This is an open letter to one wannabe and two current Alberta MLAs who should know better, from a former MLA who does.
I’m ashamed of you.
Here are a couple of definitions of that phrase:
- to feel disappointed or upset by someone’s behaviour
- to feel embarrassed because you are related to someone or connected with them
What Justin Trudeau did on Canada Day was to make a mistake. What you three did on Canada Day, by comparison, was beyond the pale.
Very early on in politics, I was given a good piece of advice: when in a situation where you’re required to acknowledge a large number of people or organizations, mention a couple of really key players by name and follow with a phrase like, “and everyone else involved.” Rhyming off a long list of names makes for a very boring speech, and if you try to acknowledge everyone by name, you are bound to forget somebody. It’s human nature, and it leads to hurt feelings on the part of the one whose name you left out. It’s advice that the Prime Minister should have taken, but didn’t, in his Canada Day speech. As a consequence, he forgot to mention Alberta.
I suppose some Albertans’ feelings were hurt by Trudeau’s omission, although I really wonder how many even knew or cared about it. We were out and about on Salt Spring Island, celebrating Canada Day the way most Canadians celebrated — checking out the classic cars at the Show and Shine on the baseball diamond…enjoying the music…watching kids having fun…chowing down with the neighbours on barbecued burgers and potato salad…watching the fireworks. In short, we were too busy behaving like most Canadians do on Canada Day to pay attention to political speeches — honestly, I get that prime ministers are expected to make speeches on Canada Day, but surely they understand that people are having too much fun to be bothered listening. And we were too busy being Canadian to give any thought to any of the provinces.
It’s called Canada Day for a reason, after all.
Now don’t get me wrong. I do think that Justin Trudeau makes a better prime minister than either of the alternatives, and I do like that he is regarded these days internationally as perhaps the only leader in the English-speaking world who walks upright. But I don’t think he’s the messiah, I’m far from dazzled and amazed by his government’s record so far, and if a pollster were to ask my assessment of his performance, I’d be in the “somewhat approve” category.
But here’s the thing: even if a whole bunch of Albertans were offended, upset, hurt, or left to feel like chopped liver by his forgetting to mention the province in his Canada Day speech, you three are expected to be bigger than that.
The offices which you currently hold (or in your case, Jason, held, since right now you’re only a former elected official, just like me) and the office to which each of you aspires demand that you be bigger than that.
Jason Kenny, Brian Jean, Derek Fildebrandt — you all have designs on the Premiership of Alberta. Derek, yours is more, shall we say, theoretical at the moment since you’ve admitted only that you’re considering taking a run at the leadership of a united conservative party. But the fact that you’re even considering it means you have been thinking about it, fantasizing about what you would do with it if you got it. I know what’s going through all of your minds….you may remember that once upon a time I (stupidly) sought the leadership of the Alberta Liberals. (It strikes me, too, that you three may in fact be seeking the leadership of a political party that will prove to be just as intractable, ungovernable and unelectable as the ABLibs — but that would be a topic for another rant.)
The premier’s job is to vigorously defend and advance the interests of your province. The premier is expected to do the job with integrity, with dignity, and with class.
You three couldn’t have failed that test on Canada Day more spectacularly if you had tried.
Your petulant, insecure, tawdry, reactions to Trudeau’s screwup clearly were beneath the office of Premier. To boot, they were fundamentally dishonest, designed to leave the impression that the Prime Minister of Canada does not consider Alberta to be part of this country.
Some will conclude that all you were doing was throwing red meat to your base (which, frankly, is pretty much all that you, Jason and you, Derek ever do and what you, Brian, do much of the time). However, in my view, to respond as you did — on the 150th anniversary of Confederation — demonstrates such profound disrespect for the very idea of Canada (not to mention the nation itself) that it felt to me as though each one of you is fomenting separatism.
I base that on having lived the last fifty years of this nation’s history as a keen observer and student — going back to high school — of Canadian politics and public affairs; on having covered much of it as a journalist; and having helped shape a little of it as an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Your behaviour on Canada Day places you in league with Rene Levesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard. In essence, the three of you told the people of your province that the rest of Canada considers them second-class citizens, reminded them of Alberta’s “historical grievances” (Bouchard’s favourite phrase), and all but exhorted them to go out to their cars, white-out “Wild Rose Country” on the license plate and write in “Je me souviens” in its place.
Why did you do that? On Canada Day?
Oh, I know each of you in your own way has some capacity for strategic political thought — cunning, in other words, of the sort exhibited by wolves or orcas to gain the advantage when they hunt their prey. But I see scant evidence that any of you is capable of much critical analysis beyond the topic of getting what you want for yourselves. I know you’re all hyper partisan. And I know that you can’t stand Justin Trudeau — which I get. I couldn’t stand Stephen Harper.
But can you not differentiate the country from its leader?
Are you so bent that you hate the people of Canada for electing a prime minister you can’t stand?
I know all three of you all want to turn back the clock to a time when men were men, women were chattel, and the State used the Church to keep people in line by threatening them with shaming in this life and damnation in the next if they didn’t toe the line. And, uh, good luck with that.
In the name of free speech, I will tolerate the expression of a lot of opinions that I find disgusting and despicable because I choose to believe in humanity’s better nature — that is, that free people will freely decide to turn their backs on disgusting, despicable opinions and on those who spew them. But I draw the line at anything that advocates the breakup of our country.
Canada — this imperfect nation, this work-in-progress, this idea of nationhood — was bigger than the October Crisis, bigger than the FLQ, bigger than Levesque, Parizeau, Bouchard and the Parti Quebecois, bigger than two referendums on separation, bigger than any challenge it has ever faced and believe me, Jason, Brian and Derek, it’s a helluva lot bigger than you three and your respective minions. If any of you truly believes that Rachel Notley’s NDP government is bad for the Province of Alberta, then cut the crap and for once in your life, start fighting her on the issues, on ideas, on policy. I know it’ll put a lot of your current followers to sleep, but even you might end up contributing to making life better for Albertans. If you truly believe that Justin Trudeau is driving Canada into the ground, then get back into federal politics and fight him on the issues, ideas and policy.
But if you hold Canada in such low regard that you would put it at risk by design or default in your quest to crush anyone and anything that doesn’t support your narrow world view, then I invite you to emigrate. Go ahead. Leave. I’ll help you pack. I’m sure you’ll feel more at home someplace down south among the haters and red-staters. Your collective inability to rein in your baser instincts and act in an even remotely statesmanlike fashion in the face of adversity will likely be more appreciated there. Jason and Brian, your MP pensions should cover your health insurance premiums. (Derek, I’m not sure how far your MLA transition allowance would get you in that respect.)
If you merely thought you were being cute and clever as you played to your base, you’re not mature enough for the job. If this is how low you will stoop in your quest for power, you lack both the judgement and the ethics for the job. If fomenting separatism was your intent, you are too disloyal for the job.
You’ve brought disrepute upon your fellow parliamentarians past and present and upon the people of Alberta whom you seek to rule. You three are unfit for office.