Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at his June 18 news conference (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

Jason Kenney did not seem pleased when the first reporter to ask a question at his June 18 news conference on his COVID-19 reopening plans raised the topic of offensive commentary about residential schools by the Alberta premier’s favourite curriculum advisor, Christian P. Champion.

Dr. Champion, a PhD historian who worked as Mr. Kenney’s political aide in Ottawa and was hired to play a key role in writing Alberta’s controversial K-to-6 social studies curriculum, seems unable to resist the sophomoric urge to make outrageous statements about Indigenous history that appear intended to provoke the many Canadians who do not share his inflammatory views.

Historian Christian Champion (Photo: Queen’s University).

Dr. Champion is known for attacking reconciliation with First Nations Canadians as “an ongoing fad,” an exercise in “politics and cashola,” and “agitprop,” as well as pontificating about how “thematic history seems ideally suited to transmitting left-wing dogma” – an opinion apparently shared by Premier Kenney, who acts as if he sees himself a self-taught expert in pedagogy.

Two days before the news conference, the Twitter account for the Dorchester Review, Dr. Champion’s self-described “semi-academic” history journal, had published several provocative tweets on the same topic. Their principal purpose appeared to be to goad Canadians upset and angered by the discovery of 215 children’s bodies in unmarked graves at the site of Canada’s largest residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

The tweets, in turn, linked readers to a tendentious and inflammatory article in the publication by Dr. Champion himself, which accused activists of equating the Canadian government’s residential schools policy with the Holocaust, compared people who disagree with him to “totalitarian propagandists,” misrepresented the objectives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as being to “prevent healing,” and called concern about this tragic chapter of Canadian history “gutter posturing” and “a Big Lie narrative.”

So, when the CBC’s Janet French asked the premier if he shared Dr. Champion’s opinion that activists were “exploiting” the discovery to portray Canada falsely as a racist country, Mr. Kenney responded sharply with a sour look on his face.  

“That individual has not worked on curriculum since October of last year when his contract ended,” he said – irrelevantly, since the curriculum, which the Kenney government is still pushing ahead, is widely viewed by professional educators as deeply flawed, ideologically motivated, and inappropriate for primary school children. 

While acknowledging that “the entire system is a black mark on Canadian history” and claiming he does not share Dr. Champion’s views, Premier Kenney went on to lecture Ms. French about the inappropriateness of comparing anything that has happened in Canadian history to the unique horror of the Holocaust. 

This is a fair point as far as it goes, but what the premier failed to mention is that it is Dr. Champion who obsessively compares residential schools to the crimes of the Nazi and Soviet regimes as a rhetorical device to diminish and insult Canadians’ profound horror upon learning the history of the residential school system. 

CBC reporter Janet French (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It may well be “ridiculous to compare organizations of poor Oblates to machine-gun-toting Einsatzgruppen and Soviet NKVD,” as Dr. Champion wrote in what it would be fair to call his right-wing vanity publication, but it’s important to remember that it is principally Dr. Champion who is doing the comparing. 

And while an argument can be made that “a sense of proportion” is needed in any historical discussion, Dr. Champion’s inflammatory rhetoric seems intended to achieve the opposite result. 

It is simply not true, as Dr. Champion preposterously states as if it were indisputable fact, that “anyone over the age of 40 knows that the term ‘survivor’ was specifically used for ‘Holocaust survivor’.” Nor is the term “cultural genocide” inappropriate, and one doesn’t need to be over 40 to understand that was the obvious intention of the Canadian government’s policy in the 19th Century and into the 20th. 

In other words, Dr. Champion’s latest fulmination about what he called a “multi-billion-dollar grievance industry” can only be interpreted as a diatribe, intended to provoke. 

High-profile environmentalist Tzeporah Berman (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Under the terrible circumstances so recently revealed, it was entirely appropriate for Ms. French to raise Dr. Champion’s views in the context of asking her second question, to wit: what feedback would Mr. Kenney have to hear to take the social studies curriculum back to the drawing board?

