Stockwell Day and Jason Kenney in 2017, shortly after Mr. Kenney’s victory in the contest to lead the United Conservative Party (Photo: Lacombeonline.com).

Two decades ago, Alberta taxpayers found themselves on the hook for more than $730,000 to settle a defamation suit against Stockwell Day, who had been an MLA when he wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper in Red Deer that damaged the reputation of a lawyer in that Central Alberta city.

Could history repeat itself with the defamation suit against Jason Kenney that eight Canadian environmental groups have warned they will file immediately if Alberta’s premier doesn’t retract and apologize for remarks he made about them by next Tuesday, Nov. 30?

The late Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta (Photo: Premier of Alberta).

A haughty spirit goes before a fall, says the Bible, and the former evangelical assistant pastor who by late 2000 was leader of the Canadian Alliance Party in the House of Commons missed several opportunities to settle the defamation suit by the Red Deer lawyer and school trustee for considerably less money. 

At the time these events unfolded, Mr. Kenney was one of Mr. Day’s key advisors and supporters in Ottawa. 

It may have been pride that got in the way of Mr. Day doing the sensible thing – and, I daresay, the Christian thing as well – and quickly apologizing and retracting the words of his 1999 letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate in which he attacked the lawyer for doing his job and defending a previously convicted pedophile facing child pornography charges.

When he posted the letter, Mr. Day was the Progressive Conservative MLA for Red Deer North and Minister of Finance and Provincial Treasurer in premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet. But he was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance Party in July 2000 and won a seat in Parliament on Sept. 1 that year. 

Whatever his motivation, when Mr. Day swallowed his pride just before Christmas 2000, the total cost of the settlement came to $792,064.40. That included damages of $60,000 to the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s legal costs of $246,000, Mr. Day’s own legal costs of $474,000, and an $8,725 fee for settling out of court. 

The money to settle the suit came from the province’s Risk Management Fund, the CBC reported on Jan. 16, 2001. In the end, however, Mr. Day agreed to mortgage his house and ponied up the $60,000 for the damages himself. 

It would have been a heck of a lot smarter just pay the $10,000 sought by the victim of his defamatory letter in the first place. “It would have cost an awful lot less if one of the earlier offers had been accepted,” observed Dave Hancock, who was the justice minister at the time. Premier Ralph Klein called the payout “obscene.”

Dave Hancock, justice minister of Alberta in 2001 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Now, with eight Canadian environmental groups threatening to sue Premier Kenney for defamation and the Premier’s Office defiantly vowing to fight the suit, we could very well be facing a similar situation again. 

Since it was his own words that got Mr. Kenney into trouble, not anything he was required to say to fulfill his duties as premier or even to campaign effectively for his party’s re-election, is he prepared to pledge not to make taxpayers pay his legal bills? Heaven knows, surely some Conservative lawyer would be willing to take the case pro bono, just for the bonus points!

Will he even do as much as Mr. Day did and agree to pay any damages for which he is held responsible? 

Like Mr. Day, it’s quite possible that Mr. Kenney will no longer be premier of Alberta, or even an Alberta MLA, by the time this affair is settled. After all, it may be years before the matter gets to court, let alone is resolved. 

And as with Mr. Day, it seems fair to argue Mr. Kenney was acting considerably outside his duties as an MLA or premier when he made the remarks that got him in hot water. 

If he won’t agree to take responsibility for his own actions and the expense of defending them, will the Canadian Taxpayers Federation step up and condemn their former CEO for not paying his own legal bills, as the group complained about Mr. Day back at the start of the 21st Century? 

Troy Lanigan, communications director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in 2001 (Photo: World Taxpayers Associations).

Troy Lanigan, then the CTF’s communications director, told media that the judge in the case should have been asked to decide whether it was appropriate for the Alberta Risk Management Fund to be used.

I don’t often agree with Mr. Lanigan, who was later president of the CTF and today runs the renamed Manning Centre in Calgary, which nowadays does business as the Canada Strong & Free Network, but he got this one right, morally if not legally. 

