Alberta Politics
Alberta’s conspiracy minded premier, Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Conspiracy theories are for losers: What does this tell us about Jason Kenney’s UCP?

Posted on February 04, 2021, 12:17 am
10 mins

Are Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party nuts? 

I mean, are they actually nuts, going down the rabbit hole of bizarre and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories like some of their Republican brethren in the United States?

Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the Opposition in the provincial Legislature (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In other words, in their effort to unite the right (as used to be said when that was still a respectable expression) are these Alberta Conservatives turning into Qonservatives like the nutty and dangerous Qanon fringe of the Republican Party south of the U.S. border? 

When Mr. Kenney led the UCP to victory in 2019, most Albertans were pretty sure the party was a little farther to the right, but still basically a mainstream version of the old Progressive Conservative Party that had successfully led Alberta for a remarkable 44 years. 

That is to say, a party capable of incrementalism and common sense, not all that different than what the federal Conservatives had become under Stephen Harper, who as prime minister appeared to be Mr. Kenney’s mentor and guide. 

That assumption naturally led to the expectation by many that in office the UCP would move back toward the centre and adopt a somewhat less radical program than the party’s election rhetoric suggested and, more importantly, that it would drop the most bizarrely conspiratorial claims that animated Mr. Kenney’s election campaign. 

This led naturally to another conclusion, that the election in 2015 of the Alberta NDP under Rachel Notley was a historical anomaly, a step away from the mainstream – or, as UCP campaigners put it during the campaign, a fluke. 

This view came to be fairly widely accepted even though the Notley Government operated like a slightly more progressive conservative government throughout its four years in power, as well as polling evidence that Albertans knew exactly what they were voting for in 2015 even if they didn’t expect others to vote the same way.

Nevertheless, given such assumptions, Mr. Kenney’s promised witch hunt to root out Rockefellers and green foreign communists supposedly hiding under every bed plotting to landlock Alberta seemed unlikely to actually happen once what we had assumed to be the Tory Dynasty, lightly rebranded, was restored to power. 

Former Wildrose Party Opposition leader Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Not all political promises are kept by sensible governments, after all. Many people who voted UCP and a lot who didn’t expected the UCP to act sensibly once in power. 

This goes against the precaution recommended to all voters: that one should always assume political parties intend to do what they promise. But it’s human nature to see signs of common sense and hope for the best.

So if the UCP emerged as the winner – as it ultimately did on April 16, 2019 – it was not completely unreasonable to think it would drop its most outlandish ideas, such as the plan to strike an official inquiry to investigate a non-existent foreign conspiracy against Alberta. 

After all, we all suspect conspiracy theories are for losers. 

Indeed, there is some evidence for this bit of pop psychology. 

Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent, authors of American Conspiracy Theories, quoted in a New York Times analysis of the Qanon movement yesterday, argue that conspiracy theories like the one promoted by Premier Kenney “tend to resonate when groups are suffering from loss, weakness, or disunity.”

Steve Allan, commissioner in charge of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns (Photo: Lieutenant Governor of Alberta).

The two Josephs’ 2014 book said evidence shows that, in the United States at least, conspiracy theories with the most prevalent public support tend to be those of the political side that is out of power. That is, in a year when Republicans hold the upper hand, the most prominent conspiracy theories will tend to be those featuring misdeeds by the right and business. When Democrats have control, the alleged conspiracies of the day will lean toward communists and anti-business plots, the hobgoblins of the right. 

In other words, quite literally, conspiracy theories are for losers. 

This suggests another way of looking at Mr. Kenney and the UCP, as well as the NDP.

First, this could suggest that the Kenney UCP is the anomaly in Alberta politics, more akin to Social Credit after its election in 1935 when it was led by William Aberhart, before E.C. Manning brought the party into the conservative mainstream after Mr. Aberhart’s death in 1943. 

Second, that the NDP, still led in opposition by Ms. Notley, is much closer to the small-c conservative Alberta mainstream that ruled continuously from 1943 to 2015, or maybe even 2019.

If this is true, it would be the UCP – dominated by the more radical Wildrose Party fringe of the merger with the PCs in 2018 and strongly influenced by the Q-fantasies from south of the 49th Parallel – that is in fact the nutty outlier. 

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

UCP supporters will dismiss this as nonsense, of course – possibly even as evidence of a conspiracy against them. 

