It’s an iron law in Alberta politics: when Premier Jason Kenney tries to spike the football, it inevitably finds its way back into his face. And while it seemed impossible at the time that he’d be able to top the fiasco that was his “Best Summer Ever” from 2021, he may have outdone himself with his recently launched “Alberta is Calling” campaign.
It encourages people in British Columbia and Ontario to think about moving to Alberta, and Kenney has repeatedly pitched his province as a friendly and welcoming place to live. “Many people who move to Alberta or even just visit are surprised at how welcoming people in Alberta are,” Kenney said in a tweet quoting a moving company. “They greet each other on the street, wave when driving and will stop for passengers even when the latter are in the wrong.” But what everyone in the county is talking about instead is the video in which a very large and visibly angry man accosts Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland during a visit to Grande Prairie. As Canadian comedian Stewart Reynolds (AKA Brittlestar, “The Internet’s Favourite Dad”) joked, “this is the worst Alberta Calling ad yet.”
The unhinged attack on Freeland, and the conditions that helped create it, are no laughing matter. This is a textbook example of stochastic terrorism, which is definedas “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act.” And while Freeland and the female staffers that were with her escaped unharmed, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before somebody does something much worse.
Kenney finally got around to tweeting about the incident — after, it should be noted, crowing about how people in Alberta make more money than the rest of the country. But that’s still more than you could say about most of his high-profile conservative colleagues. Whether it was interim Conservative Party of Canada leader Candice Bergen, leadership race front-runner Pierre Poilievre, or UCP leadership heavyweights like Danielle Smith and Brian Jean, their silence was deafening.
Kenney is hardly innocent here, though, and he has more to answer for than most. Whether it was in opposition or as Premier, he’s spent years churning up mistrust and anger towards Ottawa and the Trudeau government, whether it’s on their approach to addressing climate change and the energy sector or more recently their management of COVID-19. As I wrote recently, Danielle Smith’s campaign for his job is a continuation of the work he started, albeit one that takes it to a different (and more dangerous) level.
Chrystia Freeland and the female staffers with her escaped unharmed from a nasty verbal assault. But it seems only a matter of time before somebody does something much worse. @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver
This is the problem — well, one of them — with the rage farming that is consuming the modern conservative movement. Keeping people angry may have some short-term tactical advantages, especially in the context of a leadership race. Jacking them up with bogus theories about the World Economic Forum and fear-mongering about the Prime Minister’s plans for their industry is a good way to keep the clicks and donations coming. But as U.S. Republicans have learned over the last few years, it’s hard to put the populist rage dragon back in its cage once it’s been let out.
This is of no concern to the far-right griftocracy, which benefits directly from the culture of perpetual outrage that feeds this dragon. As the world learned during his recent trial, InfoWars founder Alex Jones was making as much as $800,000 a day peddling conspiracy theories, misinformation, and other forms of rage-farming fertilizer. His Canadian counterparts may not be making millions of dollars a month peddling their own paranoid wares, but you can be sure that business is still good.
The consequences that flow from the conservative movement’s relentless pursuit of grievance and anger should be of at least some concern to elected officials and those who aspire to public office one day. As Kenney can attest, those consequences can even include losing your own job. This is the inherent flaw in this popular political strategy: if you succeed by making people angry, there’s always someone who will be willing to make them even angrier.
It’s not hard to figure out how this all ends. The last two-plus years have been difficult for many Canadians, and some have been particularly frustrated by the public health measures that were needed to minimize the damage done by the pandemic. When you combine that with inflammatory political rhetoric and the amplifying effect of social media silos, it creates a dangerous and volatile mixture — one that can be set off by the smallest provocation. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before a politician or public figure gets hurt, or possibly even killed, as a result. Just ask Gabby Giffords or the family of British MP Jo Cox.
What’s harder to figure out is whether the spiritual (and, in a few weeks, official) leaders of Canada’s conservative movement are willing to do anything to stop this from happening — or if they even know how to at this point. Stepping up and speaking out clearly against this sort of violence, and the misinformation that fuels it, would surely come at a cost. But as we saw in Grande Prairie, the cost of not acting is growing by the day.