United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and UCP MLAs Prasad Panda and Devin Dreeshen took off for India yesterday.
The main problem with the UCP passage to India is that, no matter how Mr. Kenney describes it, the six-day visit is really nothing more than a nice fall vacation in the company of friends, subsidized by tax-deductible political donations.
Such a small deception is understandable. Mr. Kenney wants to make himself appear to be someone foreign nations already take seriously. In other words, he wants it to look to his home audience as if he were already a premier and Mr. Panda and Mr. Dreeshen were ministers of the Crown in his government.
What better way to do this, then, than a photo opportunity in an exotic locale for the Opposition leader, his energy critic, and his newly appointed trade critic?
What they are in reality is three men from Western Canada who have no official status during the time they plan to spend in India. This is true no matter how sincerely they intend “to reinforce the key messages of our provincial and federal governments on trade issues” with whomever they visit, as their press release claims.
Now, it is true that Mr. Kenney said in a Tweet after announcing his plan for the junket that “my visit is in response to an official invitation from the Government of India.”
But if Mr. Kenney hoped to leave the impression he and his two colleagues have been invited to visit India to represent Canada or Alberta in an official capacity, that explanation is simply not on.
Indeed, at this point there is no evidence any of the governments of Canada, Alberta or India were made aware of the Opposition tour group’s plans in advance, although the UCP’s anonymously administered Twitter account said Saturday they had informed the Canadian High Commission in India of their impending presence as any prudent traveller would.
Like former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s secretive trip to the White House in August, it is possible a friend or political ally with a connection to the Indian government extended an invitation. But no explanation whatsoever has yet been forthcoming from the UCP about who made the invitation, who if anyone assisted the UCP trio in their preparations, or who they will be meeting.
The UCP’s anonymous Twitterist failed to respond to further queries, and it is fair to assume the UCP’s communications director won’t see the same questions till she opens her email account this morning.
Nevertheless, this stunt – worthy of the former leader of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation – does point to the troubling trend, illegal in the United States but not in Canada, of unauthorized private diplomacy attempted by members of opposition parties whose goals may be at odds with those of the elected government.
It is of course completely inappropriate for any elected official to visit another country and meet with “high ranking” foreign officials without letting their own government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Canadian embassy in the country in question know about the purpose of the visit. It is also dangerous, in the sense such uninformed interlocutors have no idea of the geopolitical undercurrents and what dialogue Canada may be involved in.
If DOFA is furious with these three stooges, that would be entirely understandable.
However, as a politician still obsessed with his thwarted ambition to lead the federal Conservatives and resentful of the fact that the Liberals are now in power in Ottawa, Mr. Kenney must have reckoned such a reaction was worth the risk to get an opportunity to contrast his unofficial visit favourably with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s state visit to India last February.
That trip, which the PM made with his family, was judged to have been a gong show by many, principally because the Trudeaus often dressed in Indian clothing during their trip. However, most of the Canadians who said that were Conservatives or members of their media echo chamber, and nobody has yet noted that that Mr. Kenney has also been known to dress up in Indian garb when the occasion calls for it.
Nothing about Mr. Trudeau’s trip seems to have bothered the Indian Government very much judging from the rotating slide show on the web page of the Indian High Commission in Ottawa.
Regardless, we can count on Messrs. Kenney, Panda and Dreeshen to have a photographer with them, and to be conservatively attired in the Canadian fashion at all times.
None of this is illegal, as the UCP Twitter account sharply pointed out Saturday, although paying for it with political donations subject to tax deductions, as the UCP indicated in its news release about the junket, might seem faintly unsavoury to some.
The trip may have additional advantages for Mr. Kenney and his fellow travellers.
It gets him out of the country at a time journalists and other commentators are likely to demand he comment on whether he would use the Canadian Constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause in the same fashion as Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
As blogger Susan Wright pointed out in a post yesterday, Mr. Kenney is being very cagey about the gift Mr. Ford has given him by opening the floodgates to irresponsible misuse of Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As Mr. Kenney has shown in the past, he is a politician who believes that when the going gets tough, the tough should get going – out of province if possible.
Mr. Kenney may also want to avoid questions about Hannah Presakarchuk, 23, chosen Saturday as the UCP candidate in the Edmonton-Rutherford Riding, who appears to have helped last summer at a fund-raiser for the Pregnancy Care Centre, the controversial pro-life group that some Alberta schools have used to provide sex education programming.
In July, the Edmonton Public School Board instructed principals to abstain from using the group’s services.
Ms. Presakarchuk did not respond yesterday to a query asking her to confirm she is the Hannah Presakarchuk thanked by the group’s Grande Prairie chapter for her help.
The junket also provides an opportunity for the UCP to change the channel on the work done in the United States in 2016 by Mr. Dreeshen for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In office, Mr. Trump has not turned out to be a friend to Canada and Canadians.
Meanwhile, south of the U.S.-Canadian border, Mr. Dreeshen’s man and Democrat John Kerry have been trading barbs about the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate’s “illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime,” as President Trump Tweeted in his inimitable way.