He wrote to Mr. Hancock asking for a review of the decision, but the justice minister (later Alberta’s premier) blew him off. 

Mr. Kenney might not be so lucky, one supposes, if another party is in office when this matter comes to a conclusion. 

The Globe and Mail assailed the idea the public should pay for Mr. Day’s sins in an editorial. “When he wrote the letter, he was not acting in his capacity as treasurer, and there appears to be nothing in an MLA’s job description that covers maligning a lawyer. …”

The smart thing for Mr. Kenney to do would be exactly what the eight environmental organizations are demanding: to apologize and retract his statements. 

We all know how likely that is to happen.

NOTE: I saw no benefit to the point of this commentary in naming the victim of Mr. Day’s defamation after all these years. It’s a matter of public record and in the links for those who just have to know. 

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26 Comments

  1. Potentially just another of the Kenney Gov’t blunders that the luckless Alberta taxpayer will have to pony up for.

    Kenney’s ego is becoming more expensive as every month passes.

    Mind you…if this is what it ultimately takes to get rid of Jason Kenney it would be money well spent.

  2. The timing of this is perfect. I’m sure JK was preparing to unload more of his vitriolic BS onto David Suzuki and environmentalists in general but now this. I agree that the smart thing to do is for JK to back off, retract and apologize to the gang of 8 – minimize damage in a lose-lose situation. We’ll see I guess, but JK’s initial response looks like he’ll hold out for at least a while, maybe to see what feedback he gets from the presstitutes…

  3. Well our Mr. Kenney seems not to have not learned the full lesson from his former mentor Stockwell Day.

    The situation seems to have a similar trajectory, a Conservative politician near the height of his career becomes careless with his words and it is down hill from there. Day was actuslly fairly well regarded in Conservative circles as Finance Minister in Alberta, although in fact it was largely due to good luck with energy prices. His boss seemed to reign in Day’s excesses and found Day useful to help keep social Conservatives on side. However, one suspects Klein eventually realized it might be better to get rid of him and so nudged him towards Ottawa. Likewise Kenney’s bosses in Ottawa kept him in check, but I think they too eventually realized the potential trouble and so nudged him towards Alberta instead.

    Neither did well after they were free to make own mistakes and blunders. Yes, this lawsuit could take a while. By the time it is settled the UCP may have a different leader or may not be in power any more. Whoever is may not be so eager to pay for Kenney’s blunders. Perhaps he still has a condo in Ottawa he can mortgage if needed. I understamd property values are doing much better there now than in Alberta.

  4. Wonderful lead photo of The Man With No Brain and what appears to be a slightly more modern version of Billy Bunter in his prime tucking-in days. The thing is, BC is being hammered by incredibly bad weather, and it’s no picnic down here in the Atlantic provinces, either. Is anyone in Alberta interested? Or is the rapid deterioration of climate not applicable to the bubble galaxy in which Alberta exists?

    There is no doubt that under Notley, targoo production increased by a million barrels per day (2015 to 2019), a 50% increase to 2.95 mbpd. NR Canada hasn’t updated their useless website with 2020 numbers yet, let alone give us much of a clue what’s happening this year, which is almost over. Squabbling over possible calumniations that the Bunter boy uttered and which various environmental defence organization egos found beyond their personal abilities to tolerate, kind of kicks any discussion of what the hell this country is going to do to meet its COP26 commitments down the road. As usual. Trudeau had no trouble lying to the world about Canada’s last place performance in reining in GHG emissions; we increased them not diminished them. And all the fat cats from Liberals to Tories to Dippers (Horgan and his CGL pipeline) are snuffling away like pigs at the trough of petrocarbons. Give me more, they croon in unison. The provincial dolts don’t care about their local citizenry let alone the country, and the world, what’s that when it’s at home? “Ethical” oil proclaims the fat man from a different space and time dimension, as if that means anything when it’s burned in the USA, where 98% of Canadian oil exports go.

