Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

When Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said the federal Liberals, the Alberta NDP and the media all hoped Alberta would be overwhelmed by COVID-19, he was gaslighting.

He’s just not as good at it as Premier Jason Kenney is. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Mr. Madu shouldn’t feel too bad about this. Premier Kenney is a master gaslighter. He’s really, really good at it.

Others – and Mr. Madu is just one of many in the United Conservative Party caucus and cabinet – are just never going to come up to the premier’s superlative standards of gaslighting as when he blames Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals for the failures of the UCP’s COVID-19 response or the Alberta NDP for the international price of oil. 

That oil price thing was back in the day when the UCP was the Opposition, of course. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, there’s absolutely nothing anyone in Alberta can do about the world price of oil, which is influenced by factors far beyond Alberta’s control. 

In case you haven’t come across the term, gaslighting is defined as “form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment.” That’s from Psychology Today magazine, via a link in the Wikipedia, in other words a source sound enough for Alberta’s new social studies curriculum. 

Mr. Madu’s commentary in a Facebook post would probably have been OK if he’d stuck to the point that the UCP government toughened up restrictions on behaviour that can spread COVID-19 because “I don’t think it will be responsible to simply wait until we have a disaster on our hands.”

Of course, some sour lefty like the author of this blog would have pointed out that Alberta already has a disaster on its hands, and is quickly becoming known as the Typhoid Mary of North America. Politicians in places like Michigan can point to Alberta and say, “OK, it’s terrible here, but it’s way worse in Alberta!”

But the justice minister really got in to trouble when he went on to say “that’s what the NDP, the media and the federal Liberals were looking for and want. We simply couldn’t allow that to happen.”

The late Dave Barrett, premier of British Columbia (Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia).

In keeping with the traditions of the UCP, there was no chance Mr. Madu would gracefully apologize when this turned into a full-blown brouhaha, and even started being reported in other parts of the country. 

“The minister was referring to the increasing tendency of different groups, including the NDP, to exploit the pandemic for their own political purposes,” huffed Mr. Madu’s press secretary in an email to the CBC. 

“We see this every day with the NDP’s overcooked and incendiary rhetoric, both in the Legislative Assembly and on social media,” said Blaise Boehmer, who is well known for the overcooked and incendiary tone of social media commentary. “The minister won’t apologize for stating the obvious.”

“Gaslighters,” the magazine quoted above said in another column, “will often accuse you of behaviors that they are engaged in themselves. This is a classic manipulation tactic.”

I first noted this kind of behaviour on the Canadian right around 1973, the year of the murderous right-wing coup in Chile and not long after after Dave Barrett’s NDP government had been unexpectedly elected in British Columbia. 

Gerald Caplan way back in 1977 (Photo: Toronto Public Library, originally from the Toronto Star).

Shocked supporters of the Bennett Dynasty’s Social Credit Party, as the B.C. conservative coalition was known in those days, weren’t just willing to spin lies about the Barrett Government, they actually tried to persuade foreign firms to stop investing in the province. 

Commentator and political activist Gerry Caplan, in a famous essay in the Globe and Mail, described how this worked when Bob Rae’s New Democrats won the Ontario election in 1990. “It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day,” he wrote in 2010. (Emphasis added.) “Corporate interests threatened a virtual strike of capital unless the government relented on its intentions to introduce higher business taxes and to strengthen union rights, environmental regulations and equity programs.”

“Some business protests bordered on the disloyal,” he wrote. “Hysterical landlords took out an ad in The Wall Street Journal warning Americans not to invest in ‘leftist Ontario’.”

Bordered on disloyal? No, I think that kind of behaviour crosses that line and, as we have seen, has been a standard part of the Conservative repertoire in Canada for half a century. During the Age of Trump, they just got worse. 

So when Messrs. Madu and Boehmer falsely accuse the NDP and the Liberals of hoping Alberta will be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, they’re just accusing them of doing what the UCP actually would do in the same situation. 

It’s as clear as the cracks in the sidewalks under the light of the gas lamps.

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  1. Another day, another gaffe by the UCP. The UCP are as good as it gets when it comes to blaming others for problems that they created, or magnified. Will the head honcho of the UCP do anything about this? I highly doubt that. I can’t see the UCP lasting, when they constantly say and do the dumbest things. It’s very bad when Alberta has the highest per capita of people with Covid-19 in North America. It’s just as bad when the UCP will not take responsibility for their failures. Hopefully, we will see the UCP terminated in the next provincial election.

  2. You are correct, Mr. Madu is not very good at gaslighting, certainly not as good as boss Kenney.

    Now to be fair to Mr. Madu, his boss had a long career in politics to practice at this. Yes, boss Kenney says many kooky things too, but they are not as obviously so and usually have an escape hatch of ambiguity and he at least tries to appear to be reasonable sounding.

