Lid’s still on the unite-the-right soup the Wildrose Party’s leader is cooking up, but there are hints about the recipe

Posted on January 10, 2017, 12:40 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean gets ready to explain his plan to unite Alberta’s right under his leadership as a giant bull crashes through the wall behind him. The circumstances portrayed in this photo, found on the wildrose.ca website, may not have been exactly as just described. Below: Justin Trudeau and his father Pierre, Preston Manning and his father Ernest, and Mr. Kenney and a father figure from his life, Stephen Harper.

As 2017 begins, we still await the details of Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean’s alternative plan to unite the right.

All we’re supposed to know is that it presumably involves him, and not Jason Kenney or some other nominal Progressive Conservative, leading the charge against the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley in the next provincial general election.

pierre-justinThe Wildrose Party is still cooking up their launch strategy, and their only comment is that they won’t yet comment. Naturally, idle hands being the Devil’s workshop, this leads to idle speculation on the part of bloggers.

To wit: it is said here we can catch a glimpse of the broad outlines of Mr. Jean’s thinking from a “completely confidential” email he sent to some of his closest advisors the night after the Liberal Party of Canada led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knocked off former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the 2015 federal election.

It must have been a bleak moment. The Wildrose Party was still reeling from the unexpected NDP victory in the May 5, 2015, provincial election – hardly an endorsement of their platform or their political skills. That blow was all the more painful, I imagine, in that so many commentators had imagined they would be the beneficiaries of the obvious public dissatisfaction with the PCs, then led by the late Jim Prentice.

No sooner had the Wildrosers suffered through that catastrophe than the federal politician and party had fallen at the feet of the Liberal they hated the most: Mr. Trudeau, who for months the target of their jibes he was just not ready.

ernest-prestonThe dream of another father and son, Ernest and Preston Manning, of a Canada reduced to a U.S.-style two-party system dominated by conservative instincts and edging ever further to the right had apparently just been blown to smithereens by the young man they’d disparaged for months for being a drama teacher.

Despite those setbacks, Mr. Jean’s imagination was churning with ideas and brimming with optimism on the day after.

In the memo, entitled “Monday’s Federal Election,” Mr. Jean started by setting the scene: “Liberals federally. NDP provincially. People are afraid. Let’s use that to raise tons of cash, kill the pcs and get new members.”

He called for rebranding the stale old unite-the-right idea, perhaps as “Unite the Fiscal Right” – an idea that may sound a little bloodless, but anticipated the possibility that at least one competing player on the unite-the-right scene would turn out to be a social conservative with attitudes bound to trouble almost as many modern Alberta conservatives as voters further to the left.

jason-kenney-2In addition, Mr. Jean proposed the alternative “Unite Common Sense Fiscal Conservatives” as a slogan, which sounds a little too much like something NDP supporters affiliated with the United Church might come up with to appeal very much to Wildrose foot soldiers.

The memo suggested giving PC members Wildrose “trade ins” on their memberships – an idea alert readers will recall the party tried without gaining much traction. Mr. Jean also proposed a province-wide tour with meetings of invited PC and Wildrose members to be chaired by himself, which was also tried.

Other ideas put forward in the Oct. 20, 2015, memo have yet to be implemented, or at least much talked about, and could well form all or part of Mr. Jean’s “common sense” effort to unite the right. These included:

  • Letting members vote to choose a new party name or keep the old one. This may be easier said than done because of Elections Alberta’s rules against choosing names too much like those of other parties. But sources close to the party say a new name remains a key part of the 2017 plan.
  • Picking the strongest policies from both parties and merging them into one Wildrose constitutional document whether the PCs like it or not. This would provide an opportunity to “clean up our policies in one shot,” Mr. Jean observed revealingly. He also noted: “We don’t need them to agree on anything and I really believe most people from PC background will be relieved to get rid of old boys club leaders.”
  • Going negative on the PCs. “We should even do a ‘why would you want the PC leaders that took us here,’” he mused. “Let’s just steal their customers. … Discourage anyone from being a member. Be ashamed to be a PC. Rip it up. Open our doors both to MLAs from PC and members. With logical steps a new party will have to go thru.”

The last point may have made sense back in October 2015. But, as the saying goes, he who hesitates is lost. Alas for Mr. Jean and his Wildrose loyalists, that train has now left the platform, thanks to the younger Mr. Manning and Mr. Harper, who keep turning up like the proverbial bad pennies. Not only is the train gone, of course, but Mr. Kenney is aboard, along with his portmanteau full of bad social conservative ideas.

Mr. Jean may seem safer than the social conservative, social media obsessed Mr. Kenney. That may be why more conservatively minded Albertans gave him an edge over Mr. Kenney in pollster Janet Brown’s recent public opinion survey of which of the two potential leaders of the right has the most support.

Mr. Jean’s problem remains Mr. Jean’s party. As Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid observed back in May 2016, “your average urban PC supporter views Wildrose adherents as scary right-wing nutbars, the demented heirs of Social Credit.”

Of course, with Mr. Kenney at the head of the PCs – united with the Wildrose Party or on his own – those urban PC voters might quickly start to view the Tories in much the same light. Which is why, despite the strong conservative results in Ms. Brown’s poll, public attitudes could change as a provincial election nears.

We’ll see about that, just as we’ll eventually see the details of Mr. Jean’s refined thinking about how to unite the right under his banner.

