Devin Dreeshen speaks while United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney looks on while wearing his political game face (Photo: Facebook).

If the events of the past few days in Europe make anything clear, it’s that sucking up to Donald Trump is not likely to get you very far, except possibly somewhere worse than you’d have been if you’d stood up to the man.

But Jason Kenney, former Harper Government Cabinet minister and leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, decided to double down yesterday and defend the efforts of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake UCP by-election victor Devin Dreeshen for his work two years ago on President Trump’s campaign.

Mr. Kenney used a news conference to introduce his two new Opposition MLAs from Thursday’s by-elections to portray Mr. Dreeshen’s eight-month contribution to President Trump’s 2016 election as likely to be a benefit to Alberta.

U.S. President Donald Trump in a hat similar to Devin Dreeshen’s (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

“I think it’s actually helpful to have in our caucus an MLA who can get people on the phone in the U.S. administration,” said Mr. Kenney … suggesting, I guess, that Mr. Dreeshen, 30, can actually do that.

Mr. Kenney went to some pains to ensure we all understood that neither he nor Mr. Dreeshen actually support Mr. Trump’s trade policies – vis-à-vis Canada, anyway, if not the European Union.

“Devin and I totally agree with each other in our opposition to the Trump Administration’s protectionism, particularly our opposition to his unprovoked tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry,” Mr. Kenney was quoted carefully claiming in a story by the Canadian Press.

Mr. Dreeshen went even further in an interview with Lacombe Online, a community website in the region, telling reporter Joseph Ho: “When I was down there, I wasn’t picking a particular candidate. It was just to see how the American system worked.”

This claim directly contradicts the story in that brought Mr. Dreeshen’s role in the Trump campaign back into the public eye hours before the start of voting in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, not to mention his own previous words.

“Between February and November of 2016, Dreeshen and his colleague Matthew McBain followed Trump around the United States training volunteers, knocking on doors and even shadowing Ivanka Trump for some reason,” wrote Calgary-based Vice reporter Hadeel Abdel-Nabi.

Ms. Abdel-Nabi, in turn, was summarizing Mr. Dreeshan’s own boasts about his exploits in the service of the Trump Campaign in the Hill Times in late November 2016 – published by coincidence on the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The Hill Times article was headlined: “Inside the Trump Campaign.”

According to Mr. Dreeshen’s article, he spent eight months as a volunteer on the Trump campaign, travelling through 28 states. But by the time the 2018 Alberta by-election was called by the NDP Government, his involvement in President Trump’s cause had pretty well disappeared, completely unmentioned in his campaign literature and consigned to the Mainstream Media Memory Hole.

That lasted until Wednesday, when the Vice story on the Dreeshen campaign appeared, complete with a striking Getty Images photo of the candidate wearing a MAGA Cap apparently hoisting a toast to Mr. Trump’s success at a victory party in New York in 2016.

Mr. Dreeshen is said to have run to the bathroom to escape Ms. Abdel-Nabi – a famous escape trick familiar to avid readers of the detective fiction genre. (Extra points to readers who explain in the comments section how the escape trick works, even when the would-be escaper is dogged by a determined reporter or a hard-boiled dick watching the bathroom door.)

In defence of Mr. Dreeshen and the other Canadian conservatives who crossed the border to campaign for Mr. Trump, it is possible they never believed that as president he would actually implement many of the policies he campaigned on. This is presumably particularly true of the president’s opposition to an international trade system created by the United States to work in U.S. interests, but which also by and large has worked in Canada’s relative favour.

That’s the trade system in defence of which Mr. Dreeshen now touts his not-that-close closeness to the Trump Administration as a benefit to Alberta. “To me, the fact that he is the president of the United States and I have made great contacts there, I think it’s just a huge benefit for us.”

But it’s reasonable to ask what other parts of the Trump platform these Canadian Conservative activists support – especially in light of the fact market purists south of the 49th Parallel keep complaining that beyond cutting taxes for extremely wealthy people the president isn’t a real conservative. Is it the dogwhistle racism? The hatred of immigrants? The contempt for diversity? The climate change denial? The open admiration for foreign autocrats?