“I appreciate your reading an ATA press release there, Janet,” Mr. Kenney responded snippily, referring to the Alberta Teachers Association, as the provincial teachers’ union is known. He went on to make it clear he has every intention of implementing the curriculum. 

Given that, opponents of the curriculum are within their rights to continue using Dr. Champion as a piñata to thrash the failings of the UCP Government – a role the historian seems to relish even if it is unhelpful to his former boss.

It’s bound to be remembered that Mr. Kenney once called Dr. Champion’s Dorchester Review “an important new voice that’ll ruffle some feathers, in a good way.” 

It seems likely that Dr. Champion will come to play the same role for the United Conservative Party’s opponents as did high-profile B.C. environmentalist Tzeporah Berman when Mr. Kenney was challenging the NDP government. That is, a stick to beat them with. 

Who can forget the way the UCP squealed with outraged delight when the ATA invited Ms. Berman to speak to a meeting in the fall of 2018, giving the then Opposition party a chance to attack both teachers and the NDP?

Many NDP insiders came to rue the day the Notley Government hired the blunt-spoken and principled Ms. Berman to show it was listening to environmentalists as well as industry in the oil patch. 

What do you want to bet UCP insiders will come to see Dr. Champion in a similar light? 

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  1. It is mindboggling how the UCP would even be unaware of Christian Champion’s known statements and beliefs pertaining to the First Nations people in Canada, before he was put on the UCP’s kindergarten – Grade 6 curriculum revamping in Alberta. The UCP doesn’t pick the best or the brightest to work with them. Given what has been discovered in Kamloops, it’s quite difficult to call this atrocity bogus. It is genocide. I think it will be hard to celebrate Canada Day, when we have a dark spot in our history. In fact, Canada has many dark chapters in its history.

  2. I think it only takes being a parent to know what it would be like to have your children taken away by the government, many never to be seen again by their families, for no other reason than their race. I do not know if Mr. Champion is a parent or not, but Mr. Kenney and certain vociferous issues managers on his team are not.

    Of course, anyone with empathy and humanity is probably also capable of understanding the reality of the institutionalized torment and loss of generations of innocent children.

    How close are we in this province to repeating history, if we refuse to learn from it?

  3. I guess from the perspective of Premier Crying & Screaming Midget, there is every day, plain genocide, but there was no genocide like the Holocaust?

    While the definition of what genocide REALLY is has been bounced about for a long time, it has excited controversy when someone says one event was genocide, but another was not, based on some weird technicality. Famously, Gen. Romeo Dallaire commented that while the Rwandan Genocide was clearly genocide, the Residential Schools and their practices do not fit the definition of what genocide is. Dallaire was, rightly, condemned for his idiotic assertions and qualifications when comparing the two genocides.

    So, here we are again, comparing and grading genocides — so let’s do that …

    The Holocaust: a concerted and well-organized state-sponsored effort, involving many actors, fired by long-time grievances, to destroy and wipe out a cultural, religious, and ethnic group.

    Residential Schools: a concerted and well-organized state-sponsored effort, involving many actors, fired by long-time grievances, to destroy and wipe out a cultural, religious, and ethnic group.

    I’m still not sure why there is still this default to declare that the Residential Schools were a lesser genocide if they’re even proof of genocide at all. In the end, it sounds like another means of shoving around the well-worn notion that FNs are well looked after and any failings are their own fault. So, pull up your bootstraps and stop all this genocide b.s.!

    As for Christian P. Champion, he’s a strange character. Apart from joining the army reserves in his forties, so he could march around dressed as a Redcoat, with a grenadier guard’s bearskin hat, he’s the worst historian and the stupidest man alive.

    I’m certain the Dorchester Institute’s Twitter account’s days are numbered.

    1. The only substantive difference between the Canadian government’s approach to the Indigenous inhabitants of this land, and the Holocaust, is efficiency & organization. The Third Reich applied typical German efficiency to the extermination of a people, and the only reason they didn’t finish the job was that they were defeated in war before they could get it done. In fact, had the Soviet Red Army been less effective militarily, Hitler might have gotten his way, since most of the extermination camps were set up in the Eastern European theatre of the war.

