Wildrose leader's 'beat Rachel Notley' joke provokes widespread condemnation

Condemnation poured in Wednesday from all sides as Wildrose Leader Brian Jean tried to undo damage created by a comment he made during a speech in Fort McMurray the night before.

Brian Jean's comment 'a brain fart,' says political science professor

Brian Jean admits his comments about Premier Rachel Notley were inappropriate. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Condemnation poured in Wednesday from all sides as Wildrose Leader Brian Jean tried to undo damage created by a comment he made during a speech in Fort McMurray the night before.

Responding to questions about the need for more seniors housing in the city he represents, Jean told an audience he has been "beating this drum" for more than a decade.

"I will continue to beat it, I promise," Jean said. "But it's against the law to beat Rachel Notley."

He quickly apologized for what he later characterized as an "inappropriate attempt" at humour.

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt called Jean's comment "a brain fart."

"It's how you respond that I think is more important, or if it becomes a pattern of behaviour," Bratt said. "And we have not seen that sort of behaviour from Brian Jean."

Liberal Leader David Swann called Jean's comment a "big stumble" and said he hopes the Wildrose leader will learn from it.

"He immediately caught it and apologized," said Swann. "He has learned some hard lessons, and I hope he'll be more discreet in terms of his comments."

Premier frequent target of threats

But Jean's self-proclaimed "attempt" at humour drew no laughs from Edmonton YWCA chief executive Jackie Foord.

She said she wants to give Jean, whom she has never met, "the benefit of the doubt," but is at a loss to figure out why the leader made the comment in the first place.

"If that's where your sense of humour took you to, in a public place, and those words came out of your mouth, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he wasn't trying to incite violence in this case," Foord said. "But it was a violent reference to a policy issue."

The premier and female members of her cabinet have been the target of violent online threats since the NDP formed government in 2015.

"Those violent references aren't being targeted toward men," said Foord. "And I don't think anyone can say that's just a coincidence."

Social media response to Jean's comment flooded in from a wide a range of sources.

The premier did not comment, but status of women minister Stephanie McLean called Jean's remark "totally unacceptable in this day and age."

"That kind of comment, regardless of whether it's serious or a joke, it's totally out of touch with what Albertans want to see from their leaders."
Comments like those by Brian Jean "drive me nuts," says rugby team captain and Olympic medalist Jen Kish, shown here with status of women minister Stephanie McLean. (CBC)

Nodding in agreement beside the minister on the legislature lawn was the captain of Canada's Olympic medal-winning rugby team, Jen Kish.

Kish tackled the issue head-on while taking part in an "empowering women" event.

"As a citizen of Canada and resident of Alberta, it drives me nuts." said Kish, who characterized Jean's comment as a 'backwards" move toward setting a good example for young people.

"For someone of that status to make a comment like that, it doesn't (sit) well with me and I'm sure it doesn't with everybody else who's trying to achieve what we're trying to achieve today, which is women being successful in a male dominant world."