Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon on the day of her appointment, July 6. Image: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

It’s an outrage, practically a crime against humanity, for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call a federal election in the midst of a global pandemic, Alberta’s Conservatives say.

The pandemic is over and thanks to the wise leadership of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, we are open for good, enjoying the Best Summer Ever here in Alberta, Alberta’s Conservatives also say.

What’s more, they seem to be able to do this in almost the same breath, without a hint of irony.

I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but back in 1948, George Orwell did. He called it doublethink, and it was flourishing in Conservative circles in Alberta Sunday as soon as Trudeau made his long-anticipated trek to Ottawa’s Rideau Hall to ask Governor General Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament, to be followed by a federal election on Sept. 20, which she duly did.

Alberta’s Conservatives have been screeching that Trudeau must go since the 2019 election left his Liberals with a minority government, and now they’re shocked, deeply shocked, that he’s called the election at a moment a lot of polling suggests he enjoys a significant advantage over Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

Well, that’s the way the Westminster Parliamentary system works, as the last Conservative prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, illustrated back in 2008. Alert readers will recall that Harper used the same cynical argument then that Trudeau did Sunday, to wit, that the minority Parliament had become dysfunctional.

Many people observed throughout the day Sunday that focusing on the timing of the election doesn’t seem like a great strategy at the best of times, even for a party that hadn’t been insisting Canadians want to see the last of this prime minister.

I’ll give the back-up quote to Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt, since he was the first person I noticed making this point. “If the opposition parties focus on whether the election should be called as the ballot question, that is a losing strategy,” he said before 9:30 Sunday morning.

The pandemic argument might have carried some weight around here if the Kenney government hadn’t been trying so hard for so long to downplay the danger of COVID-19, and to declare the pandemic almost, nearly, just about over.

We also know that elections can be conducted safely during a pandemic — leastways, they have been in New Brunswick, B.C., Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Yukon since COVID-19 arrived on our shores.

Mail-in ballots are a helpful tool, although you have to know it will be a challenge for Conservatives to keep their lips zipped and resist the temptation to start sounding like crazy Qanon believers south of the 49th Parallel when the topic of voting by mail comes up.

If that doesn’t get much traction, there’s always Afghanistan. Forgetting, perhaps, how that unhappy country has been in turmoil for 20 years since the Americans first invaded the place, the same Alberta Conservatives were yelling by the end of Sunday that Trudeau should be concentrating on doing something about the collapse of the side we backed in the country’s long civil war, instead of a calling an election they’d really prefer not have to deal with right now.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which Canada has less influence or less ability to act independently than Afghanistan now.

Northern Alberta Conservative MP pulls plug; candidate found in UCP ranks

The name David Yurdiga probably doesn’t mean much to most Canadians. Elected in 2014, the lacklustre MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake largely escaped notice in the nation’s capital until his petition last spring calling on the House of Commons to stop using the term “assault rifle” when MPs are talking about assault rifles. That aroused some snickers and eyerolls.

More recently, in June, the former reeve of Athabasca Country put out a news release saying he was opposed to a federal bill banning so-called “conversion therapy,” a practice that treats sexual orientation as if it were mental illness.

Yurdiga was heard from again last week when he published another release complaining that civil servants shouldn’t be forced to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “Canadians deserve the right to liberty, whether they choose to be vaccinated or not,” he fulminated last Tuesday. “It is our job to stand up against this tyrannical idea that forces discrimination based on what Canadians choose to do with their bodies.”

Sunday, a federal Conservative spokesperson announced Yurdiga would not be seeking re-election, citing unspecified medical issues. Cory Hann told Fort McMurray Today that the MP advised Leader O’Toole of his decision on Saturday.

Illustrating that there is no light between the federal Conservatives and their Alberta provincial counterparts, the federal wing of the party wasted no time appointing Laila Goodridge, the United Conservative Party MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac la Biche, as their candidate.

Goodridge immediately resigned her seat in the Alberta Legislature, where she was Parliamentary Secretary for la Francophonie, seeing as she speaks French, a rarity among Alberta politicians. She was also chair of the Legislature’s standing committee on families and communities.

A provincial by-election will have to be held sometime within the next six months.

The Cons’ trashy Willie Wonka ad explained

Many social media users were shocked and appalled by Conservative Party’s first election attack ad, which began appearing online last week, showing Trudeau’s head crudely superimposed on the body of a character from the 1971 movie Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The general consensus can be summarized as, if this the best the Conservatives can do, they might as well quit right now.

Not so fast, people. An October 2019 report in The Guardian explains the technique, suggesting that while it’s crazy, it may be crazy like fox.

The article focuses on the work of New Zealander’s Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, a pair of right-wing digital propagandists who created successful online campaigns that manipulated Facebook’s algorithms for British and Australian conservatives.

“Purposefully low-quality memes based around popular shows such as Game of Thrones were used in a bid to drive interactions — good or bad — at any cost, on the basis that this would boost the reach of future Facebook posts,” wrote media editor Jim Waterson.

“‘We’d make them really basic and deliberately lame because they’d get shares and lift our reach,'” said an anonymous source quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald, Waterson wrote. “‘That made our reach for the harder political messages higher.'”

“Political opponents lined up to mock the image, inadvertently sending it viral and ensuring it was seen by a wider audience.”

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: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

David J. Climenhaga

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 with the Globe...