón, but not all of us share your view. Like your late husband, Mr. K represents a long dead view. Time and tide wait for no man and all that.

      Reply
    • PIGL

      June 26th, 2016

      Since this is a forum of mutual respect and politeness, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you: what is it specifically that you love about Mr. Kenney? What bright future do you hope for under Mr Kenney’s leadership, and of what imagined policies do you specially approve? Did you love Harper too? If so, were your reasons much the same, or did they differ?

      I”m asking for a friend.

      Reply
    • Maureen

      June 26th, 2016

      I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don’t think your little Jason can possibly express himself in terms of ‘love’ but rather in terms of power, authority and dictatorship, in partnership with his chosen ‘god’, of course.

      Reply
  11. Anonymous

    June 26th, 2016

    We spoke to a family member in The Netherlands/phone this morning. They believe the thing with Brexit will settle down in about 2 or 3 months, that the EU is all about Big Business, has become too big and their impressions is that the EU/Brussels tells them what to do too much….albeit they felt that the ‘EU’ had been good for agriculture.
    Here is Andrew Nikiforuk’s take on Brexit which mainstream media (?controlled by the ‘Bigs’) is certainly, not, saying, although some commentators are, particularly with regard those of us who do not benefit from globalization:
    “The European Union and the Misery of Bigness. Brexit voters should recognize Leopold Kohr’s belief that large institutions concentrate power and ignore local needs.”
    http://www.thetyee.ca/Opinion/2016/06/23/EU-Misery-of-Bigness/?utm_source=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=230616

    Reply
  12. June 26th, 2016

    Press Progress should have labelled their editorial picture: “God save us from Jason Kenney”

    Reply
  13. June 26th, 2016

    I closely followed the news interviews on the UK media in the three weeks leading up to the vote where on the last day the media at large said “it’s too close to call”. The Brits did an excellent, really excellent job of street interviews.

    They targeted people who identified themselves as wanting to leave the union. The working class when asked sited “immigration” as being their biggest complaint. When asked a follow up “Have you been effected in any way by an immigrant personally?” the answers were universally “NO”.

    When interviewing the suits the same questions were asked but the response was “the economy” and “Belgian”

    Considering the narrow margins it could be said the vote was carried by British Bigots. The more things change the more they say the same. Witness: http://www.businessinsider.com/george-orwell-on-brexit-2016-6

    We all know the Iranian establishment love Britain. Iran had a reported 100 billion dollars frozen between the US and Britain. They were seized under the USD and British Pound.. The Ayatollah told the world those asserts would no be valued in the Euro as the alternatives were all paper garbage.

    Depending on the whim of Iran I would say the world is not out of it yet. Today I read where Russia has made an energy deal with China. This after China pulled Billions from the US economy. There goes the farm!

    Reply
    • June 26th, 2016

      To point: Trump jumped on the band wagon along with another bunch of conservative. What does this say about them.

      Reply
      • ronmac

        June 27th, 2016

        Trump hasn’t jumped on any bandwagon. He’s been harping on the same theme for months now.

        Reply
  14. Alex

    June 27th, 2016

    Kenney appears to be aping Trump. But while Kenney is a skilful, sneaky political operative, it’s laughable to think of him as a populist. He works well as an enforcer, as a lieutenant, but does anybody buy him as a leader? The man has zero popular appeal, no popular touch.

    Reply
    • Val Jobson

      June 27th, 2016

      Agreed.

      Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      June 27th, 2016

      Well, neither did Harper. Mind you, the Big H wasn’t running for leadership in Alberta. This brings up an interesting point about Kenney – I don’t think he (or Harper for that matter) would ever appeal to enough Albertans to actually run the province. Like the guy who cleans out your septic tank, Kenney’s appeal for Albertans was that he was nasty enough to do a dirty job, but far enough away in Ottawa to not stink up the house.