The NDP won’t much like it either, as it could risk alienating their base by suggesting their party is more conservative than progressive. 

Still, if you look at actual NDP policy – its cautious labour law reforms, pipeline pragmatism, and insistence on no pay increases for public employees – there is plenty of evidence for this. 

As for the UCP, what else could account for why an ostensible political winner, touted as a restoration of a successful political dynasty, continues to act like party that knows in its bones it’s a loser, likely soon to be swept away on the tide of history?

Consider the willingness of the Kenney Government to keep giving time extensions to its so-called “Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.” Could this indicate some tension between the government, which wants its conspiracy theories validated, and Commissioner Steve Allan, who has realized there is nothing there to validate? 

Meanwhile, Mr. Kenney and his inner circle continue down the rabbit hole, pushing a war with health care workers during a pandemic, taking epidemiological advice from restaurant lobbyists, refusing to enforce COVID-19 restrictions, passing unconstitutional legislation interfering with the right of citizens to protest its policies, promoting massive and destructive open-pit mining projects unpopular with farmers and ranchers, and attributing all opposition to a conspiracy of foreign environmentalists, bankers and liberal journalists.

Alberta’s conspiracy minded premier, elected in 1935, William Aberhart, also the last Alberta premier to wear a pince-nez (Photo: Alberta Teachers Association).

This has resulted in new fissures on the right. 

While Mr. Kenney tolerates outright Alberta separatism by caucus members like Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, Brian Jean, once the leader of the Wildrose Party, has emerged from the Wild Rose bushes to beg the premier and his digital Praetorian Guard to start acting like “grownups who can be trusted to maturely address the issues facing Albertans.”

“Campaign rhetoric is for campaigns,” Mr. Jean pleaded in a Postmedia op-ed yesterday, “governing requires a different approach.”

Of course, Mr. Jean himself is not immune to conspiracy theories when in campaign mode, and he may still harbour leadership ambitions after being cheated out of the running by Mr. Kenney’s underhanded UCP leadership campaign in 2017.

As for Mr. Jean’s shot yesterday at Mr. Kenney’s lifestyle – advising him to eat healthier meals and get more sleep – what was that about?

Still, there’s no question about this: the UCP, its leaders and a lot of its members are fractious, divided, and acting more like a desperate opposition party on the campaign trail than a confident government in power. 

In other words, like losers. 

25 Comments to: Conspiracy theories are for losers: What does this tell us about Jason Kenney’s UCP?

  1. David Harrigan

    February 4th, 2021

    Interesting. Frankly, I think the two Joseph’s may have been correct in 2014, but things have changed greatly. Look at the formerly great nation to our south. For four years Trump and the Republicans were very much in control and were the winners. Yet they got further and further into wild conspiracy theories from the day of the election of the dually impeached orange man. Your antepenultimate paragraph was a good catch. What was Mr. Jean on about? I have seen absolutely no evidence at all that would suggest Premier Kenney is not healthy or is tired. Interestingly, Mr. Jean suggests not just to eat and sleep well, but that early to sleep would allow the Premier to have more productive morning meetings with Cabinet and Caucus. Some inside baseball we do not know about? Over to you, Charles Rusnell.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      February 4th, 2021

      “ antepenultimate” OK, David, there’s a word & a half lol …

      Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      February 6th, 2021

      It’s maybe a reference to the time when Kenney was an MP canvassing to get the 905 vote, which tends to skew ethnic. He used to go by the nickname “curry in a hurry” as a reference to the many dinners and town halls he would participate in to get out that vote. And it worked…for a while.

      Reply
  2. Dave

    February 4th, 2021

    To answer your question – yes, the UCP government sure is acting a bit crazy! However, even within Kenney’s carefully curated fairly right wing gang running the show, I suspect there are people who realize things are going off the rails badly. They are watching helplessly, either because they don’t know what to do as the UCP flails, or because they don’t want to incur the wrath of the dear leader by speaking up. So, it falls to Brian Jean to try be the voice of reason. I don’t think Kenney is much inclined to listen to Jean either, so the madness continues.

    Yes, Kenney is a student of Harper, but to be fair to Harper, perhaps Kenney was not such a good student after all. Also, the Federal Conservatives had a large moderating group in Eastern Canada that acted as a constraint and a voice of reason at times. The UCP has … well its basically the Kenney show, unconstrained and unhinged.

