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Alberta Diary

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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. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

With friends like these… How much did gun lovers' aid hurt Rob Anders' candidacy?

| April 28, 2014
Rob Anders and Friend

How big a role did the guns 'n' ammo crowd play in the defeat Calgary West MP Rob Anders by former Alberta PC cabinet minister Ron Liepert for the Conservative Party nomination in the new Calgary Signal Hill riding?

It's impossible to say with any certainty, of course, because there were a bazillion and one perfectly good reasons for the Conservative Party members who got to vote in the intramural nomination election to dislike Anders or find him an embarrassment to their party.

It was not for nothing that Anders was known as "Canada's worst MP" -- a sobriquet he was stuck with not by some mere blogger like the author of this post, but one of the most conservative columnists in Canada writing for one of the country's most avowedly conservative newspapers, the candidate's own home town Calgary Herald.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Anders demonstrated for many years he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer on many topics, ranging from his opinions about Nelson Mandela, to his weird conspiracy theory about the circumstances surrounding Jack Layton's death, to his choice of locations to catch forty winks.

Moreover, to confuse matters further, the voter pool in the Calgary Signal Hill Constituency Association nomination vote was small, and not necessarily all that representative of the overall electorate. Plus, the man who beat him, Liepert, is no dummy, whatever you may think of his past performance as Alberta's health minister, and also not exactly a raging liberal by anyone's lights.

So there were lots of fine reasons for Anders to be spent packing without any help from his pals in the oxymoronic sounding "firearms community."

Just the same, it's said here, it sure didn't help when someone leaked -- presumably as part of an effort to help the candidate -- a photo of Anders packin' heat and smiling idiotically at the anonymous cameraperson.

In the photo, he is shown in a Charlie's Angels pose with a like minded hoplophilic hopeful from another Conservative nomination race in a nearby Southern Alberta riding. As was observed in this space at the time the photo first surfaced, it wasn't just Anders' butchy pose in a 4.5-litre hat with what appeared to be like a .44 calibre revolver that initially caused the stuff to hit the fan, but the fact one of the targets in the background, a poor quality drawing of a bearded man in a turban, provided an opportunity for the politician's opponents to accuse him of setting up an entire minority group for hatred, contempt and violence.

Unsurprisingly, this observation sent the often-xenophobic guns 'n' ammo crowd into a paroxysm of hysteria and paranoia. The caricature, they quite rightly pointed out tirelessly and repeatedly, was a zombie Osama bin Laden. Therefore, only a limp-wristed, self-hating liberal would have objected, just the kind of snivelling hoplophobic who wouldn't have said a thing if the poster had shown a blond-headed German… Yadda-yadda-yadda.

As readers can see, I've received so many of these repetitive little billets-doux that I am now able to write them myself for entertainment!

But the appearance of the image on the target is really a side issue. The point is that the gun crowd has been passionate, well organized and effective in the support of their cause -- which is entirely to their credit and, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's utterly cynical commitment to the use of wedge issues, no matter how harmful or divisive, part of the reason for their success.

But this has led over time to a significant portion of this group becoming, repetitive, obsessive, boring, hysterical, extremely angry, paranoid and unable to hold back when their own cause would be manifestly assisted by their silence.

In fact, saying something like this makes them so angry that it is likely to prompt a flood of abuse that responds, not to the point being made, but to what its ditto-head authors understand or imagine the author's gun-grabbing motivation might be for even thinking about the issue.

In other words, this vocal, well-organized … and relatively small … minority has through its own actions tipped for the Conservative party from being an asset column to being a serious liability.

Firearms enthusiasts may not recognize this -- indeed, they are almost certain to deny it vociferously, as is their right. The Harper Conservative Party, given its addiction to wedge issues and enthusiasm for fundraising from fringe groups affiliated with its "base," may not be ready to believe it either.

Still, even with the vast majority of voters and political watchers having any idea what Liepert's position on firearms ownership may be -- for all I know, he may be as enthusiastic a shooter as Anders -- it seems likely the support of this group hurt Anders more than it helped him in an urban riding like Calgary Signal Hill.

What works in a place like the mainly rural Macleod riding was the wrong message entirely in a venue like Signal Hill, where an awful lot of voters either don't care about guns or find them both threatening and more than a little déclassé.

In other words, even without any concerns whatsoever about the image on the targets in the background, Anders was sending a wrong message by appearing in a photo wearing a cowboy hat and holding a big pistol when it wasn't Stampede Week.

In that regard, the outcome in Signal Hill may well have tested and established the limits of the American-style right-to-keep-and-bear-arms strategy that has worked well for the Conservatives up to now.

In future, as a result, it may behoove Conservative politicians who stand foursquare for wide open gun ownership to keep their own counsel about this opinion, lest they suffer a similar fate to Anders.

Indeed, what the gun-nutz faction of the gun-owning population may have proved with their contribution to Anders' unsuccessful nomination battle is that their caterwauling has started to really hurt the party that's been their best friend in recent years. And it didn't just hurt them in Quebec, but even out here in the supposedly wide-open and gun-totin' West.

For this reason, it might be nice if Anders had the chance to run again in another riding -- and lost again -- just to make the point crystal clear.

With friends like these, maybe the Harper Conservatives don't really need enemies. But then -- as restaurant owners who use foreign labour to boost their profits have just found out -- having friends like the Conservatives isn't always the best deal either.

Dumber than a sack of Anders? Count on it that this group of Anders supporters will neither recognize this possibility nor conduct themselves accordingly.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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