October 12, 2018 3:31 pm

Joe McFarland: Dumb penalties lead to UCP calling for a timeout

A United Conservative Party nomination candidate has been turfed after he and his fellow challengers were photographed with an anti-immigration group linked to neo-Nazis in Europe. Jason Kenney adjusts his hair as he speaks to the media at his first convention as leader of the United Conservative Party in Red Deer, Alta., Sunday, May 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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Think of Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party as your favourite football team.

They started their latest drive from beneath the shadows of their own goalposts and have impressively marched the ball down the field.

But then a penalty — illegal procedure.

And another penalty.

And another penalty.

Finally, Coach Kenney has had enough and it appears he’s calling a timeout.

The same player isn’t being flagged for infractions. It’s different players substituting in and out of the huddle.

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READ MORE: UCP nomination candidate turfed in pub night controversy: ‘Polite racist is still racist’

The UCP leader and his coaching staff has seemingly decided that now is the time to make some cuts.

Edmonton-West Henday UCP hopeful Lance Coulter has been sent packing for future considerations. His stance on the controversial Soldiers of Odin photo didn’t sit well with the club. But instead of keeping it all in the locker room, the grievances were made public.

“We strongly disagree with your seemingly sympathetic assessment of Soldiers of Odin and are frankly disturbed with your cavalier attitude taken to a hate group attending a UCP event,” executive director Janice Herrington wrote in a scathing letter released this week, officially disqualifying Coulter from running. “The incident has resulted in reputational harm to our party and its many members.”

Ouch. Don’t expect Coulter to get an invite to the next training camp.

If you wanted strong words from the UCP on the latest penalty called on the field, you got them in spades with this letter. The line “a polite racist is still a racist” sticks out like a sore thumb.

You have to think the UCP is getting tired of playing this game every week.

READ MORE: UCP clarifies its position after candidates pose for photos with the Soldiers of Odin

As Premier Rachel Notley rightly pointed out when speaking with reporters on Thursday, the party has had more than just a couple of candidates circling back on comments and actions.

Notley and her NDP teammates were likely gleeful to see flags down on the field again over the SOO’s appearance at the UCP event. Going back to the football analogy, the NDP are back on their heels trying to keep the opposition from scoring. Every penalty against the UCP was driving them further and further back from the red zone. Forget touchdowns. Even a field goal would be difficult at this point.

There’s a saying in sports: stop the bleeding. Kenney’s timeout is an attempt to do just that.

We don’t necessarily need to have a camera the huddle to know what is being said either. Kenney is likely telling his squad to stick to its strengths and to do the things that got them driving the football in the first place. In this case, it’s finances and pipelines.

READ MORE: UCP candidate apologizes for comments opposing Fort McMurray mosque

Getting rid of Coulter and having the letter go public sends a pretty strong message to the UCP faithful that they need to stop playing the NDP’s game because they are taking dumb penalties.

“Like you, we recognize that Canada has freedom of speech, a right we all cherish,” Herrington wrote. “That said, this does not entitle such hate groups to participate in UCP events.”

Later in the letter, Herrington said Coulter acted “recklessly and demonstrated a level of irresponsibility that is not reflective of the calibre of candidates the UCP is seeking.”

READ MORE: UCP nomination candidate who shared anti-same-sex marriage post staying in race

In other words, anyone taking Coulter’s side should probably hang up their cleats and shoulder pads, too. It’s not that they can’t sit in the stands and watch the game, but they certainly aren’t being welcomed on the sideline.

The UCP is realizing they need everyone to be dialed in and giving 110 per cent here. If the Wildrose Party’s Lake of Fire and the PC Party’s “math is hard” condescension taught them anything, it’s that they can’t take anything for granted.

If you’re a fiscal conservative but find the UCP hard to identify with because of its handling of social issues, the timeout is a welcomed break.

It’s a good opportunity to catch your breath, grab a water bottle and re-focus because the referee is about to whistle the play back in.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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