    As you alluded, we sometimes project onto our politicians, especially initially what we hope to see. So, many Albertans hoped that underneath Kenney’s forceful, over the top rhetoric there might be a realistic, practical and grounded strategy. However, sometimes what you see is what you get and nothing more.

    Aberhart passed away in office, so we don’t know how long he would have governed. I suspect his mercurial style was starting to wear on Albertans and his party would not have lasted as long with him as leader. These days people are not as patient or tolerant of bad leadership. Even a lot of people who voted UCP are becoming disappointed with Kenney’s approaches to things. Mr. Jean is sort of their messenger, dismissing or ignoring him will not make all the problems go away.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    February 4th, 2021

    Anyone with even the slightest bit of common sense can see the UCP are a disaster, and are losing ground, and very fast. The UCP will try to blame others for their massive failures, but it just won’t work. There were staunch warnings about how bad the UCP would be, before they cheated their way into power, but those went unheeded. Yes, we see evidence pointing that the UCP didn’t come into power honestly. Look at the problems Alberta has now. I don’t know how the UCP will survive past 2023. Also, I don’t know if Alberta can recover from the damage that was done.

    Reply
  4. Bill Malcolm

    February 4th, 2021

    I dunno. Is Ford in Ontario any better? He hasn’t addressed the LTC home mess in Ontario, because the odious Mike Harris, former hack premier and socially unempathetic robot-man, is CEO of Chartwell Retirement Residences and didn’t want any government intefering with his gravy train, thanks very much, despite the huge Covid first wave death toll at his homes — and Doug complied, folding like a cheap suit. Ford wants to turn the GTA green space into a developer’s paradise; he changed the size of Toronto City council by fiat during a municipal election, puts old pal nobodies in big government jobs, his MLAs are trained to perform like seals and bark in approval in Queen’s Park for every stupid Con thing he dreams up. And it’s on and on from there, just like a local mafia don, malice on the trot managed by guess and by golly. And he’s no better at managing the pandemic restrictions than your Fuhrer. Neither he nor kenney have any advanced education, but run on ideology fuelled out of god knows what theories they dreamt up, conspiracy or otherwise, but kenney is more organized in his quest to return things back to the robber baron days and business monopolies of the late 1800s, lording it over peons. Both cut business taxes as first order of business, and Ford rolled back the planned minimum wage increases. Don’t get Covid, because you don’t get paid for sick days — that’s the warped mindset of these two. What you have to ask yourself is, why in hell people vote to shoot themselves in the foot by electing these dolts in the first place? That’s the mystery to me.

    Of course, it’s also valid to wonder if the federal Liberals are really much better. Trudeau didn’t undo very much of harper’s waywardness. At least Biden, despite appointing to cabinet posts all the hawkish there’s a Putinite under every bed nitwit he could dredge up from the US’s inexhaustible supply of exceptionalists, made a point of cancelling some of Trump’s domestic idiocy on day one. About all Trudeau really did was cancel the Con commissars riding herd on federal scientists, a feature of harper’s Stalinist tendencies to turn established science into a stevie nutbar opinion-fest.

    I often wonder if the snarling herd of white boy supremacists and apologists for past British colonialism against natives aren’t at least as prominent in Canada as the US. MacInnes, a Canadian and the founder of Proud Boys, started that outfit in Canada, remember, only in 2016. It spread to the US from here. We had our fill of those twits here in Halifax three years ago harrassing First Nations, and two were members of our armed forces, the Navy, and got no more than a telling off from that outfit. Now they’re a designated terrorist group, if that will make any difference.

    Our free trade policies have got us stuck on vaccine supply when the chips are down, and both Notley and Horgan are about as neoliberal as they come, hardly socialists. This country has a long way to go to get out of the morass we’re currently in.

    Reply
  5. Political Ranger

    February 4th, 2021

    Well? They are Losers!
    If for nothing else they have lost to the sweep of time. The good ‘ol days are gone. Over. These are yesterdays men with yesterdays ideas for yesterdays problems.
    They have nothing for today, much less for tomorrow.

    Perhaps these clowns from the past are just confused. You lay out a much more equanimous explanation David, more in line with “a party capable of instrumentalism and common sense”.
    I think they are lost because they are blind. They cannot see the present, let alone the future, because they will not. They are captured by their ideology. They will not allow their dogma and orthodoxies be overrun by the realities of the day.
    This is the disease of conservatism today.

