Discomfort about UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s relationship with the truth winkles into respectable circles

Posted on December 12, 2017, 12:59 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party and, if things go as expected on Thursday, leader of the Opposition soon thereafter. Below: Alberta commentators Susan Wright, a blogger, and Graham Thomson, one of Postmedia’s political columnists, and U.S. political essayist Frank Rich (Photo: Twitter).

There’s a growing discomfort among those who pay attention to politics in Alberta about Jason Kenney’s economical relationship with the truth.

It’s not just that the leader of the United Conservative Party sometimes shades the truth a little bit – as all politicians are accused of doing and all human beings do from time to time. There’s a growing consensus that a lot of the time he just makes stuff up.

That goes for things he says about opponents who are on the same side of the ideological divide as he is, like former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean who also wanted to be the leader of the UCP, and those in other parties, like NDP Premier Rachel Notley, whose job Mr. Kenney covets.

Now, there’s a certain amount of discomfort about this in polite journalistic circles. Journalists, especially for those publications that still have a few shreds of respectability clinging to them, are very uncomfortable saying the L-Word out loud about the sort of person they’ve been trained to treat with kid gloves.

The tendency to untruthfulness on Mr. Kenney’s part has been obvious for quite a while, but particularly since he got into Alberta provincial politics last year.

Alberta politics is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else. This isn’t like federal politics which, despite the fact a representative is elected locally, takes place in a remote location and is reported on mostly by journalists from far away, who may have another part of this very large country in mind when they write about what the government says or does beside the Rideau Canal.

Now that Mr. Kenney is running for election to the provincial Legislature in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election, this is starting to be noticed, and written about.

What’s interesting is that knowledge of this aspect of Mr. Kenney’s character is now winkling – rather slowly, I’d say – from the blogosphere and politically partisan circles to the more respectable quarters of the mainstream media.

It may not really be surprising that a fair but unquestionably liberal blogger like Susan Wright would devote a thoughtful column to Mr. Kenney’s relationship with the truth.

His claims aren’t supported by the facts, she wrote yesterday. His supporters are abusive and shout down their opponents, she said. Together, she concluded, they refuse to respect the rules of civil discourse. This, she suggested, adds up to a threat to democracy.

“In the last few weeks Kenney and the UCP have taken civil discourse to a new Trump-like low,” she wrote. “They’ve said socialists eat dogs, marijuana leads to communism and Pinochet’s reign of terror was ‘a success story.’”

It is surprising, however, when a respectable mainstream political columnist like Postmedia’s Graham Thomson comes to essentially the same conclusions, and structures his commentary in much the same way.

“Another day, another statement from United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney that has to be run through the fact-checker,” Mr. Thomson wrote, also yesterday. He quickly made it clear that the fact-checker won’t be kind to Mr. Kenney’s claims, at least on the topic of Bill 32, the government’s legislative effort to control dark money in politics and remove probably unconstitutional residency requirements from Alberta’s voting rules.

Mr. Thomson also took issue with Mr. Kenney’s accusations the NDP “lied” about this and that – when easily verifiable facts indicate it’s not the NDP that’s doing the lying.

“Kenney is making colourful comments and tweets, but he should be careful,” Mr. Thomson concluded hopefully. “Others will be fact-checking them, and pointing out when he gets them wrong.”

I’m not so sure about this. In fact – if such a concept even exists in this supposedly post-factual age – it’s not at all clear that this matters to anyone outside the chattering classes.

The world has a powerful example before it of how far casual, habitual, consistent whoppers can take a politician in a democracy disillusioned by neoliberal economics and corrupted by dark money, foreign and domestic.

What we have seen in the United States under President Trump is, as essayist Frank Rich observed in New York magazine last month, “the systemic erosion of political, ethical, and social norms.”

“The magnitude of cultural vandalism Trump has perpetrated in so short a time is impressive. Even without carrying out (so far) such draconian threats as revoking network-television licenses, he has fully discredited the legitimate news media in the eyes of his base and no doubt other credulous Americans as well. The earnest liberal conviction that Trump voters would see the light if only they were exposed to a relentless stream of fearless journalistic investigations accompanied by fiery op-eds and MSNBC sermons was a pipe dream.”

