Alberta Speaker Nathan Cooper is really sorry about signing that letter criticizing Premier Jason Kenney’s COVID-19 policy (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Jason Kenney had barely decided what to do about his United Conservative Party’s dissident COVID-denial caucus when a mob of three or four hundred anti-vaxxers turned up on the steps of the Alberta Legislature yesterday and started yelling that Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw ought to be locked up.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier was even on hand to egg on the unmasked crowd, coronavirus be damned, obviously hoping to resuscitate his faltering far-right political career by jumping on the anti-lockdown bandwagon.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier addresses the maskless mob at the Alberta Legislature (Photo: Rachelle Elsiufi, City News/Twitter).

To be fair, there’s no evidence Mr. Bernier was among those crying for Dr. Hinshaw to be locked up. He just called on the mob to defend “our way of life and our western civilization values,” a pretty obvious dog-whistle to supporters of his views on immigration. 

It’s startling to think how close that man came to becoming leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa! 

This was just before it was revealed that Pastor James Coates, the self-styled martyr of GraceLife Church, held secret Sunday services at an undisclosed location while members of another crowd of 300 or so COVID deniers tried to tear down the fence around his rolled-steel cathedral southwest of Edmonton. 

So maybe it was true there weren’t very many of his congregants in the mob on Range Road 262, just like the church’s lawyers said! Were Pastor Coats’s covert COVID congregants praying to the Almighty to inspire new ways to torment Premier Kenney? Or just trying to figure out a safer way to make their message go viral? You can’t rule any of it out!

Yesterday was a cold Alberta spring day, just like the one seven years ago, the last time an Alberta premier was overthrown by her own party, and you couldn’t make this stuff up if it wasn’t all happening and being reported in real time on social media.

About five and a half years ago a crowd of basically the same people was on the steps of the Legislature screaming “lock ’er up” about Rachel Notley and demanding an immediate #Kudatah against her NDP government. Now they’re back with signs calling for Dr. Hinshaw to be locked up for locking up GraceLife Church after weeks of Sabbath defiance of the chief medical officer of health’s COVID-19 suppression measures. 

What’s different is that Premier Kenney spent at least the last three years empowering this group, peddling the conspiracy theories they thrive on, and welcoming them to the bosom of the UCP, the Frankenparty he helped create. As a result, they are considerably less marginalized than they were in 2016. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is scrambling to get his party’s rebellious COVID caucus under control (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Now they’ve turned on their premier because he’s not throwing the doors completely open to the coronavirus, while he lectures them on Twitter that “spreading misinformation, conspiracy theories, and making threats is beyond the pale.” 

“It is increasingly clear that many involved in these protests are unhinged conspiracy theorists,” the premier said. “Their words and actions are unacceptable.”

Well, it’s hard to disagree with Mr. Kenney about that, although it’s illuminating to consider his own role in nurturing them over the past few years. 

Meanwhile, new members of the UCP’s turbulent anti-lockdown caucus continue to be discovered, with 18 MLAs now known to have either signed the original letter damning their own government’s efforts to restrict social or business activities to stop the virus or posted their own versions of the same thing on social media. 

The latest to come to light is Jackie Lovely, MLA for Camrose, who described the return to tighter restrictions on April 6 as “a profound disappointment to rural Albertans” in an April 7 post on Facebook. 

With more than a quarter of his caucus publicly opposing the government’s COVID-19 policy, Mr. Kenney had to do something more than threaten to call a snap election the UCP was sure to lose to save his skin and get his dissident MLAs back into line. With so many of them, he could hardly boot them all out of caucus. 

GraceLife Church Pastor James Coates (Photo: GraceLife Church).

The target he picked pour encourager les autres was Olds-Didsbury MLA and Speaker Nathan Cooper, who unwisely signed the letter despite the tradition that Speakers must hold themselves above all partisanship. 

