It’s an iron law in Alberta politics: when Premier Jason Kenney tries to spike the football, it inevitably finds its way back into his face. And while it seemed impossible at the time that he’d be able to top the fiasco that was his “Best Summer Ever” from 2021, he may have outdone himself with his recently launched “Alberta is Calling” campaign.

It encourages people in British Columbia and Ontario to think about moving to Alberta, and Kenney has repeatedly pitched his province as a friendly and welcoming place to live. “Many people who move to Alberta or even just visit are surprised at how welcoming people in Alberta are,” Kenney said in a tweet quoting a moving company. “They greet each other on the street, wave when driving and will stop for passengers even when the latter are in the wrong.” But what everyone in the county is talking about instead is the video in which a very large and visibly angry man accosts Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland during a visit to Grande Prairie. As Canadian comedian Stewart Reynolds (AKA Brittlestar, “The Internet’s Favourite Dad”) joked, “this is the worst Alberta Calling ad yet.”

The unhinged attack on Freeland, and the conditions that helped create it, are no laughing matter. This is a textbook example of stochastic terrorism, which is defined as “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act.” And while Freeland and the female staffers that were with her escaped unharmed, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before somebody does something much worse.

Kenney finally got around to tweeting about the incident — after, it should be noted, crowing about how people in Alberta make more money than the rest of the country. But that’s still more than you could say about most of his high-profile conservative colleagues. Whether it was interim Conservative Party of Canada leader Candice Bergen, leadership race front-runner Pierre Poilievre, or UCP leadership heavyweights like Danielle Smith and Brian Jean, their silence was deafening.

Chrystia Freeland and the female staffers with her escaped unharmed from a nasty verbal assault. But it seems only a matter of time before somebody does something much worse. @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver

Kenney is hardly innocent here, though, and he has more to answer for than most. Whether it was in opposition or as Premier, he’s spent years churning up mistrust and anger towards Ottawa and the Trudeau government, whether it’s on their approach to addressing climate change and the energy sector or more recently their management of COVID-19. As I wrote recently, Danielle Smith’s campaign for his job is a continuation of the work he started, albeit one that takes it to a different (and more dangerous) level.

This is the problem — well, one of them — with the rage farming that is consuming the modern conservative movement. Keeping people angry may have some short-term tactical advantages, especially in the context of a leadership race. Jacking them up with bogus theories about the World Economic Forum and fear-mongering about the Prime Minister’s plans for their industry is a good way to keep the clicks and donations coming. But as U.S. Republicans have learned over the last few years, it’s hard to put the populist rage dragon back in its cage once it’s been let out.

This is of no concern to the far-right griftocracy, which benefits directly from the culture of perpetual outrage that feeds this dragon. As the world learned during his recent trial, InfoWars founder Alex Jones was making as much as $800,000 a day peddling conspiracy theories, misinformation, and other forms of rage-farming fertilizer. His Canadian counterparts may not be making millions of dollars a month peddling their own paranoid wares, but you can be sure that business is still good.

The consequences that flow from the conservative movement’s relentless pursuit of grievance and anger should be of at least some concern to elected officials and those who aspire to public office one day. As Kenney can attest, those consequences can even include losing your own job. This is the inherent flaw in this popular political strategy: if you succeed by making people angry, there’s always someone who will be willing to make them even angrier.

It’s not hard to figure out how this all ends. The last two-plus years have been difficult for many Canadians, and some have been particularly frustrated by the public health measures that were needed to minimize the damage done by the pandemic. When you combine that with inflammatory political rhetoric and the amplifying effect of social media silos, it creates a dangerous and volatile mixture — one that can be set off by the smallest provocation. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before a politician or public figure gets hurt, or possibly even killed, as a result. Just ask Gabby Giffords or the family of British MP Jo Cox.

What’s harder to figure out is whether the spiritual (and, in a few weeks, official) leaders of Canada’s conservative movement are willing to do anything to stop this from happening — or if they even know how to at this point. Stepping up and speaking out clearly against this sort of violence, and the misinformation that fuels it, would surely come at a cost. But as we saw in Grande Prairie, the cost of not acting is growing by the day.

