Alberta Politics
Mart Kenney and the Western Gentlemen on the job back in the day (Photo: Originator not identified).

The punchline to the bad joke that’s Alberta’s new primary school social studies curriculum: Mart Kenney

Posted on March 31, 2021, 1:31 am
10 mins

Alberta’s new social studies curriculum is pretty obviously a bad joke, but at least it’s got an entertaining punch line.

To wit: Mart Kenney.

The controversial Mart Kenney song’s record label (Photo: Screenshot of Youtube video).

Curriculum experts and accredited teachers were shocked by the thoroughly politicized draft curriculum document circulated by Education Minister Adriana LaGrande on Monday. 

But notwithstanding its ideological bias, cultural chauvinism and amateurish curriculum design, there’s not much that can be done about the draft except to start over and do it again, said University of Alberta Education Professor Carla Peck, a literal expert on curriculum writing. 

“It cannot be fixed by tweaking,” she observed in a useful analysis published on her blog yesterday. “Alberta Education needs to go back to the drawing board to better understand the goals of a social studies curriculum.”

That won’t happen, but it raises the baleful and expensive possibility that every time a Conservative government is voted out in Alberta, we’ll have to tear up the curriculum to get the public education system back on track. 

Meanwhile, it was getting Premier Jason Kenney’s grandfather, forgotten big band conductor Mart Kenney, into the Grade 6 curriculum’s unit on music that struck a sour note. 

Without that detail – probably among least important changes in the curriculum in terms of actual impact – it might never have caught the outraged imagination of the public and made ordinary Albertans start paying attention to just how embarrassingly bad this new curriculum is.

This story would have had little traction with low-information voters, the kind the younger Mr. Kenney will be depending upon if he hopes to be re-elected in 2023, without such a telling detail. But everyone can understand nepotism, even when it only involves departed relatives. 

Mart Kenney in his later years (Photo: Screenshot of Youtube video).

Somehow shoehorning a politician’s talented but almost completely forgotten grandfather into the provincial education curriculum unit rankles when many Canadian jazz greats history has deemed worthy of being remembered were ignored. 

Dropping Mart Kenney’s long-forgotten name into the curriculum was so tone-deaf, you’d almost think the Alberta Energy War Room had been helping out with curriculum writing!

Writing in Exclaim! – which bills itself as Canada’s Authority on Music, Film and Entertainment – you could almost hear Alex Hudson snickering as he described how “Kenney has now mandated that Alberta kids will be forced to learn about his grandfather’s music.”

“When I Get Back to Calgary,” the song chosen for the unit, Mr. Hudson pointed out, “is sung by Norma Locke – who just so happens to be Jason Kenney’s step-grandmother.” He continued, dryly: “Meanwhile, the curriculum omits genre leaders like Duke Ellington, or leading jazz/swing vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra.”

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

The Globe and Mail’s Emma Graney strove mightily to insist Mart Kenney had a really big name, as well as a big band, once upon a time in Canadian music. He did, she reminded us, get admitted to the Order of Canada for his high notes. 

But unlike Glenn Miller, whose name the curriculum writers used to jazz up the same teaching unit, it wasn’t big enough to prevent him from being almost completely forgotten by 2021. The military aircraft carrying the similarly white American big band leader disappeared somewhere over the English Channel on a flight to Paris in December 1944. 

Of course, it’s possible Premier Kenney didn’t demand that old Mart, who died in 2006, be used in the unit, as Mr. Hudson suggested. A lot of Albertans, though, obviously feel it can’t be ruled out. 

Mr. Kenney certainly got shirty back on New Year’s Eve 2015 when someone tweeted something mean in response to his praise for “a fun song written by my grandmother Norma Locke & recorded by Mart Kenney, When I Get Back to Calgary.” 

“Unfortunate you feel moved to attack my deceased grandparents on Twitter,” huffed Mr. Kenney, then still the MP for Calgary Midnapore. “Happy new year.”

The unfortunate Glenn Miller, whose military aircraft disappeared over the English Channel in December 1944 (Photo: Billboard Magazine, Public Domain).

Well, perhaps it was just someone who wanted to suck up to the premier who slipped Mart’s name in. Maybe no one bothered check to see if this particular Kenney who recorded a song about Calgary was a relative of the premier who’d vowed the run the previous curriculum through the shredder. 

