Tag Archives: Unite the Right in Alberta

Brian Jean United Conservative Party Leadership Wildrose

UCP merger kickstarts another summer of politiking in Alberta

Photo: Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally launches his campaign to lead the United Conservative Party (source: Facebook)

It has been a busy week in Alberta politics, and it is only Tuesday.

Nathan Cooper

On Saturday, 95 percent of Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Party members who cast ballots voted in favour of amending their respective parties constitutions and create a new political party – the United Conservative Party.

Only 57 per cent of eligible Wildrose members, and 55 percent of PC member, cast a ballot, which is roughly 25,000 and 27,000 members of the two parties. It is suspected that a significant number of individuals who voted held membership in both parties, and voted twice.

Here is a quick look at what has happened since:

  • As predicted on this blog a few days ago, Nathan Cooper has been chosen as interim leader of the new 29-MLA joint-Wildrose-PC United Conservative caucus. Cooper will serve as leader of the Official Opposition, though likely not in the Assembly as the Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until after the new party chooses a permanent leader in October 2017. He is a first-term Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didisbury Three Hills and a former Wildrose caucus Chief of Staff, Carstairs town councillor, and spokesperson for the social conservative Canada Family Action group.
  • Richard Starke

    Richard Starke

    PC MLA Richard Starke will not join the new UCP caucus. Starke, who has represented Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012, ran against Jason Kenney in the 2017 PC leadership race and opposed his plans to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party. Starke wrote on Facebook that: “My experience, and that of many like-minded party members who have left or been driven from the party, is that our views are not welcome, and that the values and principles we believe in will not be part of the new party going forward.”

  • Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally announced his bid for the leadership of the new party at the Apple Creek Golf Course in Rockyview County. Jean was accompanied by Airdrie Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt, who has endorsed his campaign.
  • Kenney is expected to formally announce his leadership bid on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
  • Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who is also expected to join the leadership race, vowed he would never support Jean in a leadership race. Jean briefly attempted to suspend Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus in May 2016, after the MLA’s partisan antics went too far. 
  • Long-time PC Party strategist Susan Elliott announced she will be joining the Alberta Party. Elliott managed the PC Party’s successful 2012 election campaign.

Wildrose-PC merger a big deal, but not a silver bullet for 2019

Albertans will find out on July 22 whether members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to amend their party constitutions in order to abandon their existing parties and form a new party named the United Conservative Party.

For the vote to pass, it will need the support of 75 percent of Wildrose members and 50 percent plus one of PC Party members.

There seems to be two likely scenarios: if it passes or fails.

A) If members from both parties vote to approve the agreement and amend their party constitutions, then a joint board of directors will be appointed to govern the business of the UCP and the two existing parties. The creation of a new party will need to be approved by Elections Alberta, which I expect will happen shortly after a successful vote.

An interim leader will be appointed by the caucuses of the two parties. There is strong speculation that the interim leader will be the mild-mannered and well-respected Wildrose Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper, who has served as MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills since 2015. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried and Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda could also be contenders for interim leader position.

A leadership race will be scheduled for October 28, 2017 and four candidates have already declared their candidacy or interest in running: Wildrose leader Brian Jean, PC Party leader Jason Kenney, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

B) If the vote fails, it is expected this would be because of opposition by Wildrose Party members. While I would be very surprised if the vote fails, it would not be the most outlandish event to occur in Alberta politics in the past decade. The Wildrose membership are known for being cantankerous and notoriously anti-establishment.

A big loss would be a huge blow to Jean’s leadership of the party and would probably spell the end of his career in provincial politics. It might also lead to Wildrose MLAs crossing the floor to the PCs, as Kenney could continue to move ahead and create a UCP regardless of a rejected vote by Wildrose members.

A Plan B could take the form of a non-compete agreement, where the two parties would not challenge each other in constituencies in the next election. This would be similar to what Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke proposed during the PC leadership race.

If technical issues hamper the vote and cause party members to question or challenge the validity of the results, it could damage the UCP before it is even officially formed.

What does this mean for the conservative movement in Alberta? 