Is it really a surprise this phenomenon has appeared in Canada too?

Mr. Kenney has clearly made a strategic decision to rip this particular page from President Trump’s playbook. No doubt Mr. Thomson’s effort, too, will be dismissed by Mr. Kenney’s ardent supporters as “fake news.”

From this vantage point, this strategy appears to be working as well here in Alberta as in the United States.

The by-election in Calgary-Lougheed is on Thursday. The NDP has fielded an excellent, highly qualified and thoughtful candidate in Dr. Phillip van der Merwe. While I have seen no polls of voter intentions in the riding, astute political observers are predicting Mr. Kenney will win with 60 to 70 per cent of the vote.

18 Comments to: Discomfort about UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s relationship with the truth winkles into respectable circles

  1. Sam Gunsch

    December 12th, 2017

    The analyses at these links below are useful supplements to Frank Rich’s in-depth extensive historical treatment. (and shorter)

    Most evidence on political opinions suggests, IMHO, that Alberta’s citizenry is, sadly, on the right drifting into alternate realities, along the lines discussed by David Roberts.

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/22/14762030/donald-trump-tribal-epistemology

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/2/16588964/america-epistemic-crisis

    http://grist.org/politics/asymmetrical-polarization-the-lefts-gone-left-but-the-rights-gone-nuts/
    ==================

    Climenhaga’s take is understating the political dysfunction being fomented and trafficked in by Kenney/UCP and allied PAC’s.

    Reply
  2. Topiary

    December 12th, 2017

    David, the irony of JK’s existence is that as much as he is a devout Catholic convert, he seems quite comfortable being mendacious. Yikes … I think he actually believes he is one of the ‘chosen’.

    Reply
  3. jerrymacgp

    December 12th, 2017

    There is one Central Canadian politician, centrist in political orientation, who has decided to call a lie a lie: Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynn, who has filed a defamation lawsuit against her PC opponent, Patrick Brown, based on his factually inaccurate charge that she was “on trial”, when she was in fact only appearing as a witness, and in fact had waived her parliamentary privilege to do so, in relation to a case in which some Ontario Liberal Party staffers were charged with (and ultimately acquitted of) bribery.

    Maybe it’s time the gloves came off here as well …

    Reply
  4. public servant

    December 12th, 2017

    Jason Kenney lies because it works. The vast majority of Albertans can’t be bothered to spend a bit of time educating themselves so they believe whatever the Calgary or Edmonton Sun tells them.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      December 12th, 2017

      Yup, and that’s tribalism for you…and that is what political discourse is devolving to (and taking democracy with it). It’s how you get an accused child molester (likely) elected in Alabama just so long as he is not a Democrat.

      Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      December 12th, 2017

      I agree, but maybe not with a ‘majority’. But close to a majority. And that portion get out and vote in higher numbers.

      Reply
  5. David

    December 12th, 2017

    Looking at what has happened in the US and elsewhere a person could fairly easily come to the conclusion that the truth doesn’t matter much in politics. I think that is to some extent the case, but making things up and exaggerating seems to work better for some than others and even then it has its limits. To start with, people do not have high expectations of politicians to be truthful, probably even less so for former TV reality show hosts, who made a living selling real estate and do not have previous experience in politics. However, as recent polls show even then it is becoming tiresome and concerning to most voters.

    Kenney can certainly at least claim to be a career politician, but no other aspects of his character would encourage people to forgive excessive exaggeration. Telling whoppers might help stir up people who are already partisan, but it can easily turn off those undecided or less committed who are paying attention to things like credibility and character. Stretching the truth seems to work best for what I will call Dennis the menace types of politicians, the type of politicians voters realize have flaws, but see some redeeming or likeable characteristics. I think calculating Kenney might only be able to pull of the menace half of that image. If we want to compare to the US, he seems more like Ted Cruz than Donald Trump.

