LGBTQ

Jason Kenney vs. Rachel Notley: A little story about character

It's what they've done when no one was watching that tells us the most about their leadership
Left: Jason Kenney (michael_swan/Flickr). Right: Rachel Notley (Premier of Alberta/Flickr).

This article originally appeared on the blog Susan on the Soapbox.

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Sometimes it’s the little stories that move us.

Last week Mr. and Ms. Soapbox attended a fundraiser for Rachel Notley. It was hosted by a group of Calgary lawyers at a swanky downtown restaurant. Lawyers, business people and representatives from the non-profit sector chatted over appetizers and wine.

He said it wasn’t easy growing up gay in small-town Alberta, but he believed life would be better when he moved to the big city. He was wrong.

During the mix-and-mingle part, we talked with people who said yes times were tough, no they hadn’t seen the slump coming, yes Rachel had done a remarkable job under trying circumstances and no there’s nothing Jason Kenney could do that would make a difference (going to war with the feds might convince his base he’s “doing something” but churning up fear and loathing is not a successful long-term strategy).

At these events it’s usually Rachel, not the person who introduces her, who sticks in your mind, but this time it was slightly different.

A little story

Rachel was introduced by a soft-spoken lawyer named Carsten Jensen. Mr. Jensen is a well-respected litigator with an international reputation, which includes a stint at the United Nations Compensation Commission in Geneva, where he settled compensation claims arising from Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

He and Rachel have a shared history. They both grew up in small towns in northern Alberta, both went away to university in Toronto and both became lawyers who pursued dramatically different career paths.

The premier of Alberta has the power to implement sweeping social policies that ease suffering and bring peace of mind to Albertans or turn their lives into unmitigated misery.

There’s another difference: Mr. Jensen is gay. He said it wasn’t easy growing up gay in small-town Alberta, but he believed life would be better when he moved to the big city. He was wrong. His roommate threw him out when he found out Carsten was gay. Rachel invited Carsten to move in with her, he accepted and stayed for a year.

Let’s pause there to consider another little story about someone’s university days. This one is told by Jason Kenney.

When Jason Kenney was in university in San Francisco, he campaigned to prevent gay men from visiting their partners who were hospitalized and dying of AIDS, ensuring that many who were shunned by their families would die alone. We know this story because Mr. Kenney told us about it in a speech he gave as a young federal MP. He proudly referred to this episode as a “battle” that brought him “closer to the heart of the Church in the spiritual sense.”

When no one is watching

Coach and former basketball player John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

When no one was watching, Rachel Notley reached out to a gay friend in a time of need. When no one was watching, Jason Kenney participated in a cruel campaign to make sure same-sex couples were deprived of the hospital visitation and bereavement rights that straight couples enjoy, and later described his act in words reserved for piety.

The premier of Alberta has the power to implement sweeping social policies that ease suffering and bring peace of mind to Albertans or turn their lives into unmitigated misery.

Which leader should become the next premier of Alberta? The one who reaches out to her gay friend when no one is watching, or the one who boasts about doing everything he can to ensure gay men die alone?

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