Or is it just tribal loyalty to an international ideological movement, even if it has strayed a little from its pure Thatcherite dogma under Mr. Trump?

Canadian conservatives who campaign in future elections for Republican candidates, especially Mr. Trump, are going to need to be prepared to answer these kinds of questions. For his part, though, Mr. Dreeshen probably needs not worry about tough questions from the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery.

Say what you will about Canada’s Liberal Government, at least Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland recognize Mr. Trump is not a friend of Canada and are trying to act accordingly, in a cautious sort of way.

By yesterday, apparently, the UCP strategic brain trust had come up an answer about how to spin Mr. Dreeshen wearing a hat that would nowadays get him thrown out of a Washington D.C. restaurant. To wit: He’s here to help us with Mr. Trump!

Mr. Trump is unlikely to be able to send a Tweet confirming his closeness to Mr. Dreeshen, however, until after Monday, when the president is scheduled to be busy meeting Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

NOTE: is a one-person operation, so if you want to see the Getty Images photo of Mr. Dreeshen in his MAGA cap, which costs $575 to use, you’ll have to click on the link to the story.

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  1. To wit: “He’s here to help us with Mr. Trump!”
    The Prime Minister of Canada couldn’t make much headway with the Donald. Maybe a fresh faced Opposition MLA from rural Alberta will sparkle where world leaders have failed.

  2. A ‘huge’ benefit to us??? I wonder if Devin could explain exactly what he means by that and outline the specific benefits for us Albertans.

    Or has he resorted to using the same sort of poetic license that Mr Trump uses when he opens his mouth?

    My guess is that the voters wanted to elect a UCP member. Devon just happened to win the nomination.

  3. What’s the big deal? Happens all the time. Not too many years ago the federal NDP invited a Democratic Party operative to serve as an advisor during an election campaign.

  4. Traffic in political advisors back and forth across the border is not uncommon throughout the political spectrum. But a Democratic president has barely uttered a grumble about Canada since LBJ, and none has provoked a trade war with our country. So what’s unusual in this case is the hostility Donald Trump has displayed toward Canada since becoming president, unique in the modern era despite some presidents and prime ministers who didn’t particularly like one another, plus the fact Dreeshem hid his past work for Trump and, when that failed, prevaricated about it. In politics there’s spin and there are lies. Dreeshem’s statement to Lacombe Online appears to be a lie or, if it isn’t, his Hill Times story is. This is an entirely appropriate topic for critical commentary by our host.

  5. I believe the old saying is “trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear”. I think this is something the rural voters who elected Mr. Dreeshen will well understand, this is exactly what Mr. Kenney is trying to do here. I suppose more urban political operatives would call it spin. It is indeed currently embarrassing even to Canadian Conservatives to be associated with Trump, which explains why Mr. Dreeshen initially fled to hide in the bathroom. Fortunately he was running in a constituency where a dog painted blue could probably win, even if during the campaign it developed rabies and started biting people.

    Mr. Kenney seems to have coaxed Mr. Dreeshen out of hiding in the bathroom and figured out how to make the best of a bad situation. Yes, it is totally ridiculous, but Mr. Kenney the career politician understands you have to work with the material you got – the show must go on. I am sure Mr. Kenney would have preferred a newly minted MLA who wasn’t a bit of an embarrassment, but that was not in the cards this time. As much as his party and the campaign tried to forget or bury the inconvenient truth of Mr. Dreeshan’s past activities, someone dug it up. Of course, not the mainstream lapdog press of Alberta, but someone else.

    I think all world leaders have painfully discovered over the last year that while Mr. Trump responds positively to flattery, its effect seems to be fleeting and only temporarily distracts him from his more crazy ideas. I’m not sure Mr. Trump would even respond positively to Mr. Dreeshan if he came up to him to say “remember me”, most likely he would say something bland like “good to see you” even though I suspect he would not really remember him. Mr. Trumps memory for friends is sporadic and loyalty with him is mostly a one way street. However, even if Mr. Trump did feel warmly towards Mr. Dreeshan, I doubt it would mollify his general suspicion and dislike of foreigners and the bottom line is in Trump world Canadians are foreigners as is anyone else who does not vote in US elections.

