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Never mind the throne speech, yesterday's excitement was about the Kamikaze Campaign

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United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney at yesterday's news conference (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Never mind the throne speech. Yesterday's excitement all took place in the basement media room of the Alberta legislature building an hour afterward.

The afternoon Speech from the Throne by Alberta's NDP government was pretty much what you'd expect under the circumstances, which are that Premier Rachel Notley is expected to call an election any day now.

That is to say, the speech read by Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell was more of a campaign document with an emphasis on the past successes of Premier Notley's NDP government from the perspective of potential supporters than a policy roadmap of the government's next term in office, which is the traditional function of such a speech in a parliamentary democracy.

Accordingly, the speech's tone was generally upbeat: "Restoring trust in government," with digs at past and potential future misconduct by Conservative insiders; "creating good jobs in a more diversified economy," outlining the NDP response to recession and low oil prices; and "a province that works for everyone," how this government resisted the traditional Alberta remedy for a downturn, austerity that makes things generally worse. ("Together, we have done away with the entitled, broken politics of the past.")

That done, the media barely hung around their usual post-throne-speech haunts in the legislative building's rotunda as the entire opposition United Conservative Party Caucus ignored the grand marble staircase and slipped furtively out the back exit of the Chamber and the side door of the building -- a maneuver that surely must be unique in parliamentary history!

Instead, the representatives of the Fourth Estate were waiting impatiently in the basement where Opposition Leader Jason Kenney had promised to show up at 5 p.m. to rattle off a pro forma denunciation of the throne speech. No surprises there either. ("Today's throne speech reveals an NDP government that is completely out of touch with the economic reality facing Albertans," yadda-yadda.) Everything the NDP said they did right, Kenney said they did wrong. Almost no one quoted him about that when they sat down at their laptops, either.

Those metaphorical media pencils were sharpened and poised, though, but not for that. Their attention was focused on the metastasizing "Kamikaze mission" story of how Kenney captured the UCP leadership from his rival Brian Jean in 2017, which mainstream media are now beginning to refer to as a scandal without quotation marks.

Kenney, freshly barbered and looking slim and natty in a nice dark suit, denied everything. Everything.

His 2017 leadership campaign did nothing wrong, he insisted. If anything wrong happened, his campaign had nothing to do with it. If it did have anything to do with it, he knew nothing about it. The sources for the media stories that break seemingly daily now, sometimes more often, are disappointed losers and people with sketchy histories. I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

The general outlines of the Jeff Callaway Kamikaze Campaign are getting to be well known, of course, as is the suggestion there were some significant flow-through donations to keep it afloat. But yesterday's revelations about a specific $60,000 contribution, described as a loan, from a well-heeled Friend of Kenney (FoK) was new.

But you have to give the man his due. Peppered with questions for the better part of an hour, he never gave an inch. No contrition, no admission; an explanation for everything.

Despite a phalanx of reporters flinging hardball questions, with no spin, reminiscent of a better day in Canadian journalism, Kenney had given up nothing by the time your self-invited blogger slipped out the back door as quietly as a UCP MLA on his way back to his office underneath the Sky Palace.

No need to take my word for it. You can read the accounts of the professionals here, and here, and here, and here.

My guess is there are still more revelations to come in this affair. I bet Kenney denies them too.

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 Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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