This is my attempt to understand what the heck happened to Jason Kenney, who short years ago left Parliament, where he had been a successful cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, where Kenney had been in fact, and in perception, a strong conservative in most things (except open borders immigration, actually). Where he had at least a respect for populist conservatism; where he certainly expressed support for religious freedom; a skepticism of big government.
And in the early months of the pandemic, that was his approach.
And as he abandoned any pretence of caring about civil liberties, or even science, his language started to track the language of Justin Trudeau and Theresa Tam. He started denouncing small businesspeople who wanted to stay open; he started denouncing churches and pastors who not only wanted to exercise their freedom to stay open, but were critical to attending to congregants who had mental stress and anxiety and depression and worse, because of the lockdowns. Kenney became so abusive and punitive. It truly was that old, dark joke: the beatings will continue until the morale improves.
But that’s my point about no-one being able to tell the emperor that he had no new clothes — that he was naked. People mislead billionaires; people mislead dictators for the same reason — there is no-one tasked with opposing him and embarrassing him and causing him to rethink things. He starts to believe what he hears; he starts to believe what he says.
Ralph Klein called that Dome Syndrome; Preston Manning called it being “Ottawashed”.
There were things that happened that if they had happened under the leadership of Justin Trudeau or Rachel Notley, Kenney would have known they were wrong, and would have said so.
He started calling his own citizens, his own party members, extremists.
The worst, to me, was the targeting of Pastor Artur Pawlowski. Again and again, endless arrests on trumped up charges. More than 50 days in prison. Exactly the kind of stuff Kenney railed against when he was a federal cabinet minister, and he was talking about China.
You know, I had a phone call last year from a very senior Conservative, I won’t say who, you’d know their name immediately, who said: Ezra, you and Rebel News have to stop criticizing Kenney. You’re going to lose it for him; you're going to hand the province back to the NDP. We must stop that.
I saw her point, a bit — we were covering issues that most of the media wasn’t. The legacy media hated these Christian pastors; if they covered their arrests and persecutions at all, it was to cheer on the government; most of the media in Alberta was pressing Kenney from the left. And what did they care? If they could get Kenney to attack Christians and lockdown skeptics, that’s a win win win for them. The media activists on the left punished Christians and lockdown skeptics, but Kenney paid the political price for it. It’s not like that won over NDP voters to Kenney. He had both sides of the spectrum hating him.
He knew he was in trouble, but like I say, he never knew the true extent — he had too many flatterers, I think.
His rival from the last leadership race, Brian Jean, ran in a by-election. Kenney was sure his candidate could beat Jean for the nomination — no chance. And even yesterday, Kenney was sure he would crush the party’s revolt — he certainly seemed to rig the rules to do it, switching at the last minute to mail-in voting, which he thought he could game.
Well, I guess so, if 51 per cent is a win.
And in the end, even he knew it wasn’t enough.
Already names are popping up. Danielle Smith wants back in. Brian Jean too, obviously. I hope it’s a good, rollicking leadership campaign, with clear ideological differences, just like the federal Conservative leadership campaign.
It’s important that a strong leader be chosen, one without poisonous baggage — it was Kenney that was hated, not the UCP party brand. Rachel Notley really did stand a chance, with Kenney at the helm. But put someone normal and conservative and less arrogant and more freedom-oriented in that leadership chair, and the NDP will properly be relegated back to their history place on the fringe.
I’m excited by it, in the same way I was excited when the truckers caused the party to give O’Toole the heave-ho. And in a way, the truckers did here too — the truckers and the pastors. I maintain that if Kenney hadn’t been a punitive bully towards businesses and churches, if he had been calmer, a lighter touch, more like Ron DeSantis, or really, just stopped picking on conservative businesses and conservative churches, if he hadn’t jailed people and insulted them, I bet he’d have had at least ten per cent more in the polls yesterday — how could he not have? At least 10 per cent of the party cared about freedom, especially religious freedom. At least 10 per cent. But he just couldn’t help himself. And now he’s gone. That’s karma.
And to my old Conservative friend who called me begging me to stop reporting on what we reported, I would say: the party can fix itself now; and so can the province; and that will keep the NDP out of power — not Rebel News lying about the great disappointment that was Jason Kenney’s Alberta career.
GUEST: Mario Balaban on the Project Veritas Twitter leaks.
FINALLY: Your messages to me!