Shifting into the second phase of his campaign to unite Alberta’s two largest right-wing political parties, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney met with Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean this week. According to an email from Kenney’s campaign, the two men, who are both expected to run for the leadership of a new conservative party, shared a carton of Tim Horton’s coffee in the official opposition offices located in the Federal Building.
Kenney emerged from the meeting alone, holding a press conference by himself without Jean outside the building to announce the creation of conservative discussion groups. Jean probably made a good decision not to participate in a joint press conference at this point, as he would have certainly been made to look like he was playing second fiddle to his main leadership rival.
Jean told CBC that he wants a new party to hold a leadership race before October 15, 2017. This is slightly ahead of the timeline proposed by Kenney, which would have the leadership vote held later in 2017 or in early 2018.
An October 2017 vote would coincide with the creation of new electoral boundaries for the next provincial election, when parties are expected to begin nominating candidates in earnest. The final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 31, 2017.
Jean also reiterated his position that a new party should exist within the current legal framework of the Wildrose Party, which puts him at odds with Kenney’s previously stated plans to either merge the two or create an entirely new party.
PC Party executive director and long-time party activist Troy Wason resigned his position over the weekend. “It’s very difficult to put a round peg into a square hole,” Wason was quoted as saying about Kenney’s PC-Wildrose merger plans in response to the Feminism is Cancer email sent out the Wildrose campus club at the University of Calgary last week. His departure was not a complete surprise but a signal that the Kenney’s victory has some moderate Tories looking for an exit.
It is also notable that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel’s name disappeared from the PC Party website this week. Mandel, who briefly served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and health minister from 2014 to 2015, was the party’s northern Alberta finance committee chairman. As I wrote earlier this week, Mandel is rumoured to be backing an upcoming “unite the centre” meeting to discuss the potential creation of an alternative to the PC-Wildrose coalition.
Merger aims to keep Tory cash
A group of PC and Wildrose associated lawyers calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee believe that Elections Alberta’s statement that political parties cannot legally merge is wrong. The group is chaired by former Canadian Taxpayers’ Association president Andy Crooks and includes past Wildrose candidate Richard Jones and PC constituency president Tyler Shandro and two other lawyers.
The desire to merge the two parties rather than create a new party is likely partly driven by the estimated $1.5 million believed to be sitting in dozens of PC Party constituency bank accounts and candidate trusts. If a party dissolves, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and later transferred into the Alberta government’s general revenue.
Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is spending much his political retirement on Twitter, posted a photo online showing the PC constituency association in Edmonton-Castle Downs, which he represented in the Assembly from 2001 until 2015, had liquidated its financial assets by donating the funds to local charities.
I do not expect a new conservative party would have trouble raising money before the next election but new donation limits have lowered the maximum annual contribution from $15,000 to $4,000. The NDP also banned corporate and union donations, which the PC Party relied heavily on before the last election. The Wildrose Party, like the NDP, have cultivated a large individual donor base, but losing that $1.5 million would be a hit.
Gotfried and the Red Menace
Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, the lone rookie PC MLA elected in 2015, evoked his father’s flight from Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China during a speech criticizing the NDP government in the Assembly this week. It takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.
This is not the first time an opposition MLA has drawn these kinds of connections. Last summer, Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman apologized, twice, for an open-letter signed by nine Wildrose MLAs that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
What does Jason Kenney’s PC Party stand for?
Kenney has played it pretty smooth since entering provincial politics last summer, largely avoiding getting directly caught in any of the controversy generated by his campaign. But that will not stop his political opponents from reminding Albertans of his more controversial, and in some cases totally bizarre, political statements.
Press Progress unleashed a long list of “abnormal” comments that the 48-year old Kenney has made over the course of his 30ish-year political career. They include comments from his time as an anti-abortion activist at the Catholic University of San Francisco to more recent claims that schools brainwash children with anti-conservative beliefs, “bohemian” youths are “unconsciously” promoting communism and marxist professors are working to “suppress” Canada’s “Christian patrimony.”
There is no doubt Kenney has his share of political baggage, but his opponents, including the governing New Democrats, would be foolish to underestimate him. Despite his apparent belief in some weird conspiracy theories, Kenney is an extremely capable campaigner.
Main photo: Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)