Progressive Conservative leadership campaign rattles uncomfortably toward a seemingly inevitable Jason Kenney victory

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PHOTOS: Surprise! I don’t have a unite-the-right plan after all, but I’ll quit if you’ll let me run to lead the new party. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, presumably, was thinking something along those lines when he made his announcement yesterday (Photo from Below: PC leadership race participants Richard Starke, Stephen Khan and, inevitably, Jason Kenney.

This is how the Tory world ends, not with a bang exactly, but the sound of tears and serial shoes dropping.

If the ascension of former Harper Government cabinet minister Jason Kenney to the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party seemed inevitable to most observers at the start of this week, the remaining doubters should be persuaded in the wake of yesterday’s events.

In short order throughout the day, three shoes dropped in the room upstairs. That leaves only one more to go … at least if there’s really a talking political horse up there.

First, PC leadership candidate Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster and one of the three men who as of this morning were still challenging Mr. Kenney’s plan to destroy the party as soon as he takes it over by merging it with the Wildrose Opposition, announced he had a plan for a PC-Wildrose coalition.

Then Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, announced he was willing to step aside as leader of the Opposition on the condition there is a quick contest in which he can seek the leadership of a new and united right-wing opposition party.

Then Tory leadership candidate Stephen Khan, former MLA for St. Albert, announced just before 10 p.m. in a disillusioned sounding Tweet that he was quitting the race. He followed up with an angry and more detailed statement on his campaign website.

That leaves only candidate Byron Nelson, a Calgary lawyer, to provide the final thump we’re now all awaiting.

Calling his scheme a “necessary adjustment” to his campaign, Dr. Starke seemed to be proposing that Tories run in some ridings and Wildrosers in others, with an agreement to form a coalition government.

The plan must have been cobbled together quickly, because the details were sketchy in the news coverage most of us were forced to rely upon. It sounded to me at the time like a graceful way for the gentlemanly veterinarian to step out of the way of the Kenney juggernaut without appearing to have walked away from his doomed party, which not so long ago was Alberta’s governing dynasty.

As for Mr. Jean, he sounded feistier, even if he was hunkered down and using the group email to members of his caucus he’s been relying on for a lot of his announcements lately.

“Let me be clear on this point, I plan to be Alberta’s next premier,” Mr. Jean declared. “If our members approve a unity agreement with the PC party, I am prepared to stand down as leader of the Wildrose and to seek the leadership of our single, principled, conservative party in a race to be conducted this summer.”

Mr. Jean also said that members of the new party “will decide the name for Alberta’s conservative movement.” Not “Wildrose,” presumably.

Well, OK, but since in the past he’s rejected union with the PCs outright, this sounds a lot like a man who is having trouble controlling his own fractious caucus and party membership. Recent rumblings from the ranks have included Wildrose members bitterly complaining that Mr. Jean’s recent Facebook videos were produced without a membership vote and spreading rumours the party was broke.

If this was Mr. Jean’s big promised Unite-the-Right Plan, it is a significant disappointment after all the lead-up.

As for Mr. Khan, he apparently had no compunction about the need to save face and maintain the fiction all is well on the right side of the aisle in Alberta. “When the race is no longer about a vision and plan for our province, it’s time to step down,” he Tweeted.

“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,” Mr. Khan elucidated on his campaign website last night. “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,” Mr. Khan continued. “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 three months than in the half-century legacy of this party,” Mr. Khan concluded.

Mr. Khan asked his supporters to vote for Dr. Starke.

I imagine that tonight Mr. Kenney feels as if the universe is unfolding as it should and looks a bit like a cat that ate a canary.

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Categories Alberta Politics