    One has to also give credit to Mr. Kenney for his Trump like populist tactics. he seems to have undergone an amazing transformation from Ottawa political insider to Alberta outsider in a short period of time, without much critical scrutiny from the mainstream Alberta media. However, Mr. Kenney is about as much of a populist as Ted Cruz in the US – a staunch right wing conservative certainly, but a real populist no. Canada’s only comparison to Trump is in Ontario and Mr. Kenney is a very pale imitation. How Mr. Ford does will determine the fate of Canada’s Conservatives – that should somewhat concern Mr. Kenney and his federal colleagues.

    I suppose if it is any consolation, another benefit of having Mr. Dreeshan as an MLA for the UCP will be that he is already experienced in hiding. If any future votes come up in the Legislature the UCP does not have the guts to participate in, perhaps Mr. Dreeshan can at least show them a new hiding place – the bathrooms, rather than the hallways.

  6. When Russians help out in US election campaigns it is considered illegal under US election law. How is Dreeshen’s activity different?

    It might hinge on whether some foreign entity was paying him for his time and travel/hotel expenses for eight months. Did this all come out of his own pocket? (I didn’t read the paywalled Hill Times article.)

  7. By the time the Vice story broke it was way too late for the UCP to dump Mr. Dreeshan in favour of a less embarrassing candidate. This does bring up 2 questions, however:

    1. Will Kenney veto Dreeshan’s nomination for the riding in the election next year?

    2. Trump imposed the tariffs before the end of May. The by-election was called June 14. Presumably Mr. Dreeshan had already secured the UCP nomination earlier, but Jason Kenney did have 2 weeks to scuttle his nomination. Why didn’t he?
    a. Dreeshan covered up his involvement ala Derek Fildebrandt and Kenney didn’t know about it or
    b. Kenney didn’t think it was important enough to do anything about.

    Really, it would have been so much simpler for Dreeshan to simply say he was wrong.

  8. Many of us who, during the late 80s & early 90s, actually opposed NAFTA and its Mulroney-Reagan-era bilateral predecessor, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, have been torn by President Trump’s rhetorical assaults on NAFTA during his campaign and his term as President. On the one hand, these two trade agreements have contributed to the hollowing out of manufacturing industries in Canada, and in my view the proliferation of food banks since the inception of such deals is no coincidence. On the other, Trump assails what Minister Freeland calls the “international rules-based trading system” and makes preposterous claims that Canadian steel and aluminium are a “national security threat” to the United States.

    Of course, Trump is an easy target for progressives, as his fascist tendencies become more and more apparent with the departure of every rational member of his West Wing inner circle that might have exerted some moderating influence on his craziness. However, I fear that the craziness is merely a ploy to divert serious media attention away from the alarming transformation taking place in America society, with the dismantling of every regulatory measure intended to protect ordinary Americans against predatory financial institutions, wanton environmental destruction, unscrupulous employers and monopolistic market practices.

    As for Canada, the Trudeau Government has worked diligently to “stay calm & carry on” in its dealings with the Trump Administration, although their rhetoric has been, while still careful, less deferential in recent weeks. But I’m not sure this approach has borne any fruit. Everyone knows if you back down before a bully, all you get is more bullying. Trump has gone far beyond the norms of diplomatic discourse in his personal insults against our Prime Minister, and against their longtime friend and ally Canada, and no matter what your opinion of Justin Trudeau as a politician, it is an affront to our dignity as a sovereign nation. I think Trudeau and Freeland need to take the gloves off and hit them back with something that will get attention in the States. Some have suggested voiding patents on American pharmaceutical products sold in Canada as one approach that will hit them hard while reducing costs for Canadians. My own view is that we take harsh diplomatic action, like suspending the NORAD treaty as well as that Safe Third Country Agreement, and walk away from the NAFTA talks.

    Finally, we need to push back on the whole military spending issue. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Canada is already 14th in the world in total military spending, even though we are a sparsely populated country with fewer people than the State of California. I find NATO’s 2% of GDP target unrealistic for Canada, since achieving it would require a major tax hike. GDPs don’t pay taxes, people do, and on a per capita basis, Canadians actually come 7th in the world in military spending, ahead of Germany, Italy, Russia and China. We do more than our share, and we need to state that loudly and clearly.

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