With some prominent PC members jumping to the Alberta Party, a group of disgruntled Wildrose members threatening to start another new party and some conservatives even joining the NDP, Conservatives actually appear less united than they have been in years. While much of the Conservative establishment is backing the Wildrose-PC merger, there is a threat that it would lead to a further split into smaller conservative parties.

The outcome of the Wildrose-PC merger could be determined during the UCP leadership race, which will set the tone and policy direction of the new party. And association with unpopular positions could dog the candidates.

Jean is trying to appeal to rural Wildrose supporters while convincing urban conservatives that he is a centrist. Kenney is associated with social conservative causes and sparked controversy when he told a Postmedia editorial board he would support outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. And Fildebrandt’s leadership campaign can be expected to bring a blunt message of ‘weaponized conservatism‘ and painful funding cuts to public services.

What does this mean for the NDP?

While the NDP have mostly stayed out of the Wildrose-PC merger fray, they will be eager to define the new Conservative party as angry and uncompassionate right-wingers who are out-of-touch with modern and increasingly urban Alberta.

Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party has subtly shifted their messaging over the past year, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the UCP, who they will argue would attack the public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has stated that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government lower the minimum wage, increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Expect the NDP to make sure Albertans are asking these questions.

What does this mean for Alberta Together and the Alberta Party?

Moderate and centrist Conservatives who have left the PC Party to support the Alberta Together political action committee and the Alberta Party also have an interest in seeing the UCP branded as Wildrose 2.0 in the minds of Alberta voters.

Since being elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015, Greg Clark has punched above his weight in generating media attention while his party has floundered at fundraising and constituency organization. The recent injection of centrist PC activists into his party might be a boon for fundraising and organizing, especially if the UCP is cast as just a new Wildrose Party.

Wildrose-PC merger not a silver bullet

Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election. While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.

And, as the past two elections have proven, Conservatives in Alberta have a track record of shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.


I joined Brock Harrison and Shaye Ganam on July 21, 2017 to chat about Alberta politics and the July 22 vote on 630CHED. Here is the audio recording of our discussion.

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017

Alberta’s Conservatives are obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances

Following Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s comments to the Calgary Postmedia editorial board fifteen days ago when he came out in favour of allowing schools to inform parents when students join a student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance club, Alberta’s conservative politicians have tied themselves in knots over the issue.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools, which studies have found may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students. As I wrote last week, having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

It appeared as if Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean was setting himself apart from Kenney on April 3 by coming out against outing students to their parents, saying that “it’s much like a math club or a prayer club, and I don’t think that would be appropriate (for parents to be told when a child joins).” On April 4, he changed his tune, stating that parents should only sometimes be notified. But by April 5, he switched back to his original position that he did not believe parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA.

On April 6, Jean appeared to be contradicted by Mark Smith, the Wildrose MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, who criticized a letter sent to school officials by Education Minister David Eggen reaffirming the NDP government’s belief that parents should not be informed if students join GSAs.

The NDP have visibly enjoyed the attention that Kenney and Jean’s comments have generated, on a provincial and even international level. These types of social issues generally play to the strength of the NDP, which is why Kenney desperately tried to pivot his message back to the provincial economy before disappearing from public sight last week.

The NDP are trying to frame Kenney as a social conservative – which he is – going back to his days as an anti-abortion activist while enrolled as a student at a Roman Catholic university in San Francisco.

A large portion of the membership base of the Wildrose Party is also social conservative, which both Kenney and Jean are courting for support in their bids to lead a new conservative party.

This week, the president of the Wildrose Party association in Medicine Hat evoked the legacy of residential schools and forced sterilization in a Facebook post supporting Kenney’s position. “How did the native schools turn out? Yup, that was the government telling us they knew best. How about sterilizing handicapped people? Yup, another brilliant government idea,” wrote Maureen Prince on Facebook post published on April 4, 2017. She also claimed in a Facebook post published on March 16, 2017 that the United Nations wants to “redistribute children to be raised by governments.”

Prince appears to be an active member of a conservative education group called Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76, which is a vocal critic of the NDP and its stance on GSAs.

The Concerned Parents group provided “Include Parents” buttons to several Wildrose MLAs who wore them in the Legislative Assembly this week. The group appears to be associated or allied with a province-wide conservative education advocacy group called “Parents For Choice in Education.

