In Canada, it doesn’t matter where you were born or where you are from.
Canadians are famously welcoming and accepting of people from around the country and all over the world.
Unlike our American neighbours, who place limits on who can run for public office based on where they were born, in Canada, any citizen can run for public office, anyone can become prime minister.
And any citizen can become premier.
And yet, when it comes to Conservative MP Jason Kenney and his bid to reunite the two centre-right parties in Alberta, critics are accusing him of being somehow unwelcome because he was born in Ontario and works as an MP in Ottawa.
Readers should know I was Kenney’s press secretary from 2011 to 2012.
I saw first-hand how highly-regarded he is in Alberta.
For the past 19 years, Kenney has been a popular Conservative Member of Parliament, representing Calgary Midnapore in the House of Commons.
MPs split their time between Ottawa and their riding, and even when they’re in Ottawa, they’re representing their local constituents.
Desperate to smear Kenney, NDP Premier Rachel Notley accused him of being out of touch with the province.
“I believe politicians who leave Alberta and come back a decade and a half later run the risk of making unfortunate assumptions about what Alberta is like and what Albertans care about,” said Notley.
Kenney left Alberta? When? Someone should explain to Notley that parliamentarians are still Canadian and Alberta MPs are still Albertans.
Would she accuse her pal Justin Trudeau of “leaving” Quebec to become prime minister? Of course not.
To accuse someone of being “away” from Alberta while being a sitting Canadian MP representing an Alberta riding is silly.
Kenney is no Michael Ignatieff. His career has been defined as a dedicated grassroots activist, closely connected to the conservative base in Alberta.
Every year, thousands of Calgarians patiently queue up at his annual Stampede pancake breakfast to shake hands with their favourite MP. He routinely won his seat in southeast Calgary with 70% of the vote.
His constituents approve of the job he does, and have rewarded him with big majorities.
Kenney has won some of the biggest landslide election victories in Canadian history.
He seems to understand Alberta just fine.
But Notley is not alone in this flawed thinking.
Anti-conservative columnist Michael Harris penned a column in iPolitics that sums up the double standard of leftist critics.
He goes so far as to suggest Kenney is a “carpetbagger” — a derogatory American term describing someone who can’t be trusted because of where they’re from.
Even though he has lived most of his life in Alberta, Kenney was born in Ontario. So according to Harris, Kenney is not a real Albertan.
The accusation that those born elsewhere can never become true citizens is insulting. It’s nativist and xenophobic.
And it’s simply untrue, especially for a place like Alberta.
When I moved to Alberta for university, I was welcomed and accepted from the moment I arrived.
Albertans are among the most welcoming and gracious people I’ve ever met.
They make you feel at home regardless of where you came from, how long you’ve been there, and how long you’re planning to stay.
They’re just happy you’re there, and that you chose Alberta.
That is the spirit of Alberta.
And it’s something that small-minded and short-sighted critics simply don’t understand.
This column appeared in Sun papers on July 14, 2016