Brian Who? … Albertans know precious little about the Wildrose Opposition’s new leader

Posted on March 30, 2015, 1:10 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Is he tall or is he short? Is he a social conservative or not? What’s he really think about privatized health care? Does the Wildrose Party really have new life under Brian Jean, or what? These are questions that need answering. The photo above was grabbed from Mr. Jean’s campaign website. Below: Danielle Smith, former Wildrose Party leader, and Derek Fildebrandt, Wildrose candidate in Strathmore-Brooks.

Brian Jean? Brian Who?

The new leader of the Wildrose Party is a man of mystery. Most Albertans – and that includes almost all of the chattering classes – know precious little about the new leader of our official Opposition party.

Not only do most of us have only a vague idea what he stands for, it’s hard to say whether he’s short or tall. (His pictures make him look short. I think he’s actually tall.)

IMG_7653Coverage of Mr. Jean’s victory in the Wildrose Party leadership race Saturday had some detail about the race and what he said upon winning it, but not much at all about what he believes, where he’s located in the political firmament or what he might do next.

It didn’t help that a severely depleted mainstream media faced with two major political stories in one weekend day made the wrong bet about which would turn out to be the more important story.

But really, who can blame them? The occasion was supposed to be a coup for former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, who was widely expected to win her Progressive Conservative nomination in the Highwood riding.

Moreover, the mysterious Mr. Jean is really only the leader of the Opposition by a fluke. He hasn’t really earned the job, as did Ms. Smith, who later crossed the floor to the Prentice PCs in December and then saw her provincial political career end in flames on Saturday night.

Mr. Jean, 52, doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature at the moment. The party he leads, also for the moment at least, is a sad remnant of what it once was before it was abandoned by the bulk of its MLAs last December at the same time as Ms. Smith decamped for the PCs.

Just the same, it’s not his fault progressive parties and progressive voters can’t get their acts together here, and all this is entirely legal and proper given the way our Parliamentary democracy is designed to work.

Fildebrandt-RDuring a decade as the Conservative Member of Parliament, eight of them as MP for Fort McMurray Athabasca, which includes the principal community of the Athabasca Bitumen Sands region, he ended up as one of those proverbial Hill nobodies – seldom in the news and in the last few years so bored he occupied himself composing crossword puzzles.

Mr. Jean has been mocked in this space for mailing the results of his crossword compositions out to his constituents, but in so doing he showed considerably more energy and enterprise than do most backbench Conservative MPs in Ottawa.

His on-line biography is sketchy, at least on the stuff that counts. Career-wise, it says, he’s a lawyer with a BSc and an MBA, but he’s also worked as “a printer, a logger, a farm hand, and a registered trapper.”

His degrees come from institutions you’ve probably never heard of, the BSc from Warner Pacific College, a Christian institution in Oregon, and the MBA and law degree from Bond University in Australia, an school that encourages students to fast-track their degrees. He got his Alberta legal qualifications though the University of Calgary law school and practiced law in Fort Mac for 11 years before running for office.

When he quit as an MP in January 2014, apparently to everyone’s surprise, Mr. Jean gave little explanation of his reasons, saying wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren.

An adult son died suddenly from an illness during the Wildrose leadership campaign, and Mr. Jean made a short, dignified withdrawal from campaigning for a few days while Derek Fildebrandt, the party’s candidate in Strathmore-Books, stood in for him. Then he soldiered on.

But what does Mr. Jean stand for? As an MP, he served for a few years as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, then seems to have lost interest in 2011 and, in the words of his Wikipedia biography, “declined reappointment as parliamentary secretary in order to focus more attention on his increasing constituency needs.”

According to his Wildrose campaign biography, “Brian is a committed fiscal conservative who believes in low taxes and small government.” That’s all very well, of course, but nowadays that could describe anyone from Stephen Harper to Joe Clark to Thomas Mulcair.

Reading between the lines of his campaign website suggests he’s not a social conservative – leastways, he felt the need to deny that he’d called them “crazy.” On the other hand, according to the Toronto Sun, he’s been criticized for being too socially conservative and was a fierce opponent of the long-gun registry.

He also felt the need to respond to the reports he’d donated about $10,000 to the Jim Prentice campaign last year. “I thought Jim Prentice was going to actually lead the PC Party to some sort of renewal like Ralph did. Get rid of the cronies. Clean up long standing mistakes. Solve the issues facing Alberta and some of the big issues in Fort McMurray. I discussed it with my business partners and my company made a large donation to Jim Prentice’s leadership campaign. … But nothing has changed. it’s the same cast of characters that has been in there forever.”

