Guest Post: UCP polarization of Alberta politics neutralizes the language of right-wing extremism

Posted on August 15, 2017, 1:23 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Young anti-Bill 6 protesters interviewed by a reporter at the Alberta Legislature in November 2015. Note the overheated genocide rhetoric in the sign at bottom right. Below: More extreme rhetoric from the same event; commentators Barret Weber, the author of this post, Naomi Lakritz, and Ricardo Acuña.

Guest Post by Barret Weber

Last weekend’s outbreak of racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., after a massive rally by neo-Nazis, provides painful reminder of the rise of fascism in the United States. Did I really just write that sentence?

Yet anyone who understands Alberta politics will know that our province is not immune to the root causes of such events.

At least since the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP Government in 2015, Alberta’s right wing has been using exaggerated language of “radical socialists” ruining Alberta at every turn, with the argument that only it can resurrect Alberta’s paradise lost.

This has turned into Jason Kenney’s effort to “unite the right” (interestingly, the same language by the neo-Nazis in the United States) which began on July 6, 2016, with the launch of his campaign to lead the Progressive Conservative Party. The PC campaign official commenced on Oct. 1 that year.

Surely one of the most prominent features of Mr. Kenney’s campaign has been a full-on assault on the truth.

How did Alberta become so polarized?

The now defunct Wildrose Party played a key role in the polarization of political discourse in Alberta by driving the province’s right wing further to the right as the official opposition led by Brian Jean.

While there were perhaps other precursors, the right’s reaction to Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, introduced by the new NDP government in the Legislature on Nov. 17, 2015, was a key turning point early in the current government’s mandate.

As part of a set of initiatives to reform labour laws in the province, Bill 6 was designed to provide the same protections to the more than 50,000 paid agricultural workers across the province as enjoyed by other working Albertans.

Mr. Jean supported these protections during the 2015 Wildrose leadership race. As a leadership candidate, he said: “I do believe that you can’t have any rights unless all people are covered by those rights. I think all people, all Albertans, need to be protected.” By December of the same year, though, he had flip-flopped on the issue.

The attack on Bill 6 highlighted the cozy relationship between Wildrose and PC MLAs and angry websites like Rebel Media and other vitriolic social media groups that proudly defend inequality and inequity. Exaggerated claims became commonplace – including mottos like “save the family farm from genocide.” Since then, it has not been uncommon to hear conservative politicians regularly reference and gather inspiration from these frightening conspiracy sites.

If we take a moment to reflect on what happened with Bill 6, a clear picture emerges of a group of workers, called farm workers, being granted the basic human rights that they deserve such as Workers’ Compensation protection and inclusion under basic employment and safety law. Even today, the myth circulates that farms and workers weren’t properly consulted, which is simply untrue.

In any case, as commentator Naomi Lakritz wrote for the Calgary Herald, “Let’s stop arguing that stakeholders weren’t consulted enough over human rights legislation. Isn’t that really just a euphemism for watering down the legislation to placate the monetary interests of those opposed to basic workplace protections?”

It’s a question we can only answer in the affirmative.

But, instead of costing the Wildrose in popularity, the party appears to have benefited from its stance against basic employee rights. Clearly, it has concluded that siding with employers in opposition to the rights of specific workers could be good for its own political fortunes, while shoring-up support with its rural base.

While the NDP was clearly doing the right thing in theory, once its policies were circulated through the infrastructure of the right-wing spin machine, the government was portrayed as targeting the family farm, the ability of children to work on their family’s farms, and rural Alberta itself, among many other unsavory (and untrue) intentions.

Promoting inequity, riding the disinformation machine, and singling out vulnerable minority groups was revealed to be the right’s path to “take Alberta back.”

The language of belligerence

The lesson learned was a Trumpian one: The truth of the matter is irrelevant as long as one never admits that the premise is a fraud.

Opposition to Bill 6 never would have received the attention it did without the media and conservative parties latching on to Rebel Media’s themes of the decline of the family farm and rural Alberta.

