Brian Jean’s crack about beating Rachel Notley may have ended his hopes to lead Alberta’s right

Posted on September 01, 2016, 12:22 am
10 mins

PHOTOS: Opposition Leader Brian Jean, haunted by the radicalism of his own rural-dominated party, now looks like he’s stumbled into the same snake pit of anger and misogyny. (Photo from Below: Premier Rachel Notley, the subject of Mr. Jean’s controversial remark; Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt, whom he tried to discipline last spring for saying the same sort of thing he just blurted out; and former Fort Mac Progressive Conservative and later Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier, who got in trouble over seniors’ homes in the city too.

Brian Jean may well have destroyed his chances of ever leading Alberta’s conservative movement back to the Promised Land of government with an idiotic off-the-cuff remark Tuesday night about beating Premier Rachel Notley.

The Opposition Leader and Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA certainly wounded himself gravely when he told a town hall meeting in his riding in response to a participant’s question about the need for seniors’ housing in the region that “I’ve been beating this drum for 10, 11 years. I will continue to beat it, I promise. But it’s against the law to beat Rachel Notley.” (Emphasis added. Given the context, it is impossible for him or his supporters to pretend he was talking about beating her at the polls.)

NotleyMr. Jean would have been just fine if he’d stuck to his first two sentences, which was all he needed and presumably wanted to say.

Blurting out the third sentence, though, represented a grave error of judgment – and, more seriously, an underlying bad attitude about misogyny and violence that has dogged the Wildrose Party and its supporters almost from Day 1. Indeed, according to former leader Danielle Smith, it was one of the key reasons she gave up on the party in December 2014 and joined the provincial Tories led by then-premier Jim Prentice in a failed “unite-the-right” effort brokered by conservative godfather Preston Manning.

It doesn’t really help very much that Mr. Jean realized his mistake immediately and tried to walk it back with a half-hearted apology, followed up quickly with a more serious apology, then with a note to Premier Notley in which he appeared to apologize with sincerity.

But it was too late the instant he’d flapped his gums, given his history with this issue, in which many of Alberta’s right-wing political figures (not just Mr. Jean) seem to tolerate and even encourage this kind of misogynistic and violent commentary among their supporters, jocular and otherwise, and on occasion exhibit such behaviour themselves.

It also doesn’t make it better, or provide Mr. Jean with any excuses, that the crowd of his supporters apparently laughed uproariously at his crack.

It was clear by yesterday morning that a very large number of Albertans outside his party’s ranks, quite a few of them small-c conservatives, did not find his effort at humour even remotely funny. You had to know it was bad when normally apolitical citizens like medal winners from the recent Olympics started speaking up and condemning his remarks.

FildebrandtThe irony is rich that, not so long ago, Mr. Jean appeared to acknowledge the Alberta right and especially his own party has a problem with misogynistic and violent rhetoric by its members. Back in December 2015, after a stream of lurid threats against NDP politicians in general and Ms. Notley in particular appeared on pro-Wildrose social media sites, he declared that he would “have a zero tolerance policy for such comments” on his own Facebook page. Previously, many such comments had been allowed to sit there for long periods of time.

By implication, at least, Mr. Jean’s carefully parsed December commentary on social media did indicate between the lines he knew perfectly well the source of this public fountain of hate was in his own party’s members. “Over the past few days,” his statement began, “I’ve seen far too many hateful and even violent social media posts directed towards our political opponents.” (Emphasis added.) “This needs to stop. These kinds of comments cross all bounds of respect and decency and have absolutely no place in our political discourse. This is not how Albertans behave.”

The trouble is, it is how a significant subset of Albertans do behave, as is becoming embarrassingly evident to everyone, everywhere.

Then, in May this year, Mr. Jean attempted to fire Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt for a social media post in which he appeared to endorse homophobic and misogynistic comments about Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to whom he had given a rude reception when she visited the Alberta Legislature a few hours before.