A rumour from the east, however, says that in Ottawa he thought Mr. Prentice was too red a Red Tory.

It sounds as if Mr. Jean supports more privatization of health care, but like all market fundamentalist Canadian politicians, he’s extremely cautious about stating this forthrightly. “I believe in dynamic and decentralized healthcare…”

Likewise, if you know the code words it doesn’t sound as if he’d be particularly sympathetic to things like gay-straight alliances in schools and sex education – “I believe parental choice is the cornerstone of the public education system.” But who really knows?

And if a coalition of conservative outsiders like the Wildrose Party can be said to have an establishment, judging from his endorsements he seems to have had the backing of it.

Newspaper coverage of Mr. Jean’s candidacy, which often reads like a campaign advertisement he wrote himself, credits him with supporting the environment through his role on Parliament’s Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. Given the Harper Government’s track record in this area, this seems highly unlikely.

Obviously, Albertans need more information about Mr. Jean, and the sooner the better.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

8 Comments to: Brian Who? … Albertans know precious little about the Wildrose Opposition’s new leader

  1. David Harrigan

    March 30th, 2015

    “Is he tall or is he short? Is he a social conservative or not? What’s he really think about privatized health care? Does the Wildrose Party really have new life under Brian Jean, or what? These are questions that need answering.”

    Well, maybe the final three need answering.

    I like to think that one’s height, or lack thereof, is not all that important.

    Reply
    • Mary Jane

      March 30th, 2015

      Are you calling Dave sizist?

      Reply
      • David Harrigan

        March 30th, 2015

        No. Just heightist. He didn’t ask if he was broad or thin.

        Reply
    • N Bonaparte

      March 30th, 2015

      D’accord! N

      Reply
  2. Leigh Davies

    March 30th, 2015

    Unfortunately, it will not be possible to take a do-nothing, know-nothing former back bench MP and metamorphose him into a dynamic, ‘let’s-get-it-done’ leader who will re-vitalize the Wildrose. I wish it were not so.

    Reply
  3. Nicola Ramsey

    March 30th, 2015

    Brian Jean was my MP for 10 years. He rarely visited our community but he did speak at my son’s school where he trash-talked people living on welfare and mocked the opposition. Many students said they would never vote conservative after hearing him speak. He left politics because his son was ill and had a horrific experience with our healthcare system and, according to local Wildrosers,re-entered politics to “fix healthcare” presumably via privatization.

    His pro-gun, anti taxation, privatization agenda are popular with some in our riding, which has the dubious distinction of lowest voter turnout in history, a whopping 15% in the last federal by-election. He is both socially and fiscally conservative. Personally, I think that now the moderates have left the Widlrose, Jean is the perfect person to lead the libertarian crazies that remain. Just read the comments from his supporters on his Facebook page and you’ll see what I mean.

    Reply
  4. Athabascan

    March 30th, 2015

    Why would a presumably bona fide lawyer want to pad his education with dubious degrees from no-name universities? What was his motivation for doing that?

    To me that says a lot about his judgement and character. I’m not impressed.

    Reply
  5. No

    March 31st, 2015

    Brian Jean, the MP who disappeared after being elected, the MP who sporadically responded to emails from constituents.

    More importantly; Brian Jean is the MP who quit and triggered an expensive by election because he reached his self imposed (and never communicated) expiry date of ten years. Or did he quit to avoid having to wait another ten years before he could collect his pension? He will be eligible to collect his pension in February 2008 when he turns 55 because he quit when he did.

    So is Brian Jean a serial quitter? Will he resign from leadership of the now moribund Wildrose in 3 short years when he can start collecting his MP pension?

    Who is Brian Jean really representing? Can we be sure he is really representing Albertans after he spent ten years in Ottawa? Did he come back for us, or for himself, or perhaps he came back for the cult of Stephen? Or is this an attempt by the PMO to bring the oilfields of Alberta under their control with Brian as their stealth operative?

    Will Brian bring the divisive politics of the Federal Conservative Party to the tranquille political fields of Alberta?

    Will Brian want to demonize and criminalize legitimate protest and want to be able to hack into your computers and other devices?

    Will Albertan’s be playing their own version of ‘Where’s Brian/Waldo’ as the constituents of his riding have been doing for a decade?

    Who is Brian, what does he stand for and will he really want to represent Albertans or his own hidden agenda?

    Brian – he isn’t qualified, and his hair – just look at his hair.

    Reply

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