Parents for Choice took issue with Jean’s first and third positions against potentially outing students to their parents, saying that he and Education Minister David Eggen had the “gall to falsely and audaciously accuse parents of being the greater danger to these vulnerable youth.”

With conservative politicians stuck on the GSA issue, Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been playing to their strengths, spending the past few weeks announcing lower school fees, school nutrition programs, locations for $25-per day childcare programs, and the construction of new schools, hospitals and affordable housing projects.

The NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working remarkably well for the NDP.

Meanwhile, despite previous claims by Brian Jean that he has “no interest” in social issues and Jason Kenney’s pledge to create a free-market conservative party, it appears that the only issue galvanizing conservatives over the past two weeks is whether or not to allow the state-sanctioned outing of gay kids.

Jason Kenney’s appeal to social conservatives targets Gay-Straight Alliances

Perhaps not completely understanding how much acrimony the Gay-Straight Alliance issue caused his party back in 2014, recently selected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney brought the issue back to the forefront this week.

According to reports from Postmedia, when asked about Gay-Straight Alliances, Kenney told the editorial board of the Calgary Herald and Sun that he would allow schools to inform parents if their students join a Gay-Straight Alliance.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students – which is why having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

As Postmedia columnist Paula Simons wrote today, ”…why should publicly-funded schools treat GSAs differently than they’d treat any other student-led club? Why, that is, unless deep deep down, we still do believe that it is, in fact, a shameful, dangerous thing to be gay — or to associate with gay friends.”

Now that Kenney has secured the leadership of the PC Party, he is now effectively running for the leadership of the Wildrose Party – which he wants to merge his party into.

Kenney is known for his social conservative views and he shied away from publicly commenting on social issues during the PC leadership race. But now that he is running against Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean for the leadership of a new conservative party, we are beginning to see his open appeal to the party’s social conservative base.

While Kenney’s comments are directed toward social conservative voters he will need to win the leadership of a new conservative party, they are reckless. Allowing schools to “out” students to their parents would undermine the ability of Alberta students to create clubs that are proven to help make school environments more safe and welcoming for some of their classmates.

Crouse drops out of Liberal leadership race, Lukaszuk in?

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

The only candidate running for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party has dropped out two days before the nomination deadline.

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse announced on his website that he was withdrawing from the race for personal reasons. Crouse’s candidacy would have been a big catch for the Liberal Party, which currently only has one MLA in the Alberta Legislature.

Rumours are swirling that Crouse’s departure could make way for former Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk to potentially enter the Liberal Party leadership race before the March 31 deadline. The former deputy premier and 2014 PC leadership candidate publicly trashed his PC Party membership card after Kenney won the party leadership on March 18.

The race is being held to choose a replacement for past leader Raj Sherman, another former Tory MLA who crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2011. He resigned as leader in January 2015.

Will the PC Party finally disqualify Jason Kenney?

He’s not running to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative party. He’s running to destroy the party so that he can then form a new party that he’s going to run and become leader of,” Progressive Conservative Party member Jeffrey Rath told CBC Calgary.

The Priddis-based lawyer has filed a complaint with his party alleging that leadership candidate Jason Kenney’s vision runs counter to the party’s constitution and that he should be disqualified.

Kenney is running to dissolve the PC Party, not to merge or unite it with the Wildrose Party.

Despite running under the slogan “Unite Alberta,” Kenney’s goal is to win the leadership and then dissolve the party. If that does not run counter to the party’s constitution, I am not sure what else would.

The PC Party was foolish for allowing Kenney to run in the first place. Facing a lethargic and uninspiring group of “renewal” candidates, Kenney appears to have easily locked up the support of enough delegates to secure a victory at the upcoming convention.

Rath’s complaint is a Hail Mary pass but it could work. It could be difficult for the PC Party executive to disqualify him now but they should if they want their party to exist in a year from now.

The Kenney campaign’s record of flouting the rules has given the PC Party’s executive plenty of reasons to consider disqualification. One of his chief strategists was even suspended from the party for a one-year period. Some moderate conservatives in the PC Party, including former leadership candidate Stephen Khan, believe Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party will lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who had previously endorsed plans for a new party, recently announced that his plans would have conservatives rally behind the current Wildrose Party structure. That’s rebranded Wildrose Party.

Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer, who was recently acclaimed as the Wildrose Party candidate in Chestermere-Rocky View, even announced on a Facebook video that she was proud to be running for the Wildrose Party in the 2019 election, with no mention of a new party.

This goes back to my long-held belief that the Wildrose Party needs the PC Party more than the PCs need the Wildrose. In two consecutive elections the Wildrose Party has struggled to break out of its rural Alberta base and might only be able to win an election if the PC Party is completely removed from the picture.

In 2015, the PCs were arrogant, out of touch and deserved to lose the election. But unlike the Wildrose Party, the PCs have a record of 44 years of straight election victories and a brand that many Albertans still respect.

It would not be unimaginable to see the PCs bounce back to win another election. But they won’t be able to win any future elections if they allow Kenney lead them to extinction, as he plans to do.

A Wildrose Party sign spotted outside of Hinton last week.

Today’s Edition of The Fight on the Right

Starke vs. Kenney: the lightweight match

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

Starting the day off, Richard Starke, the soft-spoken veternarian from Lloydminster entered the ring with his “Common Sense Plan” to save the Progressive Conservative Party from Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover plans to merge it right-wing Wildrose Party.

The PC leadership race has largely been devoid of any other real issues or policy discussions and focused almost entirely on Kenney’s takeover bid. Starke’s plan was extremely light on details but here’s what we know: he is open to a coalition between the two parties but he would keep the PC and Wildrose parties separate.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

It is unclear if this means the two parties would not run candidates against each other, but that might be one way of salvaging the estimated $1.5 million currently sitting in the bank accounts of PC constituency associations that would be forfeit if the party was dissolved into the Wildrose Party.

Today’s announcement was likely aimed at dislodging the significant lead Kenney has secured in the delegate selection meetings, but it feels like a desperate last grasp by Starke.

Jean vs. Kenney: The bare-knuckle round

Overshadowing Starke’s plan is Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean‘s shot at Kenney. Jean announced today that he is prepared to step down as leader of his party to contest the leadership of a new conservative party, if one is created before the next election.

Brian Jean

There had been speculation for months that Jean could avoid a messy leadership challenge by running for Mayor of Wood Buffalo in October 2017 instead of fending off a challenge from Kenney, but this appears to settle it. As leader of the Wildrose Party, Jean has been unofficially campaigning for months to bolster his bid to leader the conservative movement in this province by holding town hall meetings with supporters.

Jean took the reigns of his party from the edge of the political abyss after most Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party in 2014. He led the rural-based party to a swift recovery in the 2015 election but has faced challenges within his caucus and party ever since. His party has also been stuck in the mid-30 percent range in public opinion polls over the past year.

It is unclear whether Jean and Kenney would be the only two candidates to run for the leadership of a new Wildrose-dominated conservative party, or whether a third or fourth contender would enter the contest to lead this currently non-existent party.


Khan throws in the towel

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

Former St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan has dropped out of the PC leadership race. The former one-term MLA gave columnist Paula Simons a fairly damning description of the state of conservative politics in Alberta: “I wouldn’t call it a dumpster fire. But I’d call it a destructive circus.”

Here is an excerpt from his statement:

I was confident that this race would be one of ideas and hope for Alberta’s future and I expected it to be a well-run and principled campaign. Instead, it has devolved into vitriol, anger and division. As such, I can no longer participate in this race in good conscience, nor ask my family, volunteers and supporters to do the same on my behalf.

We have seen the reputation of the PC Party damaged so badly over the course of this campaign that our credibility may be beyond repair. More concerning, we have seen volunteers, organizers, leadership candidates, members of the Board of Directors, our party President and even some PC caucus members harassed and threatened. It is clear that there is no room in this race for competing ideas and we have seen more anger and division in the last 3 months than in the half-century legacy of this party.

As I step down, I know other candidates in this leadership race will carry on the fight. I will remain a proud member and volunteer with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Going forward, I will put my support behind Richard Starke and I would ask my supporters to do the same. 