Acting swiftly while attending the federal Conservative Party’s convention in Vancouver, Mr. Jean issued a terse news release stating that Mr. Fildebrandt had been suspended from caucus and dumped as a front-bencher for making “an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose caucus.”

Well, Mr. Fildebrandt’s supporters quickly made it clear their man’s comments did represent the values of their Wildrose Party, at least as far as they were concerned. Mr. Jean’s action was met with a storm of protest from party members – ironically, saying many of the same things the same people are now saying in defence of Mr. Jean’s Fort Mac remark. He quickly backed down and completely reinstated Mr. Fildebrandt.

GuyBoutilier1This may or may not have encouraged the worst instincts of the Wildrose Party’s membership. To his credit, Mr. Fildebrandt has kept his hitherto loose lips zipped ever since. But the fact Mr. Jean has made the same sort of slip suggests he has similar values to those he criticized in Mr. Fildebrandt. That, in turn, makes it hard to dismiss the possibility the Wildrose leader may have had different reasons for his attack on his ambitious lieutenant.

It is not clear whether this blow to Mr. Jean’s credibility will help or hinder Calgary Midnapore MP Jason Kenney’s quest to unite and lead Alberta’s right.

On one hand, Mr. Jean may have ruled himself out of contention as a likely leader of a united right, which it could be argued would help Mr. Kenney further on down the line if he manages to capture the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives.

On the other, it will do little to assuage the fears of those many PCs who understand that Mr. Kenney’s plan is to merge their more centrist party with far-right Wildrosers whose angry culture keeps provoking concerns about misogynistic and violent attitudes outside the Alberta mainstream. Whatever the PC Party’s leadership-election rules may be, such concerns will make these moderate PCs less likely to support a proposed merger under Mr. Kenney, Mr. Jean or anyone else.

Since Mr. Kenney’s sole reason for seeking to lead the PCs is to merge them with the Wildrose, surely this can’t benefit his project!

One additional thing is clear: Fort Mac politicians would be advised to steer clear of commentary about seniors’ housing in that community.

It was the same issue, after all, that in 2009 prompted former PC premier Ed Stelmach to kick Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier out of the government caucus for attacking funding delays for a long-term care facility in the constituency.

Mr. Boutilier, who was a Tory MLA and cabinet minister for a dozen years after serving as mayor of Fort Mac in the 1990s, joined the fledgling Wildrose Party after sitting for a year as an Independent in what is nowadays the city’s other riding.

He was defeated in 2012 by Tory Mike Allen, whose political and personal troubles did not involve seniors’ housing. The riding is now represented by another Wildroser, Tany Yao, an apparent climate-change unbeliever.

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13 Comments to: Brian Jean’s crack about beating Rachel Notley may have ended his hopes to lead Alberta’s right

  1. Sam Gunsch

    September 1st, 2016

    Some AB context re the ‘applause’ after Jean’s beating comment:
    Headline via Postmedia News, Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2012

    ‘One in ten men say it’s OK to hit a woman if she makes him angry: Alberta survey’

    CALGARY — Nearly one in 10 Alberta men believes it’s OK to physically assault a woman if she does something to make him angry.

    This data about a violence approving portion of AB males, from 2012, posted to Twitter today.

    A telephone survey, conducted in February by Leger Marketing, quizzed 1,000 Alberta men about their attitudes on gender equity and domestic violence and found that 1 in 10 found it acceptable to hit women in at least some circumstances. Getty Creative

    By Amanda Stephenson

  2. Kang the barbarian

    September 1st, 2016

    “Man bites dog” is worth a headline – “Dog bites man” is not. Looks like “Wildroser/Harper Cons shows true colours – again” is just getting to be typical of this bunch.

    Must be really upsetting to realize that the days of high school drop outs making more money than doctors is over, probably for good. Obviously they need more socialization so they stop making theats against people, regardless of their gender.

    Making threats of violence is a criminal act. Perhaps a stretch in the jails they voted for as Conservatives would be useful for them and get them out of our hair for a while.

