PHOTOS: Alberta politicians Deron Bilous, Jason Kenney, Derek Fildebrandt and Thomas Lukaszuk, all from the author’s vast collection of snapshots.
Trigger warning! This dispatch from the Annals of Political Discourse in Alberta contains words unsuitable for sensitive and young readers. For a more fulsome discussion of why they are included anyway, read this chapter from my unpublished textbook for newspaper journalism students at a Christian University, which will remain nameless to protect the truly innocent. It was written in an era when newspapers still appeared, barely, to be a thing. Bonus points to those who find the typos. DJC
Has it occurred to anyone here that Jason Kenney may have been making a big mistake when he started claiming he would restore decorum to the Alberta Legislature?
After all, there’s a certain amount of evidence out there that Albertans may not mind it one bit if their politicians are … erm … plain spoken. They may even like it.
As long, that is, as the politicians in question are plain spoken about the right things. Pity the person who called a Conservative premier’s policies “Stalinist” back in the day. Condemnation in the gutter media would surely follow swiftly. Around here in Alberta, we only used to indulge in that kind of rhetoric when we were talking about Liberals and New Democrats.
Nowadays, though, Alberta’s New Democrats seem to be learning. Earlier this week, Trade Minister Deron Bilous called those other New Democrats who govern British Columbia “a bunch of shitheads” for being insufficiently enthusiastic about the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project.
This may not be a very nice thing to say about your next-door neighbours, especially when they share your party name, but when the former schoolteacher made his observation, the municipal officials he was addressing in Edmonton broke into cheers.
As for the reaction in British Columbia, a spokesperson for Premier John Horgan declined to comment, which is a nice way of saying he or she refused to dignify Mr. Bilous’s outburst with a response.
This might have been a mistake if Victoria were in Alberta, but cuss words are apparently not considered appropriate for use in public commentary on the other side of the Rockies. So don’t hold your breath waiting for Mr. Horgan to say Mr. Bilous’s breath smells like bitumen. This is true even if what B.C.’s premier was thinking was more the reply churlish or even the countercheque quarrelsome than the retort courteous, as Shakespeare would have had it. (The Bard, of course, was just doing low comedy. This is serious.)
Whatever, Mr. Bilous apologized for his characterization of his B.C. colleagues as inappropriate, but, you know, completely understandable when politicians in other jurisdictions try to represent their constituents when their constituents don’t want what Alberta wants.
His exact words of apology: “In my frustration, I had a poor choice of words and for that I do apologize. But we will continue to stand up for this pipeline, for this project. And this is in the national interest.”
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a bump in the polls in the NDP’s favour as a result of Mr. Bilous’s remark. I’m serious.
But then, as Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt observed the other day, “politics is all bullshit.”
Mr. Fildebrandt, until recently the fair-haired boy of Alberta conservatism, had just learned that his erstwhile friend Mr. Kenney was giving the self-described Liberty Conservative the bum’s rush, permanently, from the UCP Caucus. This was allegedly for his economy with the truth, which is an irony if ever there was one.
What Mr. Fildebrandt has been learning now that he is officially a newly Independent MLA is what the late U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was trying to get across when he explained the difference between a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator: “Boys, I may not know much, but I know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad!” Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, is said also to have characterized Richard M. Nixon, a Republican and another late U.S. President, using a similar phrase.
Which gets us back to Mr. Kenney, the former federal minister who once upon a time was often spoken of as a candidate for prime minister of Canada but who nowadays is vying to be premier of Alberta.
Indeed, there are those who would suggest Mr. Fildebrandt’s pithy summation is a good description of the previously sometimes indecorous Mr. Kenney’s new decorum strategy – leastways, if it’s based as some say on complaints about NDP ministers’ activities that aren’t completely factual.
Regardless, if potty-mouth commentary starts to work out for the Dippers, let alone for Mr. Fildebrandt, will Mr. Kenney have to backtrack and up his quota of curses to stay in the game? Could be.
If he does, will the NDP’s online meme makers mock the temporarily mild-mouthed Conservatives for not swearing at B.C. as soon as the Dippers did? You know, like Mr. Kenney’s UCP meme machine assails the NDP for not being the first to threaten to cut off all the gasoline to the Lower Mainland? (They’re cheering at Cherry Point, the big gasoline refinery in Washington State, but that story will have to go in the business section on another day.)
Faced with this, I think we all know what Mr. Kenney would do. Plus, we already know he has the vocabulary to do it.
He is, after all, the man who in his previous incarnation as one of Stephen Harper’s cabinet ministers called the deputy premier of Alberta (fellow conservative Thomas Lukaszuk, no less, if you’re one of those who think it’s weirdly ironic that Alberta’s and B.C.’s Dippers are not getting along) “a complete and utter asshole.” He did this in an email, then hit “reply all,” with predictable results.
This did Mr. Kenney no particular harm. Indeed, until Mr. Bilous started swearing at the British Columbians, all the pundits at Postmedia were telling us daily we could safely bet the farm on Mr. Kenney being premier soon. Hold your bets, though, because Mr. Bilous may have just changed everything!
Later, by the way, Mr. Kenney apologized for his language, too. We don’t know if he sounded as contrite then as Mr. Bilous does now – which is to say, not very – because it was a private apology, made by telephone to Mr. Lukaszuk.
As for Mr. Lukaszuk, he said at the time his thoughts for Mr. Kenney were “actually quite positive,” and graciously termed the minister’s choice of words merely “unfortunate.”
Mr. Lukaszuk did not do so well in the 2015 Alberta general election, though. If that turns out to be a harbinger of Mr. Horgan’s fate, I don’t think that’s going to do anything at all to improve the tone of political discourse in Alberta.
In fact, I’d almost swear it’s so.