Keep reading

This bit about the "friendly Albertans" confuses me: "They ... will stop for passengers even when the latter are in the wrong.”
Does he mean they pick up hitch-hikers, even when they're on the wrong side of the road?
I can't think of anything else that "passengers" might be "in the wrong" about ... except for not wearing a seatbelt, harrassing the driver, or having open liquor in the car. Liquor's not a good example, because the charges would go to the driver. But maybe, y'know, the friendly Albertan overlooks suchlike?

Regarding "... it seems only a matter of time before somebody does something much worse," in a sane world, perhaps media wouldn't be projecting bad behaviour: that lot needs no suggestions.

I think he meant pedestrians or perhaps a wanna-be pedestrian who got bumper-hoisted onto a moving car's hood and ended up riding on the roof of the car. The would-be pedestrian would then be in the wrong as riding on top of the car is not permitted even live-free Alberta.

Lined up laugh emojis here, good one!

Fawcett is right on the money here. As someone who was born and raised in Calgary, lives in Ontario and returns fairly regularly I see the results of this. Alberta has been run by Conservatives - except for one four year interregnum - since the 60s. Using the health of the Heritage Fund as a gauge they have not done a particularly great job of running Alberta and managing the oil wealth. There is a definite inequality problem there. High school friends who went into business and/or the oil patch have made tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. My blue collar friends have been struggling this whole time. That is a recipe for unrest. Most of the issues are to do with provincial Conservative, and some federal Conservative, mediocrity if not bungling. The Conservative politicians have done a great job of blaming everything on one Trudeau or another or the mysterious "Laurentian Elite". Of course, there are some threads of truth in that but way more blame is owed to the local Conservatives.
Given that voting conservative is a "thing" in Alberta no matter how crappy a job these people do they get re-elected. Also, I believe the people of Alberta are in an abusive relationship with Big Oil. Any attempt to put restrictions on that industry is met with a loud local outcry but look what happened when premier Stelmach tried to get a better royalty deal. Alberta was punished and their neighbors in BC and Saskatchewan were quite happy to eat their lunch. This is seen as Stelmach's fault and not bullying by the oil industry. Add to that that the Edmonton and Calgary newspapers are all owned by the same right leaning group people do not get a balanced perspective. It's not healthy and, as Fawcett points out, the Danielle Smith crowd is deliberately making it worse. That is not leadership. It is the opposite of leadership. We only need to look South to see where this can lead.

Well said. Also a former Albertan who is often totally embarrassed by the politics and apparent ignorance of Albertans as a large group. Of course, within that group, there are all sorts of people, many of whom are decent and hard working, but they are continuously manipulated politically by the Alberta natural governing party, and totally taken for granted.

Best comment yet, thanks. As a non conservative raised in Manitoba, do I feel welcome in rural Alberta? Not one bit. Or should I say, as long as I keep my views to myself! In 2021, I worked for Stats Canada on the census but quit after 3 weeks of threats that I worked for Trudeau. Incredible disrespect. I heard more conspiracy theories than I could have imagined, and met folks who were so far removed from reality, it is scarey.

Growing up in Alberta, blowhard rednecks were everywhere. It's tradition. Culture. Even in politics. Today, politics there is Loony Tunes. The only difference is that Elmer Fudd aged into an unkempt, overweight brainwashed dude with a big truck, a gun collection and grade four language skills. And their votes are now actively courted by the right wing politicos. Of course that would be after the oil industry lobbyists have their way yanking their strings for fun, just to see Jason and Danielle dance, hop and jerk at the slightest tug.

I'm very happy to have gotten out so long ago.

