Be careful what you ask for … UCP Leader Jason Kenney gets his wish, a lightning-quick by-election

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PHOTOS: Dr. Phillip van der Merwe, the brave Calgary physician the NDP has lined up to run against United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election scheduled for Dec. 14. (Photo: Screenshot of Dr. van der Merwe’s Primary Care Network video.) Below: Mr. Kenney, who is widely assumed to be far in the lead; Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan; and Dave Rodney, the UCP MLA who “obligingly” gave up his seat so the celebrated Mr. K could take his place in the Legislature.

Jason Kenney to Rachel Notley: Give me a by-election, right now!

Rachel Notley to Jason Kenney: Sure. Whatever …

These are not actual quotes, of course. But this is not “fake news,” just the same.

Jason Kenney, Stephen Harper’s former and perhaps current lieutenant, has been demanding a by-election with undue haste ever since he was elected leader of the United Conservative Party late last month.

He was hoping, it has been argued here, not actually to get one because it would tie him down in the Legislature instead of letting him wander the province making extravagant, undeliverable promises and letting his supporters take selfies with him. (We’ll let you know if he’s spotted shopping for colourful socks.)

Mr. Kenney’s UCP had even been trying out social media memes, awash with faux outrage, about how awful Premier Rachel Notley was being not giving Mr. Kenney the by-election he’d been demanding for hours, even a few days.

Now she has. The by-election in the Calgary-Lougheed riding will be on Dec. 14.

Even a political columnist for the UPC-loving Postmedia chain has admitted this is lightning fast. “This call isn’t just quick, it’s light-speed for a by-election, especially when decision day will come so close to Christmas,” said the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in his column yesterday.

So that’s one thing Mr. Kenney won’t get to complain about – although I’m sure he’ll manage to come up with other stuff.

Mr. Braid also noted that Mr. Kenney had a riding to run in thanks to Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney, who “obligingly resigned the seat on Oct. 29, right after Kenney won the UCP leadership.”

Could be, although that’s not the way I hear it. Oh, the timing’s described accurately enough, but the story I get from one of Mr. Rodney’s former PC colleagues is that he was given a hard choice: step aside now to let Mr. Kenney run in the safest possible Conservative riding or run as an Independent if he ever decides to seek re-election. Maybe that’s fake news, maybe it’s not. The source is certainly no fan of Mr. Kenney. If true, though, it’s what we used to call “stepacide” back in my days in journalism.

The sole NDP candidate for nomination, Calgary physician Phillip van der Merwe, is expected to be acclaimed on Saturday, according to the CBC.

Dr. van der Merwe has a truly spectacular professional resume. Nowadays, he operates a vasectomy clinic in Calgary. He’s an openly gay man, who is married, and who has strong views about Mr. Kenney’s opposition to Bill 24, the just-passed NDP legislation making it illegal for schools to out students who join gay-straight alliances.

So even if Mr. Kenney is considered a shoo-in, some interesting questions about his plans and positions are bound to be raised in this campaign. It’s a long shot, obviously, but I’m sure Dr. van der Merwe would like to snip Mr. Kenney’s political chances before Alberta has to live with a government we don’t really want.

Once upon a time, the South African-born Dr. van der Merwe supported the Alberta Party. But now that the Alberta Party is experiencing new life as a rebranding exercise for the old Progressive Conservatives, he is touting the NDP as a centrist choice for Alberta – which is completely fair, even though it flies in the face of the rhetoric we hear nowadays from the UCP and its media echo chamber.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan is also expected to use the by-election to showcase his political talents, a well-placed source in that party tells me. I expect Mr. Khan, a Calgary human rights lawyer, has views similar to Dr. van der Merwe’s on GSAs and the rights of LGBTQ Albertans.

Ditto Romy Tittel, the recently chosen leader of the province’s Greens, Alberta having a surfeit of political party leaders without seats in the Legislature and only one by-election. And, who knows, perhaps the Alberta Party will be able to sort out its identity crisis in time to find someone to run in Calgary-Lougheed too!

Mr. Kenney will have a platform to make his points against the NDP during the pre-holiday season, when not very many Albertans are likely to be paying attention, which suggests if nothing else that Ms. Notley and her advisors are paying attention. That’s not likely to affect the by-election outcome that much, but you take your victories where you can find them.

It does suggest that the fairly constant buzz lately – emanating from an unidentified source, possibly a Conservative one – that the NDP is likely to rush into an improvident early election does not reflect reality. That assessment, of course, might change if by some political miracle Dr. van der Merwe won on Dec. 14.

You don’t believe in miracles, you say? That’s probably wise. Just the same, they’ve happened before in Alberta, haven’t they? Like on May 5, 2015, for example.

Categories Alberta Politics