There’s nothing like a protest vote, born out of anger, to come back and bite you in the arse.
That increasingly appears to be the case here in Alberta, after voters elected the NDP as a way to punish the Progressive Conservative government for its leader’s perceived elitism and wasteful spending (who can forget the Sky Palace?). Not long after the post-election honeymoon, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s approval ratings dropped some 20 per cent. “Sticking it to the man” turns out to not be very pleasing when it starts getting in the way of your family’s ability to put food on the table.
In the United States, a similar wave of discontent and frustration with politicians has led to the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, who despite being a billionaire businessman, has managed to brand himself as a man of the masses.
And now, in an unprecedented move, Canada’s greatest ally across the pond has left the European Union. The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU is being called Brexit.
Brexit holds definite lessons for Canada, not least of which is the significant power of an irate electorate. The economic repercussions will be significant. The Canadian dollar has already been affected by the fiasco. People are uneasy about one of the world’s most important financial centres being thrust into uncertainty, and there will be ripples in our energy sector.
So I certainly found it interesting when prominent Conservative politician Jason Kenney was one of the first out the gate to congratulate British voters for choosing “hope over fear” by rejecting the European Union. This despite the fact that advocates of the Brexit campaign deliberately pandered to fears of non-European immigration and austerity measures to sway half of the electorate to vote “leave”.
But Kenney is no stranger to the politics of fear.
A divisive figure in Canadian politics, Kenney was widely regarded as the mastermind behind the Conservative’s 2011 majority victory due to building inroads with ethnic minority communities and helping the Conservatives win ridings with large immigrant populations. He emerged as one of the strongest defenders of the proposed niqab ban in Canadian citizenship ceremonies, which in my opinion, was a clear example of the Conservatives stoking fears about sharia law in Canada for votes.
This is the same man who many expect to gallop into Alberta politics (provided his cowboy boots still fit) to “unite the right” and defeat the provincial NDP. There’s no doubt Kenney’s considerable political connections and backroom skills would help in achieving this feat.
But if Kenney plans to galvanize Albertans with the same kind of identity politics we saw in Brexit, and now the United States, those of us who value a pluralistic and open society have cause to be worried.
In a province where acts of hate are on the rise, and people have literally threatened politicians with death over social media, a more conciliatory approach to politicking is warranted.
Whoever the contenders in Alberta’s next election, let’s hope they can present their case to Albertans without fanning the flames of anger and resentment.