Jason Kenney marked May 1 with a message to the Conservative base complaining about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decisive move in the wake of the murderous shooting rampage in Portapique, Nova Scotia, to ban 1,500 makes of military-style rifles.
While a significant majority of Canadians breathed a sigh of relief and said to themselves, "it's about flippin' time," Alberta's premier was trotting out a few NRA talking points and sending a coded message to the worst elements of his political base that his United Conservative Party government will do what it can to help them evade the federal ban.
The Alberta news release, in the form of a duet sung by Kenney and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer -- who is, as they say, a trained lawyer, although he often sounds more like an untrained one -- warmed up with the traditional whinge about how sensible gun control laws target "law-abiding Canadians who purchased their property legally, have owned these items safely for years, and who have committed no crimes."
Oh well. Lots of things that used to be legal, including slavery, spousal abuse and drunk driving, are not any more. Get used to it.
Along the way, Kenney's news release trots out the usual insincere Conservative tough-on-crime folderol and makes the false claim the ban will cost "vast sums of money to criminalize law-abiding Canadians." It was the ill-fated long-gun registry that cost a fortune. But that was the product of a previous generation of Liberals apparently too timid to take more effective and less expensive measures.
Nor does the ban criminalize anyone who chooses not to defy it. There is a lengthy grace period during which gun owners can get rid of their offensive weapons, interpret that phrase as you will.
Kenney's statement then moved on to its coded coda, to wit, that "in response to today's announcement from Ottawa, our government is actively considering appointing Alberta's own chief firearms officer to replace the CFO appointed by Ottawa."
This is a dog-whistle, designed to sound relatively benign to the majority of voters but to carry a specific message to those in the know.
Fortunately, we have Derek Fildebrandt, hunter extraordinaire, former rising star of the UCP, and now self-described bossman of a right-wing internet publication, to explain what this really means.
The always entertainingly unrestrained Fildebrandt has been suffering the vapours since the ban was announced, tweeting feverishly, including this illuminating comment: "Every province with any sense of liberty should appoint its own CFO, instruct the Crown to not prosecute, and #DoNotComply." (Emphasis added, of course, because Twitter is too blunt an instrument for italics.)
So thank you, Mr. Fildebrandt, for saying straight out what your former colleague the premier and his legally trained sidekick really have in mind.
It's funny, isn't it, how that rule of law thing works in the Conservative mind?
If protesters were to dare to physically block a pipeline construction project wanted by Alberta, this would be greeted by squeals that the rule of law is sacrosanct and must be upheld at all costs.
But if the federal government brings in regulations within its jurisdiction that arouse opposition within the ranks of Canada's Conservative parties -- which nowadays are almost totally dominated by NRA-style gun nuts, as the intemperate conduct of the current group of federal Conservative leadership candidates illustrates -- then the rule of law flies out the window.
Advocates of wide-open gun ownership, of course, have legal avenues to challenge the federal ban. They can try to stop it in the courts, or at the ballot box.
They know, however, that they will probably lose in the first venue, and will almost certainly lose in the second. The ban, after all, is said to be supported by something like 80 per cent of Canadians. And given the type of hysterical arguments being heard from gun "rights" advocates now, that number is likely to go up, not down, in an election campaign.
It must be galling to Kenney -- still suspected of harbouring prime ministerial ambitions and whose personal interests suggest someone who could live quite happily with a ban on assault-weapons, all things being equal -- that the topic so fires up his base when it is such an excellent issue for Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals.
Voters who might not be fans of Trudeau in other policy areas know that if the Conservatives return to office too soon after this, they'll be having another summer of repeal and ensuring any future prohibition of what Ottawa calls "assault-style firearms" is unenforceable by throwing the gates wide open to U.S. imports of tens of thousands of the things.
So expect a return to a Liberal majority if this becomes the key Conservative policy plank in the next election, be it sooner or later.
If there is a silver lining to this situation for Kenney and the UCP, it is this: It provides a wonderful opportunity in the short term to distract from the series of unfortunate events that have so dogged the premier's term in office.
Since neither low oil prices nor COVID-19 are likely to go away any time soon, at least this gives Mr. Kenney something to talk about.
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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca
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