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Will United Conservative scandals keep traction once parties start rolling out their policies?

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Former MP Jason Kenney, now the leader of the United Conservative Party Opposition (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's NDP clearly hopes to make Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's character the ballot box issue for voters in the April 16 provincial election, but will the United Conservative Party's scandals have as much traction now that the election writ has been dropped?

The risk for the NDP strategy, even if daily reminders of the UCP leader's flawed character and his party's problem with extremists continue, is that they will get lost amid the daily policy announcements both parties and their smaller rivals are bound to make during an election campaign.

For a government generally perceived to be campaigning from behind its principal challenger in popular support, the campaign didn't get off to a bad start from the NDP's perspective, with near simultaneous revelations that more fines had been levied in the UCP's "Kamikaze Campaign" scandal and that a high-profile UCP candidate had been forced to quit the race after her apparent white supremacist views became known.

On Tuesday, the day Premier Notley called the election, the Office of the Election Commissioner announced that it had levied two additional fines related to Jeff Callaway's UCP leadership campaign in 2017, which has come to be known as the "Kamikaze Mission," so called in a leaked recording of UCP strategists talking because its intent was allegedly not to win, but to knock off Kenney's main rival, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean.

The two $4,000 administrative penalties were levied against one Darcy McAllister. One was for contributing funds to the Callaway campaign that were furnished by another person, the other for "furnishing $4,000 to Maja McAllister, for purpose of making contribution to Jeff Callaway."

The same day, it was learned that Caylan Ford, a star candidate personally recruited by Kenney to run in the Calgary-Mountain View riding had abruptly pulled out of the race after a progressive news site revealed she had complained that white supremacist terrorists are treated unfairly by the media compared with Islamic terrorists.

According to the report in Press Progress, Ford also expressed anxiety about "the replacement of white peoples in their homelands" and mused about the violent collapse of Western civilization as a result.

Since then, her uncomplimentary views on LGBTQ Pride Parades have also come to light. They are "a celebration of vice and transgression," she opined, asking: "What are the redeeming values?"

Well, so much for the Caylan Ford campaign, for the moment anyway.

This in turn prompted an understandable debate on social media about Kenney's own views, particularly on race and LGBTQ rights, and, whatever they are, what it is about the UCP that seems to attract such characters from the dark fringes of the right.

And the evening and the morning were the second day.

No time like an election to talk politics? Not at the U of A!

One would think there'd be no time like an election to talk about politics, especially at a university.

But as it turns out, not everyone agrees. Leastways, certain folk appear to be uncomfortable with the idea of a brisk discussion that might lead to a critical consideration of the consequences of implementing some of the policies being proposed by the Opposition in the upcoming Alberta election.

A memorandum yesterday from the director of the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus in Camrose, for example, announced that a coffee and conversation event about Alberta politics planned for today would be cancelled because … wait for it … an election has been called!

"As you probably know, yesterday an election was called in Alberta," wrote an apologetic-sounding Ian D. Wilson to the centre's friends and supporters. "Now that campaigning has officially started, the U of A President's Office has asked all units at the University to ensure that our activities do not influence the election in any way." (Emphasis added.)

Say what?

"The goal of this Ronning Centre event was to facilitate an informed discussion about the interrelationship of religion and politics in the Alberta context, not to influence anyone's political position during the election season," Wilson said. "But in this case, given the timing of the election call, we think it is best to follow the President’s advice with due diligence and to cancel the event."

Hmmmmm. For those of you who think an election might be an ideal time to talk about politics and policy, perhaps the explanation is that U of A President David Turpin took enough of a beating from the UCP over that honorary degree for environmentalist David Suzuki last year.

Well, there's no point beating him up again this time, as the former University of Victoria president has already announced he'll be outta here after June 2020. So, whatever the reason for his typically Albertan excess of election caution, he's only going to have to put up with one more typical Alberta winter.

Chester Ronning, after whom the centre is named, would certainly not have had a problem with a briskly critical discussion of policy during an election, especially the kind of policies put forward by the UCP.

Born in 1894 in Xiangfan, China, to Christian missionaries, Ronning graduated from the University of Alberta in 1916 and returned to China in 1922 to continue his parents' mission. He came back to Alberta in 1927 to serve as principal of the Camrose Lutheran College, which occupied the site that is now the U of A's the Augustana Campus. Like Suzuki, he was awarded many honorary degrees.

Ronning served Canada as a diplomat in China, Norway and India, and led an attempt to bring a negotiated end to the Vietnam War in 1966.

In politics, he was elected as a United Farmers of Alberta MLA in 1932 and served as leader of the Alberta branch of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor to the NDP, from 1940 to 1942.

He died on the last day of 1984.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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