While communication lapses by the new government clearly did occur, without a concerted disinformation campaign led by the Rebel and followed by Wildrose and PC MLAs and their supporters, the conversation likely would have gone quite differently.

After all, the PCs were well aware that farm workers lacked basic protections before they were turfed in 2015, but had simply refused to address the problem.

Kenney is either really, really bad at political theory, or he is lying

As Ricardo Acuña of the Parkland Institute has pointed out, it’s time to demand Alberta’s political right to stop calling the current NDP government “socialist.” This is sheer nonsense.

The idea that the NDP is a party of “socialists” is beyond the pale and defies any basic analysis of the government’s official statements, policies, track record, and even consideration of strategic errors. While there are certainly legitimate criticisms of the current government to be made, that it is “socialist” isn’t one of them.

This is clearly part of broader dog-whistle campaign that reveals the level of conservative entitlement in the province. The underlying message is that one is either a conservative or a socialist, and, if you’re a socialist you clearly aren’t a real Albertan. Let’s be clear on this: this is the language of McCarthyism and xenophobia.

It also makes the language of the right seem less extreme by portraying what are essentially middle-of-the-road policies as extreme and “socialist.”

These rhetorical gestures drive debate further to the right and attempt to discredit specific ideas to the point they can be driven from public policy discussion altogether.

These would include important ideas such as collective ownership of public assets, protecting and strengthening workers’ rights, the need to expand public health care and social programs to respond to the realities of contemporary life, the need to roll back Ralph Klein’s crass and unsuccessful privatization experiments, moving Alberta beyond right-wing market fundamentalism, and the need for bold actions to mitigate climate change.

The right’s solution to everything that ails Alberta is to demonize, deny and diminish any opposition to the conservative sense of entitlement.

Barret Weber is an Edmonton researcher with a doctorate in sociology from the University of Alberta. This is one of several guest posts that will run while David Climenhaga is officially on vacation.

43 Comments to: Guest Post: UCP polarization of Alberta politics neutralizes the language of right-wing extremism

  1. Terry

    August 15th, 2017

    why are we dragging this over and over again it was voted on by the system that the concervatives love (first pass the post) and it will happen again..

    All I am saying is re keep coming full circle because one side does not like what happened and the vote shocked and rocked the Conservative base that was not fully there. Or it was and really the people who where out wanted to be protected and got that.

    so here it is.. those every people who voted to keep the concervatives out because of far ultra right ideals will find those same votes voting the same way. People may not like someone but they will vote them in a second term if they are doing the right thing.. Just ask all repeat Conservative leaders that same question and I know most of them where hated at one time or another.

    Reply
  2. Farmer B

    August 15th, 2017

    Barret as a farmer of 35 years I certainly disagree that the Rebel media had anything to do with my opinion of Bill 6. First off, farmers certainly had the option prior to Bill 6 of having employees covered by the WCB. It appears you are stating the NDP created this condition, which is not correct, they simply made it mandatory unless it is a family member. My opinion is Bill 6 was more about creating the ability of farm workers to unionize. You have certainly confirmed that just like the provincial NDP you have very little understanding of how farmers think or work.

    You attack conservatives for calling the NDP socialists. “Collective ownership of public assets”, is collective ownership not a policy of socialism? You talk of extremists elements of the Wildrose, what about the federal NDP’s socialist caucus, a minority element of the NDP. As for Alberta, I would agree that we now have 3 clear choices, the NDP left of center, the Alberta Party in the center and United Conservative Party right of center.

