PHOTOS: A shot from the Twittersphere of Saturday’s anti-carbon-tax protest in Red Deer (grabbed from @IamBunbury). Below: A close-up from the photo of a person who appears to be Jason Nixon speaking to one of the protesters, and a photo of Mr. Nixon from a Wildrose event in 2015. Below that: Former MLA Joe Anglin and Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer.

The Wildrose Opposition’s “democracy and accountability” critic spoke at an anti-carbon-tax rally in Red Deer Saturday where Canadianized versions of the Confederate Battle Flag – universally used, recognized and loathed as a symbol of overt racism – were freely flapping in wind.

Jason Nixon – who is also the Wildrose Legislative Caucus’s whip, responsible for party discipline – told the media the flag flappers were, in the words of the Canadian Press reporter who covered the story, “apart from the main crowd,” and that he spoke with the flag wavers and condemned their “racist imagery.”

Well, sorry, but that dog won’t hunt.

If the MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre wanted to make a point about racist imagery, he could have sent the flag wavers packing from the steps of Red Deer City Hall, where he addressed the entire tiny group of carbon-tax opponents. Instead, he says, he spoke to the flag wavers for a few moments afterward.

According to the CBC, he then issued a statement saying, “I am sure that they would not have been welcome had they attempted to join the rally.”

Oh, please! Even if there’s no one standing behind the tree shown in the Twitter photo, the flag wavers are no more than a dozen steps from the rest of the protesters.

As Brian Mulroney famously said to John Turner: “You had an option, sir!” Mr. Nixon could have walked away and said why. He could have manned up and condemned the racist-flag wavers from the bully pulpit being an MLA provides. Instead, he bloviated un-memorably about the NDP’s carbon tax to handful of people the demonstration managed to attract.

My guess is that if the protest hadn’t happened on a weekend when the Progressive Conservatives were having a meeting in Red Deer, and a few PC members unhappy about the idea of a forced merger with the Wildrose Party hadn’t wandered by with camera-equipped smart-phones, none of us would know anything about this.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer, who was not there, issued a statement expressing her dismay about the images.

Joe Anglin, Mr. Nixon’s predecessor as  Wildrose Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA, told me yesterday that no public figure can just ignore a racist symbol like the Confederate Battle Flag at a rally and pretend it has nothing to do with them.

“It’s an ugly reminder of a dark time in American history,” the U.S.-born Mr. Anglin observed. “People of integrity don’t just disavow its presence. They remove themselves completely from participation in the event.”

And have no doubt about it, he added, “once the Confederate flag was unfurled, the event became a racist event. It is no defence … to say he spoke with the flag wavers to condemn the behaviour after the damage was done.”

Mr. Anglin, defeated at a Wildrose nomination meeting in July 2014 by Mr. Nixon, who had worked behind the scenes as the constituency secretary to unseat him, said he believes Wildrose ranks are far from free of racism and homophobia. “This association I regret.”

The fact is, we’ve got a broader problem with racism in Alberta and politicians who stand by in situations like this as Mr. Nixon did are tacitly contributing to it.

Sometimes not so tacitly, either. As Edmonton writer Todd Babiak noted in a blog commentary yesterday on today’s U.S. election, no Albertan should be surprised by the Donald Trump phenomenon south of the 49th Parallel because the attitudes associated with his supporters are shared by many in this jurisdiction.

There’s no shortage of Alberta politicians on the right prepared to exploit such attitudes for political gain, either.

Consider then-Calgary-MP Jason Kenney’s bizarre stream of pro-Brexit Tweets last June. We all knew perfectly well what Mr. Kenney had in mind when he Tweeted, “I respect the decision of the British people who will be unencumbered to pursue more global free trade & non-EU migration.” (Emphasis added.)

A lot of Albertans, sad to say, doubtless approved. Some of those people, I imagine, were standing with Mr. Nixon at the rally in Red Deer on Saturday.

The term of art for this behaviour is dog-whistling – messages sent by demagogues like Mr. Trump between their spoken lines to stoke their supporters’ fury and hatred. Done properly, every dog-whistle is totally deniable – and perfectly understood by just the right segment of the electorate.

Pretending you can’t see a group of people waving an overt racist symbol while you ramble on about the carbon tax sends a dog-whistle message of its own – one certainly not appropriate for the caucus disciplinarian of the official Opposition! The message it sends, no matter what Mr. Nixon thinks, is that this kind of imagery is just fine with the Wildrose Opposition.

What Alberta’s conservative parties are doing is very much like what the U.S. Republican party did when its dog-whistlers opened the way for an open racist like Mr. Trump to contest the presidency as their flag-bearer.

As the New York Times’ Paul Krugman pointed out in a recent column, Republican political strategy has exploited the American racial divide for half a century. “So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.”

Conservative parties in Alberta and Canada are not so different. Just look at the disgusting xenophobic displays by such candidates for the leadership of the federal Conservatives as Kellie Leitch, Chris Alexander and Steven Blaney. Mr. Kenney, for his part, is busy campaigning to unite the Alberta right, complete with busloads of supporters clad in Trumpish camo hats.

It’s probably only a matter of time before we have an openly racist political campaign in Alberta too. And racist campaigns, as a majority of Canadians profoundly hope Mr. Trump’s won’t demonstrate tonight, can take us down a dark road indeed.

If they truly disapprove of racist imagery, Mr. Nixon, his Wildrose caucus mates and the people who want to merge them into the Progressive Conservative Party are going to have to work a lot harder to prove it.

