Jason Kenney (Photo by David Climenhaga)

When Jason Kenney stepped onto the national stage in 1997 at the tender age of 29, Alberta was the sort of place that could become infuriated at a Conservative premier for refusing to invoke the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ Notwithstanding Clause to keep sexual orientation from being read into provincial rights-protection legislation by the courts.

Ralph Klein was the premier and people who worked in his office say privately they never encountered a more enraged or hateful reaction than from the callers who phoned to tell him where to go for refusing to use the Constitution’s “opting out clause” to keep an Edmonton Christian college instructor fired for his sexual orientation from asserting his rights.

Now that Kenney has returned to Alberta with hopes of unseating an NDP Government in what used to be known as Canada’s most conservative province, it’s possible he just hadn’t noticed how much the times were a-changin’ here during the 20 years he spent as a resident of Ottawa.

After all, I imagine Kenney spent a lot of his time with like-minded social conservatives who continued to see the world in much the same way as they always had while so many of the rest of us were changing our minds about many things. Still, the fact we elected an NDP government in 2015 really should have been a hint!

That may be the most charitable explanation for Kenney’s bizarre blunder Tuesday, when, freshly elected as “unite the right” leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in a campaign marred by the abusive behaviour of his social conservative supporters, he told the Calgary Herald’s editorial board that schools should notify parents if their children decide to join a gay-straight alliance.

“Clearly, Kenney learned nothing from watching former premier Jim Prentice fumble the Bill 10 debate,” observed Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons, referring to the hot water Alberta’s last PC premier got into when his government reluctantly brought forward legislation in 2015 to require schools to permit students to form GSAs if the young people themselves saw a need. She asked: “Why on earth does he want to re-litigate this issue now?”

Why on earth indeed!

Not every Albertan would agree with Education Minister David Eggan’s assessment that “Jason Kenney has shown, once you scratch the paint off a little bit, you find the extremist that he actually is.” But a heck of a lot more do than would have in 1997.

“The comments made by Jason Kenney today effectively would destroy the good work that has been done,” Eggen said in a Facebook post. “Students have the right to form a GSA. They do not need permission from a principal or superintendent. An entire school community isn’t notified when students set up a chess club or a sports team and students wishing to have a GSA don’t need to be outed in this way.

“With the comments Jason Kenney has made, he is effectively outing himself…as an extremist.”

Nor would every Albertan be comfortable with the rhetorical hand grenade hurled at Kenney yesterday morning by renowned entertainer k.d. lang. The media certainly appeared by its lack of coverage to be scared of the story. But many more Albertans are now likely to be comfortable with what lang had to say than would have been in 1997, especially since the target is a politician advocating a sly way of undermining the GSA law with a potential for grave collateral damage among the young people the legislation was designed to protect.

What’s wrong with telling parents their kids might want to join a GSA? “We know that many families are not supportive of their LGBTQ children,” says Kristopher Wells of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. “Research shows between 20-40 per cent of all homeless youth are LGBTQ youth. Parental rejection is the Number One cause of youth homelessness.”

It’s 2017, and most Albertans get this now. Even a lot of conservative MLAs were sounding pretty uncomfortable yesterday with Kenney’s bloviations to the like-thinkers at the Calgary Herald.

Indeed, Kenney himself may be slowly, ever so slowly, starting to get it. Yesterday he or someone on his political staff published a statement on his Facebook account gingerly backing away from his remarks to the Herald.

“The law should neither force schools to release information to parents, nor should it create an adversarial relationship between parents and their children,” he said, notwithstanding his previous comments to sympathetic audiences.

The times? They are a-changin!

On again off again Crouse campaign is off again

Oh, for pity’s sake! Nolan Crouse has pulled out of the race to lead Alberta’s Liberal Party. The deadline is tomorrow. He was the only candidate for the job.

The St. Albert mayor announced a month ago he would be running to lead the Liberals shortly after surprising residents of the bedroom suburb northwest of Edmonton with an unexpected Facebook announcement saying he wouldn’t be seeking a fourth term as mayor.

Not so long before that, he’d insisted to media he wasn’t going to run for the Alberta Liberals, despite rumours he was interested.

With nominations about to close, Crouse sent out an email yesterday saying that “with varied emotions…I have decided that I will not be letting my name remain standing for the ALP Leader role and that effective immediately all activities in this regard will cease.

“As such,” he went on, “I am requesting of Elections Alberta and the Alberta Liberal…Party to have my name removed as a candidate.

“While many may wonder the reason(s) for this decision, the reasons will be kept private and I will provide ‘no comment’ as to these varied questions and associated speculation,” he stated.

Crouse thanked his supporters. Umm … That’s all.

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

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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...