Alberta Politics
NDP Environment Critic Marlin Schmidt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Thatcher brouhaha: When your slippery opponent’s on the ropes, maybe you should focus on keeping him there!

Posted on July 09, 2020, 2:54 am
8 mins

When you’ve got a slippery political opponent on the ropes with a completely legitimate issue, what’s it profit a New Democrat to stand up in the Legislature and create a massive distraction from the fight the party’s winning with one that has no advantage for it?

This is what NDP Environment Critic Marlin Schmidt did in the House yesterday when he rose up on his hind legs and rambled on about how it might have been better if Margaret Thatcher had died 30 years earlier than she did.

Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Conservative PM from 1979 to 1990, in 2004 (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense, Public Domain).

It was a bizarre performance. United Conservative Party press secretaries must have wept with joy and relief.

Finally they had an opportunity to be self-righteous about an issue with no relevance to anything, thereby getting the focus off the fact Premier Jason Kenney stubbornly refuses to fire a speech writer with a long and reprehensible history of penning commentary fairly described as racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley has worked hard to keep the light on Paul Bunner’s appalling views, which there is no evidence he has ever changed, and on Premier Kenney’s determination to stand by his unsavoury man.

It’s an issue the goes right to the true dark heart of the UCP. It has enormous public sympathy and support in Alberta today.

During Monday’s Question Period, Ms. Notley cornered Mr. Kenney three times on his tolerance for intolerance. Each time he weaseled out of answering with responses that were evasive, immaterial and irrelevant.

Citing calls by various First Nations chiefs for Mr. Bunner to be fired, Ms. Notley noted that “the premier has waffled on this question for more than 10 days.” She asked: “Premier, will you show the Treaty 8 chiefs some respect and dismiss your racist speech writer today?”

Bobbing and weaving, Mr. Kenney accused the NDP of character assassination — which suggests he thinks Mr. Bunner’s views are reasonable, even if he disagrees. He did not answer the question.

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

Ms. Notley tried again and asked Mr. Kenney why is his “personal relationship with his racist speech writer more important to him than Alberta’s treaty relationships with First Nations?”

This time, the premier touted recent remarks he’s made opposing racism and the federal government’s apology for residential schools when he was an MP, accused the Opposition of “politics of personal destruction,” and cited controversial remarks on other topics made NDP MLAs in the distant past. He did not answer the question.

Wow. The Premier has really done his research to defend a man who says that Black Lives Matter is racist and incites violence,” Ms. Notley shot back. “The Premier says: personnel is policy. He is right. This is about the premier, not his speechwriter. Why is the premier defending such a foul racist and keeping him in the highest office in the province. Why?”

This time Mr. Kenney accused the NDP of “identity politics” and added a Trumpian boast “this government has done more, I believe, than any modern government to move from reconciliation to reconciliation of economic opportunity.” He did not answer the question. The passage, found on Page 1753 of Hansard, is instructive.

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Kenney’s performance sounded like a sotto voce endorsement of Mr. Bunner’s odious views. And since Mr. Bunner obviously isn’t going anywhere, at least until he can make a graceful exit to a corporate sinecure, this is an excellent issue for the NDP to continue to press.

But with his weird exhibition, Mr. Schmidt seemed to be doing his level best to hose it all away.

What was in it for the NDP to have an influential MLA, a former cabinet minister, stand up in the House and say of a British prime minister who left office almost 30 years ago and has been dead these seven years that “the only thing that I regret about Margaret Thatcher’s death is that it happened probably 30 years too late”?

What would an old political pro like Brian Mason, who led the Alberta NDP from 2004 to 2014, make of this? Not much, I’d wager.

I’m no fan of Mrs. Thatcher. The woman did enormous harm and her ugly economic legacy haunts us still. But the point of Mr. Schmidt’s political judgment, for which he apologized at the prompting of the Speaker, beats the hell out of me.

Kenney speechwriter Paul Bunner (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mrs. Thatcher hobnobbed with vicious dictators, encouraged foreign racists (over the opposition of Brian Mulroney, Canada’s Conservative prime minister at the time), and wreaked economic destruction on her own country from which it has never recovered. But what’s the point of damning her damnable record when most Albertans have only a vague idea of who she was and what she did?

There’s a time and place for a teaching moment about the evils of Thatcherism. Yesterday in the Legislature, when the focus should have been on Premier Kenney’s authoritarian policies and his racist coddling, certainly wasn’t it.

As was recently noted in this space, despite her appalling legacy, Mrs. Thatcher was occasionally right, as when she dismissed referenda as “a device for dictators and demagogues.” Despite her fears of an all-powerful European Union, I doubt she would have countenanced an exercise in national destruction like the sloppy Brexit referendum.

Mr. Kenney, as is well known, cheered the U.K.’s catastrophic Brexit vote and applauds referenda like the one that all but made Vladimir Putin president for life of Russia last week as the highest form of democracy.

