Opinion

UCP attacks media for 'old news' on party platform plans - but was it?

In the U.S., President Donald Trump attacks stories he doesn't like as “fake news.” In Alberta, the United Conservative Party and its supporters are attacking stories they don’t like as “old news.”

Albertans deserve to know what Kenney has planned before they vote next spring

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney addressed delegates at the AUMA meeting in Red Deer earlier this month. (CBC)

In the U.S., President Donald Trump attacks stories he doesn't like as "fake news."

In Alberta, politicians are attacking stories they don't like as "old news."

At least that seems to be the odd tactic of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney.

He took umbrage this week at stories from members of the legislature press gallery about a speech he gave to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 9.

He didn't call the stories inaccurate or wrong, just old.

One story in the Edmonton Journal — headlined "Quick laws and freezing wages: Jason Kenney outlines plans for power" — explained that a Kenney government would lower the minimum wage for teenagers, put in place a minister of deregulation, and move swiftly to scrap swaths of NDP policy in a special session of the legislative assembly next summer.

(Full disclosure: I used to work for The Journal).

'Hit the ground running'

"We think it will be important to hit the ground running should Albertans give us a mandate," Kenney told the chamber audience, referencing a former New Zealand finance minister who enacted major job cuts to overhaul the public sector. "You move quickly. You move with speed because speed creates its own momentum. It also makes it harder for the opponents of reform to obstruct it."

Kenney said he wanted to consult with Albertans now, not later, "so we don't get bogged down" in consultations during what Kenney has called the "Summer of Repeal" after the election, when the UCP will repeal what it sees as the worst elements of the NDP agenda.

Not surprisingly, the story sparked outrage from the NDP government that accused Kenney of, among other things, plotting to overturn new labour legislation that protects pregnant workers from being fired.

"This is all part of a stark choice that Albertans face," said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, who happily provided the government's reaction to Kenney's comments. "At least we are now getting to know Jason Kenney and Albertans are being introduced to Jason Kenney's ideas."

Responding to his critics, Kenney used a Facebook posting to ridicule opponents of his bulldozer approach to legislation as "some over-caffeinated NDP-types."

Nothing new, UCP insists

Then @Unite Alberta — the official Twitter account for Kenney's office — issued a series of tweets saying "there was nothing new" in Kenney's comments to the chamber of commerce and went on to vilify press gallery journalists by saying they only covered the story "because the NDP told them the speech now needed to be covered."

It was a response both thin-skinned and paranoid. Not to mention exceptionally odd.

Kenney and his office weren't accusing the Edmonton Journal or other media at the Edmonton-based press gallery of getting the story wrong, just that the story happened a week before.

The fact is the UCP didn't like that Kenney had made himself sound a tad draconian by declaring he didn't want to get "bogged down" in consultations with Albertans and that moving quickly to scrap legislation "makes it harder for the opponents of reform to obstruct it."

Some of the things Kenney talked about are indeed not new — but the way he said it is. He is being much clearer now, for example, on his plans to speedily and ruthlessly overturn much of the legislation the NDP has introduced.

This is what piqued the interest of Edmonton Journal political writer Emma Graney. She's based in Edmonton and wasn't at Kenney's Calgary speech.

When she got around to viewing Kenney's comments online she, as someone who covers Alberta politics in detail, saw some news value and wrote a story — only to be attacked by Kenney's Twitter account for writing old news and being an NDP stooge.

Story was accurate

That led to a remarkable series of tweets from Graney having to explain to Kenney and the UCP that she was simply doing her job as a journalist.

And her story wasn't even critical. It was accurate.

What seems to be at the heart of Kenney's irritation with the news media this week is that he doesn't like the scrutiny.

As one of the Unite Alberta tweets complained: "Strange when some journalists view their role as holding the opposition to account."

Newsflash to Kenney: it's the role of journalists to hold all politicians to account, government and opposition.

That's especially the case when the leader of the official Opposition has an excellent chance of becoming Alberta's next premier, according to public opinion polls.

Kenney has plans to roll up his sleeves in a special post-election session of the legislature next summer to invoke major changes on the province.

Albertans deserve to know exactly what Kenney has up those sleeves before they go to vote.

About the Author

Graham Thomson

You can find Graham Thomson's thoughts and analysis on provincial politics every Friday at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News and during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM).