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He’s Back! Jason Kenney on COVID, Trump and More

The former premier is convinced he handled the pandemic well and populist conservatives are a menace.

David Climenhaga 4 Jan 2024Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

When Jason Kenney talks about Donald Trump, it’s hard to shake the feeling he’s really talking about Danielle Smith.

We all remember “Perfesser Kenney,” back when he was the United Conservative Party premier of Alberta, taking off his blazer, rolling up the sleeves of his crumpled white shirt and addressing the jaded journos at a mid-afternoon news conference on COVID or some similar calamity as if he were lecturing to a room full of unruly and hungover freshmen at 8:30 in the morning.

That was a tough act to pull off for a college dropout, and Kenney usually didn’t succeed. Just the same, the Perfesser is back, only this time he’s playing a public intellectual on YouTube.

Lately, at any rate, he’s started appearing in video interviews defending his record as the first United Conservative premier of Alberta, bloviating about such topics as teachers’ unions and abortion, and letting us know what he thinks about John A. Macdonald (good) and Trump (not so good).

One has the feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this annoying version of Kenney in the near future, too. Who knows? Maybe he aspires to become Canada’s next Jordan Peterson, who, say what you will, used to be a real professor.

Consider Kenney’s smarmy recent Off Script YouTube interview with Steven Edginton, a young right-wing British journalist and Brexit campaigner who sat down with the former Alberta premier for an obsequious on-air interview published by the Telegraph, the U.K. Conservative party’s virtual house organ, also known for that reason as the Torygraph.

Let’s start with what Kenney had to say about Trump, the former and possibly future U.S. president, heaven forbid.

“As a conservative, my own view on this is that his brand of weaponizing populist anger, with no kind of governing conservative principles that are discernible to me, is toxic and poses an existential threat to anything that could properly be called the conservative movement,” Kenney opined.

“I think much of his appeal to people is not based on any policies or principles, per se, but on a kind of stylistic approach... as his willingness to be vulgar and insult the cultural elites, political and economic elites, which a large segment of the Republican electorate so deeply despises.... I think if that becomes the face of conservatism in the western world, that it’s a movement that does not deserve to be in government.”

Many of us, of course, would heartily agree with that sentiment. But these seem like sharp words for someone who seemed to channel Trump’s populism early in his tenure as premier. One just can’t shake the feeling that Kenney is really talking about the Take Back Alberta faction of the United Conservative Party that ran him out of office last year and handed over the keys to the premier’s office to Smith.

“I think it’s massively disruptive,” Kenney rambled on, as he tends to do. “It has nothing to do with this sort of Burkean conception of meaning, of learning from the past, preserving this past about our institutions and customs. It’s all about burning things down. As he says, ‘I am your revenge.’ You know, anger and revenge do not constitute an appealing political vision, in my view.”

Naturally, Kenney is anxious to defend his record as premier, and as a federal cabinet minister before that.

“Do you have any regrets as the premier of Alberta in terms of those lockdown policies and how it impacted the church?” Edginton asked.

“Alberta had the lightest restrictions of any province,” Kenney responded boastfully. “I was the premier at the time, widely condemned by most of the mainstream media and my political adversaries for being, they would claim, recklessly liberal on COVID restrictions.

“We were the only province to allow for congregational worship to continue throughout the entire pandemic. Some of the provinces shut all places of worship for months at a time. And we were in constant communication with faith leaders about how to get it right....

“So, no, I don’t regret the policies that we had. Because we have in our single-payer health-care system a rationing system with very limited capacity. And we came, a couple of times, perilously close to having to triage patients, deny people care, withdraw care from others. And we did at times have to cancel half or more of the surgeries to repurpose surgical staff into intensive care.”

Most faith leaders agreed, he rambled on, but there were two or three “independent evangelical pastors who very flagrantly, publicly, repeatedly, for months, refused any communication with the public health authorities and just ignored all of the measures.”

“They just told the people not to wear masks and to jam in next to each other and so forth, and, eventually, the enforcement authorities got court injunctions against those two or three churches.”

“I do regret that all of that happened,” he finally wrapped it up. “But if they had acted more, I think, from my perspective, more responsibly, it could have been avoided.”

So, you see, it turns out the problems Kenney faced during the pandemic were the fault of the single-payer medicare system and, if not that, the media and the Opposition and, if not that, reckless evangelicals, or maybe all of those things. But Kenney is certain he got it right.

If you’re made of stern stuff, you can hear what he has to say on his other enthusiasms, such as teachers' unions (“It just so happens that the teachers’ unions and their ideological allies completely dominate [school board] elections, and are, you know, radically removed from the sort of centrist political consensus in Canada”), abortion (“There’s some state interest in protecting vulnerable unborn human life, and yet, it’s become almost impossible... to have any kind of debate”) and John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister (“There’s absolutely no question, without John Macdonald, there’d be no Canada”).

But that’s all I can stand transcribing. If you want more, you’re going to have to listen to it yourself.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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