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Jason Kenney -- just visiting Alberta? -- piously congratulates Michael Ignatieff for Order of Canada

Image: Flickr/Michael Ignatieff

Jason Kenney's Tweet of congratulations to former Liberal Party of Canada leader Michael Ignatieff on Friday was a rare moment of graciousness amid the usual stream of splenetic social media outbursts Albertans have come to associate with the candidate to lead Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party.

"Congratulations to @M_Ignatieff and all others receiving the Order of Canada today," former prime minister Stephen Harper's top lieutenant piously proclaimed in the Tweet. "A much-deserved recognition of a brilliant Canadian." (Emphasis added.)

Ignatieff was given the national award for "contributions to the advancement of knowledge as a human rights scholar and reporter." If he even noticed the Tweet, I'm sure he thought something along the lines of "Gee, thanks so very much, Mr. Kenney..."

After all, wasn't Kenney a key part of the Harper Conservative brain trust that came up with those nasty "Michael Ignatieff...Just Visiting" TV ads back in 2009?

You know, the series in which Ignatieff, just elected as Liberal leader, was attacked for being a brilliant Canadian scholar who studied, worked and was respected outside the country. The ads didn't quite mention putting on airs, having clean hands and possibly being in possession of a pair of reading spectacles, but the implication was clear.

Each ad ended with this sneering summation of the Canadian historian, author, dramatist, human rights activist, documentary maker and teacher: "He's not in it for Canada. He's just in it for himself. Michael Ignatieff...just visiting."

If you think about it, a distinguished public intellectual and author like Ignatieff -- respected around the world for his academic work, fiction, biography, historical writing and journalism -- is the very last sort of person to just be in it for himself. He had options. The inclusion of his name on last year's list of Order of Canada recipients tacitly recognizes this.

Regardless, the unremittingly vile Conservative campaign to undermine Ignatieff worked its black magic and -- combined with a terrific and positive NDP campaign by the late Jack Layton -- saw the Liberals temporarily reduced to the third party in the House of Commons in the 2011 federal election.

It is ironic, then, that in the context of Alberta, much the same thing could be said of Kenney -- with considerably less justification for some future Order of Canada, which as we Albertans know are handed out on a pro forma basis to former provincial premiers, as the native of the Toronto suburb of Oakville aspires to be.

At any rate, while Kenney was mostly raised in Saskatchewan and spent a couple of years at a religious university in San Francisco before coming to this province, while technically an Albertan he spent close to 20 years far away in Ottawa as the Conservative MP for a couple of Calgary ridings. Still, no one accused him of just visiting during those occasions he found himself back in Alberta.

During the 1990s, while Ignatieff was writing a regular editorial column for the London Observer, two novels, one of which was shortlisted for a major literary prize, two major non-fiction works on the civil war in Yugoslavia and ethnic conflicts, an important biography, and winning a Gemini Award for a TV documentary, Kenney was thinking up stunts as chief mouthpiece for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The CTF, of course, is the organization that gave Canadians "Porky the Waster Hater."

It might have been fair to say that Ignatieff -- a Harvard PhD who also studied at Oxford and the University of Toronto -- was a lousy politician, unsuited to a game that has to be played with the elbows up. But to say he was in it for himself, was a disgusting libel.

But it's one Kenney's online storm troopers don't seem to have forgotten. Leastways, they were all over it in the steam of comments beneath Kenney's Tweet. "Why are you praising this idiot who hates canada? (sic)," asked one. "You are losing me jason." All without a word of remonstrance from their fearless leader.

High on the Harper Government's bill of indictment against Ignatieff was that he had advocated a carbon tax when he ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party. In this, at least, Kenney is quite consistent -- he's still attacking carbon taxes, including the Alberta NDP carbon levy that went into effect yesterday.

Never mind that his boss and mentor is no longer the PM in Ottawa, but languishes in enforced retirement here in Alberta, apparently helping out with Kenney's campaign. The Liberal prime minister who is in power, meanwhile, has been pretty clear there would have been no pipeline projects approved without the Alberta NDP's Climate Leadership Plan, of which the carbon tax is an integral part.

So repealing the tax as Kenney vows to do in the event he is able to form a government probably doesn't bode well for the ability of Alberta to sell its landlocked resources abroad. This would please a lot of environmentally minded British Columbians, anyway.

Oh well, at least we have a pretty good idea what Alberta Conservative TV ads will look and sound like in the likely event Kenney emerges as the party's leader in March.

Meanwhile, after his political defeat, Ignatieff returned to his academic work, teaching at the University of Toronto, being given a chair by the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York, returning to teach at Harvard University's Kennedy School, and, this year, becoming president of the Central European University in Budapest.

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

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Image: Flickr/Michael Ignatieff

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