    As for climate policy, I will quote Ottmar Edenhoffer, co-chair of IPCC working group 3: “We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy…One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.” Clears it up for me. Enjoy your day:-)

    Reply
      • pogo

        August 15th, 2017

        Farmer (colloquial slang in the 1960’s for f^@K,) has that Preston manning like ability to soft pedal pain and suffering for some to allow for choice and freedom for others. It’s simple Mr B! I worked on my uncles farm and for my parents, and it’s not all roses. It’s even worse if you run livestock. But, I digress. If I were to work on a factory farm today, I would definitely want the same rights as workers in any other industry. I don’t think that Jason Kenney and his temporary foreign worker program for agriculture is humane or legitimate. If those people are good enough to work here they should be good enough to get an automatic path to citizenship. That Citizenship should guarantee basic rights. If your farm can’t cut the mustard sell it to Saudi’s who bought the wheat board for a penny on the dollar after Harper ignored the membership and sold it! I say Farmer you!

        Reply
        • Farmer B

          August 16th, 2017

          Pogo, you made my day. Those on the left are always pointing to those on the right as being extreme and out of step with civil society. But alas you have essentially told me to f^+k off. I guess that it is easier to insult and name call than have a rational debate. Enjoyed your comments keep them coming!

          Reply
    • Sylvia

      August 15th, 2017

      This article makes me so angry. Most of it it not true, and as usual has twisted or ignored the truth. The farmers WERE NOT consulted. The townhall meetings were there just for show for the ndp to dictate what they were going to do, period. That is NOT consultation. Making it mandatory to get WBC coverage (government agency), instead of allowing coverage from other insurance companies that cover way more, and better, for less, is wrong and detrimental. Putting farming in the same box as other businesses for the sake of workers’ rights is also impossible if you know even a smidgen about farming. What about the rights of workers to be able to work on an agreed schedule which is conducive to farming?? ie right to work? And yes, you deluded reporter, ndp IS socialist, and was originally called the COMMUNIST PARTY!!

      Reply
      • Rocky

        August 15th, 2017

        It was originally called the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, you dope. What’re you gonna do? Storm the card-lock station?

        Reply
        • pogo

          August 16th, 2017

          This could be for Sylvia: Nah. She’s gonna bake apple pies for the new rotation of Mounties and run purple gas in her Audi. That’s the Reich wing Alberta advantage. Volksey, deniable, and victimised. Our new agriculture! Would the real Jason Kenney please stand up? https://youtu.be/eJO5HU_7_1w

          Reply
      • EH

        August 15th, 2017

        Your last paragraph destroys any credibility you may have had for the first part of your post.

        Reply
      • anon

        August 15th, 2017

        Yer wrong Sylvia: The NDP was a partnership between organized labour and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). The CCF was mostly a rural based farmers’ party that supported equal rights for women, medicare, old age pensions, and economic justice for producers. The CCF and the NDP were too moderate for the Commies.

        Reply
      • Expat Albertan

        August 15th, 2017

        Your post is thought provoking, a stance that is, unfortunately, completely undone by your inflammatory and historically inaccurate final sentence.

        Reply
      • Athabascan

        August 19th, 2017

        Sylvia, if you insist on equating the NDP with the Communist party, then we’ll insist that Conservatives are fascists.

        Public School funding, universal healthcare, Canada pension plan, unemployment insurance, and old age supplement are all socialist based systems.

        I wonder which of the above you would repudiate, because you deem them ‘communism”.

        Reply
    • Keith McClary

      August 15th, 2017

      Here’s the context of Edenhofer’s comments :

      (EDENHOFER): Basically it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization. The climate summit in Cancun at the end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War. Why? Because we have 11,000 gigatons of carbon in the coal reserves in the soil under our feet – and we must emit only 400 gigatons in the atmosphere if we want to keep the 2-degree target. 11 000 to 400 – there is no getting around the fact that most of the fossil reserves must remain in the soil.

      (NZZ AM SONNTAG): De facto, this means an expropriation of the countries with natural resources. This leads to a very different development from that which has been triggered by development policy.

      (EDENHOFER): First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        August 15th, 2017

        Lets analyze a bit of what he said. 11000 gigatons of carbon in coal reserves alone. This does not include oil or natural gas. He says we can only emitt 400 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere or 3.6% of just our coal reserves. Imagine what a small percentage it would be if you included oil and natural gas reserves. So he is stating that in all probability 97-98% of our existing fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground. Does this sound realistic to anyone?

