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Will Wildrose Leader Brian Jean repudiate Calgary-Foothills candidate's 'communist' characterization of NDP?

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Prasad Panda

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What words should we use to describe the Chinese-language brochure the Wildrose Party wrote up to use in the Calgary-Foothills byelection, which takes place tomorrow, the one that accuses the NDP of trying to advance "ideas of communism?"

"Despicable?" "Gutter political statements?"

Those were both terms used by Wildrose House leader Rob Anderson -- later as before a Progressive Conservative MLA, now a lawyer in private practice in the Calgary-area city of Airdrie -- to describe some of the terminology used by then-Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk in a bitter 2011 Twitter battle over a comparison of Tory land use policy to deadly Communist Party activities in Ukraine in the 1930s.

Accusing Wildrose MLA and former leader Paul Hinman "of comparing PCs 2 Stalin," Tweeted Anderson, was "Shameful Thomas."

"Somehow in Thomas's rather sick mind, he turned that into one of the most despicable gutter political statements I've seen in a long time and he should be absolutely ashamed of himself for politicizing such a tragic event," Anderson later snarled to a Sun Newspapers reporter.

After that, everybody seemed to behave themselves for a while, and accusations of communist tendencies in Alberta temporarily went the way of Nazi analogies in political discourse -- sometimes resorted to in emotional circumstances, but always regretted and generally frowned upon in polite company.

Well, that was then, I guess, and this is now.

Some Wildrosers are now Conservatives, some Conservatives are now Wildrosers, and some of them are so mad at the NDP for having the temerity to decisively win the 2015 Alberta general election on May 5 that the WRP C-word ("Communist," that is) is making a comeback in Alberta political discourse.

This is pretty laughable when you consider that the Alberta NDP as led by Premier Rachel Notley is somewhere mildly to the right of Peter Lougheed, who founded the Tory dynasty 44 years ago last Sunday, but it does tell us something about what passes for normal political commentary in Wildrose circles nowadays.

In some ways, the Wildrose brochure is considerably worse than the exchange of Tweeted unpleasantries among Anderson, Lukaszuk and Hinman back in 2011 because Twitter is, after all, an antisocial media, and everyone got mad about an issue that mattered to them and the discussion slipped off the rails.

By contrast, the Wildrose Party had plenty of time to think about the brochure distributed by the campaign of candidate Prasad Panda for the seat left open by Alberta's last PC premier, Jim Prentice, who resigned on election night as soon as it was obvious he couldn't be premier any more. Unlike the 2011 Twitter insults, it was cooked up with malice aforethought and in a sneaky way to boot.

Malice aforethought, because whoever wrote and approved the text had time to think about the wisdom and fairness of the accusation they were making. Sneaky, because the offensive statement was put only in the party's Chinese-language brochure, and it's reasonable to suspect this was done in the belief it would be effective with the target audience and unlikely to be noticed by anyone else.

So, I'd add "malicious" and "sneaky" to "desperate" and 'offensive,' plus disrespectful to the Chinese community, the descriptions used by NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth, a former Calgary city councillor and MLA, to describe the document.

We know from the Calgary Herald's story about this situation that Cam Davies, Panda's campaign manager, had the translation accurately explained to him and approved the wording anyway.

Furthermore, instead of apologizing for the slur and admitting it was an error of judgment, Panda's team doubled down. They argued at length they were justified accusing the NDP of communist tendencies in a statement described by the Calgary Herald as a news release. The release or whatever it was it does not seem to show up now on either the candidate's website or the party's. Judging from the Herald's account, however, it was rife with additional falsehoods, and even blamed the NDP for past Progressive Conservative policies.

Meanwhile, Wildrose supporters on social media are even less restrained, bandying about the WRP C-word in attacks on the NDP or anyone else who sounds like they might support the government.

Since the riding is a traditionally conservative one with a large population of oil-patch managers, and since the Wildrose Party has the benefit of volunteers from all over Alberta while potential NDP doorknockers are also involved in federal campaigns elsewhere in Alberta, it is fair to describe the Opposition party as the frontrunner.

In addition to Hawkesworth, who is putting up a strong campaign despite the traditional challenges faced by government candidates in byelections, the riding is being contested by Progressive Conservative Blair Houston, Green Party Leader Janet Keeping, Alberta Liberal Ali Bin Zahid and the Alberta Party's Mark Taylor, a former president of Wildrose's Highwood riding association in the days when Danielle Smith was that riding's MLA.

Since polls open so soon, it's obviously a little late for the Wildrose Party to do much about this brochure now, although I would think the party's leaders would want to have a quiet word with Panda and Davies about the appropriateness of this kind of language.

Of course, no party -- especially a fairly radical ideological party like the Wildrose -- can be expected to rein in its most extreme supporters' social media activities.

Still, it's said here Wildrose Leader Brian Jean owes it to Albertans to issue a strong statement that his party does not support the kind of extremism evident in the Wildrose brochure, and to actively repudiate this crazy idea in the strongest terms possible.

If he doesn't, his silence will speak for itself. It will strongly suggest any sense of proportion or moderation left the Wildrose Party with former leader Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson.

 

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

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