It was a shrewd choice by the premier. First elected for the Wildrose Party, Mr. Cooper was interim leader of the UCP before Mr. Kenney had a seat in the Legislature and is rumoured to still harbour ambitions to lead the party should the premier decide for any reason to move along. 

Early yesterday, therefore, Mr. Kenney ripped the Speaker, telling a reporter, “the long-standing convention, of course, is for Speakers to scrupulously maintain their neutrality and in my 24 years as a parliamentarian, I cannot ever recall the Speaker having violated that until last week.”

Later in the day in the Legislature, Mr. Cooper publicly apologized. “In haste, I engaged on a matter of political discourse that may have raised questions about the impartiality of the chair. Upon quiet reflection, and given the benefit of time, I have regret for my error in judgment,” he said. “I apologize to each and every one of you for crossing a line that the Speaker ought not cross.”

Notwithstanding his grovelling tone, sometimes in politics you can eat your cake and have it too. Presumably Mr. Cooper’s original message was heard and acknowledged by his rural voters, and he is unlikely to suffer much permanent damage once his knuckles stop stinging. 

Join the Conversation


  1. What a disgrace these protesters are. They really do not care about anyone but themselves. Maxime Bernier is basically a cast off from the CPC, and tried to keep himself relevant, because he fouled every portfolio he was given in the CPC. Leaving classified government documents at your girlfriend’s place, and one who has ties to the Hell’s Angels, is never a good idea. The PPC were basically an enhanced version of the Reform Party, and Canadians saw right through that, and flat out rejected the PPC. As for Nathan Cooper, he has to resign, as must the entire UCP. Nathan Cooper set a very bad example. Jeanne and Peter Lougheed were the ones who did great things for Alberta. Premiers, like Ralph Klein, and the Liberal turned Reformer, who is Alberta’s premier now, were abhorrent, and ruined what Peter Lougheed created and stood for. Peter Lougheed wouldn’t like what the UCP are doing, if he were still around.

  2. Maybe after getting Mr. Cooper to fall meekly into line, the rest of the happy gang will also follow back like sheep and Mr. Kenney’s crisis of the week will be averted, or not. I sort of feel the UCP is not quite ready to jump into the abyss just yet, but perhaps that is a rational analysis of a crowd that is far from rational at these days.

    I feel that perhaps one of Kenney’s biggest mistakes was that he believed he could easily manipulate and control others in his party. It might have worked well when they were mostly in agreement, but he ought to know they also have strongly held views. In many cases he chose them exactly for that.

    The ongoing Grace Life drama does not help Kenney, whether they are still holding secret large scale gatherings or not. Mostly it is all out of his control, but he gets blamed anyways regardless. Either way, it makes him look impotent and weak.

    So, I suppose another lesson on the politics of division – ultimately you can reap what you sow. Just like in the US where it failed and blew up in the faces of those trying to gain politically from it. Stirring up an angry base, is not such a good idea as it once seemed.

    I doubt Kenney can really change his character or tactics much at this point, but perhaps our future leaders will try to appeal more to moderation and good sense. It may surprisingly work much better.

    1. Kenney’s been trying the Strong Man act, but it’s not working well. (It helps, of course, if you’re actually strong.) Instead, he comes across as a school-yard bully who wilts when someone pushes back.

      This time, Kenney knows he’s backed himself into a corner. The old Wildrosers and wanna-be Wildrose Independence Party types have left Kenney no choice but to push back–hence the bluff about a snap election.

      But it’s only a bluff; first, there are stil two years for things to improve–if vaccinations reduce the need for masks etc and–AND–if the economy improves, the good ol’ boys of Oilberduh will forget all and forgive Kenney his sins. Second, right now the UCP are so badly self-wounded that Notley would probably win the election. Not gonna happen, folks. Kenney knows he can bide his time, assuming the extreme-right can be whipped back into their kennels.

      Don’t expect a change in tactics from The Leader, though. He learned how to control a fractious political party from the best. Stephen Harper kept the old Reform Party hacks from beaking off in public. Kenney tries, but he doesn’t have the force of personality to overawe the loudest yahoos.