        In the second part he discusses the forced redistribution of natural resources and wealth around the globe. Does he really believe that western democracies will accept governance that drastically lowers our standard of living? As much as I disagree with Donald Trump he is the only leader in the western world being honest with his electorate, the rest are all selling an unattainable fantasy. I did some quick research, what I found is that his numbers appear a bit exaggerated(not surprised). The theory is that 400 gigatons equals a 1.5 degree temp rise, 800 gigatons equals a 2 degree temp rise. If all existed producing oil, gas, and coal wells and or mines are used to depletion this will create 942 gigatons of C02. I assume this does not include all the C02 produced simply by all the mammals on earth. As a side note I did a calculation one day, 7 billion humans exhale approximently 6% of the C02 produced, what would it be once all the domestic and wild animals are added? Anyway sorry about all the math, but the fact remains these numbers show that all exploration, drilling and any new production would have to stop today. Does anybody believe that this will happen? The Alberta NDP is betting a substantial increase of production from the oilsands and the resulting increase in revenue to at some mythical point in the future balance our budget. Justin Trudeau keeps telling us that we can keep building pipelines and selling our oil and look after the environment and still cut our carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. My point is this, I am certainly for using energy efficiently, but I don’t think anything we are being told adds up. 🙁

        Reply
        • Keith McClary

          August 16th, 2017

          “So he is stating that in all probability 97-98% of our existing fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground. Does this sound realistic to anyone?”
          Depends on what you mean by “reality”. You seem to think it is something we can form a consensus about based on our gut feelings. Mother Nature gets to decide what is reality.

          “As a side note I did a calculation one day, 7 billion humans exhale approximently 6% of the C02 produced, what would it be once all the domestic and wild animals are added? Anyway sorry about all the math, …”
          Animals have been exhaling CO2 for hundreds of millions of years. According to your thinking, the atmosphere should be 100% CO2 by now.

          Reply
        • political ranger

          August 16th, 2017

          I think he’s shown that you cherry pick yer quotes farmer boy. That means yer a con or a fool. I ain’t about to lissen to either.

          Reply
        • pogo

          August 16th, 2017

          Hey there! You’re my hero. I’ve been waiting for someone to coherently refute the teachings of Jesus! Thank you Farmer B! I’m converted!

          Reply
          • David Climenhaga

            August 17th, 2017

            OK, you two. Settle down! “There is blame on both sides.” DJC

    • anonymous

      August 15th, 2017

      It would be nice if you could stop spewing your bile of greed and cruelty on this quality site. The Rebel not good enough for you? And, in addition, climb down from your cross.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        August 16th, 2017

        Anonymous, I just reread my post, it certainly comes across as a bit harsh, my apologies must have had a bad cup of tea. I was simply trying to illustrate from my perspective the difference between what we are being told should be done and what can realistically be achieved.

        Reply
        • anonymous

          August 19th, 2017

          “…my apologies must have had a bad cup of tea.”

          Perhaps you should switch to Earl Grey.

          Reply
  3. J.E. Molnar

    August 15th, 2017

    Great column Barret!

    Gaslighting, dog whistle and wedge politics are the political strategies the right will employ in the next election. Trump-like clones have now been emboldened and political figures like Derek Fildebrandt, Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier and Brad Trost have added an odious dimension to our political discourse. They can’t be ignored completely, simply because alt-right media venues have given them a soapbox to spew their political bile.

    The Rebel was front and centre again this weekend with provocative reporting from Charlottesville. The fact that Jean, Kenney and Fildebrandt are regular contributors to this hate site says an awful lot about their politics. The fact they refuse to disavow The Rebel speaks volumes. Demagoguery has once again captured the fancy of alt-right conservative supporters, thanks in part to Donald Trump. Let’s hope this fanatical fascination is short-lived and ignored by the silent majority.

    Reply
  4. Mark

    August 15th, 2017

    This was an incredibly funny read. The ideological slant is so overpowering as to be arrogant.