    Apparently a death wish comes standard with any Alberta political party, and despite overpowering obfuscations and denials, with Canada as well. Let the petroleum industry soar, collect mere pittances in royalties on behalf of the citizenry who own the resource, propagandize them into rank stupidity, and get them to add ever more insulation and a heat pump to their overpriced homes so that the fat cats can party unhindered on oil.

    This situation cannot last long.

    1. After recovering from the near-death experience of laughing at your characterization: “The Man With No Brain” (I can barely type this with my still-chuckling fingers…) and “Billy Bunting in his prime tucking-in days,” (…okay…okay, I’m getting it under control…okay…okay…remember to breathe, Scotty…)

      Alright! Taking your point that petro-addiction touches every partisan family, therefore not something political leaders of every stripe (especially the bright glow of spinal-yellow) are quite ready to cop to (as in COP2…out of COP26, or a failing grade of about 7.7%) quite yet, one wonders at the calculus: apparently it relies on the hope—the hope of the large majority of our planet’s human population—that the biggest GHG emitters like China and the USA in absolute terms will cut their own emissions, thus making Canada’s relatively small emissions seem less important in the global context.

      Yes, it’s cognitively dissonant because of course some eggheaded academic will inevitably point out that if China and America really did reduce their emissions, Canada’s relative contribution would perforce increase—even if the global emission rate decreased; and, naturally, it’s also dissonant that we Canadians have been constantly reminded that we individual citizens are one of, if not the highest per capita emitters of GHGs in the world. If the argument (excuse) can be made that, nevertheless, Canada only contributes a relatively small proportion of global emissions (the UCP stand-by, for example), then how much easier to argue that our per capita sinfulness isn’t all that bad if (when) global emissions are declining?

      Yes, only politicians of the right are standing by the first (relatively-small-contributions-) argument in overt terms, but I think you are correct that all politicians of every stripe are probably counting on other countries—with good probability, the USA and China—to do the heaviest lifting, not because it seems to appeal to fairness, but because that second, mostly covert argument can then be made whilst actually increasing our national emissions. This perversity is what peeves Jason Kenney: everybody’s doing it but only he and his neo-right ilk are admitting it—a sort of holier-than-thou position which we’ve come to know about social conservatism. (Remember Eden’s serpent was the only one of the story’s four characters who didn’t deceive or lie—but I doubt we’ll be hearing that sermon from Kenney’s bully pulpit anytime soon.)

      …I mean, we Canadians can be the nation-with-no-brain enjoying our tuck-in days too (…oh jeez! Here it comes again!…is there any oxygen in the house?…)

  5. Like Jesus before him, Premier Crying & Screaming Midget will say he has sacrificed himself for Alberta; therefore, all the legal fees and damages incurred in the lawsuit will be borne by Alberta.

    I mean it’s only fair that share the damage, too. I mean voting for Kenney means being one with Kenney. We’re all in the together, like a herd of Buffaloes, facing the storm … together… while running off a cliff. Together.

    Yee-haw.

    1. Attributing everything that happens to climate change is no different from denying it. This particular article does a good job at explaining what’s happening in BC right now. Maybe it’s wrong. But so it’s attaching the Climate Change label to it without a further explanation.

    2. Keep in mind that Terence Corcoran is one of these aging boneheads stuck in a journalism career going nowhere. So, to pad their retirements and stay somewhat relevant, he has become a shill for whatever CON stunt that needs defending.

      Another pinhead who defends CONS is Rex Murphy. Once a well-known and somewhat respected polemist on all matters political, Murphy retired from the CBC and decided to go full alt-right, speaking at his favorite right-wing events for a nice fee. These days, he reminds me of the least-talented of the Three Stooges. (Of course, Moe was my favorite.)

      1. I think that is only because he went on to become premier of Saskatchewan.

        Could the waviness in Doug Ford’s hair be considered curly?

        Should we nickname Jason Kenney ‘Larry’?

