EDMONTON – A brouhaha over comments made about Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in the Alberta legislature continued to escalate Friday with the Opposition Wildrose party suspending the MLA who made them.
Earlier Friday, Wildrose house leader Nathan Cooper had said the party didn’t regret calling Ontario a needy fiscal basket case, but did regret it was said to her face.
The comments and questions were posed Thursday by Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt while Wynne was a visitor in the legislature at the invitation of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
But by late Friday, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean issued a terse, short news release saying Fildebrandt had been suspended from caucus for making “an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose caucus.”
Fildebrandt had responded to a comment made by one of his supporters on his Facebook page, who congratulated him on telling “the truth about Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as.”
Fildebrandt replied: “Proud to have constituents like you,” but later insisted he had misread the posting and said the insult against Wynne, who is openly gay, was “entirely against my views.”
“I feel terrible at the thought that anyone in the LGTBQ community thought even for one second that I shared those views,” he wrote.
“It’s not appropriate or something that should be lightly joked about. My criticisms of Ms. Wynne are based on policy and not anything personal. It never should be personal.”
His apology appeared to satisfy Edmonton Dr. Kristopher Wells of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, who tweeted “hopefully an important lesson learned and we can count on your full support for LGBTQ community in Alberta.”
But it wasn’t enough for his party, according to the news release from Jean.
“He has been suspended from our caucus immediately,” said Jean.
It was more trouble for the Wildrose, which came under widespread criticism for the attack on Wynne on Thursday.
“The questions that we asked were fair, but certainly a more appropriate time could have been found, particularly when a visiting dignitary was not in the gallery,” Cooper admitted Friday.
“We didn’t have a respectful tone yesterday. We express regret for how things unfolded. The intention was never to embarrass the (Alberta) premier or the premier of Ontario.”
Cooper said the plan, signed off by Jean, was to pose questions criticizing Ontario and Wynne’s government, but with the expectation that Wynne would not be there.
“It’s certainly a challenge to make those changes on the fly,” said Cooper.
Fildebrandt’s question and comments came more than half an hour after Wynne had been seated in the gallery.
As Wynne looked on, Fildebrandt mocked her province as a failed, debt-bloated enterprise, urging Notley not to follow suit.
“Will the premier stop following the example set by (Wynne’s) Ontario Liberals, put a cap on borrowing and get control of our out-of-control spending?” said Fildebrandt
“Ontario has the largest subnational sovereign debt on the planet. They’re now even receiving equalization payments.”
Fildebrandt also chastised Notley for inviting Wynne before she had invited Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan, and as Notley tried to answer his question, he shouted across the aisle “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall!”
On Friday, Wynne was in Calgary meeting with Mayor Naheed Nenshi and local business leaders.
She said opposition parties have a role to criticize, but that guests in her building are always treated with respect.
“Visiting dignitaries from anywhere across the country or otherwise, when they come to Ontario, they are received by all parties with grace,” Wynne told reporters.
“I’m quite sure if I were to go again to the (Alberta) legislature, it would be different.”
She suggested the criticism by Wildrose had more to do with their opposition to fighting climate change. The Wildrose has been attacking Notley’s broad-based carbon tax as an unnecessary burden at a time many Albertans are losing their jobs.
Nenshi criticized the Wildrose.
“The first thing I did this morning was apologize on behalf of the people of Calgary for the childish, petulant behaviour in the legislature yesterday,” Nenshi said.
“We can have some common courtesy regardless of politics. That is something we should strive for, especially if we strive for leadership.”
The NDP fired back at the Wildrose in the legislature Thursday. Government house leader Brian Mason called them “embarrassing cousins” and Notley said their actions prove the Wildrose is not ready to govern.
On Friday, Mason said the contretemps won’t help as Alberta seeks Ontario support for the transboundary Energy East pipeline.
Cooper said the blowup won’t affect Energy East at all because the decision on the pipeline is made by the National Energy Board.