    And the level of inaccuracies, and outright wrong info can only be explained by the bias. As to that, the opinions that were stated as fact, without anything to back it up.

    Glad this is labeled an opinion piece, or someone may mistake it as a quieter tiring to be factual.

    Reply
    • Robert Smith

      August 15th, 2017

      “Ideological” slant? And your analysis is what? Casual musings of the alt-right anti-truth political alternative? No matter how you butter your slice of truth, it will have an “ideological” slant. The word is as inaccurately used as the term “socialist” when describing policies and strategies of the NDP Government of Alberta. The level of disappointment and the resulting vitriol that followed the NDP into government is both alarming and telling. Alarming because we are faced with the truth of the Alberta we live in and telling because we are faced with the truth of the Alberta we live in. And finally, you can’t simply walk away from the hate and intolerance that has surfaced just because the elite and privileged do not get to set the agenda at the moment. My advice is simple, get onside or get out of the way. Alberta is being pulled kicking and screaming into a civil society guided by the rule of law and common sense social theory.

      Reply
      • political ranger

        August 16th, 2017

        I’m with you, Bob, right up to your last sentence.
        It would be nice if Alberta was being pulled towards a civil society. As always, there’s lots of pulling but scant evidence of it in our desired direction.
        These days, it’s beyond foolish to believe we’ve won the war or that we’re winning the war. It will suffice if all men of integrity, wisdom and patriotism simply recognize we are at war.

        Reply
    • Murphy

      August 15th, 2017

      The lady doth protest too much.

      Reply
  5. August 15th, 2017

    ,Hi Barret,

    Great post, thanks for writing it. An additional point that needs to be made is that in addition to giving Alberta farm workers the same protection workers in other sectors enjoy, it also got gave them the same protection farm workers in other provinces have.

    Reply
    • Farmer B

      August 15th, 2017

      Actually did some quick fact checking on your statement. In Saskatchewan farm participation in WCB is voluntary. In Manitoba sole proprietor’s, owners of corporations and family members are not covered by WCB unless participation is requested. Didn’t have time to check the rest of the provinces.

      Reply
      • Murphy

        August 15th, 2017

        Didn’t they teach you how to use the apostrophe in that one-room schoolhouse?

        Reply
  6. August 15th, 2017

    While you’re correct to criticize the extreme language used by critics of the NDP, you should not dismiss the complaints of rural Alberta. Engagement with rural communities on the critical impacts of Bill 6 and the carbon levy was disrespectful to say the least. Also disrespectful is government dragging their heels on disaster payments to municipalities …they’ve been waiting a year.

    Your post bothers me because it’s creating more division between rural and urban Albertans. In politics, we should seek to create bridges of understanding, not dismiss each other. I sincerely hope that progressives everywhere reach out instead of indulge in self-righteous finger-pointing.

    Reply
  7. Simon Renouf

    August 15th, 2017

    While I agree with the author and Richard Acuña that it’s quite absurd to refer to Alberta’s government as socialist, I’m troubled about that for a completely different reason. One of the few bright spots in last year’s US election was to see Senator Bernie Sanders referred to in the US media as a “democratic socialist”, a badge he uses to describe himself. Have we had a politician in Canada who embraced that label since Tommy Douglas? Maybe it’s time for the NDP itself to dust off the s-word.

    Reply
  8. August 15th, 2017

    I certainly would not call the Notley Government socialist. They barely qualify to be called NDP. More like Liberals to me.

    Sure, Kenney et al calls them socialists, communists, whatever. But that is coming from a potential leader whose only skill is to oppose.

    He has yet to put forward even ONE policy alternative. What’s more, he has gone on record as saying he won’t…rather he will leave it to the party grassroots to decide.

    Major cop out. As if the Wildrose contingent can decide on anything…other than oppose, oppose, oppose. Same for what is left of the Conservatives.

