Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark goes over the side, almost certainly with a helpful shove from someone

Posted on November 10, 2017, 10:44 pm
9 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark … soon to be former Alberta Party leader Greg Clark. Below: NDP Premier Rachel Notley, UCP Leader Jason Kenney, Alberta Together PAC Executive Director Katherine O’Neill (Screenshot of TV broadcast), and political operative Stephen Carter.

Give Greg Clark his due. He did manage to get elected to the Alberta Legislature, a feat no other leader of the Alberta Party has ever managed to accomplish … not, at least, when they were a member of the Alberta Party.

Indeed, he’s the only member of the party ever to be elected as such.

Yet despite a strategy of trying to sound almost as conservative as United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney for months, Mr. Clark has never really succeeded at getting the Alberta Party onto the province’s political radar – notwithstanding its possession of the best party name in Alberta politics.

Now, days after a little-known NDP backbencher named Karen McPherson crossed the floor to join the party and while rumours abound a couple of former Progressive Conservatives may soon make a similar trip, Mr. Clark has suddenly announced his intention to resign on Nov. 18 from the top job in his caucus of two.

His sudden and rather mysterious announcement today – the Friday before Remembrance Day, a cynical observer is tempted to note – almost certainly means he has been toppled in some sort of internal coup. Well, at least he’s not locked in a hotel room in Saudi Arabia, so we may eventually get the chance to ask him about it.

Despite trying to give the impression he was master of his own fate in his emailed resignation message – “I have made a decision on what I believe is the best path forward for the party and most importantly for the province” – it’s very hard to believe Mr. Clark could be very happy about this turn of events.

You’d almost think he’d been told by someone he could capitulate now and retain the chance to run again for the party in his Calgary-Elbow riding in 2019, or be run out of Red Deer at the end of a pitchfork come the Alberta Party annual general meeting scheduled to take place in that Central Alberta city on the 18th.

If there’s anything to this, it means the Alberta Party – which Mr. Clark said in his message has nearly tripled its membership since last spring – is no longer the collection of kaffeeklatching small-l liberals it was when he signed on circa 2012.

What do you want to bet a lot of those new members are former Progressive Conservatives disillusioned with Mr. Kenney’s social conservative inclinations and Stephen-Harper-like iron grip on the new “united” Conservative party that was forged out of the PC and Wildrose legal entities last July. That is, the crowd that calls itself “Alberta Together,” after the PAC headed by former PC Party president Katherine O’Neill.

So what happens next?

According to Mr. Clark’s emailed statement, there will be a leadership race. Maybe he’ll even run in it, although he described that as a decision to be made another day. In the event, he’s about as likely to win as former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean was in the recent UCP leadership race.

“We must jump-start the Alberta Party by selling memberships, raising money and raising our profile by inviting Albertans into our party to debate different visions for the future of our province,” wrote Mr. Clark … or someone.

“To do that, I must step down as leader and trigger a leadership contest,” he said. “I need you to know, this was not an easy decision. And I know it’s not a decision that everyone in our party agrees with.”

Who might run? The speculation starts immediately: Former PC and UCP MLA Rick Fraser, who now sits as an Independent? The Legislature’s stubborn lone remaining PC, Richard Starke? Premier Alison Redford’s deputy premier, Thomas Lukaszuk? Doug Griffiths, who was a bright young cabinet minister under premier Ed Stelmach? Ms. O’Neill?

With the likes of former Edmonton mayor and PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel and political operative and former Redford chief of staff Stephen Carter said to be in the mix, the race is guaranteed to be interesting.

“To give us the best chance to build a credible alternative to the NDP and UCP we need to take a calculated risk,” Mr. Clark’s email went on. “My sincere hope is that you will join me in enthusiastically embracing this path.”

“I want you to know I am committed to running in 2019 as MLA in Calgary-Elbow,” he said. “I will continue to do my work in my constituency and in the Legislature holding the government accountable and proposing better ideas.” Although – if Mr. Clark’s recent performance is anything to go by – on the economic front these are pretty much the same ideas proposed by Mr. Kenney, although without the mean-spirited social conservative spin.