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

In or Out? Jason Kenney could have a rough landing into Alberta politics

CBC reports that after 19 years as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, 48, is considering entering provincial politics in Alberta. Postmedia’s Jen Gerson writes that he will not confirm whether this is true.

It was a prediction first made by Postmedia’s Graham Thomson in January 2016.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Mr. Kenney is reportedly backed by a cadre of federal Conservative strategists and insiders, including former Reform Party and Wildrose Party campaign strategist Tom Flanagan, who told CBC that the group discussed whether “he could win the PC leadership then negotiate a merger [with Wildrose].

So, Mr. Kenney, who just this week was appointed to the parliamentary committee studying electoral reform, could be abandoning plans to replace Rona Ambrose as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and setting his sights on uniting-the-right and challenging Rachel Notley‘s moderate New Democratic Party government in 2019. If Mr. Kenney is going to enter Alberta politics, he will need to decide quick because the Progressive Conservative Party will be choosing its new leader before April 30, 2017.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician, but he would ominously follow in the footsteps of another former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, who jumped into provincial politics in 2014 before leading the 44-year old PC government to defeat in May 2015.

New rules approved by the PC Party at its recent annual general meeting could make a leadership bid challenging for an outsider candidate. The PCs replaced the one-member one-vote system that existed from 1992 to 2014 with a new closed delegate system. This will require candidates to build broad support in 87 constituencies across the province, rather than relying on the ability to sign up large groups of voters in concentrated regions.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

If federal Conservative MPs decided to back Mr. Kenney’s bid, an orchestrated takeover could be possible, but there is significant animosity among rank and file PC members to a merger with the more hard-line Wildrose Party. And he would undoubtedly face a strong challenge from the moderate wing of the PC Party, most vocally represented by Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke.

Mr. Kenney’s supporters may have been connected to a recent attempt by a conservative lobby group to hijack the one-MLA Alberta Party. The takeover was thwarted when the party’s executive quickly rescheduled its annual general meeting to an earlier date. It is likely that the marauding band of conservatives were coveting the party’s brand name rather than its moderate-conservative platform.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A bid for the PC Party or the Alberta Party leadership might seem odd for Mr. Kenney, who is likely more comfortable in the social conservative wing of the Wildrose Party and with his former colleagues at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The historical success of the PC Party in Alberta between 1971 and 2015 was not based on adherence to conservative ideology but on the ability of its leaders to build a big blue tent of conservative, moderate and liberal voters.

Despite strong support for sending federal Conservatives to Ottawa, Alberta is now a much more progressive and moderate province than it was 20 years ago, when a young Mr. Kenney was roaming the halls of the Legislature as the spokesperson for the taxpayers federation.

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

Mr. Kenney is not well-known for his conciliatory approach to Alberta politics. In 2015, he argued that “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were to blame for the politicization of the niqab ban instituted by the federal Conservative government. In 2014, he engaged in a  public spat with Ron Liepert when the former finance minister defeated long-time MP Rob Anders for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill. And in 2012, Mr. Kenney’s true feelings about then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk were made known in a leaked reply-all email.

There is also the inconvenient fact that Alberta’s elections laws make it impossible to actually merge the financial assets of the two political parties. Those laws also make it unlikely that the Wildrose Party could change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta. This does not mean that there could not be one dominant conservative party to face the NDP in the next election, it just means that any sort of actual merger of parties is unlikely to happen.

It should be noted that the last time an attempt was made to unite-the-right in Alberta, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (pictured above with Mr. Kenney) was forced to apologize for his role in nudging 9 Wildrose MLAs across the floor to the PCs. That was in December 2014.

There is also the question of how his former federal colleague Brian Jean, now leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party, will feel about Mr. Kenney stealing the spotlight, and potentially his leadership. Despite being constantly undermined by internal party disputes and self-inflicted embarrassment, Mr. Jean deserves credit for leading his party from the brink of extinction to 22 MLAs in 2015. The inconvenient truth that his party still only sits at 35 percent in the latest public opinion poll could add momentum to those pushing to replace the Wildrose leader.

