PHOTOS: Jason Kenney may be the UCP’s leader now, but he’s still doing his best to appeal to his red-meat social conservative base. (Photo: Dave Cournoyer, Below: NDP Education Minister David Eggen, NDP Premier Rachel Notley, and UCP House Leader Jason Nixon.

The impassioned, at times bitter, tone of the debate over the latest school gay-straight alliance legislation to come before the Alberta Legislature suggests both the New Democratic Party Government and the United Conservative Party Opposition see their positions as winners with the electorate.

As always in such situations, one of them is almost certainly wrong. But which way this wedge is actually likely to slice the Alberta vote remains far from clear.

A week ago, NDP Education Minister David Eggen introduced Bill 24, An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances, legislation designed to prevent school administrators from informing parents in all but a few situations if their children have joined a GSA at their school, unless the young people themselves agree.

“We wanted to make it crystal clear that kids will not be outed,” Mr. Eggen told the CBC last week.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney immediately accused the NDP of “using this sensitive matter as a partisan political wedge issue.”

This is ironic, seeing as it was Mr. Kenney’s use of the issue as a partisan political wedge that provoked the NDP to introduce the amendments to the Alberta School Act in the first place.

Mr. Kenney created a storm of controversy last March when, during a congenial visit with like-minded members of the Calgary Herald Editorial Board, he opined that while he might not repeal the law reluctantly brought in by premier Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2015 that requires students to be permitted to form a gay-straight alliance at school if they see the need, their parents should always be notified if they sign up.

This infuriated GSA supporters, who argued that in many cases it could put LGBTQ children’s lives at risk, but was red meat to Mr. Kenney’s social conservative base.

This blog wondered at the time if his position meant Mr. Kenney was turning into the Anita Bryant of Canada, a pretty good line for that tiny minority of readers old enough to remember who Anita Bryant is.

I wrote at the time: “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.’” Ms. Southey, alas, is no longer with Canada’s National Website.

The heat from the blowback was intense enough that Mr. Kenney made himself scarce before resurfacing safe and well-fed a month later at a fund-raiser for then B.C. premier Christy Clark’s Liberals in a chichi Vancouver restaurant. An NDP-Green alliance now runs the province to the west.

Notwithstanding the promise Monday by UCP House Leader Jason Nixon that the Opposition Caucus would be allowed a free vote on the bill, Mr. Kenney vowed the next day that his Legislative Caucus, of which he is leader but not yet a member, would vote against Bill 24.

Of course, given the makeup of the UCP Caucus, it’s quite possible both a free vote and a unanimous vote could happily coexist within its ranks.

In any case, both Mr. Kenney’s UCP supporters and Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP seem to have cranked up the rhetoric on the issue.

As political commentator Dave Cournoyer argued on his thoughtful blog, “Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.”

Many commentators had imagined that Mr. Kenney, once safely ensconced as leader of the UCP, would pivot to a more moderate position on social issues. Now it seems as if he will defy that conventional wisdom and continue to thump his social conservative tub.

It’s always dangerous, of course, to hold up an American mirror to a Canadian jurisdiction – even one as Americanized as Alberta – in an effort to suss out how such a controversy might play out.

Still, the results of Tuesday’s elections in the not-entirely-dissimilar republic next door are suggestive of possibilities, if not certainties.

“A Year After Trump, Women and Minorities Give Groundbreaking Wins to Democrats,” read a headline in yesterday’s online edition of the New York Times.

“If the 2016 presidential election reflected a primal roar from disaffected white working class voters that delivered for President Trump and Republicans, Tuesday’s results showed the potential of a rising coalition of women, minorities, and gay and transgender people who are solidly aligning with Democrats,” the story began.

By all appearances, Mr. Kenney is still channeling Donald Trump on many issues. Ms. Notley’s New Democrats are seeking a centrist sweet spot not unlike that identified with American Democrats.

So can the same thing happen in Alberta as happened in the United States on Tuesday night?

It’s too soon to tell…

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  1. The CBC story reported that 9 MLAs voted against the bill: Derek Fildebrand and 8 UCP MLAs. David, do you know what the others did? Vote for? Abstain? Stay away from the vote?

  2. “Sex clubs”! This was in Graham Thomson’s column in the Journal this morning:

    Conservative groups have been happily pointing to a blog post from Ted Byfield, a conservative commentator and close friend of Kenney’s, who calls GSAs “sex clubs” designed to foster homosexuality.

