Lately, there has been a lot of online rhetoric and sentiment at protests about the Alberta government resembling a fascist dictatorship-style regime. Some commentators have said that Alberta is having problems with authoritarianism. But is that the case? Let us take a closer look at what constitutes fascism, dictatorships, and authoritarianism, and see how the Albertan government fits into the equation.
Robert O. Paxton is a political scientist and historian that specializes in topics like fascism. In his book, The Anatomy of Fascism, Paxton defines fascism as the following:
“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
Based on this definition of fascism, we can see that, although the United Conservative Party (UCP), their base, and their governance may fit into some of this definition, they do not quite fit into all aspects of it.
Paxton states in his paper, Five Stages of Fascism, that there are several “mobilizing passions” that characterize fascist movements and help recruit followers to the fascist regime. These mobilizing passions are attributed to seven particular attitudes that motivate and shape actions:
1. The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual.
Loyalty to the group, the party, supersedes everything else, including rights. A case could be made for this feature. UCP caucus members that were not on board with the current direction have been removed from the party or left of their own volition.
2. The belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action against the group’s enemies, internal as well as external.
Premier Kenney’s campaign was very victim-centric. Albertans were victims to growing debt and victims to the carbon tax. The UCP also has a habit of shifting the onus for any mistakes onto other people like Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley. After the Keystone XL fiasco, there was a lot of blustering and making Alberta out to be the victim.
3. Dread of the group’s decadence under the corrosive effect of individualistic and cosmopolitan liberalism.
A case could be made for this feature. Liberalism and left-wing ideals do not align with the right-wing UCP base. Higher education is also equated with liberalism, and education has been one of the sectors that has been hit with massive cuts to funding.
4. Closer integration of the community within a brotherhood (fascio) whose unity and purity are forged by common conviction, if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary.
This feature also applies. Some UCP MLA’s did pose for photos with known white supremacy groups, and white supremacy groups like the Soldiers of Odin have thrown support behind the UCP. As for violence, there have been violent outbursts at peaceful protests by counter-protestors, and rallies with racist undertones have taken place.
5. An enhanced sense of identity and belonging, in which the grandeur of the group reinforces individual self-esteem.
It could be argued that identifying with the UCP base is a source of pride and self-esteem for some base members.
6. Authority of natural leaders (always male) throughout society, culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny.
Jason Kenney is male, and if someone replaced him in the UCP, they would probably be a male. However, there has been some infighting recently, so he is not quite the chieftain who “alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny.” According to the polls some of Kenney’s base is beginning to turn on him as well, so this feature doesn’t necessarily apply.
7. The beauty of violence and of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success in a Darwinian struggle.
This feature does not seem to apply fully, especially with the current UCP government and their base. There was some sacrifice with the Kamikaze campaign for Kenney to get elected, but since then, UCP members and supporters have not shown the same ideals or will.
Based on the above, the UCP does not fully embrace all of the features of fascism that Paxton outlines, nor do they fully fit into Paxton’s definition. I would also argue that they don’t fit into all of Umberto Eco’s features of fascism either, though they do fit some of them.
So is the UCP fascist? I would say no, although many members do embrace some ideas that could be considered features of fascism.
Next, is the UCP a dictatorship?
Robert Reich, an American economist, professor, and political commentator, outlines ten steps for turning a democracy into a dictatorship as follows:
1. First, destroy labour unions, so people have no way to bargain for higher wages and less capacity for political organization.
2. Crackdown on college students, so they won’t oppose you (ie: burden them with so much student debt and make it so hard for them to find good jobs that they won’t dare rock the boat).
3. Undermine public education, so people are less able to think critically for themselves.
4. Cut deals with rich business executives and billionaires implying that if they back you, you’ll reduce their taxes, slash government spending on the poor, and eliminate regulations that impinge on their profits. (Better yet, be a billionaire yourself.)
Business taxes were reduced, which only helped large corporations, and funding for programs like rental assistance were slashed. There was also a suspension in environmental monitoring requirements that corporations have to comply with as well. I would say this also checks out.
5. Make most people economically anxious, frustrated, angry, and insecure.
Higher costs for the average consumer regarding things like insurance, utilities, tuition, etc, plus severe job loss in the province make for many economically anxious, frustrated, angry, and insecure citizens. Check.
6. Convince them their problems stem from “them” – foreigners, immigrants, racial or ethnic or religious minorities, intellectuals.
There have been minority groups blamed for the spreading of Covid and vaccine turnout, and there is the ongoing war with various intellectuals (doctors, nurses, surgeons, teachers, etc.). Kenney also attacked the credibility of a political scientist and professor, Melanee Thomas, when she criticized the dismissal of the election’s commissioner. Check.
7. Make them cynical about democracy.
Are Albertan citizens cynical about democracy? Certainly, cynical about the federal government, and before election cynical about the NDP. But for democracy as a whole? I would say that the UCP does not appear to be encouraging distrust in democracy itself.
8. Convince them all they need is a strongman who will fix everything.
A UCP MLA has said that Kenney is a leader God raised up to be the saviour of Alberta, but most Albertans aren’t convinced that he’s going to fix everything. Prior to the election, more were convinced, but his popularity has declined recently. This one doesn’t apply.
9. Fill the airwaves with your big lies.
There has been a lot of propaganda and bias on social media, and many media sites are owned by Postmedia, which is right-leaning. The UCP has also had ties to Rebel Media, which is the Canadian version of Breitbart News. I would say this checks out.
10. Get elected, and then take over.
This also checks out. The UCP was elected, and they have indeed taken over. Admittedly, they haven’t shown any legislative intent toward removing democratic limits to their powers.
The UCP does not entirely fit all the steps on the list, so they cannot be considered a true dictatorship either, at least by Reich’s outline.
Let’s move on to authoritarianism and elements of authoritarianism.
Here is a video that explains authoritarianism, and I will break down its points below.
The goal of an authoritarian is to consolidate power. The UCP has managed to do that in Alberta. The elements of authoritarianism are as follows:
1. Attack the free press and the media.
Kenney has staffers that push party based propaganda and social media announcements. They also attack the press and undermine its credibility. Check.
2. Blame problems and issues on minorities.
As mentioned previously, minority groups have been blamed for spreading the pandemic. Kenney also blames other groups, like “foreign-funded” environmental groups, for Alberta’s oil industry problems. Check.
3. Strengthen internal police forces.
Kenney is pursuing a provincial police force and wants to restrict the role of the RCMP. Check.
4. Weaken judicial checks of power.
5. Reward loyalty over competence.
There have been many appointments to boards and committees by the UCP that reek of cronyism rather than skill. A vast number of ministers are also highly underqualified for their posts. Check.
Based on the above, I would posit that instead of full-blown fascism or dictatorship, the Albertan government has a problem with authoritarianism. Could this, in the future, lead to fascism or a dictatorship? Perhaps if steps are not taken to mitigate the problem.
As the above video points out, non-violent resistance is a great way to deal with authoritarianism. Once the COVID case numbers begin to decline and vaccination rates increase, perhaps we can more safely hit the streets and peacefully protest the current government.
Another solution is to vote out the UCP as soon as we have the chance, but that’s still a long way off.