Wildrose leader Brian Jean apologized twice Tuesday night after making a joke about beating Premier Rachel Notley.
The comments came at a town hall forum at a Fort McMurray hotel, when local seniors advocate Joan Furber complained about the quality of seniors’ care and housing in the city during a question and answer period.
According to a local reporter at the meeting, Jean said, “I’ve been beating this drum for 10, 11 years. I will continue to beat it, I promise. But it’s against the law to beat Rachel Notley.”
The Fort McMurray Today report said the comment elicited laughter and gasps of shock. Many Wildrose members, who are in Fort McMurray this week for caucus meetings, were at the forum. Jean then apologized for his joke, saying Notley cares about the topic and has cooperated with Jean.
“We had some more conversations and she switched the decision the bureaucrats made in the previous government,” he is quoted as saying.
“I have to compliment that woman and I shouldn’t have said what I said because I truly admire her for that,” said Jean. “That was a very practical thing and not easily in her best interest and she could have easily just let that go like the previous government did, and she did not.”
The meeting went back to the topic at hand.
Jean later issued a second apology via email.
“Last night during my town hall I made an inappropriate attempt at humour that I promptly apologized for,” he said.
“Jokes of this nature are never acceptable, and I hold myself to a higher standard. I have reached out to Premier Notley to sincerely apologize directly to her.”
Alberta’s minister of status of women said, apology or not, the comments aren’t OK.
“Whether it’s serious or a joke, it’s totally out of touch with what Albertans want to see from their leaders,” Stephanie McLean said. “They want to see strong leadership and that’s just not it.”
“It’s important to apologize when you’ve made a mistake, and that’s great, but at the end of the day, these types of comments are unacceptable.”
McLean was at the legislature for an event with Edmonton Olympian Jen Kish.
“It drives me nuts,” the rugby captain said. “We want the world to grow in the right direction, we want to set a good example for the younger generation, and comments like that make us go backwards.”
Notley has been subjected to several highly publicized violent threats over the past year.
In one instance, a man made a cutout of her head on a large piece of cardboard and used as target during a golf tournament at the Brooks Golf Club earlier this summer.
Notley has also been the subject of online threats on social media, but last October said that it’s part of being premier “in almost any day and age.” The threats became particularly nasty last winter, when public furor over the Bill 6 farm safety legislation prompted death threats. One comment posted online said, “someone’s gotta man up and kill her, dibs out.”
Alberta RCMP said at the time they were aware of the comments but were not investigating. At that time, Jean, who was a vocal opponent of Bill 6, condemned the violent social media comments.
While Jean did apologize quickly after Tuesday’s incident, it sparked a flurry of responses on Twitter – as most controversial political comments do.
One user from B.C. posted a series of tweets defending Notley, drawing up previous examples of hatred directed towards the premier.
More to come…