    Reply
  9. Rhonda Bigmell

    August 15th, 2017

    Poorly written, long-winded article. Even the photo caption is ridiculous, but thank you for calling us mature farmers “young”. Many protesting, such as myself, did not have issue with the needed change in employment regulations for agriculture employees but had serious concern for the way the NDP rushed in very poorly executed legislation that would be detrimental to farmers and agriculture employment. I was there, the protesters comprised largely of farmers and their family members. The protest was respectful and non-violent, and was conducted exactly how someone should demonstrate when they feel very strongly about a negative life-changing political issue.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      August 15th, 2017

      Are the people being interviewed who are in the photo not young? Don’t let facts get in the way of your sentiments. After alll, you’ve got to be you.

      Reply
  10. Mike

    August 15th, 2017

    Mark, Nora and Farmer B highlight excelelnt points, respectively.

    “Even today, the myth circulates that farms and workers weren’t properly consulted, which is simply untrue.” Mr. Weber, did you speak to any farmers or farmers groups regarding this statement? Did you ask any farm groups how much consultation occurred with them before the omnibus bill was presented? Did you attend any of the town halls in late 2015? Did you actually see what kind of “consultation” was going on at these meetings? I did attend one of the town halls and it was not consultation.

    The consultation groups listed on the gov’t website you cite were formed AFTER the omnibus bill was passed. The NDP sealed their rural Alberta fate with this one very early on in their term. But that’s what you get when you have an out-of-province Chief of Staff (i,e.Brian Topp) running the show.

    As Mark says, “Glad this is labelled as an opinion piece and not a factual one”. Lol….

    Reply
  11. Val

    August 15th, 2017

    to begin with i would love to hear how author understand term “socialism”.

    there were and stll around the totalitarian communist regimes, who’s proclaiming socialist nature of their rule.
    at same time the countries like Switzerland, Norway, Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, etc. who’s without any proclamation have successfully implemented plenty of values rather considered as ones belong to socialist ideology (Canada isn’t exception) and no one have guts to criticize them for it.

    as for local branch of NDP, i guess their main problem is that they itself not yet know who they are and which direction should take.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      August 15th, 2017

      Before you could make much sense of “how author understand term ‘socialism’, you would have to learn English.

      Reply
      • Athabascan

        August 18th, 2017

        Are you expecting Val to attend a publically funded learning institution like a primary, or secondary school? For Val that would be tantamount to supporting socialism.

        Better to be an ignorant neocon than bowing to socialist values like science and pesky facts that lead to a left-wing ideal like education.

        Reply
  12. Frank

    August 15th, 2017

    Oh pity the poor farmer, having grown up on a farm myself i believed all the myths about it was a way of life, farmers feed the world and it was a calling from God. But you know what I did not want to be a farmer. Yes farming is hard work, long hours and many factors that cannot be controlled. Ie. weather, commodity prices . However, farmers work no less or harder than any other workers. I is astonishing how many tax breaks and incentives farmers get from the government to be in business. It is about time farmers get off there pity potty and see themselves for what farming is. A job.

    Reply
  13. David

    August 15th, 2017

    I am still a bit surprised that farm worker protection was such an issue, given that every other province in Canada already had this before Alberta. We weren’t being radical, we were just catching up with the 20th Century and the rest of the country.

    However, the Wildrose did have a strong connection to rural Alberta and it played the urban/rural divide for its advantage several times in the past against other parties too. Perhaps this time it caught some by surprise, but that is politics whether it is fair or nice or not. In the end I am not sure it really works out to their advantage, as Wildrose sort of painted itself to be a right wing extreme, rural based party and it didn’t really gain traction in the cities where most of Alberta’s voters are. Perhaps this approach would have worked better for Social Credit in the 1960’s when a higher percentage of Albertans still lived in rural communities.

    I do think extremism will turn off many Albertans, except perhaps the partisans for various parties. If the UCP comes across as too extreme or too right wing, people will look elsewhere.

    Reply
  14. anonymous

    August 15th, 2017

    So, you invite the most impolite to comment on your hatred

    Reply

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