There is a serious leadership vacuum in Alberta. Most of the time it appears that PC Premier Ed Stelmach is absent from the important political debates and indecisive as our provincial leader, but every now and then he sporadically overcompensates. We saw this overcompensation with his recent pledge to never raise taxes and again this weekend with the over the phone firing of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier.
I wasn’t shocked to learn that Guy Boutilier had been kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus and I have a difficult time believing that Boutilier didn’t know exactly what he was doing. Boutilier must have known that he was playing with political fire when he publicly accused Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert of “talking gibberish” and then criticized Stelmach for not wanting a cabinet minister “who graduated from Harvard with Barack Obama.” Boutilier admitted that he never met Obama while at Harvard, but I imagine that comment was a bit stinging to a Premier who never completed his University degree.
Boutilier’s criticisms of Liepert stemmed from the state of seniors care in Fort McMurray, and while it would be easy to commended him for breaking from the party line, his 12 years in the governing PC caucus have given him many better opportunities to publicly champion health care in Fort McMurray. He is now on his way out.
This isn’t the first time that Boutilier’s bizarre political actions have raised eyebrows.
While testifying to the Alberta Energy Utilities Board in 2006, Boutilier told Mikisew Cree First Nation lawyer Don Mallon that at the time, he was not speaking as the Minister of the Environment, but as an MLA. When asked how he could do this, Boutilier testified that he could actually turn off the part of his brain where he was the Minister of Environment. An impressive feat.
Boutilier led a loose coalition of PC MLAs who had yet to endorse a candidate in their party’s 2006 leadership contest. The group called itself the C5 (“Conservative, Competitive, Caring, Conservationist Coalition”) and included Clint Dunford, Ty Lund, Pearl Calahasen, Ivan Strang and LeRoy Johnson. Boutilier and Calahasen eventually endorsed Lyle Oberg, and were both eventually dumped from their cabinet positions after Stelmach became Premier.
During my time as Chairperson of the Council of Alberta University Students from 2006 to 2007, I met with many MLAs and Cabinet Ministers. None of the meetings I experienced was more bizarre than my final meeting in that role in May 2007, when I met with then-Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Guy Boutilier. In his office at the Legislature, myself and the CAUS Executive Director presented our post-secondary education advocacy points, only to be continually interrupted by Boutilier’s gesturing to his wall-mounted Harvard degree and giant wall photo of his first Bull riding experience as Mayor of Wood Buffalo. He was obviously quite proud of both of these, but his focus on them may have prevented him from actually digesting anything we had to say during the meeting. It gave me a glimpse of how difficult a person he must have been to work with at the cabinet table, so I’m not shocked that he has quickly fallen out of favour with the cabal of Stelmach loyalists that replaced Ralph Klein‘s inner circle in 2006.
What are Boutilier’s options now?
He could sit as an Independent MLA, as Oberg did, and then wait for a chance to return to the PC caucus if that opportunity presents itself. Not many Independent MLAs have been successful in their bids of seek re-elected in Alberta. In 1993, Clover Bar MLA Kurt Gesell left the PC caucus and ran as an Independent candidate in the newly created Clover Bar-Fort Saskatchewan riding. He was defeated by former Fort Saskatchewan Mayor and Liberal candidate Muriel Abdurahman.
He could join another political party. While there isn’t much precedent of PC MLAs joining the Liberal Party in Alberta, a couple of PC MLAs have joined other parties. Former Edmonton-Norwood MLA Gary Masyk left the PC caucus in 2004 to join the fledgling Alberta Alliance after his riding was abolished. Masyk ended up running in the newly created Edmonton-Decore riding, but was defeated by Liberal Bill Bonko.
With three years until the next expected election, Boutilier has the option of representing Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly without having to adhere to the discipline of a party Whip. For better or worse, citizens in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo are no longer represented by a PC backbencher, they are now represented by a free agent MLA.