Rachel Notley

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It’s Halloween, and we need to deal with something really scary… Rachel Notley.

No, seriously! A lot of people out here in the Brave New West seem to find Rachel Notley, the harmless-looking premier of Alberta who was elected to that job just six months ago next week, really, really terrifying. We need to talk about the reasons.

To understand this phenomenon, let’s cast our minds back to the widespread news reports just before the recent federal election about something called “Harper Derangement Syndrome.”

Harper Derangement Syndrome, or HDS, was said to be a psychological state in which the sufferer experienced hatred for Prime Minister Stephen Harper so severe it impaired his or her ability to think rationally. (“Thinking rationally” in this usage, means believing a jihadi is hiding under your neighbour’s bed and that investing in childcare or hospitals is a Risky Economic Experiment.)

“Harper Derangement Syndrome is a real thing,” said no less a psychiatric authority than Harper Government spokesthingy and retired Sun News Network executive Kory Teneycke. “There’s a group of people in Canada who loathe the Prime Minister at a level that’s almost a pathology.”

Now, Dr. Teneycke — we assume he’s a doctor — was not alone in making this diagnosis. A lot of medical experts on the political right, loud and proud enemies of science to a man — and occasionally to a woman — made similar diagnoses. Their rhetorical assumption — and, presumably, in a troubling number of cases, their sincere belief — was that any fear or dislike of Harper’s policies and electoral strategies was evidence of an unbalanced mind.

Naturally, such pronouncements were repeated regularly in the media, especially in the Postmedia, which has been working hard to keep the blue flame of its recently acquired Sun News Division flickering dimly.

Now, I admit that the first time I heard this term I assumed the derangement in question to be a reference to the state of mind of the departing prime minister’s most enthusiastic supporters, whom I assumed must be deranged to buy into his divisive project to remake Canada in his own mean-spirited image. That goes to the fundamental principle, I suppose, that one person’s enlightenment is another’s derangement.

People who are not deranged understand that there is little merit to this kind of psychobabble as a tool for analyzing strong disagreements over political and economic policies. However, it turns out making up imaginary psychological conditions is a favourite pastime of what is known in North America as the “loony right.”

My use of the term “loony right,” by the way, is not intended as a psychiatric diagnosis. It is merely a colloquial description of the more extreme, radical and paranoid fringes of the so-called conservative movement, a rich vein of which can be found here in Alberta where it is becoming troublingly easy to confuse with mainstream “conservatism.”

As a rhetorical technique, of course, making up imaginary psychological syndromes is not particularly sophisticated. However, for conservatives of a certain sophomoric inclination it is an amusing way to try to get up the noses of people they disagree with by defining them as mentally disturbed.

Indeed, we are reliably informed that the use of the term Bush Derangement Syndrome, which was not a botanical condition requiring pruning but a similar invention by former U.S. president George W. Bush’s supporters, has a respectable political pedigree south of the Medicine Line.

Regardless, let us for a moment play devil’s advocate and imagine there really is merit to the idea of Harper Derangement Syndrome.

At least one can say those thought to be afflicted had a decade or more to watch the prime minister in action before they succumbed to the symptoms!

Which brings us to the genuinely scary topic of how a certain number of people are reacting to Notley.

What are we to make of the near hysteria many of the same individuals who used to claim to see evidence of HDS in their political opponents experience at the mere thought of Premier Notley and her NDP government? After all, these individuals, who appeared to be untroubled by Mr. Harper’s six consecutive federal deficits, have been reduced to gibbering terror by the deficit announced in the NDP’s first budget Tuesday, which can be blamed on the previous Conservative government’s history of fiscal mismanagement.

Here in Alberta, we have recently observed violent threats and genuinely shocking misogynistic ranting against the premier and her supporters on social media sites apparently set up specifically for this purpose. Indeed, it would not seem unreasonable to describe people with such rage and paranoia as literally deranged.

And remember, quite unlike Harper and his government, Notley and hers have been in power for less than six months. Yet a significant group of people in Alberta, almost all of them identified by their support for the long rule of Harper, have now come to the conclusion this one small and pleasant woman is single-handedly responsible for the precipitous decline in world oil prices?

Surely this can be reasonably described as delusional.

These individuals are in the grip of an intricate delusion that leaves them, in the words of Thomas Mann’s and Norman Ornstein’s description of the modern U.S. Republican Party, “unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.”

Such cases have now been observed in sufficient numbers to lead one to the reasonable conclusion we are witnessing development of a new psychiatric disorder worthy of inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. By logic and precedent, it would be quite proper to term this condition Notley Derangement Syndrome (NDS).

Cases of NDS seem to have peaked since the release on Tuesday of Alberta’s Budget Speech, which has led a number of severe sufferers to report manifestations of the Four Horsemen of the Fiscal Apocalypse in the skies over Edmonton. (Deficit rides a pale horse.)

To make matters worse, it appears Alberta may be on the verge of a concurrent outbreak of a similar psychiatric condition that has from time to time been endemic to this region: NEPPD, or National Energy Program Personality Disorder.

NEPPD sufferers assign to members of the Trudeau Family economic super-powers similar to those that individuals afflicted with NDS attribute to Notley. Pierre Trudeau, the father of Canada’s Prime Minister Designate, Justin Trudeau, is believed by NEPPD victims to have personally caused the worldwide recession in 1981 and 1982.

Well, we can be thankful at least that our NDP government is committed to increased spending on mental health services, which it looks very much as if we’re going to require out here in what used to be known as Wild Rose Country.

Happy Halloween. Boo!

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...