Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s pipeline opponents blockade a rail line in Edmonton in February 2020 (Photo: Facebook).

What a difference a year makes! 

Not even a year: Ten months in the life of Jason Kenney. 

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

Ten months ago, blockades in support of opposition by members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation to pipeline construction on ancestral lands in north-central British Columbia were springing up here and there in Canada. 

There weren’t actually all that many, but to hear Conservatives like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tell it at the time, mere anarchy was loosed upon the world, the national economy imperiled. 

To attribute this to Mr. Kenney is not hyperbole. Here are some of his actual words: “Reconciliation doesn’t mean allowing a couple of people to shut down the national economy,” he said when a few supporters of the Wet’suwet’en briefly blocked a rail line on the west side of Edmonton. 

“What is happening here is anarchy,” he went on. “Extended illegal protests contrary to the orders of the courts, shutting down large parts of the Canadian economy, and ultimately will imperil public safety and health.” (Emphasis added above.) 

Nor was Mr. Kenney particularly concerned about the fundamental rights of protesters to block infrastructure like rail lines, roads and bridges. 

Indeed, while it may seem like a distant memory now, Conservatives everywhere were howling at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his careful approach to human rights and reconciliation, demanding immediate intervention by the army to dismantle the blockades. The phrase “the rule of law” was in every Conservative meme and press release. 

“Enough is enough,” the Trudeau Government should “empower all federal law enforcement agencies, and if necessary the military, to uphold the rule of law,” Derek Burney, once chief of staff to Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, bloviated in the pages of the National Post. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

The protesters in Edmonton, said Mr. Kenney, “are thumbing their nose at the rule of law.”

“Our focus is very much on resolving this peacefully for the long term,” the prime minister said. “I do not think it is ever appropriate to send in the military against Canadian citizens.” (And, as, readers with long memories will recall, Mr. Trudeau was describing what his own father did in 1970, a decision that has repercussions to this day in Quebec. Moreover, his strategy worked, resolving the problem without violence.)

But at the time, Conservatives heaped scorn on the PM for refusing to bust heads.

In the case of the Edmonton blockade, Mr. Kenney told a press conference that since it was within city limits, “it’s our expectation that police services will … enforce the orders of our courts.” 

Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Government used the blockades to justify the signature bill of the 2020 Legislative session. The tendentiously named Critical Infrastructure Defence Act is sweeping and unconstitutional legislation allowing government to declare any street, road or sidewalk “critical infrastructure,” order protesters to leave, and slap them with crippling fines and even jail terms if they don’t. 

The bill became law on June 17. Constitutional challenges are pending.

Now, fast forward to the present, the final weeks of 2020. A deadly global pandemic continues to rage worldwide. It literally threatens the economy of the entire planet, not just Canada. It has killed 733 Albertans, 15 of them in the 24 hours before yesterday. 

Throughout Canada, 13,553 people have been killed by COVID-19. If this many Canadians had died in a terrorist attack, Canada would be at war. 

And yet in Alberta’s major cities, the far right fringe of the UCP base organizes regular “freedom rallies” against common-sense public health measures like wearing non-medical masks, temporary restrictions on some businesses and public and private gatherings. 

The weekend marches, each a potential super-spreader event that endangers anyone in the vicinity, are held in defiance of public health regulations. 

But Mr. Kenney has suddenly discovered he’s a champion of freedom, and human rights!

Whereas “the rule of law” was on every Canadian Conservative’s lips 10 months ago, now the phrase of the day is “constitutional rights” — those things Bill 1 was written explicitly to deny. 

“I certainly didn’t go into public service, nor did any of the people sitting around our cabinet table, in order to impose restrictions on how people live their lives,” Mr. Kenney piously said last month. 

“Have we forgotten about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?” he asked at a mid-November COVID-19 news conference. “Since when should governments start with an impairment of fundamental, Charter-protected, rights and freedoms, rather than engaging such an impairment as a last and final resort?

“The Charter jurisprudence is very clear about this,” he continued, “that if governments are to impair Charter rights, it must be a minimal impairment to achieve a policy goal.” Numerous constitutional experts demolished this pish-posh within minutes. 

Yet we have heard plenty more of this from Mr. Kenney and the UCP’s army of paid social media trolls since, so there’s no need to belabour the point. 

