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Conservative leaders duck and cover in wake of disgraceful anti-carbon rally

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Chris Alexander

With some of the most debased elements of Canada's so-called conservative movement openly on display at last weekend's "anti-carbon tax" demonstration in Edmonton, I suppose it's mildly reassuring several conservative leaders were trying hard yesterday to put a little daylight between themselves and the event's organizers.

A few, like federal Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong, who wasn't at the rally, condemned outright the people who chanted “lock her up" at the mention of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's name by another federal Tory leadership candidate at the demonstration.

Since Notley's only "crime" is a political one -- advocating a policy approach different from that of the Harper regime rejected by Canadian voters in the fall of 2015 -- Chong was certainly right to accuse Saturday's mob of behaving in a fashion "worthy of a dictatorship." It's hard to argue with that.

For this, though, without doubt, he now faces a campaign to drive him out of the Conservative Party by the same elements that have been mopping up the remaining pockets of moderation and decency in the once-great Canadian institution since the reverse hostile takeover by the Reform/Alliance Party in 2003.

Deepak Obhrai, a Calgary MP who is a long-shot candidate for the federal leadership, also directly condemned Saturday's depraved scenes as evidence divisive Donald Trump style politics have taken root in his party.

But even the likes of Rona Ambrose, interim leader of the federal Tories, and Jason Kenney, would-be leader of the provincial PCs -- both associated with the Tea-Party-like Reform Party wing of the federal party -- were embarrassed enough to try to walk away as quickly as dignity permitted from the PR disaster the rally organized by Ezra Levant and his Rebel Media organization is fast becoming.

"It's completely inappropriate," Ambrose said yesterday. "It's people acting like idiots." (This too is hard to argue with.) It's "ridiculous and offensive," said Kenney, who prudently avoided the rally, perhaps because he is acquainted with Levant.

Still others -- who were there and should have known better -- either made excuses or lied outright about their conduct.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean called a news conference yesterday to halfheartedly say what he should have had the courage to forthrightly state during the protest -- "I don't think there is any place for it in Alberta politics."

He also weakly condemned the racism and homophobia apparent on leaflets and signs held by rally participants, who apparently included many who represent the worst elements of Alberta society: "I wish people who had those desires, to have those chants, or have that signage, would just stay at home,' Jean explained.

Lame excuses are getting to be a habit with Jean, who got in trouble last August for making a joke about beating Notley during a party meeting in Fort McMurray. "He was 'cut off by laughter & applause.' Yes.....applause. Sandra Jansen, then contemplating a run for the PC leadership, Tweeted at the time. "'Unite the Right'? No thanks."

In retrospect, that was probably the kind of sentiment that got Jansen run out of the leadership race, and then out of the PC Party … by supporters of Kenney. She now sits as an NDP MLA.

Jean's newser was pretty insubstantial stuff -- especially when he excused himself for not saying anything at the time because, see, he left the rally as soon as he'd done talking. Still, that was better than the pathetic tale offered up by Alexander, the former Ontario MP and Harper cabinet minister whose speech inspired the Notley chant in the first place.

Alexander wasn’t waving his finger in time with the chanters, he told the CBC's Power and Politics yesterday, he was trying to get the crowd to stop. He wasn't grinning and smirking along with them, he was "shocked, taken aback, mortified even…” Seriously, I’m not making this up.

Anyone who watches the video can see Alexander's claims are without substance. By any common sense measure, he appeared to be having the time of his life. But even his credibility-free denial suggests he must feel a little shame at what was going on. I guess that’s a hopeful sign.

But not one of them apparently had a problem with the shoe-throwing Bernard the Former Roughneck's call for cyber-crimes against the Government of Alberta.

So while it may be vaguely reassuring that mainstream Conservative leaders are still capable of feeling shame and embarrassment, it’s less so that such extreme elements, drinking deeply at the well of Trumpism and worse, are so close to completely dominating their movement.

On the meaning of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada

On this day in 1989, 14 young women were murdered because of their gender and their course of studies at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.

Twenty-seven years later, as the developments in Alberta politics described above and the tone of social media commentary about them increasingly make clear, very little has actually been done to discourage tragedies like this from happening again. Indeed, in some ways the situation is worse.

As a direct result of the decade during when former prime minister Stephen Harper ran Canada, the Conservative Party’s attacks on sane weapons control laws continued steadily, both in legislation and regulation, while the firearms industry and the vocal minority of so-called "gun rights" advocates were irresponsibly empowered as part of a cynical voting wedge strategy.

In 1991, under Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Parliament declared this day to be National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada. That was an important and valuable step, but as the routinization of misogyny and threats of violence against women politicians in Alberta now clearly illustrate, what we need now to emphasize is the action part of that mandate.

A good place to start would be aggressive investigation and criminal prosecution of people who make death threats against politicians, or encourage others to do so.

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

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