Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA, Fair Deal Panel member and letter-writer Drew Barnes (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Jason Kenney can mildly admonish Drew Barnes for spouting separatist twaddle if he wishes, but the Alberta premier’s protestations of Canadian patriotism won’t be very persuasive if he lets the Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA remain in his United Conservative Party Caucus.

I know, Mr. Kenney has a problem with the loony right wing of his caucus, of which Mr. Barnes is a charter member. He doesn’t want to give them an excuse to join some fractious far-right separatist party and have it legitimized by a presence in the Legislature.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But nowadays, in a post COVID-19 world with oil and gas prices in the toilet and likely to stay there, he’s also going to have a problem with clear-eyed Albertans who have figured out that encouraging such dangerous sentiments is not going to make things easier for this province.

It’s hard to feel all that much sympathy with Mr. Kenney’s plight because it’s largely a problem of his own creation. He empowered obnoxious attitudes like Mr. Barnes’s so he could gin up a fake Wexit crisis to put pressure on his great rival for federal power, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

To make matters worse, he lent additional credibility to Mr. Barnes, who was well known for wingnut ideas in Alberta political circles, by naming him to his “Fair Deal” Panel, which was supposed to figure out “how best to define and secure a fair deal for Alberta.”

Of course, we mere taxpayers weren’t privy to the inner deliberations of the panel, but it now seems pretty clear there were sharp differences between those who interpreted its mandate as producing a warmed-over rehash of Stephen Harper’s notorious Firewall Letter and those like Mr. Barnes who actually entertained bizarre fantasies of Alberta becoming its own landlocked petro-state.

What we got last Wednesday was the reheated version of Mr. Harper’s 2001 sovereignty-association manifesto, which it’s reasonable to assume is exactly what Mr. Kenney wanted.

This may explain both Mr. Barnes’s act of rebellion and the complaint directed at him soon afterward on a CBC Radio call-in show by Donna Kennedy-Glans, another panel member evidently aligned with the sovereignty-association camp.

Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and Fair Deal Panel member Donna Kennedy-Glans (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ms. Kennedy-Glans raised eyebrows when she phoned the show to take issue with Mr. Barnes for writing a long letter to Premier Kenney openly calling for Alberta to hold a referendum on independence if the rest of the country won’t give in to our constitutional blackmail.

The letter implicitly criticizes Mr. Kenney as well as other panel members by arguing the report’s sovereignty-association recommendations don’t go far enough, and that Alberta should therefore be prepared to threaten to secede.

Mr. Barnes’s rambling screed demanded implementation of a number of hobbyhorses of the Alberta right: among them, removing equalization from the Canadian Constitution, creating an elected federal Senate, running our own tax department like Quebec, implementing MLA recall legislation, and killing supply management in agriculture. He also called for Alberta to draft its own constitution enshrining property rights (often a dog-whistle to gun owners) and to control its own immigration policy (which whatever Mr. Barnes intended is bound to be taken as a dog-whistle by racists).

Hilariously, he also demanded Canada’s constitution be changed “to expressly forbid Ottawa from enacting its objectives through legislative means.” After which, I guess, a separation referendum wouldn’t be necessary because the country would fall apart of its own accord.

If his will is not done, he concluded, “the majority of my constituents in Cypress-Medicine Hat and from across our land have made clear that we must seek another relationship as a sovereign people.” It is hard to say if Mr. Barnes actually believes this pish-posh. Needless to say, it is supported neither by polling nor what Albertans said to the panel.

Former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That said, Ms. Kennedy-Glans’s complaint on air was mainly that Mr. Barnes issued a minority report without telling the rest of the panelists he was going to.

“It was a consensus report,” she said plaintively. “If it was your understanding, then you felt comfortable writing an independent report after the fact, I really have concerns about what that means for the ability of MLAs in the future to contribute to panels like this.”

Now Premier Kenney has stepped in to mildly scold Alberta separatists and make an effort, presumably with his own federal ambitions in mind, to shore up his patriotic Canadian credentials. “I don’t believe you can qualify your patriotism,” he tut-tutted on Friday. “Either you love your country or you don’t.”

