Forget everything you thought you knew about Alberta politics. It was wrong.
It wasn’t long ago, you’ll remember, the Progressive Conservative Party turned to a woman, Alison Redford, to lead it into the modern age. Soon after that, the electorate gave her a broader mandate, a sign, we were assured, the province was shedding its chauvinistic, redneck image for good.
When Rachel Notley led the NDP to power in 2015, ending the Tory’s four-plus decades in power, it was viewed as another signal that the province had entered a new phase of its existence, a period of progressive, feminist enlightenment few saw coming.
Well, maybe not as it turns out.
Politics in Alberta is not showing well these days. In fact, the situation is about as ugly and disturbing as you’ll find anywhere in the country.
The Progressive Conservatives are in the midst of a nasty, divisive leadership race. There were six candidates, including two women, but both of them recently dropped out.
Donna Kennedy-Glans packed it in after determining there was no appetite for her centrist message.
Meantime, PC MLA Sandra Jansen walked away because of what she describes as a relentless torrent of misogynistic-laced harassment and abuse. And on Thursday, she crossed the floor to sit with the NDP, telling a news conference that “extremists” had taken over her former party.
If the allegations Ms. Jansen made earlier are true, it represents one of the lowest points in the Progressive Conservative party’s long, storied history.
Ms. Jansen’s nomination papers were apparently defaced with one of the most vulgar invectives that can be hurled at a woman: the c-word. At a recent policy conference, supporters of former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney, now a PC leadership candidate, are alleged to have got in the face of Ms. Jansen, accusing her of being a baby killer.
Mr. Kenney has denied any connection to any of the bullying tactics Ms. Jansen has complained about. In fact, Mr. Kenney insists he is the one who has been intimidated, by none other than Ms. Jansen’s former campaign manager, Stephen Carter.
Mr. Kenney says Mr. Carter recently threatened to “beat the expletive out of me.” Mr. Carter doesn’t deny using the words in a podcast, but insists he was talking about beating Mr. Kenney in an electoral sense only.
The entire mess, Ms. Jansen’s allegations included, is now PC party president Katherine O’Neill’s problem with which to deal. She has launched an internal investigation that should be concluded soon. While saying the wild, disturbing claims do not represent the party she heads, she acknowledges, at the same time, to being the object of sexist and degrading attacks herself.
“Oh, yeah,” Ms. O’Neill told me. “I often get the See you Next Tuesday or get called a bitch, pretty regularly. Not unusual at all.” (See you Next Tuesday is urban code for the same c-word purportedly levelled at Ms. Jansen.)
Ms. Notley has been the target of death threats and misogynistic denunciations herself. So have several other female members of her government. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, meantime, had to apologize earlier this year for joking at a public meeting about beating Ms. Notley up – a line that inspired loud, sustained applause.
The Premier and her party are now sitting at 14 per cent in the polls. The party receiving the most support in recent public opinion surveys is the Progressive Conservatives, the same entity Mr. Kenney plans to destroy if he wins the leadership. He wants to build a new political organization that Wildrose members will feel comfortable joining as part of an overarching bid to unify conservative forces in the province.
Either way, Alberta seems to be preparing to make an ideological course correction.
There’s little doubt the rise of Donald Trump has emboldened many in the province. One of those would appear to be Derek Fildebrandt, a Wildrose MLA and one of the most powerful conservative voices in Alberta.
He has little patience for the likes of Ms. Jansen and others complaining about online trolls and provocateurs. “Hypersensitive, politically correct, victim-as-virtue culture is creating a leadership class of wimps,” he wrote in a tweet that could have been sent out by The Donald himself. “People are sick of it.”
After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Fildebrandt tweeted: “The biggest lesson that we should learn from the election of Trump: smug, condescending political correctness will spark a backlash.”
I’m not sure what is happening in Alberta, but on almost any level it’s not good. Trump-style politics could well be making its way north of the border. At the end of the day, however, society gets the politicians it deserves.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Katherine O'Neill.Report Typo/Error