MLA Dan Williams chugs a beer in the Alberta Legislature.
MLA Dan Williams chugs a beer in the Alberta Legislature. Credit: Government of Alberta Credit: Government of Alberta

Peace River MLA Dan Williams’ distasteful display of beer guzzling on the floor of Alberta’s Legislature last week is just another embarrassing episode in the United Conservative Party (UCP)’s sophomoric obsession with consumption of alcohol that seems to date back to the selection of Jason Kenney as the party’s first leader. 

Williams, parachuted into his safe rural riding in northwestern Alberta after serving Kenney as a political aide in Ottawa back in the days the former premier was the federal minister of defence, no doubt had plenty of opportunities to absorb his former boss’s attitude about booze.

One imagines that when he’s not drinking in public Williams would prefer a better class of tipple than the politically correct Alberta Genuine Draft he guzzled in the chamber while the cameras rolled, supposedly in tribute to the Royal Canadian Legion whose necktie he was wearing at the time.

You’d never know about Williams’ history in the nation’s capital from his remarkably uninformative official biography on the Legislative Assembly’s website. You’d almost think he never did anything before running for office but work in the gravel pit in La Crete, the hamlet of 4,000 or so souls he and his wife call home.

Williams certainly shares Kenney’s opinions about reproductive rights – they’re both against them – as well as his new boss Danielle Smith’s hostility to measures taken to control the spread of COVID-19. This seems to have stood him in good stead with both leaders. 

Perhaps Kenney’s attitude about booze stretched back to the late 90s, when he was a member of the so-called “Snack Pack,” the group of not-exactly-svelte young Reform Party MPs including Rob Anders and Rahim Jaffer who specialized in heckling Liberal ministers. That, in turn, was a reference to the “Rat Pack” of Liberals, who played a similar role in opposition to Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government, although without the Reformers’ apparent affinity for caloric intake.

Then again, maybe the displays of boozing had their origins in Ontario Conservative Doug Ford’s successful if misleading Buck-a-Beer campaign in 2018. 

Regardless, embarrassing drinking has been front and centre ever since The Two Jasons, Kenney and Nixon, recorded themselves in 2019 in a video toasting each other and the monarch with cans of beer and declaring an end to the “war on fun,” as they termed consumption of alcohol in public parks. 

Since then we’ve had 2021’s “Shields Up Scandal” of out-of-control boozing and associated bad behaviour behind locked doors in the Legislature Building’s cabinet offices; the boozy mid-pandemic Sky Palace Patio Party the same year that featured cheap Irish whisky and contributed to the downfall of Kenney; and this year’s day drinking with Dale and Larry video wherein Service Alberta Minister Dale Nally and his pal Larry touted a plan to serve beer in convenience stores.

Still, when it comes to disrespect for the institutions of government, Williams’ chug-a-lug on the floor of the Legislature was unique, and Speaker Nathan Cooper’s mild rebuke of the MLA only for using a prop in the Chamber sets a troubling precedent that’s bound to be repeated. 

By sound tradition, the only officer of the Mother of Parliaments in Westminster permitted to imbibe alcohol in the House of Commons is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then only during the Budget Speech. 

Here in Canada, in theory if not in historical practice, no alcohol may be consumed anywhere on Parliament Hill, let alone in the House of Commons or the Senate. 

A legislative chamber is a workplace, after all. 

Well, except in Alberta, apparently.

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...