Mr. Kenney even acknowledged facts that many of his opponents have pointed out repeatedly: that a separation threat isn’t going to build investor confidence in Alberta, that there’s no public support for one anyway, and that if you think the province is landlocked now, just wait till it’s gone its own way. There was even a hint he realizes all may not be well with the future of the fossil fuel industry.

But there is no way his remarks can be portrayed as a rebuke of Mr. Barnes, as some mainstream media suggested, if all he’s prepared to say about such sentiments expressed by MLAs is that he encourages UCP Caucus members to speak their minds and mirror the views of their constituents.

No, Mr. Barnes needs to be kicked out of the UCP pour encourager les autres if Mr. Kenney is to retain any patriotic credibility elsewhere in Canada.

The premier, after all, banished Derek Fildebrandt from the UCP in 2018 for a considerably less serious rebellion than this.

If Mr. Barnes remains a member of the UCP Caucus, the meaning is clear: Premier Kenney’s claim that “I am an unqualified Canadian patriot” is in fact qualified, and this is just another cynical good-cop, bad-cop routine.

Marking National Indigenous Peoples Day every day

Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day, on which we honour the contributions made to Canada by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. But all Canadians should think about this contribution and our relationship with the first peoples of this land every day. This blog is usually written while the author is on the Treaty 6 ancestral and traditional lands of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux, and Nakota Sioux, as well as the Métis. I am grateful to those on whose land I am privileged to live and write, and I acknowledge that in Alberta we are all treaty people. — David J. Climenhaga

Join the Conversation


  1. Well, well, well, looks like another kamikaze candidate. I’ve been thinking for a while that Kenney’s intelligence is much overrated, and this proves it. Kenney does politics, not government; 10 years as a federal cabinet minister, does he have anything to show for it? All he ever did, and does, is politics. But keeping fanatics on the boil is dangerous because eventually everything will foam over the pot and mess up the stove pretty badly. The premier’s control is unraveling.

  2. Let’s analyze Alberta separatism & contrast it to Quebec’s nationalist & separatist movements, shall we? Firstly, the failures of the Meech Lake & Charlottetown accords during Canada’s constitutional adventures of the late 80s notwithstanding, Quebec is — and always has been — clearly a distinct society within a majority Anglophone North America. It began as a pre-revolutionary French colony — New France — and after the British conquest (remember the Plains of Abraham?) its British governors chose to allow it to retain much of its cultural, linguistic & religious distinctiveness within an Anglophone colonial structure. In fact, the Quebec Act (1774) is cited as one of the “intolerable acts” that led directly to the American Insurrection ;-). Quebec’s distinctiveness remained a part of colonial Canada’s reality all the way to Confederation. When Canada as we now know it was formed in 1867, Quebec was one of the four founding provinces, and the only one that was both majority Francophone & majority Roman Catholic — at a time in history when religion was probably more politically significant than language.

    Alberta, on the other hand, simply did not exist at Confederation. Most of the land we now occupy was “owned” — at least in a Eurocentric sense* — by the Hudson’s Bay Company: Rupert’s Land. HBC transferred its interest in Rupert’s Land to the British Crown in 1870, & in turn it was ceded to Canada as the Northwest Territory. The Indigenous peoples of the Prairies negotiated the numbered Treaties with Canada soon afterwards: Treaty 6 was signed in 1876, Treaty 7 in 1877, & Treaty 8 — within whose territory I live — in 1899. Manitoba was created & became a province within Confederation in 1870. Alberta & Saskatchewan were carved out of the remaining Northwest Territory in 1905, by Acts of Parliament, 38 years after Confederation. There was, and is, nothing particularly unique about either Alberta or Saskatchewan that would justify a nascent separatist movement, other than recent pique about the political choices of Canada’s national electorate.

    * I acknowledge I am leaving out a lot of nuance about the differing perspectives on land “ownership” between Indigenous & settler peoples, & a lot of detail about how Indigenous people were treated by settler governments during this period; this is simply in the interests of brevity & not wanting our host’s comment section to become a thesis.

  3. For most farmers and ranchers, “property rights” means ending the impunity of the oil and gas companies to move onto their land without their permission. It is farmers and ranchers who are stuck living with the mess the oil companies have left behind already, and most won’t tolerate being fooled again.

