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Appalled maybe, but no one should be surprised by the ugly threats against Rachel Notley

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Photo: Premier of Alberta/flickr

No one should be surprised that Alberta's NDP premier, Rachel Notley, has been subject to constant and often serious threats of violence.

New statistics from the Alberta Justice Department have revealed what everybody who's paying attention already knew: Premier Notley receives more threats of physical harm than any of her predecessors in Alberta's top political job.

She reacts with remarkable aplomb as many of the people who contribute to this problem shrug their shoulders and say, "Who? Me?"

These troubling numbers arrived in the form of verifiable statistics. The resulting reaction among mainstream news organizations across Canada was to report it in a serious way. This offers a reassuring sense facts may still matter, even in our supposedly post-factual era.

Statistics by themselves, of course, don't categorically prove anything about the reasons for social a problem such as threatening online rhetoric, often of a highly misogynistic and sexualized nature, and in particular direct threats of violence against politicians or open advocacy of the same.

That said, there are some reasonable suppositions that can be made about why this social problem is getting worse and won't be easy to eradicate.

Just for starters, we live in a society where misogyny is bred in the bone. So there is the deeply ingrained dislike of successful women in public, political roles by the social conservative right, especially its atavistic, activist arm that is bent not only on perpetuating its belief system but forcing others to bend to its will, through harassment if necessary.

Moreover, the Internet and social media in particular have contributed mightily to a decline in political discourse from a situation in which polite policy disagreements prevailed to one in which abuse to outright threats have become commonplace. The anonymity offered by online social media sites makes it easy for the worst among us to feel they can behave this way with little risk of consequences.

Then there is the success of Donald Trump's presidential campaign in the United States, empowering the bigots in our midst with hope of similar success. Remember, though, this trend was already well established here in Alberta long before Trump's campaign seemed likely to succeed in the Republic next door -- in other words, he touched on something real in North American society, not just south of the 49th Parallel.

More serious is the cynicism of so many politicians on the political right who stand piously by pretending they know nothing while their supporters bully and harass their opponents. Case in point: the successful effort to drive former candidate Sandra Jansen out of the PC leadership race by supporters of another candidate. Or those who allow violent and threatening commentary to be placed on their social media sites without any effort to police or moderate their supporters' behaviour.

History makes it clear there is a clear connection between advocacy of violence by cynical extremists and actual violence by their weak-minded fellow travellers. This caused the death of Jo Cox in Britain last June, and let's not pretend the same thing can't happen here.

In Alberta today there is also notable tolerance for abusive attitudes and violent metaphors by right-wing commentators.

Remember when federal Conservative leadership candidate Chris Alexander egged on a crowd at a right-wing rally as they chanted of "lock her up" at Notley for daring to implement policies different than those they wanted? Later he claimed he was mortified by this pathetic imitation of the Trump campaign.

One well-known mainstream media commentator in Alberta dismissed this as just "a throwaway gag." Another whimpered that criticism of the chant was the work of "speech bullies masquerading as victims."

Mind you, the same easily offended little snowflake of the right was bloviating in reference to the NDP yesterday that his allies must "never turn your back on a vampire until the stake has been driven through its heart." It read to me like he had a particular politician in mind.

A couple of things should be clear, regardless.

While there are always a few exceptions the right can point to, this kind of ugliness is not typical of political progressives in Canada. What would be the point for a philosophy that consciously advocates inclusiveness, instead of exclusion, that unlike the market-fundamentalist right, actually believes in the marketplace of ideas, not the Shock Doctrine? So don't fall for the they-do-it-too game.

For another, you can't blame this ugly rhetoric on the policies of Notley and her NDP government, since those policies aren’t really all that different from those advocated by previous Progressive Conservative governments, back in the days when progressives could still be conservatives.

Mind you, in the event we had another PC government -- especially one led by a woman -- I wouldn't be at all surprised this kind of rhetoric and threatening behaviour by the same people would persist or even get worse.

So, shock? Maybe. Surprise? No.

Jason Kenney Juggernaut rumbles on

As predicted in this space, members of the Progressive Conservative Party's Leadership Election Committee last weekend unanimously rejected the idea that wanting to destroy the party is not in the party's interest.

The committee rejected out of hand a complaint brought by a longtime party activist against candidate Jason Kenney -- who has been so open about his plan to shut down the party and roll it into the Wildrose Opposition that we've been joking here about his "double reverse hostile takeover" plan for months.

Last week's rumour that the PCs were finally going to do something about the existential threat presented to their party by Kenney turned out, of course, to be a triumph of PC hope over Tory experience. Party officials didn't have the fortitude to do the right thing, or they would have done it long ago.

Kenney will win on the first ballot on March 18. As a result, no matter what the Wildrosers do or do not agree to, the PC Party is done like dinner.

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

Photo: Premier of Alberta/flickr

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