Doug Griffiths

Many of us were asking ourselves yesterday afternoon if Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths had really dropped an F-Bomb on the Wildrose Party?

Well, now we know he did, and, from the perspective of the government of Premier Alison Redford, it can’t be a good sign.

For one thing, it shows the Wildrose Opposition is getting right up the Progressive Conservative government’s collective nose, which is exactly what you want to be doing if you’re an opposition party on its way to being a government. You rattle ’em, then you put ’em off their game.

For another, it lowers the already lamentable level of political discourse in this province. And Griffiths is a schoolteacher, and a generally well-spoken one at that, in normal circumstances!

Just think, it was only six years ago that the Tory government of premier Ed Stelmach was tearing its hair, beating its breast and eventually passing unconstitutional legislation because of couple of unions had bought TV ads proclaiming Stelmach’s government to have “no plan!”

Those “American-style attack ads” that supposedly showed how debate was stooping to an unheard degree of viciousness seem pretty tame now compared to Griffiths blowing off Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith as “f**king embarrassing” for sniping at the government because the Mounties seized firearms from evacuated houses in High River during the hours after last June’s flood.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel a certain sympathy with Griffiths’ and the government’s frustration with the Wildrose strategy. After all, it seems pretty cynically designed to open up the old Harper Government wedge about firearms ownership and property rights without really having too much to do with the facts on the ground — or, in this case, I guess, on the water.

But thanks to a few weeks of skillful spinning by Smith, a resident of High River and the MLA for the region around the devastated town, a tale of heroic Mounties entering homes during a mandatory evacuation to rescue trapped seniors, save abandoned pets and secure vulnerable valuables has morphed into a dark narrative about rogue cops answering to a “left-leaning” premier to seize law abiding citizens’ firearms and trample their rights.

Some of the rhetoric emanating from the loony right about Redford is very harsh and as paranoid as a report of a black helicopter, and it’s been accompanied by Prime Minister Stephen Harper singing harmony, although Smith’s own tone is more one of sadness than anger as befits the dignified leader of the Opposition.

“Homes weren’t breached in Calgary. Doors weren’t kicked down in Medicine Hat. Guns weren’t taken in Canmore,” an injured sounding Smith said during a public meeting yesterday she organized in High River. “So what happened in High River that was so different and why did the RCMP operate outside the emergency operations centre chain of command?”

That argument, or something like it said earlier in the day, seems to be what provoked Griffiths’ profane riposte, the full version of which went like this: “The RCMP are doing the best that they can and they did the best they can in the situation. I am sick and tired of people like her going around trying to blame people when we’re still trying to rebuild the community. It’s f**king embarrassing!

Why High River and not Calgary, Medicine Hat or Canmore? Griffiths might have been better off gently pointing out that the flooding was worse in High River and folks had to leave their homes more quickly, and then just dropping it.

Instead, he opened the door to letting the Opposition leader righteously condemn him for being a potty-mouthed bully. “Instead of getting answers, I get the minister embarrassing himself by using profanity to criticize me standing up for my constituents,” Ms. Smith said stiffly.

So the Redford Government, once again, seems to have taken a creditable response to the flooding and, in a matter of days, turned it into another PR disaster.

Oh well, presumably the premier’s crack team of political advisors from Ontario can issue another in its series of sophomoric social media info-graphics attacking the opposition.

Aren’t governments, especially ones that have been in power for a very long time, supposed to ignore the Opposition and behave with more dignity than this? That’s certainly the way Alberta Tories used to do things, and it seemed to work out pretty well for them.

On the other hand, this is Canada in 2013, when a politician can enhance his image by announcing he smokes illegal drugs. So, who knows, maybe voters will like Griffiths’ language? And he did say he was sorry

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

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...