An excellent article, and the predictions will, sadly, likely prove accurate. The people you are asking to call out this sort of behaviour are, in my view, amoral, so I am not holding my breath. I would, however, love to be proved wrong.
The rage is unsettling and, unfortunately, not confined to politics. My daughter was reduced to tears at the fast food restaurant where she works when a man went on a scream rampage over fifty cents. It was so bad that the manager followed him into the parking lot and banned him from the restaurant. This is beyond disturbing.

I wish to add the concept of impunity, as in no arrest that I’m aware of of these folks who utter threats. where is the summary rough facedownonthepavement handcuffed behind your back for that big oaf in the city hall ? ask a land defender how little it should take to get slammed down and dragged over stones. ( i think the answer is just being there and not being a big white right wing guy)
same for the crybaby convoy pricks not getting “land defender treatment “ when they were clearly breaking 5 laws at a time. for weeks. police good oldboy collusion anyone?

IMPUNITY from consequences of ANY kind is why that guy felt no fear laying into Freeland and uttering threats and slander. he knew he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

when right wing politicos are in jail for disturbing the peace , uttering threats, etc. I will have hope this wont end in violence, death and the return to only-white-males-oldboys-running- everything.
the state of women and non white males dropping out of running for any elected seat in Ontario due to threats and intimidation, is just the latest pushback by stale pale male “under threat of losing 100% of power”

As a former front line political staffer these stories always put a chill down my spine. Shame on those elected officials who remain silent. I suppose they don’t care if anyone stands up for them - or more importantly their staff - if they find themselves in such a situation (let’s cast our mind back to the sacking of Ont Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s constit office and terrorizing of his staff 20+ years ago - no more justifiable than this incident.)

My boss and I were (and still are) large white white men and likely because of that we encountered few problems of this ilk. The same could not be said of my female colleague staffing our constit office. We do well to remember that while Gabby Giffords survived the attempt to murder her for doing her job, her staffer Gabe Zimmerman did not, though sadly you seldom hear his name anymore.

Enjoy your schadenfreude while you can AB politicians. You may come to rue the day - though I sincerely hope you and your staff do not.

Thanks, Max, for another great opinion piece. And thanks to the readers for all the great comments so far. It is very depressing and disenchanting to hear and read about all the right winged anger and rhetoric going on now. The US (and other countries) are bad enough, now it is haunting us also. What kind of society has this world come to?

My simple opinion, this brute should have been, handcuffed and put in jail! Immediately! Period. Cheerio from Salt Spring island

Until one of our politicians is physically attacked or killed, our politicians will wring there hands and make platitudes. Our journalists are under attack as well, mostly the females. Our police ignore the threats even though in my humble opinion the threats they receive meet the criminals definition of assault. Again, the law enforcement men wishy wash the threats while our reporters live with real fear. Like Greta on Climate Change, all we hear is blah, blah, blah. I like to know how many female Conservative MPs receive the treatment Freeland received? I would bet zero

When there’s nothing to stop it, bad behaviour becomes its own reward.

That lout should never have been allowed within any range of the Deputy Prime Minister in the first place, but that doesn’t absolve him from the fact that he verbally assaulted her in a threatening manor: he should be charged with assault and uttering threats. He broke the law—that is, there is a law, but you’d hardly know it.

Recall Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had to throttle a protester in self-defence while walking along outside—with a security detail, no less. He also had to personally confront with the only weapon to hand (an Inuit soapstone carving) an intruder who had breached security and entered the Prime Ministerial official residence in the middle of the night. That was decades ago, so after increasingly threatening protest behaviour, especially since the rise of tRumpublicanism, we have to wonder how public officials are allowed to venture out without effective security. Has no lesson been learned?

We can rhetorically ask: What about Gabby Giffords (the US Congresswoman who was shot in the head while at a mall parking-lot meet-and-greet with her constituents) ?—but Canadians too quickly file it under smug self-satisfaction that we’re not Americans. Nevertheless, we are North Americans and share the longest border in the world with one of the more police-politicizing and citizen-incarcerating nations on earth. And as we’re recently reminded: it’s “undefended.”

The question here is: are police weighing partisan-political factors before deciding if they should enforce the law?