“We must invite Albertans from a variety of backgrounds into our party and let them have a chance to have a voice in our future direction,” the email continued. “This election is truly going to centre around the future of Alberta and the values we want in our province. I don’t believe Jason Kenney represents those values and I don’t believe the NDP have the ability to credibly execute a budget much less a visionary plan for the future.”

Perhaps it’s just the natural state of equilibrium in the new, post-PC-Dynasty politics of Alberta that there will always be two conservative parties – a social conservative one, and a socially liberal one that shares the same market-fundamentalist economic values.

Back in the day, the argument that such a situation could not be tolerated by the province’s large and powerful conservative movement lest the NDP rule forever became the raison d’etre for the union of the PCs and the Wildrose Party.

That, of course, was before Mr. Kenney’s double reverse hostile takeover of both parties, and his questionable decision to then drive Tory moderates out.

Now, it would seem, they have found a home in the Alberta Party, which will soon become the New PC Party, just as the UCP has quickly morphed into the New Wildrose.

Does this mean the NDP will rule forever, under Premier Rachel Notley and a progression of successors?

Unlikely. Indeed, recent polling suggests that if Mr. Jean had been chosen UPC leader and an election held soon thereafter, he could have won in a canter.

Two weeks is a long time in politics, though, and a year and a half is a near eternity. Still, it’s quite possible, if the planets line up for them the right way and Alberta’s electorate remains as volatile as it has been lately, that either conservative party could defeat the NDP on its own.

Whether the changes at the Alberta Party are good news or bad news for Ms. Notley’s NDP all depends on which way the votes split.

One thing is guaranteed: It keeps things interesting in what used to be the most politically boring province in the Dominion.

24 Comments to: Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark goes over the side, almost certainly with a helpful shove from someone

  1. Bob Raynard

    November 11th, 2017

    Several months ago, before Jason Kenney started his little project, Greg Clark came out (no, not that way) in favour of a provincial sales tax. He was able to do so because it was clear his party would never form a government, so he was able to use his position to add a bit of influence to government policy.

    Fast forward to present day and a multitude of progressive refugees are looking for a home. They could take over the Alberta Liberals and rebrand it as was done in BC, and I suspect they would if there was no alternative, but the Alberta Party comes with the advantage of not having to overcome the stigma that ‘Liberal’ has in Alberta. Besides, the Saskatchewan Party already means conservative.

    The problem, however, is that old sales tax comment Greg Clark made. As soon as the polls start to show the Alberta Party is a threat to the UCP, the UCP is going to be all over it.

    Reply
    • Keith McClary

      November 13th, 2017

      “sales tax comment”
      Maybe that’s why he’s out.

      Reply
  2. Linda

    November 11th, 2017

    One would have to be quite disconnected from Alberta politics to not see this coming. The ‘disaffected PC’s’ have been trolling (in the fishing sense, not the twitter one) for a way to grasp on to a vehicle to return them to their rightful position at the throne of Alberta politics.

    This will be interesting to watch. Will any of the disaffected UCP MLAs who skipped the Bill 24 votes abandon the new party and cross the floor? How does that reckon with the Alberta Party position on floor crossing?

    How many of the defeated PC MLAs will come looking for a home with the Alberta Party? If they do will they actually have the support of former constituents or will they be a faded memory? It is hard to see how currently politically homeless PC’s who have not vocally disavowed the new UCP and Jason Kenney can now claim that they have suddenly found a better home without seeming completely opportunistic.

    The plot thickens.

    Bring on the popcorn and opera glasses.

    Reply
    • Mohamed

      November 12th, 2017

      Nah. A lot of the PC’s looking to come back to power are with the UCP now. Any PC’s that joined the AB Party are looking to help build a party that is a viable alternative to the UCP and AB Party even though no one knows how viable the AB Party will be in 2019.Almost any former PC’ers know it will be quite hard for the AB Party to form government in 2019.And the AB Party will treat floorcrossers they treated McPhearson. McPhearson joined the AB Party once she talked to people within her riding.

      Reply
  3. Roger

    November 11th, 2017

    Well, Mr. Kenny, is it time for you, Mr. Manning and Mr. Harper to have a go at another take-over?

