Perhaps it was a mistake for Alberta's rattled right-wing parties, discombobulated after the pipeline-approval success of the province’s NDP government last week, to leave it to Rebel Media to help them recover their lost momentum.
Rebel Media is the political vehicle of Ezra Levant, the former Sun Media broadcaster who now operates his own far-right video blog website and has a reputation as one of Canada's most prominent online nuisances.
He is a formidable publicist and organizer who punches well above his intellectual weight in right-wing circles, but he is seen by many Canadians as an online bully with extremist views, unsavoury tactics and a high level of tolerance for people with opinions most of us would consider … well, intolerant.
People who offend him may find themselves on the receiving end of furious campaigns of vilification, assisted by a group of online supporters who seem to see the world in precisely the same way as their hero. I speak from personal experience. Sometimes the victims of these campaigns even discover websites registered in their names that redirect to Rebel Media pages or other apparently ironically chosen websites -- readers can check out SandraJansen.ca, OneilCarlier.ca or Climenhaga.com as examples.
Given this, I was surprised that both federal and provincial opposition parties, led by people who presumably want to appear to voters to be serious people and governments in waiting, allowed themselves to be seen so closely associated with a showman like Levant who, notwithstanding his vocal and enthusiastic fans, is reviled by so many Canadians. We live in a dark age of Donald Trump, though, so perhaps they concluded this sort of thing works just fine.
Still, desperate as they were to change the channel on Premier Rachel Notley's success getting Ottawa's approval for the construction two pipelines out of Alberta -- which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointedly said wouldn't have happened without the NDP's climate leadership plan -- I am surprised these conservative politicians permitted Levant to travel from his Toronto home to be the public face of what was billed as an anti-carbon-tax demonstration at the Legislature.
As noted, Levant is an able organizer, and he did manage to get out a respectable turnout of about 1,000 people in front of the Legislature on a chilly Saturday -- leastways, estimates by those who were there, and I wasn't, varied from about 750 to several thousand. (I'm going with the CBC's). Levant's online anger brigade quickly labelled anyone who didn't accept their optimistic estimates as liars.
Nevertheless, it may not be apparent yet, but it is said here things went awry for the Wildrose and Conservative politicians who attended the event when Levant's organizers lost control of their message.
Just say no to a carbon tax? Two men appeared with professional looking signs reading "Carbon Tax = $odomy!" and “Call it what it is -- $odomy!” When Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta took photographs and gleefully posted them on Twitter, he was denounced by an over-the-top Levant, who claimed the men were an "NDP street team."
Someone else held up a sign saying "Don’t let gay activists in schools.” Other anonymous souls handed out leaflets claiming "unnecessary immigration is destroying Canada."
Neal Hancock, the former thespian and political science student best known in his persona as Bernard the Roughneck, counselled members of the crowd to enlist hackers to attack the Alberta government's computers -- which sure sounds suspiciously like counselling a crime.
"Do you guys have any friends who are conservatives who are computer hackers? We need their help! I know there's a bunch of stuff they could dig up on what's going on in that building," said Hancock, who quit his oil rig job in late October, in recordings of the event.
Opposition Leader Brian Jean stood by silently while Hancock offered this advice. Edmonton Griesbach Conservative MP Kerry Diotte posed for a photo with Hancock. Apparently neither of these responsibly employed gentlemen felt the need to say, "Now, just a minute there, young feller!"
Chris Alexander, former Harper Government immigration minister best known for his "barbaric cultural practices" snitch line proposal during the last federal election and now a candidate to replace Stephen Harper as leader of the federal Conservatives, stood by smirking and beating time as the crowd chanted about Premier Notley, with startling lack of originality, "Lock her up! Lock her up!'
Whether or not Levant had anything to do with any of these things -- and, actually, I am inclined to believe him when he says he didn’t, I just don't believe him when he says the NDP did -- the impression was one of a gong show populated by bigots, extremists and folks with no respect for the law, let alone anyone who disagrees with them.
Governments in waiting? Please! Clearly, conservative parties are going to have to find a better way to recover the initiative in their contest with the NDP.
In other words, the rally got seriously off message -- and the new message it conveyed will be hard for the Wildrose, PC and Conservative parties to shake.
One other casualty of last Saturday should be efforts by Rebel Media to pass itself off as legitimate media, worthy of being allowed to cover, say, United Nations climate change meetings in Morocco. Then again, what's the difference, really, between Levant's operation, and Paul Godfrey's?
Getting back to those fellows with the "Carbon Tax = $odomy!" signs, presumably to prove his point, Levant offered in a Tweet to put up what he termed a $500 bounty for the identity of the pair. Progress Alberta's Duncan Kinney tweeted that he would match that offer with another $500.
Anyone who can identify the pair, however, will need to contact, and collect from, Messrs. Levant and Kinney directly. Don't look at me! I’m just a medium of information.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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