Federal Conservative leadership hopeful Chris Alexander says he didn't stop a crowd calling for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to be locked up because politicians need to listen to constituents.
The former immigration minister was speaking at a rally at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton against the provincial NDPs' planned carbon tax Saturday when protesters began the "Lock her up" chant popularized during president-elect Donald Trump's campaign.
"I totally disapprove of that particular chant. I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's the right thing to say at a rally or elsewhere, and that's why I didn't join it," Alexander said Sunday.
Premier Notley is about to introduce the provincial carbon tax to ensure that polluters are paying for emissions that are contributing to global warming. The tax is part of a comprehensive plan to diversify Alberta's oil-rich economy, which has lost tens of thousands of jobs and been hammered by the plunge in global commodity prices.
But the crowd of people blamed the government for making their lives worse, bringing their anger to the legislature. A few of them were spotted at the rally carrying homophobic signs.
Rally speaker threw shoes and called for hackers to attack Alberta government
Another speaker at the rally, Bernard Hancock, also threw his shoes at the Alberta legislature and suggested that conservative hackers could break into the Alberta government's computer systems as part of efforts to bring down Notley's administration.
"It's not enough to talk on Facebook or to show up at a rally," said Hancock, a former oilpatch worker who explained he had quit his job to campaign against Notley. "Do you guys have any friends who are Conservatives who are computers hackers? We need their help, because I know there's a bunch of stuff they can dig up about what's going on in that building."
Some criticized Alexander for not speaking out, including Macleans columnist Scott Gilmore, who is married to Canada's environment minister Catherine McKenna.
"Lay down with pigs, Chris, you're going to get muddy," Gilmore wrote on Twitter. "There's a sad irony here. As a diplomat in Kabul Alexander fought hard for democratic reform. Now he gleefully leads 'lock her up' chants."
@TheKirkHeuser I said no such thing. My words were "vote her out". Hope you have the courage to correct the record.— Chris Alexander (@calxandr) December 4, 2016
The Edmonton rally was organized by Rebel Media, an online news and right-wing opinion outlet, and video of the incident was posted on Twitter by the website's Alberta employee Sheila Gunn Reid.
Reid and Ezra Levant, who is the head of the site, denied that Alexander was leading the chant. Alexander also denied that he repeated the "lock her up" chant.
The video shows the people in the crowd start by chanting "Vote her out," but as they grow louder, the message changes.
As they chant "Lock her up," Alexander smiles and appears to gesture in time with the chant, nodding along.
Someone can be heard shouting, "That's enough! That's enough!" in the background, and as Alexander smiles and nods, the camera turns to face the crowd.
Tory leadership hopeful Chris Alexander didn't try to stop the 'lock her up' chants
At no point in the video does Alexander stop the protesters or say anything about their chant.
"You don't pick it up in the video, but I started to say the words in time with them, 'Vote her out,' and then the next point I made was about the ballot box," he said. "I expressed my disapproval by talking about something completely different: voting. I think that was pretty clear."
The crowd says LOCK HER UP, and @calxandr gets a big smile on his face and starts gesturing with his hand in time with the chant.— Adam Stirling (@Adam_Stirling) December 4, 2016
Sandy Garossino, National Observer's associate editor, said that Alexander should have known better than to encourage the crowd.
"If you're a candidate to lead the CPC & a crowd starts this up, you have to unambiguously shut it down, no?" she asked on Twitter. "(Alexander was) grinning, waving his finger in time to the chant. About a sitting premier."
If you're a candidate to lead the CPC & a crowd starts this up, you have to unambiguously shut it down, no?@TabathaSouthey— Sandy Garossino (@Garossino) December 4, 2016
Grinning, waving his finger in time to the chant. About a sitting premier. @TerryGlavin— Sandy Garossino (@Garossino) December 4, 2016
Alexander said he thinks the chants came from a place of pain.
"Alberta's hurting. Unemployment there is at nine per cent; that's the highest in 22 years," he said, adding that many of the people in the crowd had lost their jobs.
Levant also alleged, without evidence, that NDP staffers had infiltrated the rally with offensive signs to "smear" his Rebel Media organization.
He added that several media outlets were unfairly portraying the entire rally.
Canadian Press condemned Alexander for inappropriate nodding. iPolitics now alleges incorrect smiling. DO NOT SMILE. https://t.co/m8CD92cI6u— Ezra Levant 🍁 (@ezralevant) December 4, 2016
The province is introducing a broad-based carbon tax on gasoline at the pumps and home and business heating bills, starting on Jan. 1, which Alexander says will just make things harder for people who are already struggling, though the NDP say it's an important part of lowering carbon emissions.
Alexander was defeated as a Conservative candidate in the last federal election after he was criticized for a series of blunders, including a disastrous televised interview on the CBC in which he blamed the media for ignoring the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as a clumsy announcement promising to introduce a hotline to denounce "barbaric cultural practices." The latter announcement, with Kellie Leitch, also a Conservative Party leadership candidate, was criticized for being a racist attack on Muslims.
Representatives for Notley declined to comment on the protest.