Jason Kenney in 2010 at the Calgary Stampede Parade.

Edmonton’s Pride Parade will be held next Saturday, and it has been become an article of faith among Albertan politicians of most ideological stripes for several years now that failure to appear at Pride goeth before a fall.

So what will Jason Kenney do? (WWJKD?)

Alberta’s just not the place it was back in 1998, when religious fundamentalists and other outraged homophobes were burning up the phone lines to Ralph Klein’s office demanding that the Progressive Conservative premier use the Constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to override a court decision that gay rights are human rights.

At the time, Klein’s political aides were deeply worried — frightened, even — by the ferocity of the reaction. Klein himself — who even his opponents have to admit paid attention to what mattered to those voters he called “severely normal Albertans” — read the political tealeaves more accurately and decided to do the right thing. “I will accept the ruling,” Klein stated. “I think it’s morally wrong to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

A great howl arouse from the social conservative right. “Political analysts are predicting a revolt by about one-third of Klein’s 62-member caucus,” prophesied LifeSite News, the resolutely illiberal social-conservative website that got its start in the pre-Internet 1970s campaigning against women’s reproductive rights.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. So even 1998 in Alberta wasn’t quite the year we now imagine it to have been. (Nowadays — plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose — the same website is campaigning against gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools.)

In 2017, real Albertans — Martha and Henry, as Klein would have described them — don’t give a fig about their neighbours’ sexuality, gender identity, how they dress, or for that matter what bathroom they use, as long as they wash their hands before they leave.

For several years now, huge throngs have turned out whenever there’s a Pride Parade in Alberta, especially in the big cities. They have a great time and wear enough beads and flowers to feel “gay for a day.” The prevailing sentiment of just about everyone there is … Who cares?

You have to know that when chartered banks, national retail chains and dog-rescue societies have floats in a local Pride Parade, more than just the parade has gone mainstream!

Even if the gay community were not politically active and attuned to what politicians say and do, this would make these events important political occasions. That’s why it’s no longer just the “usual suspects” from the labour movement, the orange-to-red side of the political spectrum and liberal religious congregations who show up to lend their support to the LBGTQ community at these events.

While you may not have to have to look very hard to find Premier Rachel Notley and lots of her New Democrats at Alberta’s Pride events, nowadays many conservative politicians — who, like anyone in politics, need to be mindful of the feelings of their base, even if they courageously decide to lead by ignoring it — have been showing up too.

Then-premier Dave Hancock was there in Edmonton three years ago, as was former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, at the time a candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Others — like both Alison Redford when she was premier and Danielle Smith when she was leader of the Opposition Wildrose Party — tried to have it both ways, showing up at the celebration at the end of the parade route, but not actually marching through the streets where the crowds could see them. They may regret that now.

Which brings us back to the question: WWJKD?

Kenney won the leadership of the PC Party in part by appealing to the province’s social conservatives. He is perceived by many Albertans as homophobic for his statements about gay-straight alliances in schools, in particular his advocacy of the idea that parents should be informed if their child joined a GSA.

He and his supporters say this is about “parental rights,” and that they are just as concerned about protecting LGBTQ children as were the PCs in premier Jim Prentice’s government, who brought the province’s GSA legislation forward in 2015 as a government bill in response to pressure from the then-opposition parties in the Legislature.

Things got hot enough in Alberta about this for Kenney, it would seem, that he skedaddled to British Columbia for several days, where he was spotted encouraging reluctant federal conservatives to go out and vote for B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals. (We all know how that turned out.)

Like all elected politicians and party leaders, Kenney has been invited to take part in next Saturday’s parade by the Edmonton Pride Festival Society, a spokesperson told me.

So will he come?

On the plus side from his perspective, it would support his claims that his arguments about GSAs are about parents’ rights, and not against any group. It would demonstrate — as surely he wants to — that his PCs and the United Conservative Party he hopes to create are welcoming, big-tent parties, as he keeps insisting.

And it would show courage. If the downside is that some participants might boo him, I suspect a lot more people, like me, would applaud him for having the fortitude to show up and make a statement.

The same question could be asked of Wildrose Opposition Leader Brian Jean, although he personally has less to explain than Kenney, despite tolerating some pretty outrageous attitudes by some of the MLAs in his caucus. It would certainly tell a story if one of the two conservative party leaders showed up, and the other one didn’t.

We know that Kenney doesn’t have a problem appearing in parades. He’s been in the Calgary Stampede Parade, more than once. So it’s not like he’s afraid of crowds or open spaces. This year’s Stampede Parade is scheduled to take place on Friday, July 7.

And speaking of Pride and the fall, there’s also a Pride Parade in Calgary on Sept. 3. Last year, Kenney skipped that event, excusing himself by saying his schedule was full.


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

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...