As regular anti-mask demonstrations continue in major cities, police appear to have been instructed to stand by and hand out as few tickets as possible for this ongoing defiance of the rule of law.

So what’s the scoop? What’s inspired Premier Jason Kenney’s new scruples about constitutional and civil rights? 

Knowing Mr. Kenney as we do, it seems extremely unlikely our premier has experienced a road-to-Damascus moment. No, something else must be afoot.

Join the Conversation


  1. The UCP wants to have it both ways, but they just can’t. As a result, they are finding out the hard way, as to how their mumbo jumbo messages are working out. It’s landing Alberta in peril.

  2. The man of convenience is one who sees an opportunity that suits his ends. He is not concerned with how it looks, such as the possibility he maybe perceived as a hypocrite; rather, meeting his own objectives, by whatever means available, is the only important thing that concerns him; all other considerations are just superfluous accessories to be discarded at the first opportunity.

    Where Kenney is concerned, which likely is caused by that one thing that every zealot conservative has, an enlarged amygdalae, he is guided by his fears, anxieties, and aggressions toward whatever evils and phantoms that obsess him. In other words, this dude is one sick puppy.

  3. Typical Kenney. Do whatever happens to be politically expedient in the moment. The lizard changes its stripes.

    You might think he’s breaking the health system in order to justify replacing it with a for-profit, private health system.

    You might think he defunded the police in order to prove that they must be replaced with Kenney Kops. In defunding municipal police forces, Kenney took a bigger piece of the ticketing pie. Why would municipal police forces want to issue tickets that help the provincial government line its pockets? Whose orders do they follow?

    But let’s get back to Goal #1. Whether the protestors get sick or not does not matter to Kenney. Super-spreader events will help break the health care system, so goal accomplished! We are all rooks on his chess board.

    More machinations than Hamlet. Zero sincerity, just like the skin-crawling chat with Kenney-Claws.

  4. I certainly didn’t go into public service … in order to impose restrictions on how people live their lives, is exactly the sort of puffed up, weasily statement I have come to expect from Kenney. I suppose it is hard to judge intent, Saying to the judge I didn’t intend to hurt that person, doesn’t get you off the hook completely. We are rightly judged for our actions as well as our intentions.

    So, Kenney arguably might not have gone into public service in order to impose restrictions, but in recent years seems to have made a habit of it, hasn’t he? I suppose in his confused thinking, people who demonstrate against pipelines or about working conditions are less worthy of full rights than others. Fortunately, it will be the courts that have the final say on this, not Kenney.

    Perhaps Kenney might also be sincere if he claimed he didn’t go into politics to intend to make a mess of things, but unfortunately he has.

  5. Bottom line for me is that Jason Kenney does not possess the attributes needed to be a good Premier. Being a good party man is not enough.

    He may get by in very good times. In times of crisis, economic or covid, his true character and lack of leadership is on display for all to see. It does not ‘cut it’ IMHO. His track record so far has been abysmal.

  6. …and slap them with crippling fines and even jail terms if don’t.
    Typo, I believe.

    Another demonstration of the opportunism and lack of principle of the UCP and of its leader. Not the typo, I mean the flexible definition of “law and order”.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. I have used the following quote more often this year than any other. It pertains to so much we are seeing as noted in your article.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    –Upton Sinclair.

  8. While the Kenney UCP were turning a blind eye towards anti-mask demonstrators who were posing a threat to public health, they imposed greater sanctions on impaired drivers who pose a threat to public health. Our smirking priktator cheated to gain the leadership of the UCP, lied to get elected and has bungled the UCP response to the pandemic. In baseball – three strikes and you’re out.

  9. Know what’s richer than a double slice of full-fat New York-style cheesecake? A hard-core right-wing Conservative like Jason Kenney bleating about the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. Cons were adamantly opposed to the Charter, citing as their purported rationale the “supremacy of Parliament”. Never mind that its function is to shield the vulnerable and the oppressed from the tyranny of the majority as enforced by the supremacy of Parliament.

    As for the vaunted “rule of law”, the railway blockades weren’t putting any lives at risk — except, perhaps, those of the protesters themselves, the way things were starting to develop in some parts of Canada. These lawless, unruly anti-mask protesters, on the other hand, are. So, when does the ticketing start for their violations of an order by the CMOH under the Public Health Act??? I’m waiting … tick … tick .. tick …

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