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MP Michael Cooper came to that justice committee meeting loaded for bear

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St. Albert-Edmonton Conservative MP Michael Cooper. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

Now that St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper has been given a gentle tap on the wrist by Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer for his offensive performance at the House of Commons justice committee Thursday, we can be confident Conservatives will try to make the whole thing disappear as quickly as possible.

Why not? As the Opposition leader himself stated via Twitter, apparently the main conduit for all important public business nowadays: "Mr. Cooper has apologized. I accept his apology and I consider the matter closed." (Emphasis added.)

Indeed, it’s quite convenient for Scheer, who not so long ago was in hot water for addressing a "Yellow Vest" rally the same day as alt-right social media exile Faith Goldy, to be made to appear a virtual moderate by comparison to the actions of an indiscreet young member of his caucus!

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along, please.

For punishment, if such it can be called, Cooper will no longer be allowed to represent the Conservative Party of Canada on the justice committee, of which he was vice-chair. He will continue, though, as the party’s deputy justice critic, and therefore by definition an up-and-comer in Conservative ranks.

Cooper presumably earned this soft treatment in part by issuing an apology of his own, also via social media: "Earlier this week at the Justice committee, I interpreted comments by witness Faisal Khan Suri as linking mainstream conservatism with violent extremism," he wrote in a Facebook post that is already rapidly moving down the feed and out of sight. "In response, I quoted the words of a white supremacist anti-Muslim mass murderer in an ill-advised attempt to demonstrate that such acts are not linked to conservatism."

"I absolutely should have not quoted these words nor named the perpetrator," he said. "This was a mistake. I apologize to Mr. Suri and to all Canadians. …"

Now, Cooper has his defenders, quite a few of whom apparently think amplifying the manifesto of a terrorist murderer is an entirely appropriate thing to do. But most commentators grasped immediately that to describe this as "ill advised" was a considerable understatement.

Even in his apology, though, Cooper clung to the idea his action was appropriate. Remember, he said, he only meant to demonstrate "that such acts are not linked to conservatism."

Suri was describing to the justice committee the Internet browsing habits of Alexandre Bissonnette, the Canadian anti-Muslim terrorist now serving a life sentence for murder, when the president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council spoke the words that prompted Cooper's offensive lecture.

"The evidence from Bissonette's computer showed he repeatedly sought content about anti-immigrant, alt-right and conservative commentators, mass murderers, U.S. President Donald Trump, and about Muslims, immigrants living in Quebec," Suri told the committee.

Nothing in this statement is factually untrue or misleading. None of it draws listeners to the conclusion Cooper said it did -- that therefore all conservative commentators or so-called mainstream conservatives advocate extremism.

In fact, as virtually everyone understands, far too many "mainstream conservatives" do advocate things that can be fairly described as hate or extremism -- either that, or mainstream conservatism is increasingly dominated by extremists. Scheer himself has been known to emit a dog whistle or two, as he did on February 25 just by showing up with Goldy at the Yellow Vest rally on Parliament Hill.

Meanwhile, however, a lot of Canadians are still asking themselves, "What got into Cooper?"

This may be the wrong question.

Cooper is my MP. To meet him is to know he is a highly intelligent person -- although that doesn't make him smart, necessarily, in the colloquial meaning of that word.

His extreme social conservatives views, such as his strong opposition to women's reproductive rights (even when those opinions can be hard to find), appear to be quite sincere.

Trained as a lawyer, he calculates his moves carefully, for maximum advantage. He may only be 35, but he has been a Conservative activist since he was 14. He was once the youngest member of the Canadian Alliance's powerful national council.

And he came to the committee loaded for bear.

That is, he'd obviously decided in advance that somebody -- perhaps Suri -- might connect the obvious dots between extremism and modern Canadian mainstream conservative movement and he was prepared to respond by making a scene.

We know this because he came equipped with quotable excerpts from the Christchurch mosque attacker's manifesto -- a move he must have known would be controversial and which can't have been that easy because of the efforts of the New Zealand government to suppress its distribution, with half-hearted assistance from social media corporations.

Challenging someone in the heat of the moment about a statement is one thing. Turning up all primed and ready with a terrorist manifesto in hand to prove a point you want to make before a word has been spoken by a witness is beyond the pale.

As for Andrew Scheer's pledge two days earlier that there’s no place for extremists in the Conservative Party, the way the Conservative leader dealt with Cooper is a pretty strong indicator of what this really means. Most of us can connect these dots, as well.

Cooper won easily in St. Albert-Edmonton in 2015. In defence of the riding's voters, most of them didn't really know much about him other than the usual campaign folderol.

Meanwhile, on April 16, the provincial riding that occupies much of the same territory saw the re-election of a popular NDP MLA, Marie Renaud.

Cooper's views do not reflect those of most St. Albertans, Renaud said on Facebook Friday. "Mr. Cooper's remarks rejecting the links between white supremacy, racism, nationalist terrorism, and far right fake news sites such as Rebel Media are disturbing."

So, perhaps a few more people will be paying attention to Cooper's views and qualifications for the job when he runs for re-election this fall than did in 2015. Still, it will be extremely hard for any non-conservative candidate to win anywhere in Alberta in 2019, no matter how appalling their behaviour.

So my guess is St. Albert is going to continue to be embarrassed by Michael Cooper. Pity.

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 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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