  3. I’m sure all the attention will turn away from the old fiascos to the UCP’s latest fiasco du jour, which is to impose random camping fees, not randomly, but because they heard “loud and clear” from Albertans who want more fees for everything. Next up: fees for breathing the air. It’s a laugh a minute with these guys, although rumor has it that laughing, especially the “loud and clear” variety, will soon become subject to multiple fees because it was in their election platform, and who are they to deny Albertans what Albertans voted for in their election platform?

    Every near-riot will lead to more fees for everything imaginable, Alberta, so you’d better watch out. Old Grinchy Claus will create provincial fees for parking your vehicles on roads near GraceLife Church, and fees for bringing your lawn chairs to the legislature, which iare both random camping, aren,’t they? Loud and clear, people, loud and clear. You get what you voted for in the UCP election platform, under “Random Acts of Covid”.

    1. I’m sure the UCP would take issue with your view they would like to impose “fees for breathing the air.” No, they will be offering us “choice” thanks to “market-based breathing solutions.” DJC

  4. If there was even a smidgeon of honour amongst the UCP, Nathan Cooper would have resigned already. He has blundered along as Speaker, often showing a blatant lack of impartiality. Having watched him and Nixon (the elder) do their “buddy” routine while in Opposition, he has continued that schtick on while in government.

    Just listening to his rather pompous “apology” yesterday, which he oddly attributed to his grandmother’s teaching, it was clear that he was likely more in favour of holding on to his handsome $181,404 salary, plus expenses, than doing the right thing.


  5. “Freedom” is a deceptive word that our politicians love to use against us. It sounds like a good thing, but it’s always relevant to a particular person/group of people and a particular action. When we run our mouths about “freedom” we mean “x is/are free to do y,” not “everyone is free to do everything.” So whose freedom is important in Alberta?
    White supremacists. Covid deniers. Corporate welfare bums. Climate change deniers. Far-right extremists. Oligarchs.
    I’ve got some theories about dog-whistles in contemporary far-right (ie:Albertan) politics I’m interested in sharing.
    “Hard-working” = “someone I think should be allowed to keep some of wealth their labour produces”
    “middle class” = “excluding the poor”
    “Freedom”=”shut up and accept the God-given right of your betters do what they please and pray they don’t decide to do it to you”
    “Law and order”=”let’s put more non-white people in jail”
    “Support our troops”=”stop criticizing the war that’s killing the troops”
    “Patriotic”=”Willing to spout socially harmful propaganda without critically examining it”
    “Radical environmentalist”=”someone who cares whether our species has a future or not”
    “Leftist”=”anyone left of Tucker Carlson”
    “Radical left”=”anyone left of Jason Kenney”
    “Alt-left”=”like radical left but with 30% more dog whistle and the bonus effect of normalizing ‘alt-right'”
    “communist/terrorist”=”someone I think should be an acceptable target of state violence”
    “lock her up”=”we should be allowed to use violence to overrule the results of democracy as long as we have the decency to use it on a woman”

  6. These people could not be worse then they are! Why? Because they truly believe they’re the best! Seig? Fail! But just try to convince them of that!

  7. Oh, it’s just “another Alberta spring day.” Heh, I get it: sounds like just another ordinary day—but in Alberta, ‘ordinary’ means ‘crazy.’

    You just gotta keep up your sense of humour: these are hard times and, in Alberta, in many ways tragic. Nothing can be made light of that; nonetheless a little levity is good for mind and soul and is helped by a broad comedic cast featuring biker bro-soldiers, who worship the pagan Norse god Odin, kickin’ the buh-Loki outta a police cordon around the Christian Church of the Industrial Turkey Barn, as charismatic-cum-crypto cultists speak in tongues in fugitive hideouts (an intercourse virally conducive of plagues of Biblical proportions—and, strictly speaking, not recommended) while pretenders to the far-right dukedom of extremist pseudoCondom come from far and wide to rally anti-choice freedom fighters, anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, anti-antifa, pro-fringe petrocentric climate-change deniers, conservative vigilantes, anti-socialist rough-justice warriors and sundry goths infringing the natural copyright of decorum with displayed misappropriations of Celtic, Roman, Maltese and Jain crosses to mob up and chant their infamous “Lock Her Up” hymn.