If Mr. Kenney builds a statue to Mrs. Thatcher, by all means, let’s smear it with paint and pull it down.

In the mean time, though, let’s keep the spotlight shining where it’s needed most — including on our premier’s determination to maintain a cozy space for racism in the bosom of his government.

11 Comments to: Thatcher brouhaha: When your slippery opponent’s on the ropes, maybe you should focus on keeping him there!

  1. Bob Raynard

    July 9th, 2020

    Does Paul Bunner know a secret that Jason Kenney does not want getting out? I think by now there are probably a lot of them.

    • John T

      July 9th, 2020

      Heck, the things we DO know are enough.

    • Jim

      July 9th, 2020

      Likely nothing that hasn’t been discussed quietly in political corners for years, if publicly discussed even Kenney wouldn’t be able to shake the hypocrite label. Or maybe there is actually something that is illegal, pure speculation of course.

    • Rocky

      July 9th, 2020

      2. Funny he never married. Man like that.
      1. He’d have made a good husband.
      2. Oh he would, oh, oh …
      1. A very good husband …
      2. A very good husband, there’s no gainsaying that. He could cook…
      1. He could sew …
      2. He could knit …
      1. Yes, yes … He could arrange flowers.
      2. Oh, oh his house, his house … It was like a new pin …
      1. Like a shiny new pin.
      2. New pin, new pin …
      1. Yes, yes it was …
      2. Funny he never married. He was a happy man. …

  2. Dave

    July 9th, 2020

    I believe one of the UCP strategies is to polarize politics in Alberta as much as possible. They don’t mind being portrayed as extreme right, for the most part they revel in it, because they believe there are more people who support the extreme right in Alberta than the extreme left. They are probably correct in that assessment. Towards that effort, the UCP goes around using the words communist and socialist a lot and goes on about places like Cuba or North Korea as if they are places a North American social democratic party actuaslly aspires to be like. Of course, this is all a bunch of BS, but the UCP believes it works politically for them with some voters.

    For the most part the NDP has stubbornly refused to take the UCP bait on this and behaved like the adults in the room, often making the UCP look both extreme and foolish. This is an important reason to avoid shooting oneself in the foot. With not much else to support their case, I suspect the UCP will be trotting out this Thatcher quote every chance they get over the next several years.

    I realize that sometime in heated discussion and extreme partisanship, it is forgotten that we are all human. It is easy to demonize political opponents and sometimes it is deserved. However, I think in the end the voters actually do expect a bit better of politicians and if we can’t show them we are better, they will just stick with the devil they know.

  3. Just Me

    July 9th, 2020

    Given Kenney’s endless fluffing of the memory of the Iron Lady, one would think he was trying to get a date.

    Well, she is dead (still dead. very dead. stone dead.) so she can’t say no.

    Come, Ken-DOH! This is your chance.

  4. Brian Mason

    July 10th, 2020

    You’re quite correct about my take on Mr. Schmidt’s comments, David. This is not how you deliver a clear and consistent message to the public.

  5. Murphy

    July 10th, 2020

    The Russians have never had a functioning democracy, and have been under an unrelenting assault by the western banking monstrosity since at least 1904 when British-built battleships commanded by a British-trained admiral sank the Russians, and British banks paid for it, so it seems absurd to compare their system with the one we have, you know, the one that destroyed Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Haiti, etc., ad infinitum. Yay for the democracy that gave us W and Harpo! (not to mention Tailgunner Jay)

    • Keith McClary

      July 11th, 2020

      We don’t have term limits in Canada or Alberta.

      And, O.T., conflict of interest standards seem to be different in Alberta vs. the federal government.


      October 8th, 2020

      WELL, MURPHY: You should re-up your knowledge of RUSSIAN HISTORY!; The TWENTIETH CENTURY put the lie, THE GREAT LIE! to MARX, ENGELS, LENIN,and STALIN! The Butchery perpetratedby them reached beyond 100 million dead!!AND their TRAVESTY of the HOLODOMOR against the UKRAINIANS wiped out another 6 million souls via the brutality of STARVATION unto death and cannibalism! I won’t dally with the Red Chinese, where MAO’S “”GREAT LEAP FORWARD”which knicked another 100-150 MILLION! SO, if you are some pin-headed little “dialectical materialism”
      Person who hasn’t read HISTORY, THEN DON’T BORE ME WITH YOUR PUERILE, INFANTILE MARXIST MUSINGS! MARX was a stinky, unkempt, unwashed intellectual dilettante, who put his own children in work-houses! Now, read some serious Philosophy! KIRKEGAARD, NIETZSCHE, DOSTOEVSKY, JUNG! Leaven that with a little FREUD, and remove the logs from your eyes!

  6. Farmer Brian

    July 13th, 2020

    The use of referendums can yield quite positive results, look at Switzerland. No other country in the world uses referendums as frequently as Switzerland and last time I checked they were not ruled by a dictator. As for Mr. Schmidt, apparently his brain took a temporary holiday.


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