Desperation anyone? The clock runs out on Brian Jean’s campaign to lead the UCP

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PHOTOS: UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, with loyal MLAs Leela Aheer, Glenn van Dijken and Todd Loewen, in front of Premier Rachel Notley’s constituency office yesterday. (Screenshot of Jean Campaign video.) The wind was blowing. Below: Former Calgary MP Jason Kenney, whose coronation as leader of the UCP is expected on Saturday.

Tick tock. The clock is running out on Brian Jean.

The former Wildrose Party leader and Harper Government MP is struggling desperately to hang onto the dream of leading of the United Conservative Party – that is, to keep it from being snatched away from him by Jason Kenney in the party vote that begins tomorrow.

Unlike Mr. Jean, who after the decade he spent as Conservative MP for the Fort McMurray area starting in 2004 to his term as Wildrose leader from the spring of 2015 until last July, Mr. Kenney needs no introduction.

Just in case you’ve been living in a ravine in Edmonton’s River Valley and using your only source of news to start your campfire, Mr. Kenney is former Conservative PM Stephen Harper’s trusted minister of this and that. Need we say more? Once seen as the heir apparent to prime ministership of Canada, he is now devoting his estimable talents as a campaigner and mudslinger to capturing the booby prize, the premiership of Alberta by way of the Progressive Conservative Party (deceased, 2017) and the UCP that Mr. Jean once reckoned he was a deadbolt cinch to lead.

Mr. Kenney’s campaign has been described in this space as a juggernaut, crushing every conservative, progressive or otherwise, who stands in its way.

So far, Mr. Jean has dodged the machine’s rumbling wheels, although it’s been close on a couple of occasions, but the day of reckoning is at hand. The UCP will announce its new leader on Saturday. Its new leader will be Mr. Kenney.

Never mind polls that say Mr. Jean would be more likely than the easy-to-dislike Mr. Kenney to beat NDP Premier Rachel Notley. That’s been Mr. Jean’s argument for a while now. His problem is it’s not Alberta voters who get to decide this race. It’s Tory insiders, some of whom have a pretty extreme agenda they think Mr. Kenney is more likely to carry out than Mr. Jean.

Anyway, the party’s elites and its rank and file alike have persuaded themselves beating the NDP will be so easy to do it really doesn’t matter who leads the party.

Mr. Kenney is the better campaigner, and Mr. Kenney is the leader desired by the cabal of conservative bagmen associated with the Manning Centre and the federal Conservative Party, so Mr. Kenney it will be who wins. Leastways, if he doesn’t, it’ll be the biggest political upset in Alberta since … well, since May 5, 2015!

As he has grown more desperate, Mr. Jean’s stunts have grown sillier.

Recently, he had one of his former Wildrose Caucus supporters – Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA Todd Loewen – argue in a fund-raising email that if anybody but Mr. Jean gets the job (meaning Mr. Kenney, since the third candidate, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, is barely on the radar) the party will end up frittering its donations away on the leader’s salary.

“The other two candidates in this race are not Members of the Legislative Assembly,” Mr. Loewen’s email said. “I’m concerned that we will have to use a large chunk of your hard-earned donations just to pay them a salary until the next election.”

Well, good luck with that argument. Most UCPers say ho-hum. Thanks to the U.S.-style PACs being set up at a brisk pace by conservative bagmen to subvert Alberta’s election financing laws, the Alberta right should be awash in grey money to lavish on the leader.

Yesterday, Mr. Jean staged a photo opportunity in front of Finance Minister Joe Ceci’s constituency office in Calgary-Fort. He stood behind a sign reading “We can win here.” A Chinook wind was blowing.

Later in the day, he tried the same stunt at Premier Notley’s constituency office in Edmonton-Strathcona. The wind was blowing in Edmonton too. It made the sign a little unsteady, but at least it carried away the whiff of desperation.

NOTE: This story has been edited to correct the time element in the last two paragraphs. DJC

Categories Alberta Politics