Will former provincial cabinet minister Ron Liepert make the jump into federal politics?
With the launch of the TimeToDoBetter.ca website today, rumours began to spread that the former two-term Calgary-West Progressive Conservative MLA turned consultant could challenge ultra-conservative Rob Anders for the Conservative Party nomination in the new Calgary Signal Hill riding.
Mr. Liepert’s candidacy would surely spark another proxy-war between the supporters of the provincial PC and Wildrose parties first seen in last year’s Calgary-Centre by-election.
This would not be the first time these two men have publicly sparred. In 2009, Mr. Liepert accused Mr. Anders of campaigning against him in the 2008 provincial election. Many of Mr. Anders associates have joined Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party, including his close confident Andrew Constantinidis, who ran to replace Mr. Liepert in the 2012 provincial election.
While many of his supporters flocked to the new provincial party, some in the Wildrose establishment see Mr. Anders as a political liability whose ideology could challenge their attempt to rebrand as a moderate conservative alternative to the governing PCs.
In the conservative bloodbath that is sure to ensue if the rumours are true, I would expect nothing less than for Mr. Anders and conservative entertainer Ezra Levant to slice directly at Mr. Liepert’s jugular. They will be sure to remind their conservative base about Mr. Leipert’s record as the Health minister who created the centralized Alberta Health Services and the Finance minister who introduced deficit budgets and talked about increasing taxes.
Mr. Liepert’s ties to the provincial PC establishment date back to the Peter Lougheed era, when he worked at the Legislative Assembly and was appointed as a staff member at Alberta’s trade office in Los Angeles. He first ran for the PC Party in 1993, first in an unsuccessfully bid for the party nomination in Edmonton-Glenora and then as the PC candidate in Edmonton-Highlands-Beverly (in the election he was defeated by his Liberal opponent, Alice Hanson). He was first elected to the Assembly in 2004 as the PC MLA for Calgary-West.
Mr. Leipert is no slouch. In provincial politics, he thrived off the cut and thrust of partisan conflict. Whether he could win the Conservative Party nomination against Mr. Anders is yet to be seen.
There is no shortage of criticism of Mr. Anders. Perhaps the most hard-edged social conservative in Ottawa, he is well-known for being the sole parliamentarian to vote against granting former South African president Nelson Mandela an honorary Canadian citizenship. He also embarrassingly attacked two Canadian Forces veterans, who he described as “NDP hacks.” He used his podium at an official Government of Canada press conference to endorse right-wing conservative Ted Morton. And he recently suggested that former NDP leader Jack Layton‘s death was hastened by now-leader Thomas Mulcair.
Since he was first elected in 1997, Mr. Anders has been challenged by many high profile conservatives and easily defeated all of them in nomination battles.
At the age of 24, Mr. Anders, then a young Republican Party provocateur, returned to Canada to defeat nine other candidates to win his first Reform Party nomination in Calgary-West. His election coincided with the election of a group of young conservative Reformers, including Jason Kenney and Rahim Jaffer.
If he is challenged by Mr. Liepert in the upcoming nomination, it would not be the first time a high-profile politico who has attempted to end Mr. Anders career in Ottawa.
In 2004, future Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford made her first jump into electoral politics with an unsuccessful nomination bid against Mr. Anders. Mr. Liepert was her campaign manager.
In 2000, he was unsuccessfully challenged by Calgary-Currie PC MLA Jocelyn Burgener (now a poet) and in 2009 he faced future Calgary-Varsity PC MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans. With the help of Mr. Levant, he nastily branded Ms. Kennedy-Glans as a “Liberal saboteur” and a “bizarre cross between a radical feminist and an apologist for a women-hating Arab dictatorship.”
Internal nomination contests are not the only area Mr. Anders has faced challengers. In the 1997 election, alderman and future mayor Dave Bronconnier led an unsuccessful campaign against him as the Liberal Party candidate. In the 2000 election, Mr. Anders defeated both former Calgary-North West Liberal MLA Frank Bruseker and PC candidate Jim Silye (a Reform Party MP for Calgary-Centre from 1993 to 1997). Wind energy entrepreneur Justin Thompson earned 29% as the Liberal candidate in the 2004 election, the highest of any of Mr. Anders challengers. And the 2006 and 2008 elections, former Calgary Board of Education trustee Jennifer Pollock carried the Liberal banner against Mr. Anders.
Despite these high-profile challengers from inside and outside his party, Mr. Anders has yet to face electoral defeat in the political arena.