  6. It was my understanding that one of the first things Ralph Klein did was to pass a bill protecting his MLAs from lawsuits up to $35 million. The taxpayers would be responsible up to that level. He knew his actions would bring lawsuits and they did. I believe there were at least 8 launched against Klein for deaths attributed to his health care cuts. They were all settled out of court, under a gag order, behind closed doors so Albertans weren’t allowed to find out what they cost us.

    David is right Albertans will likely be on the hook , once again, paying for this Reform Party brand of Stupidity.

    1. ALAN K. SPILLER: You certainly have it right. Mike Harris, the buddy of Ralph Klein had a similar bill when he was premier of Ontario. He didn’t want to be held liable for his very aggressive Ralph Klein style cuts, which were linked to the Walkerton tainted water tragedy. These pretend conservatives and Reformers don’t care who they harm, and don’t look at the costs, in human terms. They just want to make sure their rich corporate friends are looked after. Where’s the sense in that?

      1. We can include the Alberta government’s (PC, at the time) legislation that effectively disallows citizens to sue government for energy policies which cause them damages, a well-known example being the plight of Jessica Ernst who, like many of her neighbours from whom she collected corroborating evidence, sought compensation for damage to her domestic groundwater well which said evidence appears to show a strong, culpable correlation to fracking done nearby the affected water wells under government permit. Whatever the constitutional validity of overturning the legislation (which deprives Ms Ernst of remedy or compensation for making her well water undrinkable—and even dangerous since methane contamination needs to be flared off inside the house before drawing the now-unpotable stuff), it’s a Kafkaesque nightmare to realize it.

        Just like most neo-right governments typically do in this and many other examples (including those cited here), the judicial system (in these cases) has been gamed to benefit particular crony interests at citizens’ expense and deprivation of just redress: an already-swamped system—the judiciary—was made even more so to frustrate such justice and to make correction, although technically legal and just, virtually impossible for individual or even class action suits to succeed in practice. Ms Ernst might have gotten satisfaction had she more funds to pursue it all the way to the SCoC, but the reality of time —which had run out because sufficient funds hadn’t been collected to continue within the legal limit—and her peace of mind (the situation and the legal struggle is, naturally, very stressful) forced her to abandon an honourable and inspiring attempt to have justice done. Had she won, it would have struck the government’s self-righteous immunity down and allowed other plaintiffs to make their own cases—in other words, justice would have prevailed.

        If such systems-gaming and results like Ms Ernst’s erodes citizens’ trust in governing and judicial systems, we are reminded that it is the goal of neo-right parties to do just that in order to rationalize weakening government and relieve particular crony interests of taxes and regulations which crimp profits, no matter the detriment to social and ecological health. Obviously the game is not about the public good, but rather about keeping neo-right parties which will pursue this kind of sabotage in power. It has mostly worked in Alberta, but it’s certainly not the only place it does.

  7. Jason Kenney has more than enough money to pay for his pride so hopefully he will pay these organizations a lot
    I certainly hope so, he has to grow up and learn that life is not his fact less reality. I have no sympathy whatsoever and I hope he gets seriously hammered. Bullies deserve no better.

  8. Thanks for another great column, David.

    There are a few important differences between Stockwell Day’s legal issue and Jason Kenney’s potential lawsuit that Mr. Kenney would be advised to consider before he assumes the government will cover his costs like it did Stockwell Day’s.

    1. There was no election during the year and a half it took for Mr. Day to agree to settle.
    2. Alberta had no alternate political party that could conceivably win an election.
    3. Ralph Klein was incredibly popular at that point, so he could afford a bit of political capital to pay Day’s costs.
    4. I believe Alberta’s finances were pretty strong at that point, certainly better than they are now.

    Fast forward to today and we have a very unpopular premier and a strong alternative party waiting for the next election. I expect the NDP would love to bring up the issue of paying for Kenney’s legal fees & settlement costs on the campaign trail. I can’t imagine Kenney successor being willing to sacrifice his/her scarce political capital to cover Kenney’s costs. (I guess I just assumed Kenney will be gone by the next election.)

