Alberta needs to prepare for a new wave of extremists

Jason Kenney recently continued the time-honored Conservative tradition of failing to realize a recording device is running. A secret recording of him calling his political opponents in the United Conservative Party “lunatics” — and bemoaning the influx of bigots, religious extremists and homophobes into the UCP ranks — was leaked to the press.

When pressed for comment by reporters, he refused to apologize, saying he’s opposed to these voices gaining traction in a mainstream Conservative party.

Kenney’s comments can be taken one of two ways. The first is that he’s being completely facetious, doing little except trying to appeal to the Red Tories who have long since fled the UCP in order to shore up support for his upcoming leadership review. Kenney is, after all, the same person who bragged about denying LGBTQA+ people the right to something as basic as having their family present during their final moments during the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s.

People are capable of changing, but given how unwilling he is to acknowledge Canada’s homophobic (to say nothing of bisexual and transphobic) history in the K-12 draft curriculum, and his insistence that the old curriculum was just “socialist propaganda” being smuggled in the back doorI wouldn’t count on his views being any different than before.

The second — and more terrifying — interpretation is that Kenney is being completely serious, and the new wave of extremists in the party is too extreme even for him.

What this means is that any Albertan who’s opposed to Kenney for left-leaning reasons can’t simply sit back and hope the UCP eats itself. It’s possible that might happen, but it’s equally possible that Conservatives who are dissatisfied with Kenney might assume a new face represents a fresh start for Alberta politics and come out swinging for Jean.

It’s also important to be realistic and realize that a great many Albertans still think the New Democratic Party is full of radical socialists, even though the NDP, like nearly there social democratic parties around the world, barely even qualifies as centre-left anymore. Relying on the NDP to win an election simply because they’re not the UCP isn’t a viable strategy.

As Alberta’s United Conservative Party members begin receiving ballots on @jkenney’s leadership tomorrow, the former Wild Rose leader vying for his job has been trafficking in far-right dog whistles like “The Great Reset”, writes @SadKemle. #abpoli

Left-leaning Albertans, then, need to become well acquainted with grassroots organizing. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen nurses, doctors, teachers, students, EMTs and other unionized employees stand up, speak out and push back against misinformation, political attacks, and even threats to their own safety.

Supporting an open and tolerant Alberta means supporting themnot just the NDP, and speaking out yourself when you see reactionary nonsense rear its ugly head.

At the very least, this sort of grassroots organizing will bring people to the polls. The NDP is far from perfect, but the difference between another Rachel Notley premiership and someone like Jean holding the reins is like choosing between a bad stomach flu and being consumed by the alien from The Thing.

But a grassroots movement is also a way to fundamentally shift the balance of political power in this province. Alberta is far more socially progressive than many people give it credit forand we aren’t as in love with the oil industry as right-wing political campaigns make it seem. That these beliefs don’t translate into a stampede away from the UCP suggests to me that Albertans think about parties first and policies second.

The only way past that mindset is to start having more and more political discussions happen outside the context of political parties. Drill down into the nitty-gritty of values ​​and actual political preferences, rather than framing every political debate as “the UCP supports this and the NDP supports that.”

As far as political organizing goes, Alberta has a reputation for being awfully quiet. With a new wave of extremists set to take over the ruling political party, though, there’s no time like the present to start getting loud.

Andrew Kemle is a master’s student in political science at the University of Calgary, specializing in political theory and political economy.

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