    The spectacle is nothing without reliably sterling analyses with a certain wit and fitting amount of relief, as tragic as much of this pandemic is.

    It’s just another day in Alberta and, naturally, the UCP are doing their arch-critical, keystone best to cleverly perform funny, UCP Punch-&-Judy vignettes of high production value and serial broadcast. There’s some pretty good stuff in the script: “mental, spiritual and economic crises,” is typically over the top. I got that one from Drew Barnes, UCP MLA from Medicine Hat, during his MoCo Radio interview this morning. Although his equivocating rhetoric challenging the official Covid policy of his own governing party didn’t sound very genuine, his posited “spiritual crisis” quite preposterous, and his concern for the number of opioid overdoses he blames on pandemic restrictions quite insincere, what is actually tragic got a little comic relief when he stumbled over his renegade talking points and accidentally agreed with the CBC host that, yes, many Albertans are “very concerned about the mental health of the 50,000 constituents I have the honour of representing.”

    Well, okay: sometimes you gotta search for the thinnest silver lining—at the risk of having to explain the joke —which of course diminishes its humour.

    An Edmonton medical expert was interviewed next to rebut, the unenviable task of taking the slightest glimmers of silver off of an number of Barnes’ mildly ridiculous quips like: obey the Covid rules but never stop speaking out against them (which got a chuckle outta me, at least). In the cold parlance of medical science it fell quite flat, though.

    Barnes got cut short just as he seemed to suddenly remember to include rote scapegoating of the federal Liberals. Maybe it’s so rote amongst UCP virtue signallers that somebody forgot to put it on the usual laundry list of lame, luny laments that Barnes recited forwards, then backwards, then over again, scrolling to one or another part whenever questioned about the science of his claim that these alleged mental health and spiritual crises “are at least a serious” as Covid. The brief cat-and-mouse seemed a mildly humorous, if ultimately a little frustrating: Barnes never did cop to the fact that, yes, gyms have been identified as super-spreaders, nor that the hospital in his own city is approaching ICU capacity —like, when they have to start deciding who gets to be saved and who’s left to die. What kind of a punchline is that?…

    Barnes was asked: What about Alberta’s status as worst per capita Covid infection number in Canada? Oh! But the mental health and spiritual crisis and overdosing —oh, Lordy! Way worse n Covid! “We gotta keep having this debate.” He kept careening down the highway of hackneyed hype, frequently changing from on lame lane to the other, the virtual turn-signal blinking back and forth.

    Barnes cited a number of geographic areas in his riding, rectangles in kilometre lengths and widths, presumably to argue that the cases of Covid are very few on the carefully parsed, parched, sparsely settled prairie. As far as I was concerned, these weak, cherry-picked gerrymanderings totally bombed. Too contrived to hit the funny-bone, I guess. I don’t think even a laugh-track could have helped.

    The take-away from the rebuttal of Barnes’ position was that once an issue gets as polarized as Covid has in Alberta, it gets almost impossible to organize cooperation and coordination across the divide—I found that more frightful than funny.