    Reply
    • Jason

      February 4th, 2021

      They really do have yesterday’s ideas. Over at daveberta.ca, Dave Cournoyer has discovered a Coal Truth Office created about a century ago that is strikingly similar to the current government’s strategy. Hardly indicative of a vision for the future.

      Reply
    • Bill George

      February 16th, 2021

      Jason Kenney and the UCP should start carrying large jugs of Fabreze to mask the smell of the BS they keep spewing.

      Reply
  6. Albertan

    February 4th, 2021

    It remains as to whether, in all of this, how much these crazy ultra right wing populist authoritarian Kenney UCP shenanigans will generate a right wing split, or splits….if so, gotta be lovin’ it!

    Reply
  7. ronmac

    February 4th, 2021

    My theory is we have all entered a time warp and we have re-entered the 1950’s and we are reliving the Red Scare paranoia which dominated politics of the time. It started in 2016 when Hilary Clinton, trying to come up with an excuse for her loss which supposedly was a slam dunk, blamed the Russians and folks of Liberal persuasion were convinced Donald Trump was a Manchurian Candidate whose strings were controlled by Putin. Not to be outdone, Trump spent much of the 2020 campaigning against communism, Sleepy Joe was really a communist intent on stripping away America’s precious freedoms.

    I’m equally convinced a portion of the UCP base never left the 1950’s and see Reds under every bed. About 20 years ago Ralph Kleins right hand man Rob Love went on a rampage, claiming that a group of environmental protestors were a gang of communists. So it’s nothing new.

    Reply
  8. Abs

    February 4th, 2021

    The biggest thing Mr. Kenney should fear is not fear itself (or Brian Jean), but the 800 penguins that staged a protest on the legislature grounds recently. You know things are bad when even the penguins have turned against you, and taken to the streets with tiny toothpicks. So powerful was this unlawful protest that the protectorate of the legislature did not ignore them, like they did anti-maskers and members of a group that has now been declared a terrorist organization by the feds. No, they clubbed them like seals and smashed them to smithereens. Message sent. The premier will not stand for this. Penguins are enemies of the state. It’s the final straw for his long-suffering tolerance and the long reach of his anti-protest law. Opus the Penguin has been added to the top of Steve Allan’s anti-Albertan list, and Jason Kenney will no longer wear his striped Penguin from Batman suit. Don’t think this stunt was brilliant in its cuteness, and don’t think of trying this again, even though the weather has turned cold and penguiny once again.

    Meanwhile, I’m off to rewatch Resident Alien and see if that was a penguin under the bed. Something, something, Extinction Level Event.

    Reply
  9. Caron

    February 4th, 2021

    One quote from Brian Jean’s article stood out to me: “Albertans would be surprised by how many of this government’s top staff and bureaucrats aren’t from Alberta. Too many people working for you have moved here to work for a stereotypical Alberta that only exists in their heads.”

    This is exactly what sank Rachael Notley’s government, particularly in rural Alberta. Her administration took agricultural policy advice from a former journalist with almost zero understanding of Alberta’s agricultural history and industry captured AstroTurf groups. With the NDP’s failure to address the impunity of the energy industry to take private farm and ranch land, that sealed the NDP’s fate in rural Alberta.

    It is nice to see Kenney and the UCP have now managed to do the same thing with their coal policy. Worse, they are doubling down with their announcement that Land Titles, the bedrock of rural Alberta, are to be privatized, with all the potential for corruption and theft that allows.
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-registry-land-titles-1.5882678

    I would not give the UCP’s survival anything close to even odds.

    Reply
  10. Neil Lore

    February 4th, 2021

    Good article. Encouraging to think that maybe the UCP won’t be re-elected.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 4th, 2021

      One can only hope. Of course, as badly as they are doing, they come to the game with the field tilted heavily in their favour. DJC

      Reply
      • Western in Sask

        February 4th, 2021

        Especially the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal and right wing talk radio.

        Also don’t underestimate the NDP neoliberals like Notley.

        It’s time for a real progressive politics.

        Reply
  11. pogo

    February 4th, 2021

    Ok. I got into a scrap! Likely lost a scintilla of blood (thanks be to sensei supine). I’m thinkin’ I’ll hunker down and ride it out for a day or two. Maybe I should get a job drivin’ truck. I just don’t know right now! Why did I go and get such an average education? https://youtu.be/aKhdrtZsxGU?t=23

    Reply
  12. Jason

    February 4th, 2021

    This sense of desperation is also reflected in how the UCP are ramming through legislation as quickly and bluntly as possible, with little to no consultation. It’s like they figure that, despite their arrogance and the huge majority they got, they’re not assured another term, so they’re trying to shove through as much as they can.