The decision by Mr. Prentice, Mr. Jean and now maybe Mr. Kenney, gives the impression that Conservative party politics in Alberta is becoming a grazing plot for Conservative politicians whose careers in Ottawa have stalled. It was widely believed that Mr. Prentice was using his job as premier to springboard into a future bid for the federal Conservative leadership. I expect the same would be suspected about Mr. Kenney, if he does actually jump into provincial politics in Alberta.

Albertans are more progressive than you might think. I’m not surprised.

A new report, “The Quiet Majority“, released by a new group called Progress Alberta shows that we Albertans may be more progressive than we believe we are.

Progress Alberta Edmonton Hunger Ukrainian Strike

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data, when Albertans were asked whether they consider themselves to be progressive, 59 percent answered yes. It appears that although we identify our province as being conservative, a significantly larger group of Albertans identify as being moderate or progressive.

“Urbanization, in-migration, and generational change are all shifting the province’s political attitudes and behavior,” Abacus Data’s David Coletto said in a press release today.

The survey also shows strong support for same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana, and support for raising personal income taxes on high income earners and the introduction of a carbon tax.

This survey also reinforces the arguments made by political watchers like Corey Hogan, that shifting demographics and massive population growth have created a new political environment in Alberta which made an electoral win by the New Democratic Party possible in 2015.

As shown in the graphs below, where Albertans place themselves and where they believe most of the population sits on the ideological spectrum is quiet different.

AB_Ideological_Self-Placement-1

Where Albertans place themselves on the ideological spectrum.

AB_in_General_Ideological_Placement

Where Albertans believe most of the population sits on the ideological spectrum.

The results of the survey are not surprising to anyone who has been paying close attention to Alberta politics, as I have over the past ten years. While there are a large number of self-identified conservatives in our province, Alberta’s electorate has always been more populist than conservative.

Peter Lougheed Alberta Conservative Premier

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

The great success of the old Progressive Conservative government, starting under the leadership of Peter Lougheed in 1971, was forged with the creation of a broad political coalition that appealed to conservative, moderate and progressive voters in Alberta. And at the height of the Ralph Klein-era in Alberta politics, the Liberals and NDP were still able to garner between 30 and 40 percent of the province-wide vote.

This is why I am hesitant to predict the death of the PC Party in Alberta, even in its current weakened state.

The right-wing Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean continues to mount a campaign to take over the PC Party. At meetings across the province, Wildrose Party members are being encouraged to purchase PC Party memberships in order to push the merger agenda at constituency associations and other internal party levels.

Proponents of the take over characterize it as a merger but it is likely that the Wildrose needs the PCs more than the PCs need the Wildrose and the limited appeal of the ideological social conservatism that much of its membership base represents. The PCs won 12 elections from 1971 to 2012 by raising a big tent centrist party, not by just uniting conservatives under one conservative party banner, as Mr. Jean and MLAs like Derek Fildebrandt appear to be proposing.

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

Many members of the PC Party, including Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen remain opposed to merging with the Wildrose, which could drag the PCs further to the political right and away from where most Albertans stand, near the moderate centre. With the right leader, the PCs may be able to regain the trust of voters lost in 2015.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Wildrose Party’s strategy is to eliminate the PC Party as an alternative while continuing to brand the NDP government as “risky”, “extreme” and “ideological,” despite no real evidence supporting those claims.

The success of Rachel Notley‘s NDP in 2015 was based on her appeal to moderate and progressive voters. It is not surprising that during last year’s election campaign Ms. Notley frequently invoked the memory of Mr. Lougheed, who was seen by many Albertans as the embodiment of a progressive and forward-looking leader.

The success of the NDP in the 2019 election could be based on their ability to remain appealing to that coalition of moderate and progressive voters. This will require Ms. Notley to keep the balance and moderation that was promised in her party’s election platform and not veer too far left to appease her party’s fringe.

This is only one poll and is not an indicator of how Albertans will vote in future elections but it does provide some valuable information about the values held by many voters in our province. It is encouraging that groups like Progress Alberta are being formed to ensure that issues important to progressive Albertans are publicly discussed in a province dominated by conservative commentators and pundits.

Publisher’s Note

I am pleased to be contributing to Progress Alberta as a member of their advisory board. See the full list of advisory board members here.

