A vastly pixelated screenshot of the notorious video of Jason Kenney addressing supporters last Thursday in Cochrane (Source: Twitter).

I hear, “a gay 19 year old.” Quite clearly.

I speak, of course, of Jason Kenney’s notorious cheap shot in Cochrane last Thursday, in which he mischaracterized the NDP’s newly acclaimed candidate in the Airdrie-Cochrane riding for a few laughs.

Airdrie-Cochrane NDP candidate Steve Durrell, 29, rather gratuitously insulted by UCP Leader Jason Kenney for his age at least (Photo: Durrell Campaign).

Speaking at a United Conservative Party rally at an upscale golf club in Cochrane, just west of Calgary, to a mostly male crowd of folks old enough to know better, the Opposition leader mocked Steve Durrell for his age and – quite apparently to many who have listened to the smartphone video recording of the event that has been circulating ever since – his supposed sexuality.

Mr. Durrell, it must noted, is 29 years old and the father of three children.

I’ve listened to the recording about a dozen times now. What I hear every time is: “The NDP acclaimed their star candidate to take on Peter Guthrie, a gay 19-year-old. …” Mr. Guthrie, just in case anyone is confused by dangling modifiers, is the UCP’s candidate in the riding. He is 49.

When Adam Toy, identified as the digital content coordinator for a Calgary talk radio program listened to it, what he heard was: “The NDP acclaimed their star candidate to take on Peter Guthrie, a 19-year-old. …” We know this is what Mr. Toy heard because that’s the way he reported it in his Global News story.

So maybe this is going to be one of those Internet memes like the recording that sounds like “Yanny” to some people, and like “Laurel” to others. (I hear Laurel.) Could be. Listen for yourselves.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney, who was 29 when he was first elected but isn’t any more (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Kenney’s supporters insist, very forcefully, that Mr. Toy’s stenography is the accurate version. They’ve said it so forcefully that some others who are not Mr. Kenney’s supporters acknowledge that this must be so, perhaps in spite of what their ears tell them. Mr. Durrell, it must be noted, responded mildly to Mr. Kenney’s misstated shot at his age, and let the other matter slide.

But one thing that everyone who has listened to the tape or attended the meeting agrees on is that Mr. Kenney’s shot got a few laughs and a smattering of applause from the grey-haired men who were there.

So did his next line: “Now don’t take it for granted, because they elected a lot of them last time.” (Emphasis added.)

As my friend Mimi Williams pointed out in a sharp exchange on Twitter with unsuccessful UCP nomination candidate Roger Millions, 59, a retired sportscaster who is not unacquainted with recorded bloopers, “there were *no* 19 year olds elected with the NDP in ’15.” She noted that Thomas Dang, the youngest MLA elected that year, was 20.

“But there *were* 3 openly gay MLAs elected,” Ms. Williams continued. “So what got the laugh? They elected ‘lots’ of them last time meant exactly what?”

What I think – Yanny, Laurel and the many angry UCP denials notwithstanding – is that it meant exactly what it sounded like.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Congress (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

But whether or not the most potentially controversial part of Mr. Kenney’s statement is ambiguous, there’s no ambiguity about what he thinks of the contribution that young people have to make to public life – at least, if they’re not starry-eyed acolytes of his 50-year-old self.

This is a pretty bold attack for a guy who was exactly the same age as Mr. Durrell is now when he was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1997 and quickly became known as a party-hearty member of the Reform Party’s sophomoric “Snack Pack” Parliamentary heckling team. Of course, Mr. Kenney didn’t have family responsibilities in those days to keep him from staying out late at night to come up with new Question Time catcalls. At the same age, Mr. Durrell does.

Notwithstanding Kenney spokesperson Matt Solberg’s claim “no offense was intended,” it does seem as if young politicians, no matter how serious, are bound to be publicly attacked for their youth – unless they happen to be conservatives, of course, in which case no shirt’s too young to stuff.

Consider the inspiring American Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last month, the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Congress. Despite her academic success, her obvious charisma and her rhetorical skill – or perhaps because of them – old, white, male Republicans and others in the U.S. gerontocracy just can’t seem to stop mocking her age.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, like Mr. Durrell, is 29. Under the U.S. Constitution, that’s six years too young to run for president, which is lucky for the old Republican geezers, and some Democrats too, making fun of her youth now and contemplating a presidential campaign next year.

Well, if this shows anything, it’s that when it comes to their attitudes about young people, there’s not much light between Mr. Kenney’s grey-haired, mostly male buddies at the Cochrane golf clubhouse and their Republican analogues south of the 49th Parallel. This is something, perhaps, of which younger voters might want to take note.

The same night Mr. Kenney’s offensive remarks were being recorded at the Gleneagles Golf Club, a boisterous crowd of New Democrats of all ages, more women than men, acclaimed Mr. Durrell’s candidacy across town.