    Yes, it is true that in this era politicians can probably get away with a few more whoppers than in the past, but the voters and the media’s patience for this sort of thing still has its limits. If a politician takes it too far, the whole thing could still bring them suddenly crashing down. Right now Kenney seems close to the limits of what will be tolerated and I think Thompson is saying don’t push it. I suppose we will have to wait and see if Kenney gets the message or ignores it.

    Reply
    • Tiddo

      December 12th, 2017

      There is a level self-awareness required of a person to hear that message as a warning and not encouragement, David. I do not believe Jason Kenney is that kind of person, and if he is, he is smart enough to choose the interpretation which fits his agenda.

      Research has shown that politicians are among the people who score highest for traits related to narcissism and sociopathy. I do not believe Jason Kenney is any different. He is a carpetbagging, fatuous blowhard, indeed, but he is also whip smart and very driven. He knows exactly what he is doing, even if he may not understand why he does it.

      In my opinion he is not driven by an ideological or political agenda, nor by any deep-seated concern for Alberta and its citizens, but by a need to be seen and heard and most of all, adulation. He seeks power, not even for its own ends, but because it puts him at the centre of attention. Praise does not move him, nor does scorn, as much as just having his due, which is your – and everyone else’s – attention.

      This is a man who praises the free market, but has never been tested by it; a man who waxes eloquent about protecting children and families, and yet doesn’t have one of his own; who scorns government and yet has collected a government paycheck for most of his adult life; who says he’s here to “save us” and yet hasn’t really ever lived here.

      I’ve met Mr. Kenney, and I’ve seen him work a room. I know what his motivations are and they are not to “save” Alberta (from itself no less), nor are they to deliver us on a plate to the 1% while the rest of us fight over scraps (as his detractors’ fevered dreams would have it).

      No. Jason Kenney just wants to be the boss, the man in charge, the saviour, the centre of our focus. And it doesn’t matter to him whether he – in the end – becomes the tide that raises all our boats or smashes us on the rocks of history, it will have all been worthwhile because Jason Kenney got his way.

      To paraphrase what a friend of mine says about the current occupant of the White House: he’ll be a shitty premier, because he’s a shitty person.

      Reply
      • Schrodinger's Cat

        December 14th, 2017

        I wish there was an upvoting system for comments, because this is the most accurate description of Jason Kenney I’ve seen in print. A former colleague of mine, who does research on the TFW program, regularly corresponded with Mr Kenney in his stint as Immigration Minister, and she confirmed your assessment of him at the time.

        Reply
  6. Mike

    December 12th, 2017

    When the voters have had enough, they will send the message. Example: 2015 Alberta Provincial election and 2016 US election.

    Reply
  7. Farmer Dave

    December 12th, 2017

    I can’t believe Trudeau is helping western Canadian farmers with beef and pork sales to China in this latest free trade agreement. I thought he was anti-Alberta. And he doesn’t like pipelines and he is anti-farmer

    Reply
    • Murphy

      December 12th, 2017

      The first step to getting help for your Tourette’s is, to admit that you have it.

      Reply
      • Farmer Dave

        December 13th, 2017

        Nice try MURPHY, you sound like you went to stupid school.

        Reply
  8. George J.

    December 12th, 2017

    Kenney is a stain.
    Practicing what the other corrupted cons are; say ANYTHING to smear others as if that will get them power.

    Democracy needs a check and balance for this; charge the guilty when they cross the line and ban them from political participation.

    Reply
  9. Scotty on Denman

    December 12th, 2017

    Whoops! Mighta committed a fallacy, there — I think it’s called an “Alberta Sharpshooters Fallacy” — by incongruously comparing a Canadian province with the whole of our neighbours’ country to the south, particularly Alberta, with about one percent of the population of the USA, the most powerful nation in history and current world hegemon, and its few hundred millions citizens.

    The Sharpshooters Fallacy involves the claim that a grouping of bulllet holes shows sharpshooting skill when the inclusion of a wider sampling field would show the grouping is actually random. In this case Alberta would have to be grouped with adjacent BC, in the matter of post-truthiness. The better kind of comparison is between the two nations, both conveniently about the same size and situated adjacently in the phantom empire of Greater Anglo-Saxony. The field properly adjusted, a third bullet hole is located far off to the East by itself at Ottawa.