    So many things wrong with Mr. Madu’s alternate reality, it is almost too easy to pick apart. First of all, as you pointed out the UCP did wait until they had a disaster on their hands and the stats even worse than Michigan backs that up.

    Second, he conflates the effectiveness of the opposition (or the ineffectiveness of the UCP if you prefer) as being partisan attacks. What does he expect – the opposition to sit silently while the UCP screws everything up? Yeah, he probably does. Also, just because the opposition benefits from the UCP’s incompetence does not mean it ever wished this on Alberta. In fact, I do believe they tried very hard to warn Alberta’s about the UCP before they were elected.

    So, I suppose the UCP can award a participation ribbon to Mr. Madu for his efforts here, but they really are not helping. It would be better for the UCP, if he left the gaslighting to the master in the future

    1. I’m always struck by how Mr. Kenney can sound perfectly sensible while making no sense at all. It’s a great talent. DJC

  3. “It is also not a reason to wait until we overwhelm our health care system, then create public panic, and see Albertans in field and make-shift hospitals gasping for breathe (sic) because we have run out of ventilators, manpower, etc.”

    The health care system is already overwhelmed. The “field and make-shift hospitals” were Kenney’s brainchild, and they wouldn’t be necessary if the UCP had taken further preventive action earlier in the pandemic. If we have run out of ventilators, please remember who gave them away: Kenney. He also gave away PPE and replaced it with inferior PPE for Alberta health workers. If we’ve run out of manpower, please remember who chased doctors away: Kenney, again! He started a fight with doctors, nurses and other workers in our health system. Many doctors left the province. We should not sweep bygones under the carpet. They should be “baked in” to our memories. Past actions matter, because they are the best indicator of future behavior.

    Madu’s claims about the actions of others are pure projection.

    Gaslighting and projection are forms of psychological abuse. That’s where we are now. How much longer will the people Alberta put up with it? No one has to tolerate abuse. No one has to stay in an abusive relationship. The honeymoon phase with the UCP is not just over, it’s “overcooked’.

  4. The execrable UCP is the political manifestation of Oscar Leroy from Corner Gas … but without his imperceptible warmth or charm.

    Setting the bar impossibly low yet they still limbo under it with ease.

  5. It’s the double double cross, surely: kill two birds with one stone. Sly ole kenney has problems with the Covid-18 mob who rebel at restrictions that limit their ability to be publicly stupid. What better way to quieten down those twits than to conjure up an external threat of commies and socialists from Ottawa wanting to kill them off? In response, the complainers are determined to show those federales that they’re here to stay, dammit! So they’ll allow the restrictions just to show Ottawa up by staying alive.

    The existing restrictions in Alberta pale compared to what’s going on in Nova Scotia. Our bodily extremities are fully in the public health wringer. Covid Zero is the goal, which is just as well because our vaccine rollout is indefensibly slow. But using their native wit and sense of entitlement, the operators of a hair salon in a rural town 45 miles from Halifax went to great trouble to present a closed-down operation as their storefront. Somehow they continued to operate with a secret entrance, until they were called on their ruse. A $11,622 fine later, they don’t seem quite so happy. The world is full of basement experts who know for certain that they have a more rounded world view than anyone else and act accordingly. Too bad many of them are politicians and religionists of the proselytizing Christian persuasion.

    These days nobody seems to be paying much attention to Covid deaths. Our health professionals have done an amazing job compared to most European countries. We’re 60th from the worst in the world on a per capita basis in the John Hopkins University tallies:

    How’d you like to be living in Hungary with Orban as prez, a sort of kenney on steroids? Compared to Norway and Finland, Hungary looks to be almost 20 times more lethal, and Sweden, the herd immunity HQ is almost 10 times worse than its flanking neighbours.

  6. The MLAs I got to know from the Lougheed era certainly had it right. You can’t trust anyone from the Reform Party. Looking after their own well being and that of their rich friends , while spreading lies and blaming others is all they know. Isn’t it too bad that so many Albertans are dumb enough to believe them.

    It’s not surprising that many are our fellow seniors when seniors have such a bad reputation for being so easy to fool by con-artists.

  7. It ought to be amusing, when a right-wing politician accuses left-wing politicians of doing something right-wing politicians do routinely. But it’s not.

    Madu isn’t merely unskilled at gaslighting. He’s a clumsy political operator, and his press secretary, Blaise Boehmer, is even worse. It’s a barely-adult version of a schoolyard spat of “Yaah, sez you!” Oh, yeah? You’re another!”

    It’ll play pretty well with the base, what’s left of it, but for sensible people it’s just another reason to turf Kenney and his crowd of incompetents.

