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Jason Kenney and Doug Ford take the stage in Calgary to attack Trudeau and carbon tax

Give Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party their due: They got a large and enthusiastic crowd out last night to their rally in Calgary against taking action on climate change.

Leastways, I'd say 1,500 warm bodies at a rally on any topic should concern the government they came out to yell at, no matter what the issue, which in this case was technically the Trudeau Government's policy of putting a price on carbon outputs.

This is true even if a large percentage of the audience looked to be well over 50. Someone waving a white cane in support of the speakers may not have been quite the image the UCP was striving for, but oldsters are known for getting out to vote.  

This said, while the crowd in the Stampede Grounds' convention hall last night was officially yelling at a Liberal federal government that's rarely been warmly received in Calgary, in fact this turnout should be more of a worry to Premier Rachel Notley's NDP than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

Indeed, it may not hurt the federal Liberals at all for voters elsewhere in Canada to see the same stage occupied by both Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who, as the real leader of Canada's Conservatives, is bound to play the foil to Trudeau in next year's federal election, and Kenney, who will serve nicely as a stand-in to remind Canadians of the dreary decade Stephen Harper ran things in Ottawa.

Much of Canada has historically viewed Alberta and its politicians with a jaundiced eye, and may well continue to do so while memories of Harper's leadership style remain fresh in many memories.

As for the often-clownish Ford -- who appears to have taken elocution lessons from W.C. Fields -- his shelf life at home and elsewhere in Canada is likely to be short.

Moreover, Calgary, which will probably be the key battleground in next year's provincial election, is not an unsophisticated city. The Ontario premier's histrionics and his pandering to social conservatives are bound to embarrass some Calgarians and trouble others.

Being able to tie Ford to Kenney -- who is normally very cagey about what his own policies in office might be -- may not be a bad thing for Notley's NDP either. After all, we already know what Ford's policies are, and they are not encouraging.

In fact, it's mildly surprising that Kenney was prepared to tie himself so closely to Ford, who with an unconvincing mandate is enacting controversial health care, education and workplace policies that many Alberta voters, even quite conservative ones, fear Kenney might also implement.

By contrast to his self-described "bromance" with Ford, Kenney has been very sly about his ties to anti-abortion activists, whom the CBC reports are working hard to snatch many UCP nominations, and homophobic and creationist fringe home-schooling groups.

Maybe there's a deeper strategy at play here about which extremists the UCP acknowledges and which ones it denies. Or maybe Kenney is flirting with going Full Trump in the 2019 provincial election campaign. But most likely the Alberta Opposition leader just couldn't resist the star power of a notorious politician like Ford, who was bound to draw a crowd from the UCP base even if he gives more centrist Albertans hives.

After all, in Calgary victory in 2019 may come down to which party can get out their base.

Judging from the limited news coverage and short social media clips of this members-and-supporters-only affair, a MAGA hat or two notwithstanding, the crowd wasn’t howling for blood and Ford didn't seem to wander too far from his carbon tax script.

"The carbon tax is the worst tax ever, anywhere," he declared in his customary foghorn style. The Ontario premier, not known for his scholarship, may have missed the lessons about the American colonies' experience with taxation without representation or the Ottoman Empire's blood tax of boys for the army, but a little Trumpian hyperbole is par for the course nowadays.

Be that as it may, it was charming to hear Ford complaining that the federal carbon tax is "the most regressive tax in Canadian history."

Never mind Kenney's vow to bring back Ralph Klein's infamous flat tax, Conservatives worrying about regressive taxes is a novelty, even if it would be unrealistic to take it as a hopeful sign.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.​

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