Monday, March 8, 2021
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Bell: Kenney gag order, premier tells UCP MLAs to toe party line

Bell: Kenney gag order, premier tells UCP MLAs to toe party line
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I was expecting a couple or three phone calls Tuesday.

Calls from stirred-up United Conservative politicians with something to say.

You know, more free-speaking United Conservative politicians like Angela Pitt and Drew Barnes who have something to say about COVID-19 and were told they wouldn’t get smacked down for saying it.

But the calls never came. Then I found out why.

You see, the way several people behind the virtual closed doors tell it, Family Day Monday was quite the day.

Last week, many United Conservative MLAs wanted to meet about getting everyone on the team back together again.

Of course, this would involve those at the top listening and respecting the opinion of those in the ranks.

It never happened.

Instead, there was to be a Valentine’s Day discussion on COVID. Then it was moved to Family Day along with another item. Discipline among the UCP MLAs.

It was shape up or ship out time. It was toe the line time.

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Rock the boat and you’ll walk the plank time.

Or at least get a jolly good flogging.

Premier Jason Kenney and his sidekick Mike Ellis, appropriately called The Whip, didn’t want any loose lips to sink the premier’s ship.

The day of reckoning should have happened long ago. They should have laid down the law earlier.

So apparently went the thinking of those calling the shots.

The MLAs were reportedly told those among them voicing concerns publicly were overshadowing the good work of the government. The U-turn on coal. The $1,200 cheques.

The people speaking out were causing the Kenney government’s poor showing in the polls and creating a split on the right side of the political spectrum.

Because folks spoke out there couldn’t be a change of direction on COVID because it would be viewed as a political move.

Everybody would start with a clean slate from here on in but if anyone steps out of line they could face a reprimand, a suspension or even expulsion from the UCP fold.

It is said Kenney lambasted Pitt.

Airdrie’s Angela Pitt is not a COVID-19 denier. Pitt says she doesn’t want to go down Tinfoil Hat Lane with those few souls who believe COVID is not real.

But Pitt says people have the right to question the government. It isn’t up to folks to prove they have freedom. The burden of proof is on those who want to limit it.

One fly on the wall says as many as 20 to 25 UCP MLAs want a lighter touch on restrictions. That’s serious numbers.

“Albertans are different from people in the rest of Canada. I think Albertans hold freedom a little more sacred than those in other parts of the country. I think that’s a factor not being considered.”

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NOTE TO PREMIER KENNEY: These comments and those following were from late last week before any zip-your-lips edict came into effect.

Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt

Pitt says the Kenney government has been combative with Albertans and the citizens she represents are sick and tired of feeling they’re being punished.

Asked about whether Kenney had done a good job rattling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cage over vaccines, Pitt replies: “Boy, this opens up a whole other can of worms.”

Pitt pauses.

“That’s probably the best answer.”

The outspoken Airdrie MLA says there’s a risk in Kenney not listening.

“We cannot continue down this path. We have to do the things that are going to protect people and we have to stop doing the things that are punishing people.”

Yes, Kenney certainly looks a guy who hasn’t got his groove back. He sounds almost frightened, gloomy, obsessed with what could happen way more than with what is actually happening.

A man of worst-case scenarios, of body bags and field hospitals, a veteran politician misreading the fatigue of a public who don’t need another lecture or another trite slogan to rally around.

Ralph Klein, the former premier, often spoke of finding where the parade was going and getting in front of it.

Kenney is still with the marching band from more than two months ago.

It is one thing to be attacked by those who will never support you. It is a very different problem when those who backed you are the ones bent out of shape.

Then there are the COVID numbers. New cases. Way down. COVID patients in hospital and in intensive care. Way down.

But Kenney did lay down the law. His people will likely deny it’s a gag order.

Whatever it is, one thing is clear.

The phone isn’t ringing.

rbell@postmedia.com

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