Given the uproar over an article widely perceived as expressing racist sentiments by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s speechwriter, it will be interesting to see how the Conservative Party of Canada reacts to the fact Paul Bunner is also chief executive of its Edmonton Strathcona constituency association.
As of the close of business Friday, Elections Canada’s registered association database continued to show Bunner as CEO of the federal party’s association in the progressive-leaning Edmonton Strathcona federal riding.
That is bound to raise the same questions for the federal Conservatives as Kenney and his United Conservative Party have faced since Bunner’s 2013 article resurfaced earlier this week.
This can’t be good news for the federal party since Edmonton Strathcona, represented by New Democrat Heather McPherson, is the only riding in Alberta that didn’t elect a Conservative MP in last year’s federal election.
They would very much like the clean sweep of Alberta they expected last time to actually happen in the next federal election. Doubtless Bunner’s speechwriting talents will be in demand to boost the CPC’s candidate in the riding, investment banker and former journalist Rick Peterson, an advocate of a Texas-style regime of zero income taxes for big business.
Despite calls by NDP Opposition leader Rachel Notley and many others for Bunner to be fired, Kenney was clearly disinclined to do anything more than mildly say he disagreed with the opinions expressed in the article in C2C Journal, an online conservative publication that bills itself as a source of “ideas that lead.”
“Somebody who was a journalist for 40 years undoubtedly wrote things with which I disagree,” Kenney said Thursday. “That does not reflect or change the policy of the government of Alberta.” He said he “fundamentally disagrees” with the point of view expressed by the speechwriter he hired last year.
“This essay is racist,” Notley said of Bunner’s article. “And it is not a poorly worded tweet or document of the distant past. It was written deliberately and recently.”
“I am deeply troubled that Jason Kenney selected someone who holds these views to be one of his closest collaborators in the premier’s office,” said the former premier, whose Edmonton-Strathcona provincial riding occupies some of the same territory as the federal electoral district of the same name.
She tweeted: “It’s not enough to not be racist, we must be anti-racist. Being anti-racist means firing Paul Bunner and apologizing to Albertans.”
In a news release from the NDP caucus that pointed to a long list of controversial statements made by Bunner in various articles over the years, Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi said “it’s simply not believable that Kenney hired Bunner to such a senior position as a writer without any knowledge of his body of work as a writer.
“Even if he wants to claim that, Kenney can’t deny that he knows about Bunner’s long record of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia today,” Pancholi continued. “He must fire him immediately.”
As is now very well known, Bunner’s story, entitled “The ‘Genocide’ That Failed,” dismissed the widespread understanding of what happened in Canada’s residential schools as “a bogus genocide” and called on opinion-leaders in media, academia and politics “to find the courage to start questioning the residential schools orthodoxy.”
Once the chief speechwriter for Stephen Harper, Bunner also described the former Conservative prime minister’s 2008 apology for the residential school policy as “a strategic attempt to kill the story.”
The article was certainly in line with opinions by other writers found in C2C Journal, which is widely distributed in Conservative circles, including through emails sent out by the Calgary-based Manning Centre — which will be officially renamed the Canada Strong and Free Network next Wednesday on Canada Day.
C2C articles have mocked problems faced by LGBTQ seniors, continued to complain about “Harper Derangement Syndrome,” and touted the “male resurgence” in Ontario politics.
Articles in the publication this year have argued “the private sector must get a larger role in Canadian health care,” claimed “the worst environmental calamity would be the absence of capitalism,” attacked the reputation of retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin, and cheered “free speech warrior” Ezra Levant.
Even if publicity about Bunner’s federal role worries the Conservatives, they’re unlikely to do anything about him without getting the nod from Kenney and Harper.
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. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: David J. Climenhaga