Are police afraid to enforce the law? Even an invasion of the Capital required implementation of the Emergencies Act in order to get police to act. The city police chief was so resolutely passive, he was eventually sacked, but that hardly assuaged the fear and outrage Ottawa citizens were experiencing: they wanted the law enforced as robustly as the situation demanded. Now, Conservative MPs perversely complain that police did not ask for the E-Act (claiming it was therefore unwarranted). But that’s exactly the point: police were even too reticent to request emergency response when, in fact, it was obviously warranted. Unsurprisingly, many citizens wonder if such reticence might actually betray some level of police sympathy with far-right protesters (why did Quebec police have to “protect” big, tough protesters called La Meute —the far-right, anti-immigration org called “The Wolf Pack,” in english—from rainbow flag-waving counter protesters?)

The first video recordings of police brutality became political dynamite way back in 1991: on-duty LAPD members were surreptitiously videoed severely beating Rodney King, a black man; when made public, the video sparked massive “race riots” and raised public outcry about police abuse. The seminal episode is now buried under many, many more-recent instances when police abuse was caught on camera, naturally increasing as cell-phone cameras became as ubiquitous as wallets and house-keys. Remarkably, even three decades later and many such abuses captured and published on video, it’s still happening —almost a choreographed genre in its own, appalling right.

To be fair, the 2007 police killing of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski which was videoed by a bystander at Vancouver airport did result in charges being laid against police, and did somewhat change how police investigate themselves; but, as if to underscore how begrudging and parsimonious those slight reforms were purchased, it was only three years later when police were again captured abusing their authority at the G7 Summit in Toronto. Perhaps that was the reason the Vancouver city police chief warned his force that he didn’t want to see any of them caught brutalizing anyone on the nightly TV news during the Stanley Cup riot in 2011—and so the phalanx of heavily armoured police simply stood by while rioters brazenly did millions of dollars of property damage with apparent impunity. If VPD were trying to give their employers a choice—let us crack skulls or we’ll just look on and do nothing—it was effectively a political act which law enforcers aren’t supposed to indulge in.

Floyd George’s videoed murder by Minneapolis police in 2020 which sparked massive protests and resulted in one officer’s murder conviction looked rather like police defiance—as if they were daring society to do without policing if police can’t perform brutality on video with impunity. Expressed another way, the sloagnized demand to “defund” police has become an enduring element of partisan “culture wars” afflicting the USA’s body politic—and, by osmosis, Canada and other nations of Greater Anglo-Saxony—to this very day.

Minister Freeland’s case was quickly attributed to far-right radicalism emanating from organized white reactionaries which political parties of the discredited neo-right have been ginning in order to stave off rising popular moribundity and existential throes. But the radical right’s modus operandi of sucking up all the oxygen around all sorts of socio-political issues should not blind citizens to a disturbing triangularity: if lawful authority of elected government is one leg of the milking-stool, and social unrest another, then citizens need to be more alert to the fact that subversive and potentially violent personages of the radicalized far-right are actually former or active members of civic and military police forces—the third leg.

In repose to repeated cases of brutality, police were required to wear body-cams themselves, but it has statistically proved almost worthless: as we’ve seen with the Floyd George case, the shooting of black US citizens by white police has gone on without much let-up, looking, in spite of all the lessons and attempted remediations, more like a featured political statement than happenstance or necessity. Indeed, tRump made huge hay out of this sick relationship and, presumably, the disease is still festering across the USA.

Canada has similar, if relatively demur policing problems too. Nevertheless, certain trends are apparent and need address. This latest event presents two questions: why wasn’t proper security provided the Deputy Prime Minister, and why hasn’t the offender been charged? With so very many ongoing policing foibles, even this fifteen-second episode warrants investigation on these grounds.

