History may not repeat itself, but it does have a way of rhyming. And as Alberta’s health-care system continues to buckle under the weight of human misery created by Jason Kenney’s “best summer ever,” it’s become increasingly clear his political career will end as it started: with an indifference to the lives and suffering of others.
Kenney began his political career as a student at the University of San Francisco, and he was at the forefront of efforts there to overturn spousal support laws that allowed gay men to visit their dying partners in the hospital during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
That episode didn’t cost him his career, and if anything it may have helped advance it within the anti-LGBTQ Canadian Alliance of the late 1990s and early 2000s. As he bragged to supporters back in 2000, “I became president of the pro-life group in my campus and helped to lead an ultimately successful initiative petition, which led to a referendum, which overturned the first gay spousal law in North America.”
His inclination towards tone-deaf braggery hasn’t gone away, given he was talking up Alberta’s per-capita death rate and comparing it favourably to other provinces in the middle of a fourth wave that he started. But he’s unlikely to get away with his more recent act of callous indifference, one that has already resulted in the postponement of at least 8,500 surgeries (including 805 pediatric procedures) in Alberta.
According to a recent poll from ThinkHQ Public Affairs, Kenney’s net approval rating is sitting at a staggering -55, with only 22 per cent support in a province that almost reflexively supports Conservative politicians. As ThinkHQ president Marc Henry noted, “We have not seen a sitting premier with numbers this low in almost a decade; Alison Redford resigned the day it was revealed her approval at the time had dropped to 18 (per cent). That’s a ‘margin of error’ difference from Kenney’s results today.”
Even more remarkable than the headline figure is the degree to which Kenney’s unpopularity is consistent across demographic and geographic divides.
Yes, he’s politically radioactive in relatively progressive Edmonton, and Calgary has caught up in that respect. But even in more rural areas of the province, where a ham sandwich could get elected if it ran with a Conservative party label on it, he’s polling under 30 per cent. Men are now just as unhappy with him as women, and even among those 55 and older he’s underwater by a nearly three-to-one ratio. One wonders if he’d even be able to cross the 50 per cent support threshold if you polled his own MLAs and political staffers.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for Kenney, who came back to Alberta as a conquering hero and clearly still had his eyes on the top federal job.
Now, instead of assessing his chances of taking down Justin Trudeau in the next election if the Conservative Party of Canada decides to replace Erin O’Toole, political analysts will be trying to figure out where he ranks among the worst premiers in Canadian history. And while he hasn’t yet scaled the same heights of shameless corruption that Saskatchewan’s Grant Devine and B.C.’s Bill Vander Zalm reached, his blend of bumbling incompetence and ideological stridency may eventually put him at the top of the list.
Regardless of his ranking, the death toll from a self-inflicted fourth wave, along with the thousands of postponed surgeries and medical procedures, will be his ultimate political legacy in Alberta. Even when the case surge subsides, the health-care system and the thousands of people who work in it will spend years recovering from the damage it has done. And there’s no recovering from the unnecessary loss of life that thousands of families have had to endure — and others will suffer in the weeks ahead.
Kenney’s political demise won’t bring any of those people back. But it can serve as a lesson to Conservative politicians in Canada, including those here in Alberta who might be eyeing his job.
Opinion: It’s become increasingly clear Jason Kenney's political career will end as it started: with an indifference to the lives and suffering of others, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #abpoli #COVID
In a moment that demanded intellectual agility and ideological flexibility, Kenney doubled down on his pre-existing beliefs. And when presented with the choice between protecting the public and promoting his own political survival, he gleefully chose the latter.
But a virus can’t be spun or gaslit, and it doesn’t respond to the tender missives of right-wing columnists and well-paid issues managers. Conservatives would do well to remember that for the next time they face down something equally intractable — voters don’t take kindly to politicians who risk lives in order to flip a few pancakes at the Stampede.