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The irony of conservative outrage at anti-vaxxers' Canada Day invective in Calgary

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Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Most reasonable people would agree that getting up close and personal while shouting at a politician enjoying the sunshine with their spouse and young children on a national holiday is not an appropriate way to protest a government policy with which you disagree.

Admit it, though, there was just a just a tiny tingle of schadenfreude when you realized that the recipient of this rude treatment by a gaggle of anti-vaccine lunatics on Canada Day in Calgary was a politician who once marched down the street to a critic's house and shouted at the man in front of his children.

Moreover, the holiday excursion seems not to have been a mere family outing but a political event featuring none other than the minister's boss, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

Still, most of us understand that two wrongs don't make a right, and sincerely acknowledge the wisdom of that ancient if seldom very comforting aphorism.

Yet the Canada Day commotion during which the small group of creeps associated with jailed Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston yelled at United Conservative Party Health Minister Tyler Shandro and his family is nevertheless rich in irony.

Much was made by media and politicos of all stripes about how anti-vaxxers shouting things like "lock Shandro up" upset Shandro's wife and frightened his young children, which is certainly a good reason for condemning this kind of behaviour.

But nothing was mentioned in media coverage of the incident about how Shandro himself, accompanied by his wife, had done something quite similar last year when they marched down the street to berate a neighbour in front of his children for re-posting a critical meme on social media about a health benefits company they partly own.

Well, in fairness, Mukarram Zaidi's kids were older than Shandro's and, according to the Calgary physician and former Conservative volunteer, the minister did tell the boys to go inside because "they don't want to listen to what is going to happen." (They watched from the window with their mom instead.)

Nor did media coverage last week mention how the premier's issues manager once trolled a Calgary physician critical of the UCP's health care policies by publishing a photo showing her with her children, in addition to federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. The image was grabbed from one of her social media accounts.

Back in September 2020 no one in media picked up on the fact Matt Wolf's tactic drew Jillian Ratti's kids into the fray, as blogger Scott Harold Payne wrote at the time. (Like a lot of physicians sick of the UCP's War on Doctors, Ratti has since left the province.)

"With any other government, this sort of behaviour would have resulted in serious consequences," Payne observed. "But under Jason Kenney's UCP, the most notable outcome was a deafening silence."

As for UCP supporters' outrage at the calls to "lock Shandro up," apparently their memories did not extend back to 2016 when a mob of Trump-inspired Conservative opponents of Rachel Notley's NDP government chanted "lock 'er up" about Alberta's previous premier.

In the Rebel Media video accompanying the CBC's story of that protest at the Alberta Legislature, former Harper Government minister Chris Alexander, a candidate to lead the federal Conservatives at the time, can be seen grinning and waving his finger in time with the chant. Alexander later said he felt uncomfortable with the chanting, a claim that is hard to square with what the video shows.

Last week, like most Alberta politicians on the left and right, Notley condemned the way Shandro was heckled.

Getting back to the brouhaha in Calgary, a couple of protesters from the anti-vaxx crowd also yelled at Kenney.

This prompted Wolf to exclaim via tweet, "If you want to get an idea of what kind of people were protesting the premier and harassing the health minister's family today, here they are repeatedly shouting 'Nuremberg.' #loons #ableg."

Well, gee, I wonder where those #loons got that idea?

Here's Danielle Smith, former Wildrose Party leader, former broadcaster, and apparently still one of Premier Kenney's favourite people, in the Calgary Herald last March: "We are now even having a national discussion of whether people should be forced to take one of the new mRNA vaccines, as if the Nuremberg trials never happened." (Emphasis added.)

Two voices in the video linked to Wolf's tweet can be heard shouting "Nuremberg," "Kenney is a war criminal," and "Kenney, nobody believes your shit." While the voices are loud in the recording, no one in the video acts as if they heard them, including police officers providing security.

In another video of the same event published on Kenney's Facebook account, the premier's voice is clearly audible, but no heckling can be heard. That campaign-style video appears to have been professionally produced with taxpayer money by the government of Alberta, not by the UCP as one would have thought was appropriate.

A video published the next day on Kenney's Facebook stream shows the premier cheerfully on stage before a business group with none other than Danielle Smith.

Well, as I've said in this space before, this is the kind of thing that happens when a political party gets too close to its extremist fringe.

Politicians like Kenney may start out imagining they own the fringe, but as we have seen frequently throughout history, including recently in the United States, sometimes the fringe ends up owning them.

Anyway, as Kenney himself once said of a controversial event to which he was more favourably disposed, "like any large public protest, there was likely a range of perspectives and motivations amongst those who attended."

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: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

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