Jason Kenney trying to steer UCP away from ‘bozo eruptions’

Employment Minister Jason Kenney answers a question in the House of Commons, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

 

What does Alberta’s United Conservative Party stand for?

Good question, and maybe we’ll get to that later.

For now, leader Jason Kenney wants voters to know that the UCP doesn’t stand for homophobia, Islamophobia, or ‘hateful views’ in general.

And it doesn’t plan to get embroiled in contentious social issues like abortion.  And it’s not a party for personal attacks, exaggeration or gloating.

Basically, from recent party memos and statements, the UCP brass feel the party needs to be a low-key, stick-to-your-knitting kind of organization.  With a hefty lead in the polls, they perceive the election as theirs.  But the niggling fear of overconfidence, the unpredictability of some of the party’s members, and cautionary experiences of the relatively recent past, are putting a damper on the process of party building.

The UCP wants no ‘bozo eruptions’, a phrase often thrown around in 2012 as the Wildrose snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a series of social media and campaign trail gaffes that projected an extreme right-wing image.

No extremism to see here, folks.  Let’s just move along to the economy and pipelines and carbon taxes.

Of course that’s not exactly how the party’s early months are playing out.  And with enthusiastic candidate nominations underway in a nascent party all too sure it will win the next election handily, Kenney finds himself having to play the nagging schoolmaster to unruly party members.

The UCP has already had to deal with a couple of haunting social media messages from the past.

The party rejected a possible contender for the UCP nomination in Brooks-Medicine Hat whose social media feed included anti-Muslim rhetoric.  The party stressed it is using very vigorous vetting to prevent these types of candidates from making it to nomination.

Still planning to run for the nomination in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin, Sandra Kim ran into trouble for a Facebook post stating: “Yes, I am a Christian.  I believe the Bible.  I do not support homosexuality or ‘homosexual marriage.’”  To be fair, the post from three years ago, before she says she ever considered running for office, went on to say “I still love you” and “I am not judging you” and “I am not condemning you to hell.”

Kim apologized when the controversy blew up at the end of July saying: “I shared some posts without fully thinking how they could be perceived.  That is on me.  To anyone whom I offended, I apologize.”

She added that she “accepts that same-sex marriage is the law of the land and is a settled issue.”

It’s those settled issues, but hot-button conservative political topics, that are plaguing Kenney and keeping the party from moving into more robust policy making.

Social issues are pretty well off the UCP table, stressed Kenney at the party’s founding convention.

After that convention he said his platform won’t deal with abortion issues.  He also tamped down a grass-roots effort to reopen the issue of parent rights and Gay Straight Alliances in Alberta schools.

“I will take the resolutions adopted today as important input, but I hold the pen on the platform,” said Kenney to reporters after a convention vote on the topic.

“Ultimately the leader is responsible for producing a balanced, winning platform.  That’s my intention,” he said.

Besides containing the more edgy opinions of the fringes of the party, Kenney has also taken it upon himself to police the tone of members as the campaign begins to ramp up.

In a memo leaked to Postmedia News, Kenney advises nomination candidates to not “go over the top in attacking the NDP.”

The etiquette primer warns against overheated rhetoric and recommends candidates be “magnanimous in victory, and gracious in defeat.”

“Message discipline doesn’t work if it’s only part of the time,” Kenney stated.

But what exactly is the message?  The central message so far this summer has been that the UCP is not bigotted, rude, or abrasive.  In a political environment where a handy UCP victory in the spring election is the foregone conclusion of polls and pundits, that might be enough.

But for voters, knowing what you are voting for, rather than what you’re not voting for, should be a minimum bar when you head to the polls.

More from Kathy Kerr     @kathkerr1

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