    “If my son or daughter, having reached, say, the age of ten or eleven, is lured into a school sex club, is persuaded that he or she must be homosexual, acts accordingly, acquires HIV and then AIDS and remains crippled for life, whom do I sue?” asks Byfield. “The government, or the minister that helped bring this tragedy upon us?”

    My comments: (a) Really? Ted Byfield is still alive? (b) For those waiting for bozo eruptions, well that didn’t take long.

    1. I guess he is still around, but Ted must be around the age of Hugh Hefner who was in the news not so long ago. Perhaps that is what prompted him to start thinking about sex clubs. However, the Playboy Clubs were not GSA’s, perhaps he has become confused.

    2. I just took a look at Ted Byfield’s blog that you referenced. It will be pretty hard for Jason Kenney to distance himself from Ted Byfield’s rather frightening views, given that Kenney is the godfather to Byfield’s granddaughter. As such, he can’t really claim that Mr. Byfield is just some whacko that every party has.

  3. Pretty sure Albertans can now safely refer to this new United Conservative Party as: “Lake-of-Fire 2.0” or simply put: the LAF party.

    According to a piece by Graham Thomson in today’s Edmonton Journal, a UCP supporter claims GSAs are sex clubs, teaching “sensitive subjects”, pushed by homosexual activists, where you can eventually get AIDS if you participate. Any chance Jason Kenney might have picked up these odious claims from some extreme social conservative evangelical pressure groups?

    Climenhaga is spot on when he remarks that this issue is red meat for Kenney’s evangelical base. Surely this “back-to-the-future” conservatism will translate into NDP votes come 2019.

  4. This is exactly what the PC’s feared would happen with Kenney. His base of support is social conservatives, he spent the last year avoiding all Gay Pride Parades in Alberta. Is anyone really surprised he is not supporting this bill to add protection for students in GSA’s?

    I think Kenney is still stuck in the Alberta of the 1990’s, the one he left to go off to Ottawa for his long career in federal politics. I suspect the rest of the world, including many PC’s and even some Wildrosers have moved on.

    A “wedge” issue only works if it appeals to enough people or the right people. Kenney already has the strong support of social conservatives, so there is little to gain here for him. More importantly, I don’t think he is quite at where mainstream Albertans are on this issue and it will only serve to perpetuate and strengthen the image and reservations people had about Wildrose and its successor the UCP.

    I don’t think this issue will be the only deciding factor in which party gets the support of Albertans in the next election, there will be many more battles to fight, but Kenney is not off to a good start here.

  5. Questions:
    Do we know if the UCP believes it can ‘win’ with this? I.E. Solidify its base and attract new socially conservative voters?
    Do we know what the actual break down in the province is on social issues?

    Might the money behind Kenny have conducted its own polls showing there is some traction here?

    Or, might they be thinking that this is a way to broaden UCP support – to tap into the more traditional/conservative segments of the new immigrant population? Kenney was a federal immigrations minister- so maybe he believes he can use this to hide his party’s other numerous and heinous policies.

    I am not saying he’s right about this strategy (and he is totally wrong about GSAs), but I have believe he is not totally politically insane. So what is going on?

    1. I think this is all about a kind of Willy Sutton rule of politics: your policies, at least between elections, need to go where the money & volunteers are. The base is where the donations come from, and where party members and potential campaign volunteers are recruited from. There is no need to “pivot” to appeal to more moderate, mainstream voters until the final weeks leading up to the writ drop, when voters’ attention starts turning to the upcoming election. By then, perhaps, they hope to have a big enough war chest and enough ground strength to overwhelm the NDP and win a majority regardless of their odious policy legacy on this file and other social issues.

  6. I am so tired of this nonsense from the UCP, Wildrose, etc.

    We have so many challenges facing us in Alberta. Economy, taxation, spending, infrastructure, etc.

    Instead of trying to create an issue out of this bill, refusing even to present ammendments (thus failing in their role as Official Opposition) why doesn’t UCP focus on the real issues? Tax, spending, abandoned wells, our high per capita spending on healthcare vs the results.

    Kenney and the UCP are turning me off. How can you say let’s leave the decision to out to the teachers when the Alberta Teachers Assoc strongly supports the bill? Seems more than a little silly to me.

    This is simply an attempt to shore up the right wing former Wildrose vote. My guess is that it will hurt the vote from middle of road moderates like myself.

    Think about it. Kenney’s first foray since being elected is over a relatively insignificant issue like this. Is he afraid to tackle the real issues and outline some real policy for Albertans to consider and debate?

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