  8. How did Kenney do so well in Harper’s government?

    One of the bigger complaints Presto Manning had about Harpo was the pretty obvious fact that words mean nothing to him. (Harpo) Meaning Harpo will say one thing, and then lie, obfuscate, mislead, hoodwink, distract, delude, and gaslight for get his way. Harpo prized with skill above all else, and there were two members of his government how were capable enough (And didn’t care enough) to say whatever it took to protect Harpo.

    John Baird gained enormous notoriety as being not only the only out gay man in the CPC caucus, his towering height and loud, screaming voice was enough to chill anyone. Baird amazing committee performance where he endlessly screamed “POINT OF ORDER! POINT OF ORDER!! POINT OF ORDER!!! at the Chairperson for a good ten minutes shutdown the committee. This and other acts of bizarre behaviour served Baird well, netting him a plum cabinet position, as well as universal disregard for his very public bad boy behaviour in his personal life.

    Kenney gained a reputation for being shuffled from one cabinet position to another to serve purely partisan ends. Who becomes Minister of Immigration for the sole purpose of promoting the CPC among new Canadians? Kenney would and did, much to the admiration of Harpo. So, in the aftermath of the 2015 election, Kenney wasn’t about to languish on the backbenches, it was Harpo who actively promoted Kenney as a future premier of Alberta. You don’t have to be that good at gaslighting to win in Alberta, but Kenny was more than equal to the task.

    With Madu’s bizarre declaration about the ABNDP being in league with PMJT to turn Alberta into a COVID 19 charnel house for political ends, just proves Kenney, like Harpo, rewards those who are willing to lie and promote their lies, full on, with no regard for the consequences, even if the Giant Bucket of Truth falls on their heads and kills them.

  9. Clearly Madu is in way over his depth, as he has managed to screw up both of his ministries. Because he has not been censured in the past, he is now emboldened to make outrageous comments like this gaslighting.

    It’s my opinion that the real elephant in the room is the colour of Madu’s skin, which to me is ironic, as he was elected largely due to a racist comment made by his main opponent, just before the vote. For those who may have forgotten, Madu capitalized on it and he ended up winning the only UCP seat in the capital city. Kenney simply cannot fire him now, as there is no alternative for him to choose amongst his ideological deplorables.

  10. So David first of all, what you have written is completely ridiculous. Secondly, and let me be clear about this, no member of cabinet has ever, or for that matter is even capable of being wrong. I reject the premise of your article and frankly find it to be un Albertan and likely driven by your socialistic union masters.

    At whose feet do we suspect the minister and his messenger learned to treat the press, and by extension all Albertans with boorish displays arrogance and disrespect? This assortment of opportunists and malcontents was cobbled together on very shaky foundations and continues to unravel as expected. The sidewalk cracks will widen causing some to fall into chasms and others leap to what they perceive as the safe ground of finger pointing and simplistic one liners that will characterize the replacement regime of repackaged and of new wild rosers. Madu’s little contretemps may help him get a place there.

  11. Does anyone suppose the premier gets frustratingly disappointed with his ministers’ ‘running-on-empty’ attempts at gaslighting? It is supposed to be taken seriously, after all—or at least seriously call reality into question—not attract ridicule and culpability. “Idiots!” the premiere fumes, “I go into hiding for ten minutes and look what happens!” Can anyone imagine the K-Boy meting a stiff cuff to the offender’s ears for his preposterous bid to blame partisan rivals for his own government’s Covidiocy? “Can’t you do anything right?” Kenney’s faint consolation is that these chumps will never be a gaslighting artist like he is. Never.

    I was a schoolboy once. I know about ‘the-dog-ate-my-homework’ dodge: it’s somewhat more effective than the ‘my-homework-accidentally-fell-into-the-kitchen-sink-while-my-ma-was-doing-dishes’ ploy. But it’d take some balls to try to blame brainy Poindexter, the bookish, straight-A teacher’s pet for my own negligence: “My work! It’s been stolen!” That’d risk an F, for sure.

    But to sabotage Poiney’s science project because mine is the shits? Even a schoolboy knows better than that.

  12. I am not surprised. Jason has had his sock puppets (Adriana, Shambles) shredded by their own incompetence and their willingness to front for his grandiose vision. Good God! It’s KC Mad at You and the sunshine band of brothers time!

    1. The one thing I get the biggest kick out of Americans? It’s how they can identify Canadian citizens who score low on IQ tests by simply posting things on the inner tubes. Russians? I have never found humour in those folks!

  13. All the talk about whether we have enough ventilators or ICU capacity misses the most important point: the best way to ensure we do, is to do everything we can to prevent people from getting sick enough to need either. Having studied public health principles as part of my advanced Nursing education, I’m reminded of the old poem about the fence or the ambulances:

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