      Reply
  15. David

    June 27th, 2016

    If a former Alberta PC leadership candidate is speechless about this, I imagine the former Prime Minister who was Mr. Kenny’s boss for many years, who seemed to like every free trade agreement he ever saw must be more than speechless right now!

    I suppose Mr. Kenny gets a failing grade for being consistent – he was a big part of that government that championed all those free trade agreements right up until the day they lost the last election, less than a year ago. I am not sure how he can explain being part of a free trade government for 10 years to now becoming a champion of Britain leaving the EU. Perhaps his opinions have “evolved’, but I get the feeling his recent comments are somewhat opportunistic.

    The winds have now shifted regarding support for free trade and the public around the world no longer sees it as a panacea for a stagnant economy, but I suspect Alberta is somewhat like Scotland – we are a trading economy and we are not about to sacrifice our own economic interests out of trumped up fear of a few immigrants or refugees. I think Kenny is a little out of step with his own province in this one. Pity, he didn’t spend more time here over the last ten years. Oh right, he spent much of his time trolling for ethnic votes in the GTA and the lower mainland. He seemed quite happy to solicit their votes then, but perhaps his position on immigrants has now “evolved” too.

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      June 27th, 2016

      Good you posted a link to this valuable analysis by Greenwald. Was thinking to do it myself.

      Greenwald does the great service for democratic deliberation of the issues in play, of challenging the elites in UK and USA about their failure to attempt to understand why such a large portion of the citizenry would make such vote, which he acknowledges has some damaging consequences.

      Greenwald’s take reminds me of the reaction to Prentice’s ‘look in the mirror’ comment. Albertan’s, left, centre and right, responded, rightly, that it was actually the PC’s and Prentice that needed to look in the mirror and consider the consequences their failed policies.

      e.g. Failed policy of PCs at the link below: Decades of deregulation of our electricity system leading to an overbuild of transmission and of generation capacity. Now we’ve all got huge electricity bills, making Buffet rich, and the 35% excess of electricity overbuild of generation, much of it coal, is going to block growth of renewables. Just bloody lovely.
      ====================

      Why Warren Buffett is one of the very few making money off Alberta’s mostly unprofitable electric system

      http://www.financialpost.com/m/wp/blog.html?b=business.financialpost.com/news/energy/alberta-electrifies-warren-buffetts-profits-meanwhile-provinces-consumers-are-trapped-like-rats#pq=eB8YVF

      Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      June 27th, 2016

      That would be irony for you.

      Reply
  16. TC

    June 27th, 2016

    Criticize Jason Kenney all you want, but I think it’s over-simplistic to equate supporting Brexit with xenophobia and racism. First, there are many reasons that goes beyond immigration. Second, is it xenophobic to want your country to have control of who’s coming in? I encourage everyone to watch the BBC’s “Great debate”, held the day prior to the Brexit referendum, so that you know what was debated by both sides. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmGcsxeHFtg

    More importantly, while the leaders of both major political parties in the UK support staying in the EU, there are members of the British Cabinet who support leaving. Furthermore, there are members of the Labour Party who support leaving as well. Are they xenophobic and racists too?

    Reply
    • David

      June 27th, 2016

      I don’t think Brexit was only about xenophobia and racism, but it seemed to play a big role in the leave campaign.

      If they didn’t want to be accused of xenophobia and racism, perhaps they should have chosen not to drive a bus around England with pictures of a stream of refuges from the middle east, with the words ‘the breaking point” underneath.

      In this world you are judged by the company you keep and the leave campaign seems to have attracted and encouraged the bigots and the racists although they tried to pretend they weren’t there and that was not what they were doing. Don’t think that only the dogs heard the whistle.

      Reply
  17. Keith McClary

    July 2nd, 2016

    June 27, 2014
    “Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a news release welcoming the signing of the remaining chapters of the European Union (EU)-Ukraine Association Agreement which provide for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the EU and Ukraine.”

    What’s good for Ukraine is not good for UK?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)