Opinion

UCP leader Jason Kenney had to 'eat a little crow' on Soldiers of Odin controversy

Could somebody get Jason Kenney a ladder?

Disqualified wanna-be candidate contradicted party line that group members ‘crashed’ party event

Legislature reporter Kim Trynacity and political analyst Graham Thomson discuss the Soldiers of Odin, the carbon tax and Rachel Notley's press conferences in this week's look at Alberta politics. 4:22

Could somebody get Jason Kenney a ladder?

The United Conservative Party leader will need help getting down off his high horse.

After days of loudly complaining that innocent would-be UCP candidates were tricked into posing for photographs with members of an anti-immigrant hate group, Kenney has had to eat a little crow.

It turns out one of those wanna-be candidates knew exactly who he was posing with.

Lance Coulter, who was in the running to be a UCP candidate in Edmonton-West Henday, admitted this week he knew who the Soldiers of Odin were because he looked them up online when he saw them in full leather regalia with SOO baseball caps at a UCP event last week.

UCP Edmonton-West Henday nomination contestant Lance Coulter, right, in a photo posted on the Soldiers of Odin's Edmonton Facebook page. (Facebook)

"People showed up to an event. They were polite. They were cordial. I said hello, had a conversation with them," Coulter told reporters Wednesday. "Now I don't agree with everything that they stand for. Nevertheless, people have a constitutional right to voice their opinions and I'm not going to deny them that."

Really?

What would you do?

Imagine for a moment you are a member of a political party and are hoping to become a candidate for that party in the next election. There you are at a pub night and in walk some guys wearing leather vests, T-shirts and baseball caps referencing Soldiers of Odin.

That twigs something in your head and you look it up on Wikipedia where the first line says, "Soldiers of Odin (SOO) is an anti-immigrant group founded in Kemi Finland, in October 2015."

Oh, boy.

You keep reading: "SOO has denied claims of being a racist or neo-Nazi group in interviews on their public Facebook page. However, the group's founder, Mike Ranta, has connections to the far-right neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement and a criminal conviction stemming from a racially motivated assault in 2015."

Armed with that knowledge, what do you do?

a) Immediately inform UCP officials and have the SOO members removed from the party event;

b) Immediately warn your two fellow would-be UCP candidates in the Edmonton-West Henday race not to pose for photographs with the guys wearing SOO paraphernalia;

c) Keep your mouth shut, happily pose for photographs and later defend the right of SOO members to voice their opinions.

I would expect option "c" wouldn't cross your mind. But then you're not Lance Coulter.

For demonstrating exceptionally bad judgment, or worse, Coulter was unceremoniously dumped from the UCP nomination race on Thursday.

'A polite racist is still a racist'

He received a letter from the party's executive director, Janice Harrington, who has become something of an expert crafting letters telling people with a history of posting hateful or ridiculous comments on social media they are not welcome to run as candidates for the UCP.

"We strongly disagree with your seemingly sympathetic assessment of Soldiers of Odin and are frankly disturbed with your cavalier attitude taken to a hate group attending a United Conservative Party event," writes Harrington to Coulter. "This incident has resulted in reputational harm to our party and its many members."

Harrington is careful not to accuse Coulter of racism or extremism. But she makes her point clearly and forcefully. "Hate and racial intolerance has no place in the United Conservative Party," she writes. "And we do not agree with your view that we should be 'cordial' to racists simply because they are 'polite.' A polite racist is still a racist."

Harrington is becoming very good at writing these letters — perhaps because she's getting so much practice.

Harrington also criticizes Coulter for not warning the UCP about the Soldiers of Odin at the party pub event when he realized who they were. You have to wonder, though, why nobody else thought to look up SOO other than Coulter.

Not surprisingly, Premier Rachel Notley has been quick to pounce on Coulter's comments and his eviction from the UCP candidacy.

NDP 'raising the issue'

"I suspect the reason that this one is happening is because we are raising the issue," Notley told reporters Thursday.

She was referring back to her comments Tuesday when she made the remarkable decision to hold a news conference at the legislature to comment on the Soldiers of Odin kerfuffle and accuse Kenney of playing "dog-whistle politics" to attract extremists to his party.

Premiers don't usually hold news conferences to comment on nomination races for opposition parties but as we head toward the spring 2019 election this premier is keen to paint her UCP opposition as a hotbed of hate and extremism.

UCP Edmonton-West Henday nomination contestant Nicole Williams, second from left in front, poses with identifiable members of Soldiers of Odin. (Facebook)

On Tuesday, Kenney responded by accusing Notley of playing "gutter politics." He said the Soldiers of Odin had "crashed" last week's UCP pub event and had tricked the party's would-be candidates into posing for photographs.

But Kenney's attack was blunted by the Soldiers of Odin who said UCP party officials knew full well SOO members were going to the event. And then Kenney's position was undermined by Coulter's admission on Wednesday.

To make matters more awkward for Kenney, Coulter defiantly announced Thursday he is not going quietly. He is appealing the UCP decision to kick him out of the party's nomination race.

That leaves Kenney little choice but to stop railing against the NDP on this issue — and climb down from his high horse.
Where's that ladder?

Graham Thomson is a political analyst who has covered Alberta politics as a reporter and columnist for more than 30 years.

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).