‘No news to report’
Last Friday, on the second anniversary of the election that swept Rachel Notley and Alberta New Democrats into power, Conservative leader Jason Kenney called Alberta’s legislature media together for a press conference.
The assumption, as news of the press conference began spreading on social media, was that Kenney would be making an announcement about progress on the ‘unite-the-right’ negotiations that have been going on between Alberta’s Conservative and Wildrose parties. You see, May 5 was not just the anniversary of the 2015 election, it was also the deadline that Kenney set six weeks ago for when unity talks between the two parties would be completed.
It turns out, however, that Kenney had absolutely no news to report about the unite-the-right negotiations. He also had very little to say about the fact seven board members of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party have resigned since he became the party’s leader, with the most recent resignation coming just the day before his press conference.
In fact, despite it being his first actual press conference or scrum in six weeks, Kenney didn’t actually seem to have anything new or newsworthy at all to share with the media. He took the usual shots at Notley and her government, repeating the accusations about the price of oil, lost jobs, and economic slowdown that you can read daily from any number of ultra-right-wing trolls on Twitter and Facebook, but did not address the numerous economic indicators and reports pointing to renewed economic growth and job creation in the province.
He did, however, do one thing that I am constantly surprised more Albertans aren’t more troubled by and with which the media seem happy to let him get away with. In his assessment of the New Democrat government’s performance, he referred to their tenure thus far as “ideological” and “socialist.”
The use of the word “ideological” by a politician to describe another politician, although patently absurd, is nothing new or particularly troubling. Every politician brings ideology to the table with them—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be in politics. Some, like Kenney, have historically brought a more extreme and entrenched brand of ideology than most, including his clearly fundamentalist views on lgbtq+ issues and his rabid and extreme neoliberal economic tendencies. So while it’s highly hypocritical for someone like Kenney to accuse anybody else of being driven by ideology, it’s neither particularly concerning nor exclusive to him.
What should be of more concern to Albertans is Kenney’s repeated use of the word “socialist” to describe Notley and her government. It is concerning because it shows, perhaps more clearly than any other thing he does or says, that either he’s not actually paying attention to what the government is doing or saying, or that he doesn’t really understand what the word socialism means. And while either or both of those possibilities might be fine for your average right wing Twitter troll, who cannot be expected to actually pay attention to public policy or understand basic political theory, they are not okay for the leader of a major political party who expects to become premier two years from now.
The basic premise of socialism is collective ownership of the means of production as the ultimate representation of democracy and the only way to secure the social and economic wellbeing of workers. A socialist party in Alberta would advocate nationalization of the province’s entire oil and gas industry, ensure that all workers earned a living wage, and make post-secondary education free for anybody that wanted it.
As far as I can tell, in the last two years we have had a government in Alberta that has consulted with the energy industry on almost every major decision it has made, entrenched some of the lowest energy royalties in the world, boasts about having the lowest taxes in the country, and has dedicated a ton of energy and money to secure pipelines so that private industry in Alberta can increase its profit. No political scientist or analyst in their right mind would ever look at how this government has governed in the past two years and call it socialist—most wouldn’t even call it left-wing.
Kenney’s branding of the NDP as socialist is especially perplexing given his assertion to the Toronto Star a few years back that he studied “political theory, classical political theory and started reading much more broadly” while he was in university.
Assuming he’s being honest about his studies, therefore, raises a third possibility for Kenney’s constant misuse of the word “socialist”: that he’s purposefully misrepresenting the NDP’s policies as a way of fear-mongering and scaring conservative Albertans into supporting his right-wing views and agendas. But no aspiring political leader who presents himself as honest and respectable would do that, would they?
It’s high time we started calling him, and others, on their use of the word “socialist” to describe the Alberta government. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter whether it’s out of ignorance or to mislead and fear-monger, neither one speaks particularly well of Kenney’s ability to lead this province.