    Incidentally, the legal integrity of settler property titles rests on the continued legitimacy of the numbered Treaties – So this settler says, “long may the sun shine and the rivers flow.”

  4. Had the report truly been a summary of the opinions of Albertans it would have been much different. The final result is much different than what heard from the forum in central Alberta. There were a few wildly emotional speakers but is was a small minority the majority view was staying in Canada was a good idea.
    How do property rights work with the oil and gas industry as it is currently run? Or the most important property right of all your own body? I think Barnes may have a different interpretation of property, but then again as someone who acts strictly on emotion facts and higher level thought are outside his abilities.

  5. This is nothing more than Kenney directing his own drama, as always. None of these MLAs, Barnes included, are capable of independent thought. It’s all Hive Mind.

    Maybe there’s more to be gained from analysing why “Jason Kenney” the red steer was trotted out for a photo opportunity on May 30, then transmogrified into “Jason Kenney” the black steer for a photo op with his namesake last week. Seriously, color-changing cattle is something to behold in this land of rainbows and unicorns. It’s a 2020 miracle! (Unless of course, all the prize-winning 4H steers are named Jason Kenney. Maybe there’s a new law for that.)

  6. Following up on my own query, it appears the 1215-pound steer Jason Kenney did not miraculously change color. It was sold at auction for $4010 on May 31, 2020, according to the auction website. The steer, a Simmental cross, is likely steaks and hamburger now. So the story and photos with the black steer last week are nothing more than bull. Typical Jason Kenney, in other words.

    1. Further footnote: The MLA who staged the “Jason the Wonder Steer” incident is the one who bought said steer at auction, according to an advertisement in the local newspaper. Obviously said MLA knew that said second photo-op steer was not the real “Jason Kenney” all along. Questions remain in this sorry saga of steer subterfuge. “When will the ‘ultimate expression of respect’ be served up at a BBQ? And, “Medium rare “Jason Kenney” or well done?”

  7. So…what, exactly, do “the majority of [Barnes’] constituents in Cypress-Medicine Hat” actually think of their MLA’s posturing? What do they say among themselves at the coffee shop? Oh…yeah. COVID-19. OK, anybody following this on Twitter?

    Ms Kennedy-Glans’ reply sounds an awful lot like, “You’re making us look bad!” (Yes, he does, but only by being even more ignorant of economic reality.) Cons demand loyalty, because they don’t dare admit “leading” this bunch is worse than herding cats.

    It’s amusing, in a gallows-humour way, to see Lord Jason of Oilberduh trying to stuff the Wexit genie back in its bottle. I’d say Kenney is too clever by half–but I don’t think he’s clever at all. This is what “Unite the Right” means–a.k.a. as “wagging the dog.”

    Memo to NDP: hey Rachel, we need a positive message, a plan, and a leader who can show us “We can fix this!” And we need them NOW.

  8. Jason Kenney is an unqualified opportunist that will change depending on how reality develops. He is a separatist to get their votes to become premier of Alberta but if conditions allow him to run for prime minister he becomes an unqualified patriot. He is what gives him what he wants. Luck and opportunism has been so far working for him but life is too complex for any human to survive playing their self interest game. I for one cannot wait for the day his lucky balloon explodes. I call it Alberta Freedom Day.

  9. I suspect Mr. Kenney will eventually get around to booting Mr. Barnes. He will have to, for exactly the reasons mentioned. Having MLA’s continue to flap their gums with quasi separatist talk, undermines the Premier’s I like Canada schtick. I don’t know how closely Mr. Kenney followed Quebec politics, but there were several cases of supposedly Federalist leaders who got burned by playing footsie with the separatists.

    Of course, Mr. Kenney is a very calculating politician and will probably delay dealing with this as long as possible, but he must know one can’t sit on the fence forever. Either you want to stick with Canada or you do not. He must also know that the separatist leaning crowd while not insignificant in the UCP right flank is a decided minority of Albertans. He must also realize being landlocked will not be solved by separatism. Also, as had been made clear in recent months. Alberta does not have much financial firepower on its own and separating would surely kill any remaining Federal political ambitions Kenney has.

    It sure has taken Kenney a while to arrive at his tepid I like Canada proclamation, if that is what this is. However, Kenney is both an opportunist and having a hard time getting out of a situation of his own making. All his anti Canada rhetoric has only so far encouraged people like Mr. Barnes.