    It is possible, I suppose, that a campaigning Kenney (if he is still in the premier’s chair) or his successor, could evade the issue of paying Kenney’s costs while campaigning, and then pay them after the election. This, then, would set up a wonderful irony: Jason Kenney gambling thousands of his own dollars on the outcome of the 2023 election.

  9. History may be repeated in other ways should the premier choose to utilize the full potential image creating potential of photo ops. Day famously made a grand entrance to a press conference riding on a jet ski. He was spotted practicing on the previous day. When spring break up arrives and a UCP leadership vote is immanent we should look out for a middle aged skin suited character skimming along the surfaces of the Bow or the North Saskatchewan.

  10. Could Kenney be asked to “Stand Down” until the Legislature Lawsuit has been dealt wiith?
    Potentically the Tax Payers could be off the … hook for Legal Costs.
    For Albertans this would be a Saving Grace. This could stop Kenney from further damage especially if there is a 5th Wave.
    Thx

  11. It should have been highly instructive to use the trajectory of Stockwell Day’s political career as a predictor of what would happen with Jason Kenney.

    For one thing, both favor those who are slavishly loyal, regardless of the stupidity that occurs. If you don’t mind looking stupid, you’ll go far.

    Day has a tendency for thoughtless, idiotic acts that border on the wtf? Not only was there they famous incident where Day and his gathered throng sought to use the Power of Pray to call upon God’s Vengeance to close the only bar in Bentley, AB, but his written missive concerning the “true intentions” of a defense lawyer taking the case of a suspected pederast was also mind-blowing dumb. At it was even written on ministerial letterhead, no less. So much for Day’s claim that he was speaking as a private citizen, who happens to hold public office and a cabinet post. The only reason Day paid back the legal fees and damages charged to Alberta was that Day intended to seek higher office and he didn’t need that stinking Albatross around his neck. More recently, Day tried to equate his being bullied over wearing glasses is the same as racial violence against visible minorities. It was demanded, and he did, resign from the BoD of Telus after that bonehead move.

    Kenney, as well as Ezra Levant, famously referred to themselves as “Stock-a-holics” during Day’s ill-fated leadership of the CA. For Day, it was one disaster after another, with Jason Kenney always present as his most trusted and loyal advisor. They say the apple never falls too far from the tree. In the case of Day and Kenney, you could say they share a brain and have the same cavalier attitudes toward the public trust and what they believe they can get away with. Oh, and not really caring about how stupid they look.

  12. Just read that Matt Wolf is finally leaving the Premiers office.

    Who will miss him the most? My guess is that it Rachael Notley and the NDP.

    I believe that he was one of the reasons why the NDP have been so successful at raising money and why Jason Kenney’s approval rating is in the basement.

    1. Jason Kenney has maybe the lowest approval rating of any premier of Alberta because of his actions, not the infantile ravings of a man child angry at the world for rejecting him

  13. The eight enviro-orgs are compelled to sue, not merely to punish defamation of their causes by Jason Kenney, or to refute the rationale of the Inquiry—it did that itself by not finding any foreign-funded anti-Alberta energy conspiracies—but rather to ensure donors that their money is being put to the uses advertised, the environmentalism these orgs claim to espouse. Thus the plaintiffs save no choice but to sue, and it was Kenney et al which made it that way. Doubtless the enviro-orgs would have rather not been bothered with this highly suspect exercise of neo-right pseudo-policy: they have other important work to do—in fact, with the likes of K-Boy around, more every day.

