Photo of Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and the province’s Chief Firearms Officer, Teri Bryant.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and the province’s Chief Firearms Officer, Teri Bryant.

The Criminal Code may come under federal jurisdiction, but the Kenney Government wants the substantial number of “law-abiding gun owners” (LAGOs) in its base to know every now and then that it still cares about them.

Now would be one of those times, what with some, if not all recent polls showing the United Conservative Party (UCP) trailing the Opposition NDP and Premier Jason Kenney himself facing considerable opposition within the ranks of his own party, populated by more than a few LAGOs.

On Thursday, when mass media were focused on wars abroad and sexier local issues, the government sent out a not-so-subtle dog-whistle to the party’s many firearms fanatics. The whistle came in the form of a news release announcing that Alberta’s “Chief Firearms Officer” had sent a letter to Canada’s public safety minister complaining about federal regulations passed back in 2000.

Arguably, the press release wasn’t really intended to generate a lot of normal media coverage – it was one of seven on a variety of topics sent out by the government on the same day, but you can be confident more targeted communications about it will be sent directly to members of the audience it is intended to reach. 

Now, even some of the LAGO crowd seemed to think a mere letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino from Teri Bryant, gun collector and University of Calgary business professor, was pretty lame, although I don’t know what else they thought she should do. The Criminal Code is pretty clearly federal jurisdiction no matter how much that annoys the Alberta right. 

The letter calls on Ottawa to drop the prohibition on M16s, AR-15s and about 1,500 other “assault style” rifles, large-bore firearms and other weapons, enacted in May 2020. 

The news hook for the letter may be that a two-year amnesty on ownership of these weapons included in the federal law was due to expire at the end of the month. It has been extended to Oct. 30, 2023 but not every gun owner, law abiding or otherwise, may know that. 

One would have thought, then, that a more appropriate time for Bryant to fire off her epistle might have been much earlier, but that would miss the point that this is mainly right-wing virtue signalling, with a dash of Kenney’s desire to keep his job thrown in. 

The letter begins amusingly with an effort to horn in on federal Criminal Code jurisdiction, then moves on to the usual folderol for such efforts – a claim such bans aren’t effective, a call for harsher penalties for not-so-law-abiding gun owners, ritual mentions of rural crime and property rights, and the inevitable boilerplate tribute to law-abiding folks “singled out by such unjust and undeserved actions.” 

In her letter, Bryant also asks Mendicino to extend the amnesty for an additional three years (if I read it correctly, its wording being slightly ambiguous on this point), which would provide an opportunity for the federal wing of the Alberta conservative party to fundraise off the issue before the next federal election. 

The missive will be duly read, acknowledged, and ignored by the minister, mindful of his party’s own electoral base.

“Since becoming Alberta’s first provincially appointed Chief Firearms Officer under the Firearms Act, Albertans have been consistently telling me the 2020 federal firearm ban is unrealistic, unworkable and unhelpful,” Bryant was quoted saying in the Alberta government’s press release, evidence that she only talks to people who agree with her.

For his part, Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shadro helpfully explained in the news release that “we established the Chief Firearms Office to assert our provincial jurisdiction and ensure the rights of Albertans.” 

Of course when a government is feeling the heat from the Opposition and members of its own party, many of whom are voting right now in a referendum on Kenney’s suitability to keep his job, there are also things that must be made public that are nevertheless best released as quietly as possible. 

And that’s what Thursday afternoons before a four-day holiday weekend are made for. 

That is why the government also picked Thursday to oh-so-discreetly publish a report that shows Albertans are now paying hundreds of millions of dollars more to insure their vehicles thanks to the UCP’s removal of the previous NDP government’s cap on auto insurance. 

While the report was published, the only news release on the topic came from the Opposition NDP. 

“Yesterday afternoon, when many Albertans were getting in their cars to leave town for the long weekend, the UCP quietly dropped a report that shows why the insurance on those cars has gotten so much more expensive,” said Opposition Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley in the rare Good Friday release. 

“It’s because insurance companies are shamelessly generating massive profits on the backs of Alberta drivers and they are doing it with the UCP’s help,” she explained.

According to the 2020 annual report of the Superintendent of Insurance, the NDP news release said, the car insurance industry charged Alberta drivers $385 million more in premiums in 2020 than they did in 2019, boosting profits and revenue.

Last month, the NDP accused the Kenney Government of trying to suppress the report, which shows that while the industry collected $1.151 billion more in premiums than it paid out in claims in 2019, in 2020 that ratio grew to $1.324 billion more than it paid out.

Rather than writing a letter to someone, however, Ganley had a more practical solution. “My message to Alberta drivers is this: an NDP government will restore the rate cap that protected you from these predatory increases because an NDP government will work for you, not UCP insider lobbyists.”

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...