PHOTOS: Part of the uninspiring, sometimes troubling, field of Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidates. Their names? Frankly, it’s too much work to note them all down (CBC photo). Below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former prime minister Stephen Harper (CBC).
Is a disengaged and demoralized national conservative movement venting its frustration with the continuing popularity and generally progressive tone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government by focusing their anger on Alberta’s NDP premier?
To ask this question another way, is there a substantial national component to the growing epidemic of violent – and often misogynistic and heavily sexualized – threats against Premier Rachel Notley and other prominent women in her cabinet and caucus?
Lots of theories have been advanced to try to explain the rising tide of threats against politicians in this province, and in particular against New Democrats who are women.
It’s reasonable to assume that to one degree or another they may all be influencing the problem highlighted by the release of Alberta Justice Department statistics last week that showed Premier Notley is in fact the most frequently threatened premier in Alberta history.
These include, as discussed in this space last week, the following:
- The contribution of social media to abusive political discourse by offering both anonymity and an accessible platform to extremists
- The creation of online alt-right outlets devoted to promoting hatred and extremism, which offer a daily bulletin of targets to their readers
- The tolerance for this kind of behaviour among mainstream media commentators and conservative politicians
- The recent success of President Donald Trump’s election campaign in the United States
- Misogynistic attitudes in our society that are deeply embedded in our culture
But I’ve never seen it said anywhere in print that much of this vile and threatening commentary may be originating elsewhere in Canada from those people who are increasingly known in progressive Twitter-speak as RWNJs – that is to say, “right-wing nut jobs.”
Think about this, though. With enough nuts and flakes for a breakfast cereal recipe among the unappealing crop of candidates to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, what else is the perpetually angry brigade of RWNJs to focus on?
In other words, is it possible Ms. Notley and her cabinet’s members are the unlucky recipients of abuse from a whole country’s worth of perpetually disaffected right-wing extremists?
After all, if the Internet and social media do anything well, it’s allowing people to communicate anonymously in “real time” at any hour of the night or day from any place on the globe.
We’re talking about people who were perpetually angry with Prime Minister Trudeau back in the day for – when you get right down to it – successfully challenging Mr. Harper. This expressed itself as fury at nonessentials like the prime minister’s hair – which, every reasonable observer must admit, is much nicer than that of the previous PM, which looked, as the irreplaceable Heather Mallick once put it in her Toronto Star column, like “a living pulsing thing that would halve, leap on you and clap both sides of your head if you poked it.”
This group is still very angry with Mr. Trudeau, of course, for daring to defeat their leader in a fair electoral fight, but their fury on that front has dissipated somewhat because of several factors. The biggest, of course, is that Mr. Harper’s not around as an alternative. There is also the general sense that those who want to replace him aren’t up to much, and the fact the CPC leadership race has several extremist candidates who for now are able to pander to the worst instincts of this group.
So, at least until a new CPC leader is chosen, a whole nation’s worth of far-right wing-nuts (FRWNs?) can’t really work themselves into their usual lather about federal politics.
So where do they focus in the mean time?
Well, if there’s anything to this theory, for a lot of them, the focus has become Ms. Notley and Alberta.
If Canada’s FRWNs have been paying attention, they’ll have picked up that their hero, Mr. Harper, and his loyal lieutenant, Jason Kenney, are concentrating on Alberta as the most likely beachhead for their national counter-revolution.
And members of this group desperately need to be enraged at someone – because unhealthy rage is one of the distinguishing characteristics of this segment of the populace, and indeed how such people frequently define themselves. (I’m mad as hell, yadda-yadda.)
So, what better target than an intelligent and articulate woman, the leader of a moderate centrist political movement that is, moreover, the only NDP government in the country. A politician who, once again, is challenging not just their extremist views, but their beloved, semi-retired Maximo Lider?
Now, look … this is just long-weekend speculation based on anecdotal observations. I can’t provide statistics to prove a larger-than-expected number of threatening or abusive communications are being sent to Alberta NDP politicians from outside Alberta. Or, for that matter, to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne from outside Ontario. But some of them most certainly are.
So the question, surely, is worth asking by people who have access to the data.
Alberta Justice should at least look to see how much of this garbage is originating outside Alberta’s borders. I’ll bet the answer will be a surprise – perhaps even enough of one to derail the narrative that this is just Albertans frustrated with the faults of the NDP “letting off steam,” as the Usual Suspects in right-wing media would like us to believe.
Obviously, not all such commentators are non-Albertans. I know people right in my own community who regularly say deplorable things about both Ms. Notley and Ms. Wynne on social media.
But even without verifiable statistics, it will be worth watching what happens once the interminable CPC leadership race is finally over. The tone here in Alberta may well improve.
After all, if one of the CPC’s several Donald Trump clones is chosen as leader, Canada’s loony right fringe will likely return to concentrating its rage on Mr. Trudeau’s government in Ottawa.
And if someone who does not meet their exacting standards of bigotry and rudeness is chosen – Michael Chong perhaps – they may turn their fury on their own party.
Either way, the tone of public discourse in Alberta cannot help but improve!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.