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  1. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills when I see the Confederate flag on bumper stickers in Alberta. Are people in my community actually that racist, or are they totally in denial about what the flag represents?

    This has bothered me for years. I’m not surprised to see it out at an anti-NDP “rally.” Let’s be straight: The topic at hand (carbon tax) is not really pertinent. These same people would be out decrying any NDP or liberal policy.

  2. Could probably sum this up as another what the hell were you thinking moment? But that would imply thinking and well you know… So to be clear these about 500 (# from a local radio station) people want the entire $30 per tonne to go to the Federal gov’t?

    1. While I am skeptical of the claim 500 people (or 600, as I heard from a caller) attended the rally, I have been persuaded that my understanding the crowd’s size was much smaller was, in fact, incorrect. This is the danger inherent in writing about events you were unable to attend personally – a problem made necessary by the refusal of mainstream media to provide a balance of interpretations and commentary on political issues. DJC

      1. The number was helped substantially by that other thing going on in our city over the weekend. Have yet to run into anyone who actually attended.

  3. While I don’t agree with the protestors, I can understand some are concerned about paying more, perhaps they may not realize there will be rebates to lower income people to offset the additional costs. However, I really struggle to understand what the heck the Confederate flag has to do with the carbon levy or tax.

    I realize some take the Confederate flag a symbol of state power vs. federal power, but there are two big flaws with this thinking. First, in this case it is a protest organized by a provincial political party, against a provincial levy – this does not seem to involve the feds. Second, the particular power the Confederacy fought for was to keep slavery – which leads to another inescapable symbolic meaning behind this flag.

    Wildrose’s claim to leadership of the Conservative opposition in Alberta is currently very tenuous at best. They now need to make every possible effort to disassociate themselves from the kooks and the cranks they have courted over the years. They didn’t seem to do that over the weekend.

    1. The Wildrose Party says they had no involvement in organizing the protest. DJC

      1. I guess Wildrose MLA’s must have just happened to know about it, happened to show up and Brian Jean happened to speak at it. So who organized it then?

  4. Jason Nixon has a rather shabby track record, especially from when he was serving as president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union, before becoming an MLA. It is all well documented and (as late as February 2016) AUSU were still dealing with the aftermath of his rather undocumented salary there. Read from Page 9 onward in the report.
    More details are also available (on the other Dave’s blog!!)

  5. The arctic Tundra continues to melt. At some point it will reach cascade and there will be no stopping it. The Tundra holds 1.8 million gigatons of carbon dioxide and methane. Which reaches our atmosphere depends on whether it percolates through water or not. First hit will be our rivers. For a while large flooding every spring then, notso much as the glaciers dissipear. We all know they are receding; a “so what” attitude prevails. Fish will die and the rivers will go stagnent long before they go dry.

    We have been told for years to turn down our thermostats; don’t idle your vehicle so long and so on. Always it is left for the nebulous “sombody else” to do. Carbon tax makes it my problem, your problem and there will be no escape. If you turn down your heat and wear a sweater in the house you can probably break even. The world, a group of 30 countries have signed into international law such a thing that the ND are now doing. This was just a few days ago.

    Earth orbit is elliptical and we are moving further away from the sun as we should. However instead of cooling off which would be the norm, we are heating up.

    The conservatives favor cap and trade which does nothing at all for the problem but allows companies to move large sums of money across borders tax as a tax deductible. A Canadian company could transfer its profits to a US parent, instead of taking a tax hit they take a deductible under the conservative Scheme.

    The carbon tax should work! Unless we as a province are totally mindless.

    And as far as the Confederate flag. The wild rose party are purely republican and they started off and succeeded on a prominent lie as a foundation. Danielle Smith and her cadre all said they would do away with transfer payments. This lead quite a few Albertans to think there was a huge check written by Alberta to Ottawa every year. This was actually how it was presented. No such thing happens. Transfer payments come out of general revenues in Ottawa and are distributed by Ottawa to the all the provinces. They are formed by the Republican groups around Cardston Alberta. It is no secret that the LDS church pours millions into political support for the Republicans They never tried to hide it. Millions into the Biden campaign most recently.

  6. xenophobia exist since the time humans found the trick to walk on two legs.
    in past it’s wasn’t as pronounced in the countries, have been built on immigration principles but seems time is coming. particularly in the light of forcible created migration.
    ones call it diversification but in reality, artificially mixing into one society historically antagonistic cultures with absolutely different values, customs, beliefs, etc, just becomes a time-bomb which eventually will explode very badly.
    so is phenomena of Trump in US shows only a pretty logical twist of the way of thinking in american society.
    can assure you, Canada isn’t too far behind, maybe 3-5 years and we will see similar in here.

  7. Speaking of dog-whistles David, you might want to back off from your easy use of the racist label.
    The events overnite have shown that the contemporary punditry have completely missed the story. On the long, long list of characteristics that EVERY person would like to see in their friends, their families and their leaders would be acceptance, generosity and understanding. However they are a long ways down the list from safety, security, food, shelter and meaningful work.
    Those people waving that flag are stupid, reckless, irresponsible. But to start labeling people outside your narrow world view as racist, bigoted, homophobic is just intellectually lazy.
    As we are seeing in Britain and now America these easy short-hand labels are missing the point. Just because your opponent is ignorant, slow-witted and frightened is no excuse for replies in kind. Nothing good will come from that.

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