    Okay, okay, — maybe it’s not entirely random, but the point I’d like to make is: Trump didn’t invent post-truth, he copied it from disparate but curiously related examples that had appeared on Canada’s target-card at least fifteen years before The Donald began his campaign to become the worldwide biggest buggerer of democratic politics. Those being the scattershot HarperCons in Ottawa, and BC Neolib-a-Cons, two anteceding neo-right governments which assiduously shafted their respective political apparatuses while responding to protest with the first blatant habituations of whopperism and absurd nonsequiters ever seen since the adoption of responsible governance in the British Commonwealth.

    When The Donald spouts blatantly preposterous superlatives, I am reminded he only overshadows the absolute Queen of the Whoppers by the accidental scale of absurdonomics, but qualitatively can’t hold a candle to Her Hypeness Christy Clark, the Prancing Majorette, Princess Warrior and once-premier of BC. It was she who took the Big Lie to new heights with her single-note stump-whoppers, continual and increasingly preposterous promises of LNG riches that would, she chirped, magically retire a provincial debt she was acttually adding to at an unprecedented rate. And she won her first and only mandate of her own, propelling to the zenith of alarming absurdity the monstrous Site-C Dam on the Peace River — needed to power, she said, the aforementioned LNG bonanza which had gone infeasibly and foreseeably bust long before the Site-C push was on to get it irreversibly committed before the next election. And she lost the one and only majority mandate of her own — but succeeded in foisting the only-recently (post-Christy) ultrasounded white elephant of Site-C onto the hapless citizens and weal of BC, one of the biggest capital projects, rationalized by a completely nonexistent LNG industry, and scams in Canadian history.

    Jason Kenney can legitimately claim to have predated The Donald’s high-power absurdism by way of his years as minister in the HarperCon government, but even then Christy predated him in her short stint as minister in the new BC Liberal government (when politics was not yet ready for her brash, pre-post-truth whopperism); she left politics to become a radio talk-show host, returning to seize the leadership of her disgraced party several only years later. The rest is whopper history. Kenney can only stand on the shoulders of the founding icons of whopperism and absurdism the moribundity of the neo-right has necessitated.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      December 12th, 2017

      Mea culpa. As an aside, I grew up in B.C., and I have always thought that as a general polity, there are two British Columbias. One, the lower Lower Mainland, most of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, Haida Gwaii, Nelson and maybe, if you’re feeling really generous, Kaien Island, is what people elsewhere in Canada think of when they talk about B.C. The other, as you say, is basically the same as Alberta. Of course, I left a long time ago. Things may have changed. DJC

      Reply
  10. brett

    December 12th, 2017

    Jason Kenney is exactly the person for the right wing of the party. His currency is half truths, bluster, out and out mis-statements.

    I cannot recall him putting any meat on his policy proclimations. We know he is in favour of free enterprise, family values, an law and order. But I don’t know what he is in favour of really. He is like a leaf in the wind….he will bend any which way.

    As a result no longer listen to him, I turn him off. There are lots of very good people in the UCP. People with good ideas and a vision. Unfortunately I feel Jason Kenney’s vision only stretches to getting himself elected and achieving power. That is the problem with career politicians who have never held a real job. They are too in love with themselves. I just wish Preston Manning would be more careful when selecting horse flesh for the race.

    Reply
  11. Tracy

    December 15th, 2017

    Great article, David, gives a lot to think about.

    A question- why do reporters treat politicians like him with kid gloves?

    And an observation- I’ve been taking note, as I know many are, of who amongst his base are doing the majority of the shit-disturbing on Twitter and Facebook, and it seems overwhelmingly to be bots. It’s frightening to think that everyone is reacting to fake people posting fake comments, with no other purpose than to give the illusion of division, and succeeding well in their (paid?) task.

    Some kind of strict regulation, monitoring, and consequence needs to happen before it’s too late. If it’s not too late already.

    Reply

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