Since Bobby Gimby, the songwriter and bandleader famous for composing CA-NA-DA, the centennial anthem ubiquitous in 1967, once played in Mart Kenney’s band, maybe Mart’s best-known survivor thought his grandad should have been as famous. 

But does it really matter if Mart Kenney’s mysterious inclusion in the Alberta curriculum was the result of incompetence, malice, or uninspiring musical choices with a local angle?

No matter how it came about, asking a group of 12-year-olds to listen to a creaky big band piece about Cowtown isn’t going to make anyone sit up snap their fingers! Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself. 

The younger Mr. Kenney has some things beyond his name in common with his grandfather.

Trumpeter Bobby Gimby (Photo: Henry Fox, CBC).

Mart Kenney also had political ambitions. He unsuccessfully sought the Liberal nomination in North York, a Toronto riding, in 1968. Fortunately, the elder Mr. Kenney had the good sense to fail politically before he could hold national office and do any serious damage. Later in life he was elected municipal councillor in Mission, B.C. 

In addition, like the premier and despite having recorded a song about Calgary, Mart Kenney wasn’t really from around here. He was born in Toronto, where he grew up, and lived his last years on the B.C. Coast.

Meanwhile, sharp-eyed observers were noticing yesterday that controversial passages in the new curriculum are being revised on the fly without notification or comment. So perhaps Mart Kenney’s presence in the curriculum will prove to be as ephemeral as his musical career.

Bradley Lafortune named as executive director of Public Interest Alberta

Bradley Lafortune has been named executive director of Public Interest Alberta, the 17-year-old political advocacy organization known for its campaigns to preserve and enhance public spaces, services and institutions. 

Public Interest Alberta Executive Director Bradley Lafortune (Photo: Bradley Lafortune).

“With a hostile provincial government and political parties across the spectrum struggling to articulate a vision for our province founded on the public good, we need to organize and mobilize for a future where nobody is left behind,” the former chief of staff to NDP labour minister Christina Gray said in the news release announcing his appointment. 

Mr. Lafortune most recently worked as Director of Campaigns for Western Canada at Point Blank Creative, leading campaigns responding to the Kenney Government’s anti-worker agenda.

During his time with the previous government, he played a major role in implementing the $15-per-hour minimum wage, setting up North America’s first coal-workforce transition fund and bringing Alberta labour legislation into the Canadian mainstream – a change the Kenney Government is now in the process of dismantling through unconstitutional legislation.

CORRECTION: Mart Kenney died in 2006. Am incorrect date appeared in an earlier version of this story. 

25 Comments to: The punchline to the bad joke that’s Alberta’s new primary school social studies curriculum: Mart Kenney

  1. Dave

    March 31st, 2021

    Well, perhaps Mr. Kenney can make “When I get back to Calgary” his theme song and do a maudlin rendition of it at all future UCP political gatherings, when such events can occur again.

    I don’t know the song, but I assume it is not about a political carpet bagger who wanders across the country in search of opportunity. Well, like his grandfather, our Mr. Kenney hasn’t actually spent that much time in the city he supposedly represents. On second thought “When I get back to Ottawa” might be more accurate, but doesn’t sound as good, certainly not to Alberta voters. “When I get back to mom’s basement” while also accurate doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Alberta has had a number of Premiers from Calgary, some with very deep roots in the city. Our Mr. Kenney’s roots are, shall we say, much more shallow.

    All of this shouldn’t matter. If this curriculum was otherwise solid, it could withstand such scrutiny. However, I do get the feeling this was something slapped together in a sloppy manner, with perhaps this song tossed in to try please the boss.

    Well, I suppose if it is any consolation to Premier Kenney, at least we are no longer talking about the Bigfoot fiasco and the War Room.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    March 31st, 2021

    I can see why Alberta is going downhill. The UCP are the reason why. They are intent on taking us backwards.

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      March 31st, 2021

      Here are two suggestions for their next campaign slogan:

      “Vote UCP: forward to the past!”

      “Jason Kenney: arse-first into the future!”

