A revolting caucus

Is a revolt underway in the UCP caucus? That’s been the prevailing media narrative for the last week, but the true situation may not be so clear.

Things kicked off last week when sixteen UCP MLAs released an open letter declaring that they opposed Alberta’s insufficient, mildest-in-Canada COVID restrictions. The ranks of dissenting MLAs have since grown to eighteen, robbing me by one of a very easy-to-write headline for this week’s newsletter.

The list has all the names you’d expect, including MLAs Jason Stephan and Tracy Allard, who ignored Dr. Hinshaw’s guidance and took vacations out of the country over Christmas, and the perennially wrong about everything Drew Barnes, most recently in the news for trying to evict tenants during the pandemic. For the most part, the dissenters are from the former Wildrose part of the party.

The Premier has been tight-lipped about the whole situation, and most of the accepted narrative seems to have grown out of leaks from the ‘rebel’ caucus that were handed to Dave Naylor, a writer for the right-wing news blog The Western Standard. Naylor repeated those claims quite uncritically, despite them coming from politicians who obviously have a motive to present the situation with a lot of spin. Notably, the Standard is owned by Kenney’s former rival, Derek Fildebrandt, who was drummed out of the UCP after a series of minor scandals.

It’s very likely that the present situation is less of a revolt and more of a state of negotiated tension, with MLAs who happen to have a lot of anti-mask constituents being allowed some leeway to pander. Everyone involved in the UCP knows full well that a schism and a snap election would be disastrous: with the polls the way they are today, the NDP could probably win a head-to-head. Against a fractured party, with right-wing votes split in two directions, Notley would absolutely clean house.

But there’s no denying that the government’s handling of the pandemic is incredibly frustrating to folks of all political persuasions. Whipsawing back and forth between various over-complicated and ineffective minor measures has left people confused, workers left out in the cold, and allowed the virus to keep festering.

Folks are angry, rightfully so (even if some people are pointing their anger in the wrong direction), and the nu-Wildrose eighteen aren’t the only grifters out there trying to capitalize on that anger. After incitement from Fox News, Alex Jones, The Rebel and other media outlets that cater to the rabidly right-wing, an absolute circus of clowns descended on the now-fenced-off GraceLife church on Sunday, featuring speakers like the out-and-out white supremacist Kevin Johnston. The circus spilled over onto the Enoch Cree Nation, where allegedly band members were menaced by demonstrators, a councillor was assaulted, and Chief Billy Morin’s car was vandalized.

Pastor Coates and his congregation were elsewhere, allegedly holding Sunday service off-site in a private location. I hope the venue was large and well-ventilated enough for them to observe proper infection control practices this time. Speaking through their lawyer, the odious John Carpay of the JCCF, Coates and GraceLife attempted on Sunday to disavow and distance themselves from the extremists that they had attracted. But the mess at GraceLife is largely of Coates’ own making.

And so too does Jason Kenney have to deal with a monster of his own design. The Premier hasn’t been shy about pandering to conspiracy theorists and extremists since arriving in Alberta. He’s alleged that foreign-funded environmentalists are deliberately trying to sabotage Alberta; he’s falsely claimed that the NDP are trying to brainwash students through school curriculums; and throughout the pandemic he has continually downplayed the threat of the virus while constantly reinforcing the idea that any sort of restrictions during the pandemic are threats to civil liberties.

A few hundred anti-mask and anti-vax protestors massed outside the Legislature on Monday. And while they demonstrated, Kenney released social media posts decrying conspiracy theorists and extremists. The response from his supporters was, to say the least, hostile. But an hour later, the Premier released another sop to the anti-vax crowd: a video assuring them that vaccinations would never be mandatory. Alberta hasn’t had an incident of mandatory vaccination in 100 years. 


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