    Reply
  4. Sassy

    November 11th, 2017

    I agree with you – the operatives now behind the Alberta Party were not going to allow Clark to remain as leader at next week’s annual general meeting. The old corrupt PCs have just done another hostile takeover. If Clark had integrity, he would have fought the good fight on the 18th, resigned, and then became an independent MLA.

    As you stated, Clark’s recent economic vision is no different than UCP’s. That wasn’t always the case. The first time I heard him speak was at a rowdy, byelection forum in Edmonton. Mandel won that seat in 2014, but Clark put on an impressive performance, appearing to be more progressive than the NDP. At he time, I thought the Alberta Party had been formed to split the small NDP support even further. Little did we know how much everything would change less than a year later in the 2015 election.

    I still think Rona Ambrose is waiting in the wings, a servant of the powerful group who is determined to get back control of Alberta. I wouldn’t be surprised if she runs for Alberta Party leader.

    I suspect Kenney’s insistence on voting against the latest LGBTQ legislation was to ‘out’ the moderates from his caucus. Over half of the UCP MLAs did not show up for the vote. Now, Kenny and his backers know where their team members stand. The true social conservatives, and the flunkies who will always do exactly as told, are the ones who showed up to vote. The owners of the UCP party probably realize they are in trouble. They need Calgary voters and this could be the reason for the hurried takeover of the Alberta Party. I bet their internal polls don’t match the published polls.

    Looking to BC’s new government, the right-wing operatives likely see an opportunity for an alliance of their (soon to be) two parties – UCP and Alberta Party. That may be their strategy if the NDP wins again in 2019, but with a minority government. Of course, they will want to continue to fool Albertans into thinking the two parties are completely separate and the Alberta Party is centrist. I hope people are smarter than this gang thinks.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      November 11th, 2017

      You have some interesting ideas here, Sassy. Your 2014 thoughts of the Alberta Party certainly match my own impression. I even seriously considered voting for them in 2015, thinking they might eventually offer a solution to the perennial splitting of the progressive vote that was occurring between the Liberals and the NDP. Ultimately I didn’t because I had no use for our riding’s candidate.

      I suppose the behind-the-scenes conservative puppet masters might be realizing they have made a mistake with Jason Kenney and they now realize they have to take over a third party. That said, however, the point of the whole UCP project is to eliminate vote splitting, so in order for it to work they would have to not compete in ridings where the NDP may be able to succeed.

      Reply
      • Sassy

        November 11th, 2017

        I’m sure the puppet masters always realized having a small, third party in their back pocket would be valuable in the event of a close vote. They have been infiltrating the Alberta Party for a year or more. I think, recently, something has changed and, as a result, their strategy has changed. Observing their recent actions, I suspect: 1) Kenney was getting tired of role-playing and wants more control than his bosses expected 2) internal polls, UCP caucus discussions or arguments, grassroots feedback, or something else, has spooked them 3) the puppet masters are fighting among themselves.

        In my opinion, they now see a ‘safe’ home for the disaffected conservatives as a priority, hence the push to build a revised Alberta Party before the next election. For this to succeed, they need Calgary to elect mostly Alberta Party MLAs. They could run duds for the UCP, for example Ted Byfield types, so the conservative vote isn’t split. An alliance or coalition of these new Alberta Party MLAs with rural UCP MLAs could topple a minority NDP government. The same behind-the-scenes brokers of both parties would get control of our government once again. Remember, all the puppet masters think about is power and control. I hope to see them fail miserably.

        Reply
        • Bob Raynard

          November 12th, 2017

          More interesting, albeit disturbing, ideas, Sassy.

          I think running UCP duds in Calgary would be too dangerous – their ‘Lake do Fire’ comments needed to establish their ‘dudness’ would be too damaging to the rural candidates. In spite of comments made on David’s last post, I believe mainstream rural Alberta is becoming more socially progressive. All it takes is for one of their own to come out for them to see how gay people are surprisingly normal and not the sexual deviants they read about in Alberta Report.

          If anything, the puppet masters now realize they have created a Frankenstein (remember when David used to call it a Frankenparty?) and need to try again. By rebuilding the Alberta Party into a fiscally conservative, socially progressive party, they can then dry up the funding for the UCP and let it devolve into an evangelical rump party.

