Edmonton·Opinion

GSAs, Kenney and Carpay: The tangled web of Alberta politics

Oh, what a tangled web. At the centre is John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, UCP member, friend of leader Jason Kenney, but no friend of gay-straight alliances.

Jason Kenney scrambling to change the channel, while NDP is doing all it can to hog the remote

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley criticized UCP Leader Jason Kenney's past praise of lawyer John Carpay who compared LGBTQ pride flags to swastikas last weekend. (Canadian Press, CBC, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms)

Oh, what a tangled web.

And at the centre: John Carpay, former Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; current president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms; member of the United Conservative Party; friend of UCP leader Jason Kenney; not a great friend of gay-straight alliances.

Carpay flung himself headfirst into the headlines this week when in a speech he compared the gay pride flag to the Nazi swastika.

"It doesn't matter whether it's the hammer and sickle for communism, or the swastika for Nazi Germany, or whether it's a rainbow flag," declared Carpay. "The underlying thing is a hostility toward individual freedoms."

Politicians of all stripes rushed to condemn Carpay's odious comment, including Kenney who used the word "vile" to describe Carpay's screed.

Carpay issued an apology, saying he had "unintentionally" drawn a comparison between the two. He urged people to watch his whole 20-minute speech to understand the context.

Ideological sexual clubs

Let me save you the time. The context is that Carpay, as president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, is leading a legal fight against the province's Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances (also known as Bill 24).

GSAs are designed to promote understanding in schools and prevent bullying.

The Justice Centre, on the other hand, has called GSAs "ideological sexual clubs."

Yup.

In his speech to the Rebel Media crowd, Carpay criticized Bill 24, which protects students from being outed by teachers if they join a gay-straight alliance.

He bristled at any suggestion private faith-based schools remove religious language from their policies. "This is what communists and Nazis have done," he said, calling it an "attack on parental rights."

After issuing his limp I'm-sorry-if-you-were-offended apology, Carpay went silent, hoping the storm will blow over.

The NDP, not surprisingly, is doing all it can to keep the winds of outrage blowing.

Premier Rachel Notley, keen to exploit every opportunity to paint the UCP as a haven for extremists and bigots, drew Kenney into the tempest by pointing out his support for Carpay in the past — and suggesting Kenney cut those ties in the future.

"I think that if Mr. Kenney wants to convince Albertans that they should not be worried about the long-term agenda of the UCP, then he needs to demonstrate it by suggesting that Mr. Carpay doesn't have a home in that party," Notley said.

This is where things get dicey for Kenney.

Friends and allies

Carpay isn't some rank-and-file member of the UCP who can be tossed overboard without making a ripple.

Carpay is a friend and ally of Kenney. Both are former directors with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Kenney has spoken glowingly of Carpay, even bizarrely comparing him to the American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who is best known for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white person in 1955 Alabama.

More to the point, Carpay has deep ties to the religious right-wing. He is representing a swath of private, faith-based school boards in their legal fight against Bill 24.

Kenney is counting on their support and does not want to alienate them.

There are 28 private, religious school boards that have not complied with Bill 24.

This week, Education Minister David Eggen warned the boards that if they do not comply with the law by June 30, 2019, he will cut off their funding.

Tactical flaw

The big flaw with Eggen's tactic, of course, is that we are expecting the provincial election to take place in May. And if the public opinion polls are prescient, the NDP will be defeated, along with its legal and moral power to enforce Bill 24.

The mutinous school boards are simply hoping to outlast Eggen.

Kenney has not said what he will do with Bill 24.

"The law is the law but we'd have to look at the state of play at that time," he said when asked by reporters on Wednesday.

Reporters also asked Kenney if he'd kick Carpay out of the UCP.

This is where Kenney began doing something of a political jig.

He said he didn't have the authority to remove a member: "It's our board that deals with expulsions."

But that contradicts Kenney's declaration last month, when he kicked out party member Adam Strashok for having links to white supremacists, that he had "instructed party officials to cancel Mr. Strashok's membership."

Sewer rats

When pressed on the matter, Kenney dredged up the 2017 comment from deputy premier Sarah Hoffman who said the Opposition was "spending a lot of time with sewer rats."

(Hoffman has never actually explained who she was referring to with the clumsy barb, even though the context of the day pointed to Rebel Media, but Opposition MLAs have happily embraced it as an insult against them.)

Kenney said Hoffman apologized and wasn't kicked out of the party, implying the same should apply to Carpay.

Comparing the two incidents is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.

Kenney is obviously scrambling to change the channel, while the NDP is doing all it can to hog the remote control.

If nothing else, there is an odd interconnectivity to all of these events.

Kenney attacked Hoffman for her "sewer rats" comment that was an oblique reference to Rebel Media which is the group that organized this month's conference where a comparison between the Rainbow flag and Nazi swastika was made by Carpay who is leading a legal fight against gay-straight alliances by private faith-based schools who are running out the clock hoping for an election victory in 2019 by the UCP led by Kenney.

A tangled web indeed.

About the Author

Graham Thomson

You can find columnist 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).