The Scene. Jason Kenney walked out into the foyer, towards the appointed microphone, perhaps appearing not quite as ashen as he was supposed to look.
“Why are you smiling, Mr. Kenney?” a TV reporter quipped.
“Because it’s lovely outside,” the Immigration Minister responded cheerfully. “And I’m always glad to see you, Bob.”
Then it was time to get very serious.
“I’m very disturbed to see comments that were made by Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau two years ago that have just come to light and completely contradict his criticism of his Liberal colleague Dalton McGuinty’s attack on Alberta and Albertans.”
He meant David, of course.
A generous member of the Conservative staff had just been by to hand out copies of Mr. Trudeau’s remarks—in the original French and helpfully translated into English—but in case anyone was unable to read, Mr. Kenney proceeded to reenact the instantly infamous exchange.
“Justin Trudeau said two years ago that ‘Canada’s in bad shape right now because Albertans are controlling our community and social democratic agenda. That’s not working,’ ” Mr. Kenney reported. “He was asked if he thought that Canada is better served when there are more Quebecers in power than Albertans, and he replied, ‘I’m a Liberal so of course I think so.’ ”
Lest there be any confusion about the awfulness of these words, Mr. Kenney then interpreted their profound meaning and significance. “This is another reflection of the arrogance of the Liberal Party, its divisiveness,” he explained. “This is the worst kind of divisiveness, the worst kind of arrogance of the Liberal Party and it brings back for many Westerners the kind of arrogance of the National Energy Program which of course devastated the Western economy.”
He then repeated his testimony en francais.
The first question for Mr. Kenney was somewhat sarcastic.
“So how afraid are you of Justin Trudeau?”
“Not very,” Mr. Kenney responded simply.
Another reporter suggested that it was a “little desperate” to be digging up two-year-old quotes. Mr. Kenney moved to put these comments in context.
“You know, what these quotes refer to, which I’ve seen for the first time, is a willingness at the drop of a hat to attack Canadians based on where they come from, to divide rather than to unite,” Mr. Kenney explained, “completely contradicting what he has been saying about the nature of his leadership campaign and indeed reinforcing the idea that David McGuinty’s comments yesterday were not an aberration but rather reflect the real attitude of the Liberal Party towards the involvement of Westerners in Canadian politics.”
It was suggested that it was a bit odd to be going after a third party’s leadership candidate like this. “Well, we’ll let Liberals decide who to choose as leader; that’s their business. I hope they choose someone who has a solid track record, is seeking to unite the country, not divide it along regional grounds and I hope they’ll demonstrate to us that the comments of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. McGuinty don’t actually reflect a kind of a divisive approach,” Mr. Kenney offered.
So apparently there is still some chance that the next Liberal leader will win Mr. Kenney’s vote. But it will apparently be very difficult for the Immigration Minister to overcome the hurt he still feels over the National Energy Program. “Here’s their record when in power,” Mr. Kenney continued. “They did divide the country. They did alienate large portions of the country. They did bring in the National Energy Program which devastated the economy of the West. And this reinforces why in fact the Liberal Party, while it has a self-conception as the party of national unity, in fact has a track record reflected by these comments of division.”
Of the National Energy Program, Mr. Trudeau is probably not to blame (no matter who his father was). But of his comments in 2010, he is entirely responsible (even if it does appear to be his evil twin doing the interview). And it is difficult at the moment to imagine any easy explanation or excuse. He might have his spokesperson declare that “that’s the past,” but it is obvious now that the line between history and the present is currently situated somewhere around January 1, 2010—shortly after the Harper government last openly celebrated its pursuit of cap-and-trade, but a full 11 months before Mr. Trudeau went and, both literally and figuratively, fell down a flight of stairs. He might hope that somehow the Liberals manage to win Calgary Centre on Monday and that, in doing so, his apparent sin is at least indirectly absolved. But should the Liberals now lose, whatever the actual cause of the result, it will be simply too easy but to blame it on him.
Eventually a reporter suggested to Mr. Kenney that that was what this was really about: the surprisingly interesting by-election in the capital of Canadian conservatism. “What this is about is a long track record on the part of the Liberal Party of dividing the country on regional grounds and particularly—and let’s face it, this is not new,” Mr. Kenney ventured “This is a long track record of often using coded language to marginalise one particular part of the country rather than embracing Canadians from all regions participating in the governance of this country.”
Indeed, if one is to marginalise a particular part of the country, one should at least be explicit about it. But one should also be smart enough to pick a place that everyone has agreed it is okay to disparage.