      Here in North America, Canada tried to exterminate a culture through less efficient means, including essentially contracting out the state-sponsored abduction of entire generations of children to churches and religious organizations. Our effort lasted far longer than Nazi Germany’s because it didn’t happen in the context of a war, although two World Wars were fought during the same time period. The last of these horrible institutions did not close until the latter half of the 1990s, although I do not recall any public announcements or media coverage of that event … which is, IMHO, a message in itself.

  4. I believe that Jason Kenney has the same challenge that Erin O’Toole has.

    Either he is completely incompetent and/or tone deaf when it comes to politics OR he has grossly incompetent senior political advisors and is foolish enough to blindly accept their advice.

    The team that gets guides you through the Party leadership process is not necessarily the best team once you are the leader. Now, you have to appeal to an entirely new group of diverse voters….some of whom are less than willing to accept your nonsense, your silly posturing, your dithering, and your constant courting of social conservatives.

    Both Kenney and O’Toole are their lowest point in the polls. Both worked hard to get there and are well deserving of this public perception reward for performance….or lack thereof.

  5. Yeah, with friends like Dr. Champion, who needs enemies? He sure does have a knack for saying embarrassing things at inopportune times and makes you wonder about the collection of odd people Kenney surrounds himself with. So much so, Kenney had to distance himself from this advisor that he has obviously had a long relationship with. Of course, Champion is not the only one around Kenney to say such things, how about some of the similar things Lorne Gunter said? He was even closer to Kenney!

    I agree, Champion is definitely in the running for crazy uncle of the right and at the moment appears to have the lead. However, ultimately it is Kenney’s judgment and views that come into question by choosing such advisors. I suppose everyone is allowed a Berman, but in this case I believe it is more than that. The questions around Champion, go to the heart of the curriculum the UCP is trying still trying to implement full steam ahead which Kenney shows no signs of changing direction on. So even while he is trying to distance himself from his advisor, Kenney continues to implement his advise.

  6. I think David Irving is a better comparison to Christian Champion, at least in terms of morality (or lack of same).

    1. My point, obviously, is not to suggest here is a moral or logical equivalence between their messages, but to comment on the incidental symbolic role they have in Alberta political discourse. DJC

      1. Dave, does this need a “not”?

        “My point, obviously, is to to suggest here is a moral or logical equivalence between their messages, but to comment on the incidental symbolic role they have in Alberta political discourse. DJC”

        1. Indeed it does, Frank, and thank you. It’s been fixed. NOTE TO READERS: Years ago I had the pleasure of editing some of Frank’s work for the Globe and Mail. I’m pleased that he has taken the opportunity to return the favour. DJC

  7. As we approach “Alberta Freedom Day” (formerly called Canada Day) one wonders what is the end goal of all of Kenney’s and O’Toole’s doubling-down?

    In Western Canada, O’Toole is fast turning into something less than what was sold. He was elected CPC leader because he wasn’t Peter McKay, to publically declared the CONs’ welding themselves to their SoCON base will be the end of the party. Now that O’Toole has decided to not wear the “stinking albatross” that did in Andrew Scheer, SoCONs have turned on him.

    Declaring himself Pro-Choice and Pro-LGBTQ2+ rights, O’Toole is sending out all the right signals, because he’s scaring off his own base. What else is left but to declare Canada Day will NOT BE CANCELLED? This is the only thing left that O’Toole has to save his leadership. Of course, if he declared that cancelling Canada Day is a good thing, because it’s an invention of the Liberal Party; and then immediately declare July 1st as Dominion Day and restoring the Red Ensign, O’Toole would have won the SoCONs over by embracing that stinking albatross they love so much.

    As for Kenney, he’s down with his own base because he didn’t go full Qanon, end restrictions, and fire Hinshaw. (Because she’s one of those uppity lady doctors) But replacing Canada Day with Alberta Freedom Day is a radical move whose outcome for Kenney is yet to be determined.

    Mmmmm…popcorn, good.

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