When the New Democratic Party of Alberta formed a majority government in 2015, I quipped that night that Alberta had just become a Western democracy. After all, it was the first time in forty years that the governing Progressive Conservative Party had been voted out.
But my joke depressed me. After all, it’s just not normal or healthy for any jurisdiction, let alone one of two economic engines of a G-7 liberal democracy, to be shackled to any one party for almost half a century. My joke depressed me because it meant we were just a petro-state. But hey, even Alaska under Sarah Palin paid higher oil royalties to its citizens than Conservative Alberta did. What is up with that?
But two years into the NDP’s first provincial government, the devastated PC party and the official opposition Wild Rose party have merged under the slogan “Unite the Right.” Yep, that slogan. Just a coincidence? Sure… and yet as it turns out, if you drew a Venn diagram of the US “Unite the Right” constituency and that of the Wild Rosers, you’d find at the centre many of the same type of toxically racist, sexist, anti-queer, anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish media personalities, shadowy funders, and gun fanatics. In some cases, you’d find the exact same people on both sides of the border.
In Alberta, the Unite the Right merger produced the United Conservative Party, which turns into the great acronym UCP, or as some apparently want it to be “u-kip,” to sound like the United Kingdom Independence Party that created Brexit and emboldened racists across Britain.
There are two front-runners for the leadership of the UCP: former Wild Rose leader Brian Jean, and former PC leader Jason Kenney. Both have enjoyed the attention that ultra-right-wing Canadian media has given them. Days after the racist torchlight rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Brian Jean and Jason Kenney each stated they would no longer appear on one far-right site in particular, but neither explained why they’d appeared on it for years throughout its constant Islamophobic publication.
Another firebrand of the UCP and beneficiary of right wing media, legislator Derek Fildebrandt, is now formerly of the UCP. Just recently he resigned from the brand-new caucus as the result of three scandals: double-dipping on meal reimbursements, profiting from his taxpayer-financed housing by offering it on Air B-n-B, and doing a hit-and-run on a neighbour’s car.
Fildebrandt has always been a fiery figure—if not a lake of fiery figure—in that movement, and his work in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation combined with his recent spending and profiting has rubbed many folks raw. What does his future hold? Will the UCP welcome him back in time for the next election?
Joining me to analyse all the above is David Climenhaga, who is “an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet, and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at the Toronto Globe and Mail and Calgary Herald. He holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the Carleton University School of Journalism in Ottawa. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians.” Climenhaga blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca.
We spoke last week on August 16, 2017 at Climenhaga’s office in downtown Edmonton. Full disclosure: I have volunteered for the provincial and federal New Democratic Party, and have also provided paid public speaking training for some of its members.