Either that, or the Wildrose leader will change his mind and decide after all to run to be mayor of Fort McMurray in October.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

9 Comments to: Lid’s still on the unite-the-right soup the Wildrose Party’s leader is cooking up, but there are hints about the recipe

  1. J.E. Molnar

    January 10th, 2017

    The opposition parties are running scared. Watching them try to unite the right is like watching someone’s grandmother herd her cats.

    The NDP has made absolute fools of the opposition, despite what the questionable “online” polls may reveal. Pipeline approvals, WCB protection for farm workers, a climate mitigation plan supported by the oil and gas industry and conservative opinion leaders, stepping up to challenge the questionable antics of home school administrators, an increase in the minimum wage, precision-like leadership in handling the Fort Mac fire and the list goes on and on.

    The election is a long ways away. Lots can happen between now and then, but at the end of the day progressive Albertans will likely take the steady, prudent, dignified leadership of Rachel Notley over either Jason Kenney or Brian Jean and the “hair-on-fire” reactionary candidates they represent in the Wildrose and PC parties.

    Reply
    • Val

      January 10th, 2017

      that’s exactly Clinton vs. Trump sentiment during election campaign and now we know outcomes.
      if you take a look how long usually takes for governing body to work out and implement changes, the May 2019 isn’t really very far. given the mainly disappointment among majority albertans in present NDP performance, their position become quite volatile and 2017 perhaps will be crucial to show if they have chance for re-election.

      Reply
    • brett

      January 11th, 2017

      I agree completely. I think the Alberta Conservatives should be embarassed. Premier Notley has brought Government in this province back up to the standard that it was during the Lougheed administration.

      I have voted Conservative in the past-at the federal and the provincial levels. But people like Kelly Leitch and Chris Alexander actually running for the leadership convince me that this cannot be the party for me. I feel the exactly same about WRP’s Derek Fildebrandt. Same for Kenney.

      They all seem to spout nonsense and half truths. I am still waiting for one of their ilk, just one, to clearly articulate policy, any policy, AND articulate the way that they intend to implement that policy. I suspect that I will be waiting a long time.

      Reply
  2. tom in ontario

    January 10th, 2017

    “Not only is the train gone, of course, but Mr. Kenney is aboard, along with his portmanteau full of bad social conservative ideas.”

    Portmanteau: A large trunk or suitcase typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts.

    So Albertans, you have a stiff hauling a stiff bag stuffed with stiff ideas. Some people have all the luck.

    Reply
  3. Maria

    January 10th, 2017

    well said, J.E.Molnar

    Reply
  4. David

    January 10th, 2017

    Whatever the PC’s do, it would be a good idea for Wildrose to change its name. The PC’s previous scorched earth campaign against them, along with many self inflicted wounds has likely damaged their brand beyond repair. Unfortunately, all the really good names are already taken or too close to names already in use.

    It is kind of ironic that Mr. Jean is often more reasonable sounding than Mr. Kenney and that might provide a chance for Mr. Jean to rehabilitate his party’s image under a new name. It also provides the biggest challenge for Mr. Kenney. Even if he succeeds in “uniting the right” it is quite possible he will alienate many moderate centrist PC voters. His victory will be very pyrhic if all it results in is a larger opposition. I suspect Mr. Kenney at some level understands this, but it may be too late for this career social conservative politician to change his spots so radically.

    This presents the “unite the right” crowd with a big dilemma – two viable leaders, but each with different strengths and also each with some significant weaknesses.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      January 11th, 2017

      Your comment made me think of an interesting scenario, David. Jason Kenney has a lot of popular support. What if he is unsuccessful in his PC leadership bid? Would he take all of his popular support and form a third party, with the hopes of uniting the right by draining support away from the PCs and the WRP?

      Reply
  5. brett

    January 11th, 2017

    Mr Jean might want to change his priorities a little. He could start by taking long hard look at the quality of healthcare that is currently available in Ft. Mac-most especially as it pertains to specialized pediatric services. The last remaining specialist just resigned in frustration.

    Instead of spending time trying to outfox Kenney, work a game plan to keep his position, or worry about what those far right members of his party might be saying next he should focus his time and energies putting the Gov’t feet to the fire on this and thus serving the people who actually elected him and pay his salary.

    And no, I do not live in Ft. Mac or anywhere near it nor am I in the medical profession or the political arena. I simply think that children and adults living in Ft. Mac. deserve a higher standard of health care and services than
    what currently exists.

    Jason Kenney certainly is not going to do it.

    Reply
  6. Farmer B

    January 11th, 2017

    I always find it interesting on how different people can look at the same situation and give a totally different perspective. I see a government that when capital expenditures are included will run about a 14 billion dollar deficit for the 2016-2017 budget year. A deficit that on a per capita basis far exceeds any deficit that Ontario has run in the last 14 years and look at their financial mess.I see a government that has increased business costs at every turn. That brags about cutting small business tax, a cut that if the business had a taxable income of 500000 dollars which is the maximum before your provincial tax rate goes to 12% will save that business 5000 dollars. About half of the cost increase of one employee on minimum wage by the time it reaches 15 dollars in 2018. The polls put their popularity at between 21 and 29% depending on the poll. A government that has actually lowered royalties on conventional oil after years of telling Albertan’s we weren’t getting our fair share. I certainly hope the Wildrose and PC’s find a successful way to get along because from my perspective the NDP are digging a very big hole for future Albertan’s!

    Reply

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