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'Son of a rich farmer' outrage fails to trump embarrassing questions for Jason Kenney about UCP candidate attitudes

When Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt was tossed out of the Legislature on the morning of October 31 for supposedly insulting an Opposition MLA, the kerfuffle that resulted obviously came as welcome relief to United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney.

In recent weeks, Kenney has often been on the run, sometimes almost literally, from questions by journalists about the views some of the people seeking UCP nominations, or those holding campaign jobs, not to mention the party leadership's apparent toleration of many of them.

There have been at least enough examples of offensive or peculiar attitudes about race, religion, gender and science among would-be UCP candidates since last spring to field a soccer team, or maybe even a rugby team!

So the opportunity to gin up a little faux outrage and some blood-curdling Internet memes about Schmidt's sharp retort in the Legislature offered Kenney an opportunity to try to change the channel on his party's apparent comfort with views many of us find inappropriate for many reasons.

In a heated exchange in the Legislature during debate on the NDP Government's bill putting a lid on post-secondary tuition increases, Schmidt had dismissed a point made by Devin Dreeshen, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake. While doing so, the minister noted factually that Dreeshen is "the son of a rich farmer" and referred to his work in 2016 on the campaign to elect U.S. President Donald Trump. It's quite clear, Schmidt told the assembly, that the young UCPer "has been wearing his Make America Great Again hat way too tight and it's impacting his ability to share anything remotely resembling a fact in this assembly."

Interestingly, what angered the UCP appears to have been the suggestion some Alberta farmers are pretty well heeled (including Dreeshen's daddy, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Red Deer-Mountain View), not that he was famously photographed toasting Trump's victory in New York on U.S. election night wearing a red MAGA cap, or that he may be economical with facts in his arguments.

Whether or not the call was the right one, Deputy Speaker Heather Sweet (a New Democrat) kicked Schmidt out of the chamber until he apologized, which he eventually did. The UCP troll farm had a field day creating orange memes pretending the NDP hates farmers.

I can tell you with authority the suggestion made by some that Schmidt said something just a little different from "son of a rich …" is not correct. Hansard got it right. This was no 21st Century Western reprise of fuddle-duddle.

As for Schmidt's apology -- which some NDP supporters complained about -- that's the way the Westminster Parliamentary system works. Schmidt didn't really have any other option, whatever he may privately feel. Best just to get on with it.

By later that afternoon, things were pretty much back to normal, with a silent Kenney -- head down and tight-lipped -- pursued through the halls of the Legislature by reporters asking questions about the latest and arguably most egregious UCP embarrassment, the case of a party campaign official linked to a website that sells white supremacist T-shirts and other racist junk.

After his entrepreneurial efforts became public thanks to reports in Ricochet Media and Press Progress, Adam Strashok was fired and kicked out of the party. But the reporters doubtless wondered how the Opposition Leader could have failed to note Strashok's activities back when he was running Kenney's leadership campaign call centre back in 2017. They'll have to wait for illumination.

Cell phone videos of the chase posted on social media -- like this one, and this one -- bordered on high comedy.

The word in the marble hallways of the Legislature is that Kenney hasn't talked to anyone from the Legislature Press Gallery for a couple of months now, although he does sit down with tame Postmedia columnists from time to dictate his talking points.  

Each revelation of extreme or merely embarrassing behaviour or opinions by a nomination candidate prompts a promise that more will be done to keep extremists out of the party. Why does one feel this problem isn't likely to end any time soon?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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