    As some say: ‘just sayin’

  3. September 1st, 2016

    The NDP seem to have recovered well from their gaffes. Deborah Drever anyone. The plain fact is that the NDP will never get in to power in Jean’s riding. He is too well-known and well-respected. It’s ridiculous and dishonest to take one off-the-cuff remark as a summation of a person’s character.

    • johanna

      September 1st, 2016

      off the cuff remark. my foot .it is an attitude

    • Craig

      September 1st, 2016

      Class, time for a pop quiz. There are several differences between Deborah Drever’s situation and the one in which Brian Jean currently finds himself, that make them less than analogous. For two marks each, name them.

    • Maria

      September 2nd, 2016

      What Mr. Jean said about Ms. Notley at a political event is criminal. He is an experienced politician and what comes out of his mouth ‘off the cuff’ or otherwise does speak to his character. The fact that his comment caused laughter just shows how ‘redneck’ parts of Alberta are. Cudos to the NDP for not making a big deal out of this. If an NDPer had made the comment about another party leader there would be a huge outrage.

  4. David

    September 1st, 2016

    It is not a good sign for Wildrose that Mr. Jean who generally seems to be more thoughtful and restrained in his comments than most of his supporters said what he did. It could benefit Mr. Kenney in so far his next big challenge if he wins the PC leadership could be fighting Mr. Jean for the leadership of the merged party. However, in the short term it could also cause the PC’s to have stronger reservations about merging with the Wildrose, as they seem so prone to regularly making embarrassing comments.

    However, I am not sure this is fatal to Mr. Jean. In politics people say stupid things much more often than I would expect and Mr. Jean’s stupid remarks may be forgotten or at least fade somewhat after the next person says something stupid. However, the next bozo eruption will create an interesting conundrum from Mr. Jean, if it comes from his own party. It will be more difficult for him to crack down hard on the offender after his own remarks and that could reinforce the impression that Wildrose condones or tolerates this type of thinking.

  5. The Wet One

    September 1st, 2016

    Interesting. I hadn’t considered that this is perhaps normal amongst the Wildrose.

    I will make a note of it for future reference.

  6. Bird's Eye View

    September 2nd, 2016

    We’ll see more heavy criticism of the Wild Rose as Kenney’s team tries to get the media to fall into line in support of a united right behind him. Let’s not do Kenney’s job for him.

  7. Tukalook

    September 2nd, 2016

    Hey , folks it was just a rap , with an attempt at humour , that followed a rhyme , it would have played the same whether the candidate was male or female. The thing is we have become so politically attuned to perfection in our human beings , we expect them to measure everything they say to a point , where if we played our cards right told general audience everything they wanted to hear all the time , in other words played the audience , we would in effect elect a bunch of con men and women , I have known Brian for decades , he is a well meaning man , solid in his beliefs and a good representive for the people who should count themselves as lucky that we have people like him willing to want t fight for Albertans . The crime was a bad rap , just a rhyme , So many real issues this is just a waste of time.

    • Maria

      September 2nd, 2016

      good to know that he is ‘solid in his beliefs’ and a ‘good representative of the people’. Unfortunately for him, it is just a small number of out-of touch people he presents, the ‘lake of fire’ types. I don’t believe that a lot of conservatives appreciate his comments – so much for uniting the right ! As for real issues to deal with……. remember the opposition hype when the Drever photos became public knowledge after the last election. Ms. Drever has redeemed herself quite well. How is Mr. Jean redeeming himself ? or Fildebrandt for his earlier comments ? As an Albertan I am sick and tired of being viewed as some hick from the ‘olden days’. If I wanted Trump-style politics, I’d move south.

  8. AlbertaRusH

    September 2nd, 2016

    Jean said it at a Wildrose function because he’s heard it at Wildrose functions. His supporters understand, even if we don’t, that the apology is for others, the message was for them. I predict that apologies will stop as he starts to double down on base pleasing talk previously heard only behind Wildrose doors.


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