The relationship between law makers and law enforcers has always been fraught with unique difficulties. Police sometimes participate in illegal vigilantism when they take the law into their own hands, or they can look the other way for certain people in what’s too often accepted as ordinary but petty corruption of duty. Often it’s situational in the heat of the moment, sometimes it’s judged expeditious in the circumstance, but lending police training, intelligence organization and tactics to subversive activism, as has been discovered with regard the “Freedom Convoy” and related activity has obviously crossed a line.

Where is that line? A century ago, unionization of police forces was as controversial as unionizing any other kind of work force; yet even in 1969, the Murray-Hill riot appeared to be wielded like a bargaining weapon in the hands striking Montréal police. This dysfunctional relationship between government and law enforcement is so pervasive as to be featured in box-office movies: good cop goes bad, bad goes good, mob corruption is condemned or glorified, and political interference is a given. But that’s American culture where various law enforcement offices are hopelessly entwined with electoral politics —ultimately, partisan politics—and rationalized by overweening democratic ‘principle.’ Canada doesn’t officially espouse political machinery in the recruitment and operation of police forces, yet politics (getting policy done) is often unavoidable and as unsatisfying in police matters as for other aspects of public administration. The perennial bugbear of sexual harassment of female police, for example, has dragged politicians into the fray, yet bedevils many attempts to rectify it. But insurgency of police, active or retired, often covertly, into political fora concerns us here. Post-tRump, it has become more worrisome than mere extramural police telephone solicitations seeking funding for special weapons or certain political advocacy. As it is with national-security intel forces, police should not be permitted to engage in political activism else it becomes partisan —which should be presumed so inevitable that everything other than voting in the privacy of the polling booth should be prohibited to any police employee in order that enforcement of the law not only be done, but also be seen to be done. I would go one further and prohibit retired agents from making subversive use of their civic or military police training and intel. It’s simple: if you don’t agree with these conditions (for life—how else can it be a deterrent?), then you shouldn’t make policing your livelihood. Recently and in light of radical activity, a number of currently-employed national security agents have been identified as important participants. As a result, they have been ‘let go.’ I think it’s plain we need much more discerning recruitment criteria, and much more robust invigilation and deterrence. As it was during the “Freedom Convoy,” some of these operatives were openly bragging about their national-security training even while their associates demanded the overthrow of the duly elected government (!) It seems a good, stiff broom is needed in this department.

However, the question of negligence is increasingly of concern—that is, of police NOT enforcing the law when it’s broken—because that can also be—or be perceived as— politically motivated. For example, during the 2019 “United We Roll” truckers’ protest, CPC leader Andrew Scheer was seen on TV news endorsing the convoy as it passed through his Saskatchewan riding on its way to Ottawa; behind and beside him were protesters with placards depicting PM Justin Trudeau hung by the neck, dead, above blazons of “TRAITOR!” and “TREASON!” Similar displays now attend many anti-government protests, yet even a cursory reading of Canada’s hate crime law indicates that these displays explicitly direct hatred and incite violence against an identifiable group or person (in this case, JT). Was the fact that police neglected to lay charges under the law politically motivated? Did the neglect incentivize the subsequent 2022 occupation of the Capital where similar expressions were amply evident (replete with Nazi and Confederate battle flags)? Or were politicians themselves reticent to have charges laid, upon the evidence, for fear of giving their opponents partisan ammunition? Whatever it was, neglecting to enforce hate laws can only encourage further odium from radicals, as appeared the case with the verbal assault on the Deputy Prime Minister.

Such conspicuous negligence tends to make government look like its walking on eggs, either around police forces or radicals—or maybe both. Politicians might excuse it on the ground that they shouldn’t entangle police in political matters but, perversely, that seems to be the eventual result—just the wrong way around.

Never mind the “stars” of today’s radicalized conservative politicians who neglect to condemn the assault on Chrystia Freeland: that’s properly their own partisan politics, no matter how boorish. But when police neglect to lay charges where a crime appears to have taken place, it cannot and must not be perceived as for partisan-political reasons. Indeed, because charges haven’t been laid when they appear appropriate in this case, it can only be perceived as calculation outside of the strict preview of law enforcement.