Commentary – A busy man with a province to conquer

Joe McWilliams

It’s not every day you get invited to meet with the two biggest wheels in a major political party. But when you’re in the news business, these things can roll like that. If you stick around long enough, that is, and if you haven’t painted yourself into a corner by being too partisan. In a little town like Slave Lake, not much of great interest happens from day to day. Then one day (for example) when you’re going through the motions at your desk – not exactly snoozing, but not exactly alert either – and the phone rings.

‘Hello – is this the editor?’

‘Yes, that’s me.’

‘This is _____ from the provincial government. I’ve got something to tell you, but first you have to promise not to tell anyone about it.’

‘You realize how absurd that sounds?’

‘Yes, but that’s the deal.’

Well what the hell.

‘Okay, it’s a deal.’

‘The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are coming to your town and you’re being invited to be part of the photographers’ pool.’

Things like that.

Of course that only happened because a couple of wildfires blew up and destroyed 300-odd homes. Out of that also came visits from the Prime Minister, a couple of Premiers and any number of bigshot media organizations.

We’re more or less back to normal now. No more royalty expected, but people trying to get elected will still visit. Jason Kenney, the UCP leader, was in town recently to support the Lesser Slave Lake Constituency Association in its fundraising efforts. The folks in that organization just want the good times to come back, and they believe in their hearts that Mr. Kenney is the guy to make it happen.

Prior to his rousing speech at the UCP banquet (he’s very good at rousing speeches), Kenney dropped by the good old A&W to speak to yours truly. He’s confident, polished and well-versed in all the issues that come up. No problem. He is a little surprised to find a reporter not using a recording device, and says so. So is Clancy, his assistant, a youngster with a slight Australian accent who looks like he should still be in high school. No problem, says Clancy, I’ll send you the recording. He’s getting the whole thing on his cell phone.

I imagine every meeting Mr. Kenney (and probably every other political leader these days) attends is recorded. You can’t be too careful. Oh, I should note that first UCP President Erika Barootes slides in for an interview of her own. She’s a pleasant 30-something gal who is the party boss (elected) and chairs the provincial board on which Kenney is just another member. Barootes enjoys a large root beer during the interview. Kenney, when he arrives a half hour later, orders nothing. He makes a joke about his diet – pretty much the same quip he made when he spoke in Slave Lake last time. Humorous banter does not appear to be a strength. Ralph Klein he isn’t, but Kenney does admire the former Premier for his willingness to slash and burn (probably among other things) the provincial budget into balance.

While we’re sitting there, a customer comes over to shake Kenney’s hand.

‘I support you all the way,’ he says. ‘Good luck in the next election.’

‘I get a lot of that,’ says Kenney, resuming the interview. He then tells a story about somebody who apparently recognized the Kenney pickup truck (even though it bears no signs these days) and followed it for about 20 kilometres into town, hoping for a word with the UCP leader. The interview winds down. Kenney is off to eat dinner and make a speech. He’s a busy man, with a province to conquer.


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