As Mr. Durrell Tweeted: “I’ll take young people getting active in politics over the #OldBoysClub any day.” Speaking as a 67-year-old, I second that motion!

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  1. What makes this public debasing of Steve Durrell by Jason Kenney even more mortifying is his hypocritical statement to Calgary Sun columnist and UCP sycophant Rick Bell, shortly after Kenney’s denigration of Durrell had occurred: “I am tired of political leaders in this province who continue to insult Albertans and repeat negative stereotypes about them…” (Jason Kenney, Calgary Sun, Feb.2/19). The comment was in relation to something said by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

    Anyone familiar with UCP hypocrisy knows full well there’s been a running stream of it since Jason Kenney became the UCP’s exalted ambassador of cringe and political smear. Somebody say something about an election?

  2. You’re right in characterizing the mocking hostility of grumpy, old, privileged white people (mostly men) as a phenomenon of the hard-core Republican Right in the U.S. that’s closely linked to the Fuddy-Duddy, bring-back-the-good-old-days core of the Kenney UCPers. The motivations, of course, are based in fear and ignorance — as they grapple with the relentless and inevitable decline of their self-entitlement. I’m part of that generation, but can still see hope in the energy, idealism and iconoclasm of the younger generation of politicians.

  3. Jason Kenney panders to whatever audience he finds himself in front of. When taking generous donations from car dealers, he promises to roll back consumer protection regulations. When in front of his people he has no qualms about getting out the dog whistle and proudly flaunting his bigotry.

  4. .. am I the only Canadaian questioning the candidacy of Jason Kenney during his sojourn in Ottawa? The cold hard facts point to Kenney as at best, an occasional visitor to Calgary, presumably by his definitions ‘caring for his mom’. In one calendar year, he few west 4 times. Staying according to his statements in a seperate basement suite he rented from her.. but it is not permissable to pay her. At different homes she had, the same process & declaring it his Principal Residence. The lovely Ottawa condo he owned was walking distance to Parliament. This he declared was his Secondary Residence. He also claimed he lived in hotels as a Senior Minister. He clearly qualified for an Ontario Health Card and Ontario Driver’s Licence (by law he should have transferred the Driver’s Licence from Alberta to Ontario within a certain period after ‘leaving home’ for Ottawa.

    It seems he did not qualify for the Alberta Health Card – ie 180 days physically present either.. Upon leaving and selling his Ottawa condo.. what then ? He just slipped back into his ‘lives in Calgary’ persona without a hitch. All the monies ? Almost 10,000 per month, all the verious per diems, expenses.. ? What ? He just was a Calgary resident all those years, because he said so ? One way or another, Candian taxpayers helped pay for his various living arrangments, fed him, paid for travel and
    paid him a salary and looked after his pension..

    But what if he had no right to declare himself a legitimate candidate for a federal election or three ? This is a tangled dog’s breakfast re his ‘residency reality’ and that he has thuggish enablers threatening Kyle Morrow calls for RCMP intervention and heavy questions.

  5. I listened to the video several times. I agree he said “gay”. It makes no sense for several in the crowd to laugh as they did if he only said “19 year old”. Kenney does not emphasize this statement while talking to imply THAT is the joke.

  6. It’s been abundantly apparent for some time now that the greatest problem in US politics is the age of the incumbents. Experience is an asset in most things in life but not in elected office; a decade puts most past their best-before date.

    Speaking of young (and young-looking) elected officials a couple of recent electoral winners from your local riding David, in the Conservative party, had me thinking of Nazis in 1938. How anyone, with a working brain, could tolerate the vicious and vacuous rhetoric coming from the right is beyond me.

  7. I am not sure how much of Kenney’s speech to the Cochrane old boys club was pandering to their prejudices or projecting his. I am going say it was a fairly equal measure of each.

    Even more troubling is Kenney’s careless regard for the truth which seems to be getting worse as we get closer to the election. The carbon tax on that church which was $5,000 not $50,000 is a prime example. Now we have 29 year olds that are 19 years old in Kenney’s alternative universe. I know from experience as you get older young people may seem younger than they are, but would it have been that difficult for Kenney to check his facts before speaking?

    I suppose as the old saying goes, he didn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story and perhaps his audience went home happy and comfortable with their prejudices reinforced and the wool pulled over their eyes. I suppose we shouldn’t expect better from someone who claims where he spent four days of the year was his principle residence even though the neighbours said he never lived there. I suppose its all just more tall tales from his mom’s basement, where the truth seems to be as absent as Kenney.

    1. Good try. If you were there, you heard wrong, since Kenney’s set up of the joke, the difficulty of electronically modifying videos as opposed to just creating them, and his well-known tendency to say what he thinks the folks he’s talking to want to hear all suggest this is exactly what he said. The fact you were unwilling to sign your own name to this post is one more tidbit of evidence.

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