Taking the microscope to the United Conservative Party’s blatant falsehoods
Here’s how it works. You make a ridiculous statement, create a meme, or stage a photo op, put it up on social media, and let your army of trolls, including far-right news outlets, take it from there. You then work hard to convince your loudest followers that there is a media conspiracy against you, and that the mainstream media will always resort to lies and smears to take you down. Finally, you enlist the troll army to paint anyone that opposes, disagrees with, or even works to fact-check your messaging as an extremist.
It doesn’t matter if your original statement or meme massaged the facts, misrepresented the truth, or was an outright lie. Closely following the steps above will guarantee that a significant portion of the population will see it and unquestioningly accept it as truth, regardless of whether it is or not.
The most extreme example of this is, of course, Donald Trump’s campaign to become President of the United States and his subsequent first year in the job. Trump has turned the political lie into an art form. Even on those occasions when experts, academics, and mainstream media have called out the lies, they don’t register with the public because they have been branded as “fake news” or part of the liberal elite conspiracy against him.
It is a frightening and frustrating dynamic, and paints a bleak picture for the future of open and engaged democracy. Sadly, Alberta is not immune. The past year has seen our very own Jason Kenney, now leader of the United Conservative Party, use these exact same tactics with tremendous success.
On December 31, 2016, for example, Kenney posted a video of himself filling up his Dodge Ram in order to make a point about how much the coming carbon levy would hurt hard-working Albertans at the pumps over the coming year. Of course, the fact that Kenney saved, at most, $4.41 by filling up on New Year’s Eve, and the fact that for most of the following twelve months gas was actually cheaper than it had been on December 31, didn’t register for most Albertans. Kenney’s false narrative that the carbon levy would prove prohibitive for most Albertans was what won the day.
Likewise, even though Kenney explicitly told the Calgary Herald editorial board that LGBTQ+ kids should be outed to their parents when they join gay-straight alliances, he has somehow convinced his followers that he never said this and that any assertion that he wants to out LGBTQ+ kids is a fabrication of the NDP and the mainstream media meant to unfairly smear him.
Or, take for example Kenney and the UCP’s statement last month that “the NDP is even slapping Albertans with a whopping 75 percent tax on natural gas.” A statement that was doubled-down upon by pro-Kenney political action committee Alberta Can’t Wait with a meme stating that home heating bills would increase by 75 percent on January 1, 2018.
Of course, both of these statements are patently false (the carbon levy on natural gas is a flat rate per GJ, set at $1.51 as of January 1, and is only charged on the natural gas portion of home heating bills, not the delivery or transmission costs), but by the time the mainstream media and the government got around to pointing that out, the memes and messaging had already been shared thousands of times by UCP supporters and the folks at Rebel Media, making the fact-checking completely irrelevant.
Perhaps Kenney’s biggest whopper of the year came with his assertion in December that Bill 32, the government’s new legislation governing elections, removed all residency requirements for voting in provincial elections.
According to Kenney, the UCP, and Rebel Media, this move would allow people to come to Alberta on election day, vote, and then leave again. Although the legislation did remove the requirement for voters to have been in resident in Alberta for six months, a timeframe that was completely arbitrary, impossible to prove, and that other provinces have already removed, it still requires people to prove they are resident in Alberta before being able to cast a ballot. Again, by the time a few folks in mainstream media got around to correcting this fact, the damage had already been done and thousands of Albertans are now convinced that anybody can show up in Alberta on election day and cast a ballot.
The above are but a few examples of Kenney’s precarious relationship with the truth over the course of the last year; there are many others. It should go without saying that these lies and misrepresentations are damaging to democracy and should be punished electorally, but sadly the opposite seems to be happening. The strategy is working for Kenney just as it did for Trump, and Albertans will pay the price for it.
If Kenney and his followers truly believe that the NDP’s policies are wrong and damaging to the province, then he should not be afraid to challenge them on their own merit. Likewise, if he believes his policies are the right ones for Alberta, then he should let Albertans judge them on their merits without the need for equivocation or double-speak. Either way, Albertans deserve better. Let’s get beyond the lies and half-truths and get back to engaging in genuine, honest, and thoughtful debate and dialogue about the policies and ideas that impact our lives.