    Reply
  13. Carlos

    February 4th, 2021

    I would challenge without any problem your assertion that the Progressive Conservative Party ruled this province successfully but that is my view. They governed for 44 years and left us always worse then when they took over with exception of Ralph Klein only because in his time Alberta had the greatest revenues ever.
    Even though the NDP might not like it, I also fully agree that they are nothing but a small c conservative party and unlike the UCP they never really dared to implement policies that would certainly be called communistic by the right wing. The NDP showed very little courage to make real changes afraid of the reaction, which did not help them because in the end they lost anyway.
    As far as Bryan Jean words on Jason Kenney’s lifestyle just tells me that he is as shallow as the premier because if making that kind of comment is acceptable I would worry way more with the premier’s total lack of character, ethics and morals. Lying is his favorite dish and he does it almost as fast as Donald Trump but with more finesse.
    With all due respect I also challenge your opinion that Steven Harper’s government had much common sense. Any person that muzzles scientists and journalists and aligns with the likes of Viktor Orban is definitely not a serious democrat and displays way less the normal common sense.

    Carlos

    Reply
  14. !?

    February 4th, 2021

    I just came up with my own theory!

    The Kenney Klown Kamp saw their ‘foreign agitator’ show going down in flames, so they had to agitate.
    Now we see the KKK unleash coal leases for every foreign owned coal grifter.
    TaDa! Everybody HATES the KKK… that everybody includes foreigners!
    By the time the new, new, new, new ‘deadline’ rolls around in August there will be culprits.

    Genius.

    Reply
  15. ayeamaye

    February 5th, 2021

    If the PC’s and the Wildrose didn’t merge the NDP would have won the last election hands down. In a way the Wildrose are responsible for the mess we are now in. That was it “Unite the Right”. Unite the right for what? Better government?
    Leadership,stewardship,compassion…foresight? None of the above. A power grab, that’s all and Jason Kenney wanted to be in the drivers seat. I used to think the next generation of leaders would have to be better than the one that came before,sadly this is not the case. Then again Jason kenney may be many things but a leader he is not.

    Reply
  16. Bret Larson

    February 6th, 2021

    In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a pandemic. And besides Wuhan flu, squirrelly is going around also.

    Reply
  17. Mickey Rat

    February 7th, 2021

    DJC this article helped me to understand Alta a bit better – maybe. Disclosure: I’m from the province directly to the left of AB so am only trying to understand things there. My perceptions may (likely are) wrong, but;

    How did the NDP catapult into govt so convincingly in 2015? A protest vote against 44 years of conservative leadership, or even vote-splitting didn’t answer it for me. Maybe I’m too optimistic but I thought there was more to it than that. I kept thinking maybe Albertans wanted to try a slightly different approach – and they got it. As you say, Ms. Notley’s approach to governing Alberta may be closer to what the Alberta electorate wants than the UCP thinks and less a of a “fluke.” If this is true, it explains why the UCP are acting like losers – floundering losers, “fractious, divided, and acting more like a desperate opposition party.” Some may have realized Mr. Kenny doesn’t have a lock on this governing thing.

    This angle makes more sense to me than writing off the AB NDP govt as a fluke. I actually think the “unite the right” idea is a positive step forward because it clarifies the real choices we have and the similarities of Ms. Notley’s breakthrough to Dave Barrett’s in 1972 is interesting. Is Alberta headed towards swapping the govt back and forth between the NDP and whatever the conservatives call themselves? You read it here first…

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 8th, 2021

      Mickey: I think we’re singing from the same hymn sheet here. If you’re looking for additional evidence, consider that the NDP vote actually went up between 2015 and 2019. This suggests that, in 2019 anyway, party-loyal conservative voters doubtless outnumbered NDP voters. But many of those are not really UCP partisans, they just bought Mr. Kenney’s fairy tale that he could Make Oil Great Again. Now many Albertans have had an opportunity to compare the old PCs, the NDP and the UCP in power in a relatively short time frame, not to pay attention to what’s happening in the United States. Yelling “communist” at Ms. Notley may not be as effective as it was in 2019. DJC

      Reply

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