PHOTOS: Is Jason Kenney turning into Canada’s Anita Bryant? Actual Canadian politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.) Below: The real Jason Kenney, and singer-songwriters k.d. lang and Boy George.

Is Jason Kenney turning into the Anita Bryant of Canada?

If you’re of a certain age, you won’t be able to forget Ms. Bryant, even if you wish you could. A popular singer and one-time Miss Oklahoma, she was best known for touting Florida orange juice until she became synonymous in the late 1970s with what we nowadays call homophobia.

Ms. Bryant’s international notoriety was the direct result of “Save Our Children,” her campaign in the Miami area to overturn a Dade County ordnance that prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Thanks to her efforts, there’s a generation of now-retiring North Americans who can’t say “a day without orange juice is like a day without Florida sunshine” without snorting their lattes all over their laptops.

If you’re young enough never to have experienced a world without the Internet, it was as if Ms. Bryant, now 77, had become a one-woman meme and avatar, long before such things even existed, for anti-gay bigotry. She was regularly savaged on Saturday Night Live back before it stopped being funny until Donald Trump Made it Great Again.

Mr. Kenney, of course, is the newly elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, which used to occupy the vast political middle ground of Alberta.

He proposes to take the PC party out with the trash, roll it into the even-more-right-wing Wildrose Party and use the new further-right Frankenparty spawned by this unwholesome union to knock off Premier Rachel Notley’s social democratic NDP government.

This will be remarkably easy to do, according to Mr. Kenney, who was one of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief lieutenants back in the heady days when the House of Commons was Tory blue and “inclusive” was a four-letter word in official Canada.

Now, Mr. Kenney is known to hold strong social conservative views, some of them apparently not so far removed from Ms. Bryant’s. But his greatest political successes have in fact been as an Astro-Turf installer for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a master dog-whistler, able to silently communicate one message to his so-con supporters and another aloud to the rest of us using the same subtly coded language.

So perhaps it was overconfidence about the task ahead that led Mr. Kenney to openly tell the Calgary Herald editorial board that while he might not repeal the Jim-Prentice PCs’ 2015 law requiring students to be permitted to form a gay-straight alliance at school if they see the need, their parents should be notified if they sign up.

Everybody – including Mr. Kenney, obviously – understands that the effect of such a policy, as the Globe and Mail’s Tabitha Southey cleverly put it, would be “basically just telling the kids that the GSAs are going to go live on a farm now, and no, you can’t visit them.”

“Few teenagers, straight or gay, are going to join, let alone start a GSA if it means a teacher is going to call their parents,” Ms. Southey explained for those unable to get the painfully obvious. “Teacher/parent phone calls are a kid’s kryptonite.”

That aside, everybody also understands the collateral damage for some young people would be grim, possibly fatal.

In addition, Mr. Kenney apparently didn’t think about what this policy might do the teaching staff’s workload when those of us who don’t care if our kids join a GSA, but would be extremely concerned if they joined the Wildrose Club or, God forbid, Junior Achievement, also demand prompt notification.

But the real similarity between Mr. Kenney and Ms. Bryant, of course, is the international reaction the new PC leader’s GSA commentary is now beginning to provoke.

Presumably, Mr. Kenney was so busy thinking about the potential of homophobia as a way to wedge a few votes from the NDP that he didn’t contemplate being turned, personally, into an international laughingstock.

No sooner had his deep thoughts about GSAs exited his mouth than k.d. lang, the popular singer-songwriter who puts a new spin on anti-capitalism, sent out a Tweet, in effect demanding that Mr. Kenney state his own sexual preference.

In most circumstances, most of us would think this is nobody’s business, and offensive to boot. But under the circumstances – a social-conservative politician proposing to out young people interested in a GSA for whatever reason – there was a kind of rough justice to her shot.

Ms. lang is an Albertan, of course, not just some celebrity from away. So she has a stake in the place just like the rest of us. She also commands an international following, so other voices were bound to begin chiming in, even if the openly pro-Kenney local media did its best to rig for silent running.

Boy George, the English singer-songwriter who rose to prominence in the 80s, Tweeted his own jibe at Mr. Kenney – whom he declared “#creepy” – after seeing the story on PinkNews, a British online publication written for an LGBTQ audience.

Perez Hilton – the Hollywood gossip blogger – commented as well with a link to the same source: “I care about what happens in Canada too! THIS IS SO DAMAGING to vulnerable youth!!”

There was also a celebrity reaction here in Canada. Dragon’s Den TV personality Arlene Dickinson and high-profile comedian Rick Mercer expressed similar sentiments on social media, Mr. Mercer more than once.

That’s just six Tweets, I grant you. But I’d bet money it’s only a matter of time before there’s a lot more and Mr. Kenney is undeniably an international embarrassment.

This may actually help Mr. Kenney in the darkest corners of the Alberta conservative movement’s base, of course.

But will it really help with severely normal Alberta voters, 2017 style, if Mr. Kenney turns into Canada’s Anita Bryant, still pounding a pulpit that seemed pathetic even back in 1977? Not so much, probably.

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  1. What boggles my mind is that we are still so obsessed, in many quarters, in controlling other people’s sexuality. Gay straight alliances are such a good idea…young people learning to protect and stand up for each other, refusing to allow any fellow student to be subject to the bullying that can happen to those of us who are different or vulnerable in some way.

    That this is still a dog whistle says something pathetic about us….Jason needs to find himself better advisers.

