The Calgary Stampede is one of our nation’s biggest parties. It is time for fun, libations and dusting off your Stetson. It is also a time for intense politicking. Barbecues and Stampede Pancake Breakfasts provide an excellent backdrop for speeches, hand shaking and informal one on one conversations.
Premier Notley had a pancake breakfast as did Jason Kenney. Stephen Harper’s Riding Association’s Annual BBQ is a “must attend” event for conservatives and attracts about 700 pretend cowboys and cowgirls.
I don’t imagine Brain Jean was feeling all that festive at Calgary’s Heritage Park last Saturday night. Patrons were expecting the former Prime Minister to announce he was resigning as a Member of Parliament. He did not. What he did instead was enthusiastically and unequivocally endorse Jason Kenney for the Leadership of the PC Party of Alberta.
When Stephen Harper was in charge, having Conservative MPs wade into provincial politics was extremely frowned upon. When the Harperites were in charge, PMO staffers frequently reminded caucus members that as government, “we” must deal with whoever is in the provincial government—government to government.
But with the PCs out of power in Alberta and the CPC out of office nationally, that pretence seems to have changed. Either that, or the MP from Calgary Heritage behaves differently than were his expectations for his caucus.
Not to be outdone, the Interim Leader of the Party, Rona Ambrose, similarly endorsed their federal caucus colleague. Harper encouraged all CPC Members in Alberta to join Kenney’s campaign to lead the PC Party into oblivion.
This is a strange dynamic. I suspect that never before has a candidate promised to destroy the party he hopes to lead. Under Alberta’s Elections law, formal merger of parties or of party assets is not allowed. So, Kenney’s plan is to create a new political entity, which by default means he intends to destroy that which he wants to lead. At least he cannot be accused of having a hidden agenda.
Ralph Klein, a pragmatist, used to say you have to get in front of the parade. Kenney is attempting to swim upstream. In Red Deer in May, the Progressive Conservative delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion that they continue as “one united Progressive Conservative Party”. Two months ago, the delegates were uninterested in a merger and certainly were opposed to winding itself down.
I worked under two political leaders. Ralph Klein and Stephen Harper certainly had different management styles. Harper was less interested in getting in front of the parade than he was in directing the parade, the route and the speed of progression.
It would appear Kenney is doing the same thing. He knows better than the 1000+ Red Deer delegates. The PC Brand has suffered damage. Therefore, he will create something new once it is out of the way. Many progressives such as MLA Sandra Jensen and former MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk and Dave Quest are openly questioning the congruence of Kenney’s vision with the platform of the PC Party.
But not only are the PCs questioning, many Wildrose supporters were stunned that Harper would endorse someone to lead the PCs and then a united alternative.
What about Brain Jean? The guy that saved the Rosies from imminent extinction following the ill-fated merger, disguised as a floor crossing, in late 2014. That is now three and counting former federal caucus colleagues explicitly endorsing someone else as the next premier of Alberta.
Stephen Harper’s name still carries a lot of weight in Alberta and no doubt the endorsement was very much appreciated. But the former PMs popularity grows as you move right on the political spectrum. Accordingly, the endorsement has ruffled a few feathers among some of Harper’s strongest loyalists, who happen also to be supporters of the Wildrose. Jean supporters, on social media, believe at the very least the former PM could have thrown Brian Jean a bone.
So in the past week, Kenney has antagonized several PC players and many supporters and Harper has offended Brain Jean and his loyalists. If unifying is the art of making a single unit, what we are seeing playout in Alberta is the makings of a nuclear explosion.
There will be many “Kenney PCs”, many recently drafted, who see a united right as the necessary end justified by Machiavellian means.
There will be a strong backlash from the progressives, who will fight to keep “their” party.
There are Jean loyalists, including much of his caucus.
And there are Jean detractors, including some of the Wildrose Ridings Presidents, who are supporting a Resolution calling for an annual leadership review.
The calculation might be as simple as having groups 1 and 4 combine, depose Brian Jean and maroon all of the progressives and Red Tories back to the mushy middle. But the end result of that is a tent too small to contend for, or win back, government and an entity looking remarkably similar to the Wildrose, albeit with a different leader.