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UCP Leader Jason Kenney mocks 29-year-old NDP candidate with sophomoric and offensive joke

I hear, "a gay 19 year old." Quite clearly.

I speak, of course, of Jason Kenney's notorious cheap shot in Cochrane on January 31, in which he mischaracterized the NDP's newly acclaimed candidate in the Airdrie-Cochrane riding for a few laughs.

Speaking at a United Conservative Party rally at an upscale golf club in Cochrane, just west of Calgary, to a mostly male crowd of folks old enough to know better, the Opposition leader mocked Steve Durrell for his age and -- quite apparently to many who have listened to the smartphone video recording of the event that has been circulating ever since -- his supposed sexuality.

Durrell, it must noted, is 29 years old and the father of three children.

I've listened to the recording about a dozen times now. What I hear every time is: "The NDP acclaimed their star candidate to take on Peter Guthrie, a gay 19-year-old." Guthrie, just in case anyone is confused by dangling modifiers, is the UCP's candidate in the riding. He is 49.

When Adam Toy, identified as the digital content coordinator for a Calgary talk radio program listened to it, what he heard was: "The NDP acclaimed their star candidate to take on Peter Guthrie, a 19-year-old." We know this is what Toy heard because that's the way he reported it in his Global News story.

So maybe this is going to be one of those Internet memes like the recording that sounds like "Yanny" to some people, and like "Laurel" to others. (I hear Laurel.) Could be. Listen for yourselves.

Kenney's supporters insist, very forcefully, that Toy's stenography is the accurate version. They've said it so forcefully that some others who are not Kenney's supporters acknowledge that this must be so, perhaps in spite of what their ears tell them. Durrell, it must be noted, responded mildly to Kenney's misstated shot at his age, and let the other matter slide.

But one thing that everyone who has listened to the tape or attended the meeting agrees on is that Kenney's shot got a few laughs and a smattering of applause from the grey-haired men who were there.

So did his next line: "Now don’t take it for granted, because they elected a lot of them last time." 

As my friend Mimi Williams pointed out in a sharp exchange on Twitter with unsuccessful UCP nomination candidate Roger Millions, 59, a retired sportscaster who is not unacquainted with recorded bloopers, "there were *no* 19 year olds elected with the NDP in [20]15." She noted that Thomas Dang, the youngest MLA elected that year, was 20 years old. 

"But there *were* 3 openly gay MLAs elected," Williams tweeted. "So what got the laugh? They elected 'lots' of them last time meant exactly what?"

What I think -- Yanny, Laurel and the many angry UCP denials notwithstanding -- is that it meant exactly what it sounded like.

But whether or not the most potentially controversial part of Kenney's statement is ambiguous, there's no ambiguity about what he thinks of the contribution that young people have to make to public life -- at least, if they're not starry-eyed acolytes of his 50-year-old self.

This is a pretty bold attack for a guy who was exactly the same age as Durrell is now when he was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1997 and quickly became known as a party-hearty member of the Reform Party's sophomoric "Snack Pack" Parliamentary heckling team. Of course, Kenney didn't have family responsibilities in those days to keep him from staying out late at night to come up with new Question Time catcalls. At the same age, Durrell does.

Notwithstanding Kenney spokesperson Matt Solberg's claim "no offense was intended," it does seem as if young politicians, no matter how serious, are bound to be publicly attacked for their youth -- unless they happen to be conservatives, of course, in which case no shirt's too young to stuff.

Consider the inspiring American Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last month, the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Congress. Despite her academic success, her obvious charisma and her rhetorical skill -- or perhaps because of them -- old, white, male Republicans and others in the U.S. gerontocracy just can't seem to stop mocking her age.

Ocasio-Cortez, like Durrell, is 29. Under the U.S. Constitution, that's six years too young to run for president, which is lucky for the old Republican geezers, and some Democrats too, making fun of her youth now and contemplating a presidential campaign next year.

Well, if this shows anything, it's that when it comes to their attitudes about young people, there's not much light between Kenney's grey-haired, mostly male buddies at the Cochrane golf clubhouse and their Republican analogues south of the 49th Parallel. This is something, perhaps, of which younger voters might want to take note.

The same night Kenney's offensive remarks were being recorded at the Gleneagles Golf Club, a boisterous crowd of New Democrats of all ages, more women than men, acclaimed Durrell's candidacy across town.

As Durrell tweeted: "I'll take young people getting active in politics over the #OldBoysClub any day." Speaking as a 67-year-old, I second that motion!

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

Image: Steve Durrell/Facebook

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