Between the lines, Calgary MLA Rick Fraser’s UCP resignation letter is an indictment of Wildrose-ified party

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PHOTOS: Rick Fraser in a screenshot from the Legislature of Alberta. Below: Legislative loners Greg Clark, David Swann and Richard Starke, Calgary MP Kent Hehr, and environmentalist and former Green Party candidate Chris Turner.

Let’s cut to the chase about what Calgary MLA Rick Fraser’s decision to quit the United Conservative Party really means.

Mr. Fraser, the MLA for Calgary-South East once appointed to associate cabinet portfolios in Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government, Tweeted out a diplomatic and positive letter to his constituents yesterday saying he plans to sit as an Independent for now, and consult them about what he should do next.

The focus of his letter was on the divisive approach taken to Alberta politics by the UCP – now and, presumably, in the future once it’s chosen a leader from the four candidates in the running for the job. Media coverage picked up on this in one sense: his message that he thinks the current UCP emphasis on partisanship and attacks on the NDP regardless of the merits of their policies is not necessarily good thing.

But you need to dig a little deeper to get to the real nuggets:

“I believe that social issues need to be talked about and as leaders in the community we need to exemplify openness, strong communication, listen when no one else is, show grace and compassion,” wrote the former paramedic. “The greatest quality of a leader should be the ability to bring all types of people in the community together. We as leaders should be defending those who can’t defend themselves – full stop!” (Emphasis added.)

He’s talking, it seems very likely, about the takeover of the UCP by social conservative thinking straight from the Wildrose Party. He’s saying without quite stating it, it seems to me, that he won’t be part of a party that makes homophobia a core value. (That said, in 2014, Mr. Fraser voted against a motion by then Liberal MLA Kent Hehr calling for legislation to allow gay-straight alliances in schools.)

“We need to foster new technology and business in all sectors of our economy as if it were our own business,” Mr. Fraser went on, channeling Peter Lougheed. “If we choose to market only one part of our economy we are choosing to lose out on a more resilient economy in the future.

“I’m not a climatologist, or a hydrologist, but I do care about our climate and our natural resources, including our water. We should do what we can to protect our environment without wholesale sacrificing our economy.”

He’s talking about the capture of our democratic institutions – and in particular the main conservative party, the UCP – by corporate interests. He’s talking, as is Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP, about the need to diversify the economy away from an industry whose most profitable days are in the past, whether we like it or nor.

And he’s saying, clearly and importantly, that he can’t sit in the Legislative caucus of a party committed to institutional climate change denial.

So Mr. Fraser’s courageous step is not just about partisanship between increasingly tribal voting blocs, it’s about what’s gone wrong in the conservative movement since the hostile reverse takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party by the Wildrose Party.

It’s courageous because one of the defining traits of the Republicanized Canadian conservative movement is the desire to destroy anyone who has a different opinion from the leadership cadre.

The timing of Mr. Fraser’s announcement is interesting. Perhaps he was disheartened by the tone and direction of Wednesday night’s first UCP leadership “debate,” in which all four candidates vowed to scrap the NDP’s climate policies, cut taxes and give the fossil fuel industry whatever it wants as soon as it wants it.

Frontrunner Jason Kenney, by all accounts, was particularly bellicose – almost as if he were a former minister in the federal government hungry for revenge against the federal Liberals for defeating his beloved Stephen Harper with votes from provinces other than Alberta. Now there’s a foundation for running a province!

Disagreements? There were precious few among Mr. Kenney, who is a former Ottawa insider and briefly leader of the PC Party but a Wildroser at heart and by habit, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, former Wildrose Party President Jeff Calloway, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, a former PC who is making up for it by trying to out-Wildrose the others by advocating harsh economic policies.

Mr. Fraser’s principled departure from the UCP Caucus leaves the Alberta Legislature in the unusual position of hosting five standalone MLAs. In addition to Mr. Fraser, there are:

  • Greg Clark, MLA for Calgary-Elbow, leader of the Alberta Party and its sole MLA
  • Derek Fildebrandt, MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, a UCP Caucus member in all but name, suffering through a spell as an Independent on a legislative timeout chair for his various shenanigans, most famously including renting out his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton apartment on Airbnb while claiming expenses for it
  • Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster and former candidate to lead the PCs, who sits stubbornly as the Legislature’s sole remaining PC, presumably for similar reasons to Mr. Fraser’s
  • David Swann, MLA for Calgary-Mountain View and former leader of the Alberta Liberals, the party’s only MLA

Chris Turner book talks of bridging oil and environment – a political manifesto?

Speaking of new political beginnings, is Calgary environmentalist, author and former Green Party federal candidate Chris Turner eyeing a return to politics?

Mr. Turner has recently published a book called The Patch: The People, Pipelines and Politics of the Oil Sands, which is generating some buzz in media. The theme, according to the CBC, is that “the debate around the oilsands needs to land somewhere closer to the middle,” where Mr. Turner apparently believes most Canadians can be found.

In other words, he’s looking for a way to bridge concerns about keeping Alberta’s one-note economy functioning and concerns here and in other provinces about the troubling state of its environment.

In 2012, Mr. Turner ran for the Green Party of Canada and gave a credible performance in the by-election in Calgary Centre that saw the election of Conservative Joan Crockatt. The by-election was called when Conservative MP Lee Richardson quit to become then PC premier Alison Redford’s principal secretary.

The Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke, was like Mr. Turner a well-known environmentalist.

On election day, Ms. Crockatt won by a plurality of only 1,200 votes in an election in which her opponents split between the Liberal and the Greens. Turnout was less than 30 per cent.

Before the October 2015 federal general election, the Liberals did their homework and recruited Kent Hehr, the popular and capable former Alberta Liberal MLA. Mr. Turner chose not to run and the Greens fielded a much less compelling candidate.

After Mr. Hehr won, Ms. Crockatt preposterously blamed foreign influence, specifically that of foreign environmental groups, for her defeat. Mr. Hehr is now the minister of sport and persons with disabilities in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

Perhaps Mr. Turner sees some role for himself in political evolution of Alberta as the decline of oil – and the inevitable corresponding decline in the influence of the petroleum industry – begins to settle in.

Categories Alberta Politics