          Reply
  5. ronmac

    November 11th, 2017

    Maybe the Alberta party should change its name. How about the “Conservative Progressives”? Or “CP” for short. That has a nice snappy ring to it. That way they could cash in on the “conservative brand” which still has a lot of credibility. Most of us identify ourselves as “conservative” in one form or another. Even if we start out being a firebrand anarchist eventually we all get old and cranky and more conservative.

    It’s much like walking down the grocery aisle and buying a two-liter of coke. There’s regular coke and diet coke.

    Reply
    • CovKid

      November 11th, 2017

      Speak for yourself: I’m old and cranky and would abstain before I’d ever vote Conservative (of any stripe)!

      Reply
  6. Bob

    November 11th, 2017

    Dave- I’m wondering what you would consider a centralist economic position. The AB party have called for a sales tax and a balanced budget. This isn’t the same as the UPC which is calling to abolish the carbon tax and reverse the tax increases put in place by the NDP.

    I’m not aligned with any one party but I have been leaning to the AB Party because of what I saw as a rational centralist economic policy.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
  7. Linda

    November 11th, 2017

    Let’s just stick with NDP and Liberals

    Reply
  8. David

    November 11th, 2017

    My first though is boy did Mr. Clark take that man splaining criticism badly, if he decided to quit. My second thought is that poorly worded and and delivered question now makes more sense – perhaps his mind was elsewhere at the time. He may have had an inkling that he was going to be forced to walk the plank by someone soon.

    I do agree it seems odd he would suddenly quit, so someone or something may have precipitated it, likely someone or a perhaps a group of people connected to the former PC’s. Actions have consequences, sometimes unintended. Kenney’s takeover and elimination of the PC party left a group, who were very comfortable in their long time political home, now homeless, wandering like nomads towards some other party that they could be comfortable in and make their new home.

    Aside from the good name, the Alberta party is probably the one closest ideologically to the old PC party. Unfortunately, the new party while potentially a comfortable home is a bit small and a bit of a real fixer upper. As anyone who knows anything about home reno knows, the first step is demolition, getting rid of the old – hence the removal of Mr. Clark. Mr. Clark did not set the world on fire, but there are a quite limited number of MLA’s possibly available or willing to take on his job and none of these possible candidates seem that charismatic either. It will be interesting to see who the PC group brings forward.

    I realize Kenney thought the solution to the right wing’s problems in Alberta was to eliminate the PC’s and turn a three party province into a two party one. I suspect he concluded it would be the quickest and easiest possible path to success for him. However, politics abhors a vacuum. Just like when Prentice and the PC’s tried to kill off Wildrose, the party stubbornly refused to die because it had a unique position on the political landscape claimed by no other party. So to now, there are a number of PC’s that remain, even though Kenney killed their party and Kenney is not really that interested in reaching out to them. There is nothing inherently bad, wrong or worse about a three party system instead of a two party one. It was just that a two party system better suits the Unite the Right crowd in achieving their goal of power. Right now other provinces have three party systems (Ontario and Quebec) and we also have it Federally. Sometimes the centrist party prevails, sometimes not. There is no huge outcry now in any of these jurisdictions to merge or eliminate any of the parties. All are legitimate and speak to different voters. In the end the voters select the party they want.

    I don’t know how successful the Alberta Party will be. It has started from a long ways back, but it has a year and a half to grow. Some PC’s seem willing to embrace it and see it as their best alternative. I suspect it will depend in part on who they get to be leader and it will be hard to find someone really outstanding to take on this fixer upper. However, there are a number of former PC voters that do not want to vote for the UCP which they see as Wildrose 2.0. I think that may be sufficient to make it a significant enough factor to perhaps dash Kenney’s extremely hard fought goal of a united right.

    Reply
  9. jerrymacgp

    November 12th, 2017

    As is clearly described in the Wikipedia article you link to, the Alberta Party has never really made up its mind what it is. In its early days, it was just another of those extreme right-wing fringe parties that seem to pop up in the Alberta political landscape like dandelions in June. In more recent years it has shifted from an allegedly “Progressive-centrist” alternative to the PC-Lib-NDP-Wildrose axis, whose anodyne policy document seemed designed largely to be inoffensive to as many voters as possible, to a sort of PC-Lite that wants to stay out of discussing “divisive social issues” while advocating similar positions on fiscal and economic policy to those of the other flavours of conservatism. I’m not sure, though, that there is much “there” there, to be honest. They have so little money, they are simply competing with the equally moribund Alberta Liberals to see which is more irrelevant.