    So yesterday happened to be our warmest day this year-two of Covid. Sunny but still a thin coat of snow gleaming white on the Beaufort Range across on the Big Island (it’ll be gone by mid-summer instead of staying year round like it used to not so long ago). What a relief to get out and meet people at safe distance outside! I was surprised, after such a long winter of isolation, to see so few people down there. Fortunately for me, they were all friends of mine. One had just finished his two-week quarantine after returning from Brazil (I didn’t even know he was gone). Said he’s been tested several times since two weeks before departing until just the other day. Another, an airline pilot who used to fly a Hawaii milk-run, lamented being laid off ( he’s from Alberta and has family there). Another had to get back to work (houses are sprouting up around here like mushrooms, despite everyone buying at what looks like the height of a bubble—a real estate bubble, I mean—and 2 X 4 studs are $12, half-inch plywood $75… all-found construction cost $300 per square foot…). Then me with my connections to Ontario (where a close relative is in quarantine with Covid) and another friend from Quebec (with his connections there), both of us retired. Five middle-aged dudes wan from hibernation. But the conversation was hearty, lively, relieving, contentious, friendly and satisfying. Thank goodness for spring.

    The question became, after long deliberation: so, if our jurisdiction did a One-Big-Shutdown and got to Covid-Zero, then what? Depends if you got a Bolsonaro or a Kenney next door.

    We didn’t agree on a lot of Covid stuff, but neither did we concoct absurd rationalizations for our respective points, nor plan to protest en mass anything —despite the number of Covid shortcomings we all agreed exist in various ways and places. I’m the oldest: I get my shot on this weekend. The others will get theirs soon.

    As for the alleged “spiritual crisis” these holy roller scofflaws cite (we have our own here in BC, too), we resolved to defer the debate until—well, maybe today or tomorrow when it’s forecast to be sunny and warm. At that we departed our separate ways with the question, a rhetorical one, I guess: Should a congregation who prays together quarantine together! I liked the quip: “Lock ‘em up!” A fortnight in the Church of the Industrial Turkey Barn would make isolating at home look pretty good despite the spiritual crisis currently claimed.

    I mean, what else can you do at such a time? You gotta remember to laugh when you can.

    And of course remember the old Vera Lynn number: “Keep smiling through/ Just like you always do/ And blue skies chase the dark clouds away/…‘Cause I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

    Good luck, my friends!

    1. Those of you who would like to hear the old Vera Lynn number referenced by Scotty, a recording is found here. DJC

      1. “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here… this is the War Room!” Makes you wonder about the level of decorum in the Canadian Energy Centre lol.

  8. So let me Understand this – Cooper boy was approached to sign the letter against health measures and he does not even know that the Speaker of the House has to be impartial?
    He had a dumb moment or is he very well embedded in the brain crippled MLAs group in the Legislature and should be let go as a Speaker? Get rid of him – one less to have to listen too.

    1. Carlos…ever the cynic, I’m not so sure. My MLA (normally a compliant back-bencher) is one of these signers. I can’t help but feel like the outcast Wildrosers are starting to flex a bit…

  9. Putting out the fire started by Cooper will not save the Crying & Angry Midget’s career.

    I have no doubt Kenney is already planning his departure from Alberta’s political scene, to return to the fruitful pastures of Ottawa. Kenney never liked Alberta, apart from allowing him to pad a political career for himself. I’m sure Kenney has already set his sights on another federal riding, not in Alberta, and currently in the hands of a CPC MP with little in the way of advancing his career, at the moment. Besides, Kenney grew up in that riding, so he can pretend to have a stronger attachment to the area than he ever did to Alberta.

  10. I’d like to know which “constituents” the UCP back-benchers have been talking to? How many are small-business owners, how many are farmers, how many are retired, how many live in town? The comments I’ve seen in CBC blogs have mostly been negative. (Full disclosure: I refuse to pay for Postmedia news, so I’m not getting the right-wing views espoused there.) I wonder how many people are saying, “Well, I dunno who they’re talking to, but they sure haven’t asked ME!”

    I can’t help but suspect the UCP are representing a minority of their constituents, probably the most vocal group. I wonder if the “silent majority” who are usually present are just waiting for a chance to vote “Anything But Conservative.”

  11. “… once his knuckles stop stinging”. Won’t that have to wait until they stop dragging along the pavement?

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