It’s fair to suggest Ted Byfield always dreamed of being able to direct Alberta’s political agenda.
Now, perhaps, he’s actually doing so!
Byfield, who is 88, was founder of Alberta Report magazine and its various journalistic permutations. As such, he was the ideological inspiration of his many acolytes and former employees, who despite Byfield’s own commercial difficulties continue to proselytize his far-right social conservative ideology to this very day in both mainstream media and the online organs of the loony right.
The proprietor of Rebel Media, for example, was once one of Byfield’s employees, as are numerous senior editors and influential columnists in the failing Postmedia empire and other still-influential mainstream Canadian media operations. I’m not going to try to name them all. Their name is legion, for they are many.
As has been said here before, Byfield is a talented rhetorician, a devoted propagandist for extreme social conservative causes and a proponent of a highly politicized interpretation of the Christian message, which is not the one that’s found in the Gospels. He is a skilled and entertaining writer, although a highly tendentious one.
His like-minded son Link, who died in 2015, ran in Alberta’s meaningless “senator-in-waiting” election in 2004 and, unsuccessfully, for the Wildrose Alliance party in 2008.
Among the many bees in Byfield’s bonnet over the years have been women’s reproductive rights, new-fangled ideas about how to teach arithmetic, and the rights of our fellow LGBTQ citizens. He is against them all.
Accordingly, he was quick to adopt as his champion the social conservative politician Jason Kenney — who is now leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta. Kenney is just the man to save Alberta from, as Byfield sees it, the dangers of socialism, social license and “sex clubs.” We’ll get to the “sex clubs” in a moment.
Tempers are flaring in the Legislature as the NDP Government and UCP Opposition square off over Education Minister David Eggen’s Bill 24, An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances. Both parties clearly see this dispute as a wedge that can be used to their advantage in the general election expected in 2019.
Another of Byfield’s magazine’s alumni, a Postmedia political columnist well-known in Alberta, argues the UCP strategy of identifying itself with social conservatives whose views border on outright bigotry is a devilishly clever way to trap the NDP — smoking it out as intolerant in its excessive tolerance, I guess, or so aggressive in its inclusiveness it makes bigots feel like lonely outsiders.
In the midst of this brouhaha, Byfield mounted his metaphorical charger and rode to the rescue of Alberta’s perpetually beleaguered Moral Minority.
The last and best known of his commercial periodicals, Alberta Report, having folded in 2003, Byfield recently fashioned a second coming for himself writing an online blog, not unlike a number of other frustrated former journalists. On Friday, he published on it a post outlining, as he sees it, “the real danger of its sex clubs which the government doesn’t discuss.”
It’s a classic Byfield jeremiad — tendentious, apocalyptic, only casually related to the facts and, like a bad car wreck, impossible not to stare at in horror as you pass. It offers dubious interpretations of U.S. health statistics to blame LGBTQ people for the depredations the American private health care system and socially accepted anti-gay bigotry have inflicted on them.
Near the climax of the piece, Byfield asks, rhetorically, of course: “If my son or daughter, having reached, say, the age of ten or eleven, is lured into a school sex club, is persuaded that he or she must be homosexual, acts accordingly, acquires HIV and then AIDS and remains crippled for life, whom do I sue? The government, or the minister that helped bring this tragedy upon us?”
When this cringeworthy nonsense was published, it hit the Alberta political scene like a pie in the face.
“Byfield’s blog post makes a powerful argument for why Bill 24 is necessary to protect LGBTQ students,” wrote an appalled Graham Thomson, one of Postmedia’s few sensible political columnists, as soon as he could post it to the Internet.
Later in the day, perhaps inspired by Byfield’s literary excesses, Calgary-West UCP MLA Mike Ellis, hair apparently afire, suggested in debate in the Legislature that the NDP is using the bill as an excuse to sneak secret gay propaganda into the school curriculum. Postmedia’s headline writer called it “covert sex ed,” a pretty bizarre charge, seeing as GSAs by legal definition are student clubs in which LGBTQ kids and their allies can find a respectful, safe, inclusive, bullying-free place on school property outside instructional hours.
Alert readers will recall Alberta’s infamous Lake of Fire Moment, publication of a blog post by a candidate for the Wildrose Party, the precursor of the UCP, that warned gay Albertans they risk eternity in a lake of fire if they don’t repent their ways.
The blog was discovered in the midst of the 2012 election campaign and arguably saved the day for Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford, whose party, which had been trailing the Wildrose Party in some polls, won a comfortable majority a few days later.
Byfield’s column sounds a lot like Lake of Fire 2.0.
If it is, he will finally have influenced the political fate of Alberta as he so long has dreamed of doing — just not in the direction he wanted it to go.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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