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United Conservative Party government behaves as though Rachel Notley's NDP is still in power

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Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Perhaps because he's the only United Conservative Party MLA in Edmonton, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu seems to have become the Kenney government's main spokesperson responsible for yelling at the NDP.

Whether Madu writes his own social media material or has an aide to perform that function for him, his comments have taken on a rather hysterical tone in recent days that suggests whoever is writing them hasn't quite come to terms with the fact the NDP is the Opposition, not the government, and that Rachel Notley isn't premier any more.

On Saturday, Madu was tweeting about "the NDP's record of failure and irresponsible behaviour during this pandemic."

It would seem logical to most of us, presumably, that as the official Opposition, the NDP's record during the pandemic, such as it may be, is not the one upon which any perceived failure in managing the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta can be pinned.

Since the UCP was in power well before the novel coronavirus first made its presence known in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, it's going to be pretty hard for the Kenney government to persuade anyone but its most committed followers that the NDP should have to wear that still-unfolding catastrophe.

The rambling statement appended to Madu's tweet focused on the baseless claim the NDP supports completely defunding the police, which the UCP strategic brain trust has apparently concluded is a good way to distract from its completely self-evident failure to manage COVID-19 while keeping its anti-masker base sweet.

But, even there, despite an awkwardly worded acknowledgement that Notley's NDP is now in opposition, there was the strong suggestion that Madu, or perhaps the entire UCP caucus, still thinks of the NDP as the government.

"The NDP is the only opposition government in North America and the civilized world that has used the pandemic to spread fear, division and cause more anxiety to our population," it said. (Emphasis added.) It rambles on in the next sentence to accuse the NDP of refusing to work with the government on the pandemic.

This is demonstrably false. The accusation could be said to accurately describe both the Trump administration in the United States (much admired by the Kenney government) and the Conservative Party of Canada Opposition in Ottawa. As for refusing to co-operate with the government for the public good, that sounds like the UCP itself when the NDP was the government.

Whether the author of this statement thinks the Opposition is the government or, more likely, wrote government first and then failed to delete the word after revising the sentence, a common editing error, it nevertheless suggests the UCP is actually reacting to the NDP as if the former were still the opposition and the latter still the government.

This is but one example, of course. There are others. "I wish the NDP would resist the urge to politicize every aspect of this pandemic," Madu moaned rhetorically a couple of days ago, better describing the not-very-successful strategy of his own government to politicize everything, including public safety and public health.

Without doubt, this kind of whining is far removed from the stately dignity of past Progressive Conservative governments in Alberta, which mostly refused to acknowledge even the existence of an opposition, let alone the possibility it might have relevance or a chance of success.

But the UCP is not the PC party of yore, of course. The latter was a big tent party, extending even unto people who would have been blue New Democrats in any other province. The UCP is and forever shall be a party steeped in the mentality of opposition.

It is, in other words, dominated by the oppositional, conspiracy minded, angry minority who were but a tiny faction of the old PCs. Premier Jason Kenney is right to be concerned about splits with the Wexit fringe on his right-wing party's far right. But if the cost of appeasing the UCP's libertarian faction is hundreds or even thousands of deaths from COVID-19, that will not play well with a majority of voters, even in Ponoka.

So, perhaps Madu and his colleagues have been reading the polls and contemplating the possibility that if their mismanagement of the pandemic continues unabated, they may one day find themselves in opposition again. (Or, in the case of the justice minister himself, winner of the only UCP seat in Edmonton and not by much, having to return to the drudgery of chasing billable hours for some legal firm.)

I speak, of course, of the recent Environics Research poll that put NDP support at 47 per cent province wide and that of the UCP at 40 per cent.

Of course, such results, in the middle of a government's term, must be treated with the proverbial grain of salt. North American polling tends to overestimate the progressive vote and underestimate the conservative vote fairly consistently, as the recent U.S. presidential election illustrated.

Moreover, Alberta's electoral map with its many underpopulated and solidly conservative rural ridings gives an unfair advantage to the UCP in any contest with the NDP.

Still, if there's anything to the buzz that the UCP has its own polls that are even worse from the government's perspective, just such a thought may have lodged in the basal ganglia of the collective Conservative brain.

After all, it is a truth nearly universally acknowledged in parliamentary democracies that a government that acts as if it were the opposition may soon have the opportunity to be the opposition.

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.

Image: David J. Climenhaga​

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