      Reply
      • jerrymacgp

        April 1st, 2021

        Or, an episode title from the first season of the original Star Trek: “Tomorrow is Yesterday” …

        Reply
  3. tom

    March 31st, 2021

    Bang!

    “Dropping Mart Kenney’s long-forgotten name into the curriculum was so tone-deaf, you’d almost think the Alberta Energy War Room had been helping out with curriculum writing!”

    Reply
  4. Abs

    March 31st, 2021

    Let’s put it this way: is Mart Kenney’s music studied anywhere else as part of school curriculum? Do children in Quebec City and Vancouver learn about him? Or, to put it another way, do premiers in other provinces oversee the inclusion of branches of their own family trees in school curriculum, and would the public response be any different elsewhere? Who profits from the revenue that song generates now?

    This has a certain Supreme Leader quality to it. I look forward to a visit from Dennis Rodman any day now, but of course the Michael responsible is still being held prisoner in China.

    And there are other things going on. No doubt Adriana Lagrange has sourced out pens and paper suitable for the new curriculum units on computer coding. Perhaps slates will become the preferred choice, in due course. Yabba Dabba Do!

    Speaking of UCP distractions for other things (like the failed Kenney SCC carbon tax challenge), the AMA is supposed to tell us today that they voted down Tyler Shandro’s proposal. The ongoing not-a-conflict continues. I guess they put it through the paper shredder.

    Time for a new Distract-o-Tron 2021 machine from Acme Corp.

    Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    March 31st, 2021

    Erin made a critical, and otherwise unmentioned, point in yesterday’s blog: in the whole discussion of what should be in the K – 6 curriculum, has anyone taken into account what children of that age are capable of learning? Early in my career as a junior high teacher I learned that my skills as a Grade 7 – 9 teacher gave me absolutely no insight to the capabilities of primary aged kids. So when I read a discussion about adults, who appear to have no expertise with 7 year-olds, deciding what should be taught to people of that age, I just shake my head.

    Reply
  6. brett

    March 31st, 2021

    All politicians like to get their name in the media.

    But not when the politician becomes the butt of public jokes. It tends to go downhill from there.

    Just ask Stockwell Day.

    Reply
  7. March 31st, 2021

    Thank you, Dave; this is very ironic story. It shows a rarely-seen and genuinely human side to Kenney – that he would wish to honour his late grandfather. At the same time, by using his social position as Premier to do something nice for his family, he trumpets his sense of naive entitlement. All the terrible UCP actions up to now that have hurt us, and the one that will genuinely trip him up is this blatant and relatively harmless act of nepotism. I fear the unfairness of it all will make our Premier very bitter.

    The public records gives the year of Mart Kenney’s passing as 2006.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 1st, 2021

      Thank you, Doug, for that catch on 2006. I was directed to that error first thing in the morning and corrected it immediately. As always, I am grateful to my readers, who are also my editors. DJC

      Reply
  8. Athabascan

    March 31st, 2021

    Damn it all, I told you so…

    Collective karma at play here. Albertans tossed a perfectly ethical, competent, caring Premier and replaced her with Kenney – an totally incompetent, uncaring, and corrupt little man.

    Now suffer until your karma is exhausted. Next time a closeted carpetbagger comes knocking, don’t elect him.

    I hope it’s only two more years, and that stupid Albertans don’t repeat their mistake.

    Reply
    • Alan K . Spiller

      April 1st, 2021

      Those of us who tried to warn our fellow seniors about what these phoney conservative would do to us got called Liars, Traitors, Communists , Lefties, Left wing nuts, or closet Liberals by the fools who believed every lie Kenney told them and some of them are still doing it. Just too dumb to understand what this Reformer is doing to us.
      Kenney’s popularity has tanked, yet they are still trying to defend him. The fact is they aren’t man enough to admit they made a huge mistake in electing him.

      Reply
    • Comment

      April 2nd, 2021

      Athabascan: I’ll second that.

      Alan K. Spiller: I’ll add Socialists to your list. I also was told that Albertans needed to get back to work as a reason not to vote NDP last time. (So ya, that’s worked out really well so far.)

      Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 1st, 2021

      Not just teachers. Anyone who expects to receive the admirably managed Canada Pension Plan should take note of this story. DJC

      Reply
      • Kang

        April 1st, 2021

        Yup, Bible Bill Aberhart would be so proud of Jason the elder for taking on the eastern bankers and financiers. Jason will not lose his shoes because he has a Federal Parliamentary Pension, but pensioners in Alberta may.

        Reply
  9. tom in Ontario

    March 31st, 2021

    Up to now, my enjoyment of Alberta music was confined to internationally known artists like Joni Mitchell (Fort MacLeod), Jann Arden (Calgary), k.d. lang (Edmonton) and others. Now, thanks to the blogger linking readers to “When I Get Back to Calgary” crooned by the incomparable Norma Locke and masterfully accompanied by big band impresario Mart Kenney, my Alberta musical knowledge has been raised to a much higher level. Inclusion of this masterpiece in the new Alberta school curriculum will inspire students to stratospheric heights of music appreciation.

    Reply
  10. Neil Lore

    March 31st, 2021

    Pretty discouraging that of all the wrongheaded, corrupt, transparently racist, backwards and/or factually incorrect changes being made to Alberta’s education curriculum, this is the one that sticks in the craw of the public. We are here, I guess.

    Reply
  11. DAVID Wasserman

    March 31st, 2021

    Some UCPers have been trying to spread the false narrative that the NDP government scrapped the curriculum work done by Alberta Education under the preceding government. In fact, both the PCs and the NDP largely left the work up to the professionals in the ministry, who involved both practising teachers and academics in the process. The NDP minister asked for a few adjustments. When I worked for Alberta Education (not in curriculum development) for 24 years, curriculum development was on a seven-year cycle for revision. The UCP has thrown out seven years of professional work done under two parties, and spewed out an amateurish ideological cut and paste job in about a year. No wonder it’s junk. It may all be part of the UCP long-term plan to reduce the entire Alberta education system from K to PSE to an effective generator of used car salesmen. (Women are expected to stay home and have babies.)

    Reply
    • pogo

      March 31st, 2021

      Run that one by PJ Perry and let the audience know what he says about jazz music! Maybe ask about this while you’re at it! https://youtu.be/KnzgdxH3d60

      Reply
  12. Jimmy

    March 31st, 2021

    Come on Jason, sing us a song. There has been a precedent with Brian Mulroney’s rendition of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’. Maybe you could record and market it and donate any profits to help pay down the provincial deficit. There’s no need to hide your light under a bushel.

    Reply
  13. Adam

    March 31st, 2021

    In a sense, this is one of the least objectionable aspects of the curriculum. I have enough contact with the right-wing blogosphere to recognize that a lot of the history curriculum that Kenney is pushing is really ideologically loaded – as one example, teaching Chinggis Khan at such an early age is surely to establish the destructive nature of the Eastern hordes, in contrast to the supposed progressive glories of the more recent capitalist British and US empires of the Anglosphere (and I am not joking – I used to encounter this sort of argument frequenty when I consorted with right-wingers online). It is hard for me to understand any other reason that they are organizing the curriculum in this manner. By contrast, it is good if students learn about the history of Canadian jazz; Canadians are always forgetting valuable parts of their history so why not revive Marty Kenney? My goodness, wouldn’t it be nice if we started investing in musical education as well, via Marty Kenney or anybody else! But I agree with you, actually. It is such a ridiculously transparent attempt to flatter Kenney that it becomes the punchline to this nonsensical and destructive curriculum.

    Reply
  14. Mike in Edmonton

    April 1st, 2021

    Hey, it finally struck me. The reason behind Kenney’s idiotic curriculum is simple. It’s intended for public schools!

    So simple! Stick in an absolutely useless, backward list of outdated junk–and watch parents bolt for the nearest exit, children in tow. They’ll fill up those private schools Kenney likes (if they choose private religious schools, even better!).

    Within months, public schools will be emptied out and can be shut down–meaning layoffs galore among teachers, admin staff and support staff. HUUUGE savings!

    There you have it. The simple explanation behind UCP stupidity.

    Reply
  15. LJ

    April 2nd, 2021

    Does anyone know what happened to the French as a second language curriculum? (I realize Immersion and Francophone LA programs are still there). They will keep the NDP version? Drop it? Just a mystery, welcome any clarification.

    Reply

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