    Alberta politics are polarizing, as they already have in both provinces to ether side of us, into binary NDP & anti-NDP poles, with little in the middle. There doesn’t seem to be room for a vibrant third party anymore.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 12th, 2017

      I don’t really think it’s a case of the Alberta Party having trouble making up its collective mind. It’s more a case of the name belonged for a spell to a right-wing fringe party. It was then infiltrated and taken over by a group with connections to the Liberals, federal and provincial, who rightly perceived that the Liberal brand is a damaged brand in Alberta. Also, some of their key movers and shakers got a new project a few years ago – Calgary City Hall – and lost interest in the party. Now it has been infiltrated and taken over again. (Sassy is correct, the infiltration has been under way for a spell.) So, really, we’re talking about at least three separate parties with the same name and a legal history in common. Leastways, that’s the way I see it. DJC

      Reply
  10. Farmer B

    November 12th, 2017

    I certainly see this differently. I think what Greg Clark has done is politically very smart. He realizes that with the NDP on the left and the UCP on the right there is a huge hole in the middle that needs to be filled. What is the quickest way to get media attention? Have a leadership contest! I am not nearly as paranoid as all of you, I think probably with the help of people like Stephen Carter Greg concluded that this was the best path to take. As for economic policies I would say the Alberta Party is clearly in the middle between the high spending deficit loving NDP and tax cutting budget balancing UCP. In the end in 2019 Albertans will hopefully have 3 clearly defined choices to vote for, one on the left, one in the center and one on the right of the political spectrum. For myself, I was a Klein supporter, a Wildrose supporter, a Brian Jean supporter so I will watch with interest what happens with the Alberta Party. I certainly think Greg Clark was and is a hard worker and has done a very good job.

    Reply
    • Mike

      November 13th, 2017

      I agree with you Farmer B on your take on this. All those red PCs need a place to go and time is of the essence. The 2019 election will be quite interesting!

      Reply
  11. Sassy

    November 12th, 2017

    The new (PC) Alberta Party would want a high-profile, charismatic leader, preferably female, to go up against Rachel Notley. I mentioned Rona Ambrose. I don’t know the Calgary scene, but I’m also thinking Arlene Dickinson. During the federal conservative leadership campaign earlier this year, when going public with some of Kevin O-Leary’s weaknesses, Dickinson said she wouldn’t rule out entering politics herself. She would certainly present the image they are looking for (successful entrepreneur who will get Albertans working again) but, like Trump, could she be totally controlled?

    Reply
  12. ema

    November 12th, 2017

    Another name that will likely pop up again, for the AP leadership, is Kerry Cundal from Calgary. Ms. Cundal took a run at the Liberal leadership (all the while strongly backed by Stephen Mandel and his coterie) and when that failed she immediately leaped to the AP. Rumours abounded that the PCs thought they could simply rollover the Liberal Party at one stage, but the Liberals were not interested in any part of that odious plan.

    The AP have had difficulties in defining who they are with their policies, and seem to have confused the electorate at times (this refers to those who thought they were progressives).

    Watch out for Mandel and his inner circle. Those Old Boys don’t like what happened to their now disbanded PC party!

    Reply
    • Peter

      November 13th, 2017

      I would think that Michael Oshry is another possible AP candidate.

      Reply
      • Eire

        November 14th, 2017

        It’s certainly possible, but a) he actually finds politics really boring and b) he only commits to things when he figures he’s going to win. Being the leader of a minor 3rd party holds little appeal on either of these points.

        Reply
  13. pogo

    November 13th, 2017

    Whoa! So the genius of “centrism”, “transparency” and “moral certainty” welcomes in an NDP commie floor crosser, demands an upgrade to “take me seriously” in the legislature and then quits. You guys have definitely legalized some good pot! By the way our host has a 2 week history home page that looks like the post office in Kansas circa 1933, if stupid was enough to get you on the FBI 10 most wanted! https://youtu.be/wVzOXO4RdbQ

    Reply

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