    So either Mr. Barnes gets the message now to cool it a bit or he will get the boot. Of course the timing and reasons will be of Mr. Kenney’s choosing, so Mr. Barnes better make sure there are no possible political skeletons in his closet or not say anything else stupid, if he continues to be a problem for Kenney.

  10. Drew Barnes is the sort of person I kind of like having around, mouth-breathing and all.

    I recall many years ago, back in the days of the federal PCs under Brian Mulroney, the Chin-That-Walks-Like-A-Man believed that the best way to keep his caucus in line was to assure that every member was dependent on being an MP as their sole and only reliable source of income and only career prospect. In other words, he wanted career politicians because their loyalty could always be counted on.

    Kenney is a career politician. He has no other means of support and no career prospects, short of getting an insurance sales license, to speak of. He was the sort of person who Harper could always count on to do whatever he wanted, no matter how ridiculous.

    A cursory view of the UCP caucus reveals that none of them can ever hope to get any gig better than their current MLA gig, so they will be blindly loyal to Kenney and clap whenever he tells them to.

    All except Drew Barnes.

    He has other means of supporting himself, thanks to his abundance of rental properties. And he also has acquired other interests that assure that he can say and do whatever he likes, no matter how many angry midget threats Kenney can spew in his direction. Joe Clark and Robert Stanfield were driven to madness by their caucuses composed of farmers, equipment dealers, car salesmen, insurance brokers, and other MPs who decided to have real careers before jumping into politics. They were not going to listen either Stanfield or Clark, or ever be loyal to them.

    So, let’s enjoy Barnes’ antics. It’s the only entertainment one can hope for from this dreary UCP bunch.

    1. I worked for a cabinet minister in the Mulroney government, and these comments are beyond ridiculous. The middle-aged men and women who were elected in the 1984 election had private sector careers which they set aside to run for office. The advent of the 20-something, never had a real job, professional politicians on the right were a 1990’s thing, and then started provincially, not federally. Once they left office, in 1988 or 1993, they returned to their jobs in their respective provinces.

      1. The PC Class of 1984 caused more than a few problems for Mulhroney — Sinclair Stevens et al.

        By the 1988 election, Mulhroney was actively booting many long-time Tory MPs in favour of new recruits, like the late Scott Thorkelson, who would be more compliant.

        Of course, Mulhroney sought to recruit heavily for Tory candidates in Quebec. It was well-known that the Glorious Chin was looking for anyone who wanted a political career, regardless of their past. That’s how the likes of Marcel Masse, Jean Charest, et al find themselves with coveted federal political careers. Le Grand Menton went through the ranks of Quebec nationalists and pulled out Perquisites, Union Nationalistes, and Creditistes. Questionable personalities, to be sure; but loyal, warm bodies that Mulhroney needed.

    2. You raise a brilliant point, Just Me. A perfect example would be Deven Dreeshen, our agriculture minister. If he loses his seat he is back on his parents’ farm.

      In spite of the UCP grassroots claim, I personally believe Kenney vetted each candidate for his/her willingness to follow Jason’s leadership unquestioningly as well as be disinclined to bozo eruptions. Rick Strankman, who is independent enough that he went to jail for hauling grain into the US, definitely did not qualify, so we see Nate Horner in Stettler-Drumheller instead. When Strankman lost his nomination bid he certainly questioned the fairness of the nomination process.

      Kenney could vet new candidates, but incumbents are more difficult, thus we see Drew Barnes able to cause Kenney the problems he has. It will be interesting to see what MLAs cause Kenney problems as he continues his dictatorship; will they be rookies vs incumbents and, to your excellent point, what kind of job skills do they have to fall back on?

  11. Every Albertan who voted for ucp is responsible for the current direction of this province. Including all those public sector workers who voted for ucp. And there were likely lots!

  12. Jason Kenney has a problem with the fruitcakes/nutbars like Drew Barnes and the incredibly poor performers like Tyler Shandro.

    He needs to show some leadership and some intestinal fortitude by shedding these people. It will increase his credibility and that of his party.

    Mr Kenney….for heaven’s sake SHOW SOME LEADERSHIP. The time for visuals and platitudes has passed.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.