    One has to conclude that Kenney is still very much influenced by tRumpublicanism. His response to the Inquiry’s findings is to simply repeat the allegation that a $1.7 billion campaign to beggar Alberta energy exists, despite the Inquiry explicitly finding no such campaign—which is very reminiscent of The Donald’s bald faced lying, examples too numerous to list, but ranging from persistently calling the so-called “Spanish Flu” which spread on the heels of WW I in 1918 the “1917 flu”, an otherwise harmless quirk of serial mendacity, to calling Covid a hoax until he caught it and was hospitalized himself, never minding the hundreds of thousands of Americans who’d already died of the virus, at which point he affected the most insincere attitude adjustment which Albertans will immediately recognize in their own premier who aped the very same thing half a year later. K-Boy looks impressed with tRump’s ever-tightening, pythonic grip on the GOP’s gonads, and his blatant nose-thumbing of his Inquiry’s findings shows he might consider his attitude sufficiently tRump-like to ensure he has his own party in the very same compromised position.

    Alberta’s next election will come and go long before the wheels of justice arrive at a verdict with respect this defamation suit against Kenney. The Inquiry has already done half of what it was designed to do—get the UCP elected for the first time—but it sure looks like K-Boy intends to pursue the second half: to get the UCP re-elected. The Inquiry itself has nothing to do with salutary public policy: even if it did confirm the alleged anti-Alberta energy conspiracy, it would have done squat for turning the flagging bitumen industry around, anyway; but it would have improved the prospect of UCP re-election. Contrarily hanging onto it hints at how important it is to Kenney’s continued political career—and how bereft he is of good policy that he might have gotten done during his freshman term; surely there are enough problems needs fixing in Alberta, some not actually of his own making, and he’d a certainty been in better shape now if he’d a done even the half of them.

    Kenney plainly thinks it’s still useful to gin victimhood and resentment, despite contradicting his own Inquiry’s findings. As Sonya Savage said, “it doesn’t matter” because Albertans know they’re hurting (whatever one makes of such nonsense). It means the UCP will very likely ape tRumpublicans’ “alternative facts”, and gin more than ever the stresses Albertans are experiencing right now, including, importantly, the revenge Kenney originally implied the Inquiry would justify, one of the oldest hot-buttons in demagogic politics—heck, he doesn’t even need to detail how, only to identify convenient enemies, like Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984 (the novel). Neither does it really matter if voters are regularly reminded the lawsuit is pending sometime beyond immediate tumult: Kenney will directly refute, dismiss and denigrate it each and every time as long’s he’s in the running for the next election, possibly even against better legal advice to be careful not to add to the defamation already accused. It really does appear that if tRump is doing it, K-Boy will do it too, with a conviction tantamount to blind faith—just like The Donald demands of his own followers.

    The difference, of course, is that Kenney doesn’t have the UCP by its brand new balls like tRump does the decrepit GOP’s, nor does he enjoy half the popularity as tRump does. It’s surely a perversity that because K-Boy’s and the UCP’s polls tanked as a result of their horripillious handling of Covid (like it never really did to the GOP’s equally disastrous Covid response), the Inquiry which explicitly disproved Kenney’s accusations and actionable defamation of the enviro-org plaintiffs is somehow absolved and ready for service. But the neo-right is always ready for a near-lethal dose of political relativism.

    On the other hand, he and his are running out of options, alternative, bizarre, absurd or otherwise. I think it’s called ‘doubling down’ so long’s tRump and Alberta’s next election are a beacon of fading, faint or feigned hope.

    Finally, if it were once probable that Kenney’s dearth of good public policy for Albertans was balanced by dastardly political tactics to simply win provincial power as a steppingstone to prime ministerial office in Ottawa, as many have speculated, events would suggest his plain lack of real party-policy chops (he showed how insincere his “grassroots” promise is by trying to circumvent party members’ attempt to review his rookie leadership) now compels him to lower his sights—that is, to simply winning another term in Alberta where thumbing his nose at the Inquiry or, for that matter, at the plaintiffs of the lawsuit, might fly. It’s unlikely in the extreme that it ever could at the federal level as it might be for a sophomore term in the Wild Rose Province, but never doubt K-Boy’s self-righteous drive. But I should think his federal aspirations are now done like dirt.

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