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Tories double down on double talk

John Bell

December 20, 2017

I sincerely regret to report that Jason Kenney has won a seat in the Alberta legislature.

Kenney, former Igor to Stephen Harper’s Frankenstein, is the newly minted leader of the United Conservative Party. The UCP is a fusion of the Tories and the Wild Rose Party, an attempt to recreate the Conservative dynasty that ruled Alberta from the time the dinosaurs roamed. With Kenney at the helm, Calgary’s petrocracy hope to see dinosaurs come charging out of the tar sands yet again.

With that, Tories in Alberta, Ontario and nationwide have new head men (other genders may apply, but, seriously…). But the purveyors of right-wing ideas have a problem. When people discover what they really think, the majority tend to say “Thanks, but no thanks.” This is posing something of a challenge for Jason Kenney, Patrick Brown and Andrew Scheer.

For instance, more than seven out of 10 Canadians support the right to same sex marriage. Four out of five support legal abortion rights. And a similar number say immigration is good for the country and economy. Since most Tory supporters and candidates are anti-queer, oppose abortion and portray immigration as a drain on our resources and threat to our “values”, this puts them at a disadvantage.

So they lie to us. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. It is their responsibility, since they are so smart and we are just cattle. It’s our own damn fault. They have to convince us that they are nice middle of the road folks and slowly, stealthily, make us see the error of our neighbour-loving, rights-respecting ways.

And they have a plan. They can thank Preston Manning, patron saint of reactionary rhetoric, and his Manning Centre “think tank” for it.

Not long ago someone leaked details to the Press Progress news site. Starting with their own research findings, that two thirds of young Albertans reject Tory “values”, Manning asks his corporate friends to pony up at least $500,000 to “increase support among Millennials for conservative values, policies and candidates.”

The news is good (for us) or bad (for Manning, Scheer, Kenney, Brown, et al): “… Only 16% of Millennials self-identify with the current conservative brand as compared with 66% who self-identify as liberal, moderate or progressive. The term ‘conservative’ elicits more negative perceptions than positive …” The people who came of age under Stephen Harper consider Conservative politicians among the least trustworthy people in the country.


The answer? Reconceptualising! It’s sort of like lying. According the Manning tank-thinkers: “Socially conservative positions are less of a ‘deal breaker’:

• When they are reconceptualised to be less polarizing (i.e. rather than asking people if they’re for or against immigration – shift the debate to the appropriate level of immigration).

• When they are framed within the context of conservative support for ‘individual rights and freedom of choice’ accompanied by an acceptance of responsibility for the consequences of those choices.”

So in Ontario Patrick Brown has to “reconceptualise” his voting record as a Harper MP – he voted against access to abortion, against equal pay for women, against childhood pharmacare and against a liveable minimum wage. As Ontario Tory leader he has used every dirty trick in his playbook to take over the grassroots where right-wing ideas are strongest, and parachute in hand-picked candidates based on their cosmetic media appeal. Can he rebrand himself from right-wing storm trooper to slick, urban metro-tory? Can he hold on to seats when whole riding associations are quitting in disgust and taking him to court? The Wynne Liberals are mired in scandal and it would take a major doofus to blow this chance–and Brown might just be the kid to do it

Jason Kenney faces the same challenge if he is to regain the throne in Alberta. Will his years as Harper’s hitman give him an aura or an odour? Can he pretend to be middle of the road, when his party is bullying queer school kids in gay-straight alliances?

To do so he’ll have to keep his creepy UCP followers out of the headlines, no easy task.

Take Alberta MLA Ron Orr, whose fear of legalized marijuana takes him to previously uncharted territory. After asserting that the Communism was a result of opium smoking, he reasoned that opium “was just a flower, and it was smoked, just like marijuana was smoked.” Orr warned: “Yes, opium smoking, like marijuana, was a fashionable refined pastime especially among the young – but I’ll tell you something, it doesn’t lead to the good life. It’s an escape.”

How about UCP house leader Jason Nixon, who opposed workplace anti-harassment legislation. It happens that in his previous life as a corporate dude he fired a single mother shortly after she lodged a sexual harassment complaint. Or UPC financial critic Drew Barnes, who must have missed the memo where Kenney condemned Ezra Levant’s fake news service, the Rebel.

Get reconceptualising, Kenney.

Federal leader Andrew Scheer too has to dispel the residual stench of the Rebel. He says he repudiates the far right home of white nationalists and misogynists. But he is sticking with Hamish Marshall as his chief advisor and campaign director, despite Marshall being a long-time Levant crony and former corporate director of the Rebel. Scheer may play up his boyish looks and dimples, but his ideas on women’s rights, trans rights, climate change etc. are even further to the right than old Stevie Harper’s.

Even as I write the Liberals have mandated that money for summer employment projects cannot go to organizations that use students to campaign against abortion rights (parading those gory, giant posters around on busy city intersections, horrifying the children) or against same-sex marriage. How did Scheer’s troops respond?

Tory house leader Candice Bergen tweeted: “What the Liberals are doing here is terrifying. No tax payers $ if you don’t believe/act the way the government dictates. Sounds more like China than Canada. Thought/ belief control by the State, in its worst form.” Bob Zimmer, Tory chair of the ethics committee (seriously) chimed in: “Shameful. Section 2 of our constitution enshrines fudamental [sic] freedoms of thought, belief and association.”

Notice they don’t come out and say “women should be denied the right to decide what happens inside their bodies” or “Homosexuality is an abomination, and recognizing marriage rights will destroy our civilization”. Oh no, saying tax money shouldn’t be spent to foster hate and deprive others of their rights is equal to a totalitarian onslaught, a blow to our civil rights. That’s some heavy duty reconceptualising right there!

No wonder Bergen is a featured speaker at the 2018 edition of the Manning Centre Tory love-in. Scheer, Brown, Kenney and many more double-speakers will be gathering to network and exchange “ideas to make Canada a better governed country”. To sell that as anything other than a right-wing shit show will take a lot more than reconceptualising.

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