With the end of the UCP leadership race just days away, and Premier Jason Kenney nearing the end of his time as the province’s leader, it appears he will exit his role with the same confounding tenuousness with which he entered.
Laden with self-congratulatory comments and a few unsurprising digs at Canada’s federal leader, Kenney addressed a room full of municipal leaders at the Alberta Municipalities Convention (AbMunis) on Sept. 23 in one of his last large-scale conventions. While there is much to celebrate in Alberta, especially given our economic outlook just a few years ago, Kenney’s comments also vilified the critical analysis and essential self-reflection demanded by critics of his leadership or the UCP. A theme prominent among the UCP surely, but also in politics more broadly.
Kenney said, “political journalists are fight promoters.” An interesting take since just a few years ago, the UCP war-room staff were under fire for self-identifying as “reporters,” of the press. A move which was not exactly indicative of the party’s desire for journalistic objectivity, and was quickly called out by the former president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
His point was echoed by UCP candidate Danielle Smith during her recent meet and greet in Coaldale. Smith was quick to suggest that journalists/media have demonized conservatives, and limited the capacity for meaningful dialogue, citing a specifically non-conservative “woke mob,” propped up by mainstream media, being primarily responsible for a lack of space to share diverse ideas.
It might be worth pointing out that Smith’s willingness to make sweeping, unflattering assumptions of those in opposition to her platform and/or party is the same reductionist thinking allegedly imposed onto her supporters by UCP critics.
During the AbMunis convention, Kenney un-ironically followed up several pointed jabs at the feds, with a casual admonition to the crowd of municipal politicians and administrators. He said, “it’s tempting to project problems upwards (to the provincial government as municipal leaders), but let’s be grownups here,” before back-tracking to qualify the UCP’s criticisms, and upward projections to federal politicians are the exception. “We do that quite legitimately with the Government of Canada.”
To be fair, Kenney’s statement was also pointing to the on-the-ground power of municipal governance and should be taken, at least in part, as a call to action for municipal leaders to recognize the immense capacity for action at the municipal level. With a bit more consideration, it’s clear his statement isn’t so black and white. The notion that a political party in power should be exempt from criticism and accountability, from critics, journalists, or even their own voters, has no place in a modern democracy. As we move forward this week with a new provincial leader, we should be reminded that no elected official(s) can earn the right to be relinquished from critical analysis. We must find ways to make space to explore the many facets of grey between the false dichotomy of black and white thinking to create equitable and ethical engagement.