  2. Has there been any speculation about the name of the Frankenparty?
    WildRisen? RoseHip? Wild Conservative? Rose and Cons?
    Names matter. Remember the Conservative Reform Alliance Party?

    1. Now that you’ve put the thought in my head, I think Rose Again is the perfect name for them. It hits all the right notes! I wanted to get this on the record as soon as I thought of it so that history would show it was my coinage. Thanks for the inspiration! DJC

      1. “Wild Sore Conservatives”
        “Wild Conservative Sores”
        “Sore Wild Conservatives”

        They’re (barely) anagrams.

        One more for fun. “Wild Carnivores Vetoes” a proper anagram from Wild Rose Conservative

  3. It didn’t take too long for Kenney’s social conservative views to get outed and like Anita Bryant he largely did it himself. I suppose two important differences between him and Anita Bryant – it isn’t 1977 now and he doesn’t wear a dress in public.

    It also seems ironic that this guy who has no kids that we know of seems be telling everyone one else what is best for Alberta kids. I think even some more devout people who may be conflicted on this issue or not entirely comfortable with GSA’s are also beginning to become uncomfortable with Kenney and his approach here. He might be more of an embarrassment to Albertans if he actually spent much of the last 10 or 20 years here. I expect that Ottawa, where he spent most of that time is also not inclined to claim ownership of him now. I suppose it is the Conservative Party that has the most ownership and may be the most embarrassed here.

    Unlike Florida, we have no orange juice to peddle, but perhaps if politics does not work he might consider a future in promoting Alberta beef. On second thought – maybe he should stay away from that too.

    1. Mike: Hasn’t your mother ever told you that you can’t judge a book by its cover? Didn’t she ever tell you “creepy is as creepy does?” The question isn’t who is a sneaky bigot. We know that now. The real question is who wants to be associated with him?

      1. Anon: Actually, my mother taught me to stay away from books with bad covers; it was good advice. But you are correct, creepy is as creepy does.

        As for a sneaky bigot, what’s so sneaky about telling people what you are thinking and your potential plans? To me, sneaky, for example, is not campaigning on a carbon levy and then implementing one.

        1. Well, that is fair enough and too bad about those pipelines that finally got approved because of the carbon tax. But on the creepy does part, Mr. K has made no bones about his views about various sexual minorities or his intentions on the right of women to reproductive choice. Ask him if he supports the free provision of the abortion pill over the counter to save hospital surgical costs for abortion. Or how about lifting the restrictions on IUD dispensing?

          1. Approval, and being built and shipping product are two separate things. Time will tell how that plays out.

            As for the creepy does part, several of my views are aligned with Mr. K’s, especially on abortion. So I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that. Ultimately though, I concur with Brett’s comments below on having a someone who will implement good policy, effective government and results.

        2. So like all the rest of the “patriarchal legion of sanctimony” you received your ordained smut in plain brown wrapping paper and hid them under the bed? No closet for you!

  4. I was one of the Saskatoon organizers of the Moose Jaw rally against Bryant’s homophobic crusade which took place on Canada Day, 1978. The parade demonstration was much larger than 150 people. And the rally at the park was even larger. There was a real possibility of violence that day but it did not stop us from asserting gay and lesbian rights as human rights.

  5. The thing that Kenney and Brian Jean possess in spades is the ability to self-destruct at a moments notice. Jean with his doltish and reckless comment of beating Rachel Notley and now Kenney with this homophobic faux pas.

    Let’s hope third party political players in the next election step up to the plate and remind voters of these conservative party blunders like the Holodomor, feminism is a cancer and all the embarrassing antics during Question Period (berating guest Kathleen Wynn among others). They are, as Climenhaga rightfully points out, now an international embarrassment, to wit most Frankenparty supporters would utter as a consolation, “at least they’re our embarrassment.”

  6. David, I noticed you never did quote Ms. Lang’s tweet that was directed at Kenney. Why is that?

    I don’t believe anyone should be outed unless they want to be outed. This includes kids and adults, but what happens when a self-loathing closeted person is persecuting others of the LGBTQ community? Should that person be outed for his or her hypocrisy? Just asking…

    1. This.
      I have been uncomfortable with the commenters here publically musing on Kenney’s personal life (why do we care if he us a bachelor really?)
      Ms. Lang’s tweet is kinda snide, but perhaps her position in society lets her be the one to point out that one’s personal life does become public fodder when one becomes a public figure.
      In politics, actions speak louder than words, and there are actions enough by which he can be judged.

      1. Wrong!

        We care about his so-called bachelor lifestyle only because he is so negatively judgemental about members of the LGTBQT. Why is he so obsessed with this issue, especially when it creates so much division and distress for others? It’s Kenney who has made their personal lives a political issue so…

        KD Lang and others should be commended for their tweets.

        Bottom line: We don’t need an uneducated bigot got running this province.

  7. Another throwback to 1978: From Jimmy Buffett’s “Mañana”:

    So please don’t say mañana if you don’t mean it
    I have done your lines for so very long
    Don’t try to describe a Kiss concert if you’ve never seen it
    Don’t ever forget that you just may wind up being gone
    And I hope Anita Bryant never does one of my songs.

  8. Jason Kenney’s focus and comment will change with the opinion polls.

    This focus on social issues may work well and be top of mind in Three Hills. I suspect jobs, the economy, taxation, education, and health care will be top of mind to the voters in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, etc.

    I could care less about a politician’s faith or sexual orientation. I am more interested in policy,effective Government, and results.

    Bill 10 is yesterdays news. Like abortion and same sex marriage. Let’s move forward because those issues have been resolved.

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