Information about the survey

The survey informing this study was conducted online with 1,000 Albertans aged 18 and older from December 2 to 7, 2015. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Albertans recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading providers of online research samples.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

Interim PC Party leader Ric McIver and 7 of his party's MLAs at their post-election leader's dinner.

The tough road ahead for Alberta’s opposition PC Party

When Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly gather on June 11 to choose a new Speaker, the seating chart will be unlike anything Albertans have seen in this province’s 110 year history. Premier Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats will occupy the majority of the seats, the Wildrose Party will sit as Official Opposition, and for the first time in 44 years the Progressive Conservative MLAs will sit in the opposition benches.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

The three other political parties that previously held government in Alberta faded into obscurity soon after losing power. With the exception of the Liberal Party, none of the other parties (the United Farmers of Alberta and the Social Credit Party) ever reemerged into Alberta politics a meaningful way (though the UFA transformed into a successful agricultural cooperative).

And with these historical precedents in mind, it will undoubtably be a tough transition for the remaining PC MLAs and their party, who have no institutional memory of how to operate in opposition.

The PC Party has actually appointed a transition team to help navigate the party into opposition. While other provincial conservative parties in Canada can rely on their federal counterpart for assistance, it has been long suspected that many in the Conservative Party of Canada favour the more conservative Wildrose Party over the PCs.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

A big challenge facing PC MLAs in the upcoming session of the Legislature is to simply be relevant now that they are no longer in government. Interim leader Ric McIver announced his caucus critic roster today (see the list below) and it will be fascinating to watch how those MLAs perform in their new roles. It is still yet to be seen what the motley crew of nine MLAs that make up the PC Caucus have in common politically, other than wanting to have been elected into government, or if they can even work together as a team.

Who does and does not vie to become the party’s seventh leader in the past ten years will also be telling. Former cabinet ministers Mr. McIver and Manmeet Bhullar are frequently named as possible contenders, as is former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who was unseated by Nicole Goehring in the NDP sweep of Edmonton. What political direction these potential leaders would lead the new party is unknown.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs

Thomas Lukaszuk

Losing power after 44 years in office makes the PC Party a brokerage party with nothing left to broker. And while a future in opposition without the comfort of large corporate donations may look bleak, PC Party supporters now have an opportunity to redefine what their party stands for and rebuild its credibility after crippling election defeat. While the memory of PC scandals and arrogance are fresh in the minds of Albertans today, including distasteful comments recently made by a member of the PC Party board, there are four long years before the next election.

We can expect many of the usual suspects, including professional political meddler Preston Manning, to advocate a merger of two main conservative parties. Both PC and Wildrose MLAs should not forget the role Mr. Manning played in manufacturing the disastrous floor-crossing that critically damaged both conservative parties in Alberta before the recent election.

Because of its history and bitter political differences, future floor crossings are not a palatable option and a merger of the PC Party and Wildrose Party would probably not be a match made in heaven. If it is possible for the PC Party to survive outside of government, could it play a role in Alberta politics as an urban based conservative opposition?


Here is the PC Opposition Caucus critic roster for the upcoming session of the Legislature:

PC MLA Critic Role
Ric McIver, MLA
Calgary-Hays
  • Interim Leader
  • Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour
  • Municipal Affairs
Wayne Drysdale, MLA
Grande Prairie-Wapiti
  • Caucus Whip
  • Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development
  • Transportation
Richard Starke, MLA
Vermilion-Lloydminster
  • PC Opposition House Leader
  • Culture and Tourism
  • Health
  • Parks and Recreation
Richard Gotfried, MLA
Calgary-Fish Creek
  • International and Intergovernmental Relations
  • Seniors
Manmeet Bhullar, MLA
Calgary-Greenway
  • Finance and Treasury Board
  • Infrastructure
Dave Rodney, MLA
Calgary-Lougheed
  • Aboriginal Relations
  • Innovation and Advanced Education
Sandra Jansen, MLA
Calgary-North West
  • Education
  • Human Services
  • Status of Women
Rick Fraser, MLA
Calgary-South East
  • Energy
  • Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
Mike Ellis, MLA
Calgary-West
  • Justice and Solicitor General
  • Service Alberta